Maroon dark sky. The globe is shrouded in clouds and lit from below like boy scouts telling ghost stores, these are the laws of simple physics; light travels in straight lines from the dog food factory and the scene downtown and it reflects off of the white snow on the ground and floating through the air, it ricochets between flakes like a paradoxical pinball machine. The earth is acting like a convex flash light and it’s making the clouds shine above. It is neither day nor nighttime on Ruby Hill.
Mason’s ’63 Land Cruiser complains and coughs all the way up the utility road on the back end of the park. Fresh snow crunches under freshly adorned snow tires and the sleds strapped to the Cruiser’s roof bang around above us, like they’re knocking on the door. “This is it,” Mason says. He pulls the e-brake, just in case.
We’re sledding at night because our sleds are illegal––we bolted skis we found at Arc to spare planks of wood in Mason’s little garage. They’re illegal because they’re too fast, the government is jealous, that’s what we told each other.
The air is calm and very cold; somehow the factory fumes we can see rising up in the distance don’t sully the air in our noses. Air enters our lungs and expands due to heat, the air is big, big enough for both of us.
Snow on the slope hasn’t been packed in yet and it sprays up in protest as our runners lap up the hillside. This is our weekly sabbath, of the frozen months, of which there are very few. This is how Denver will remember us and us, it, the furious snow and the hungry runners and the utility road, the factory fumes and the boy scout heavens.
We drag our thrift store realizations back up the hill and ride them down again. Children slide around on trash bags on the other side of the valley, away from the utility road and Mason’s Cruiser, with the e-brake on, where the lights are on and a bag race is on and someone’s got a juke box on. Kanye West. Best guess.
The sledders are raucous ravens and the ravens of the hill are shameful sledders, silent and flapping in their trees. We stare at the lights from our side of the slope.
“They’re not… complete hammered.”
“Yet,” I say.
We’re part-time sledders and part-time anthropologists, Mason and I.
I didn’t start the tradition of night sledding. Mason did, he and his brother. His brother is a college student who travels back home for every holiday to see his lovely girlfriend, who is a barista at the Tattered Cover. They spent every minute they could together, during Thanksgiving and Christmas and of course during summer.
Night sledding was a way to keep this brother company, one Christmas, when his girlfriend left him for a boy she met at work. He stayed in his bedroom for an entire day, without eating or drinking or saying a word. Knowing that his brother needed an escape, Mason brought him up to Ruby Hill that night. We’ve escaped up the utility road every Friday since then, even after Mason’s brother left town.
We hold our breath on the way down and pant on the way back; trekking back is difficult and the snow is unforgiving. The idea of wetness paces circles around our feet like guardian jackals. The slope is always cold and the cold is always slope-like in nature, bridging from enjoyable to bearable to noticeable to torturous.
We could sled all night but the cold does us in, un-does the e-brake on Mason’s Cruiser and shoves us back down the utility road. We’ll spend the rest of the night at his house, feet in front of the fire in his living room, eating Hot Pockets and talking about girls, about nothing, about anything.
These are the nights from my youth I’ll stuff and hang in the great house of life.
And I’ll keep returning to Ruby Hill. While there’s still snow on the ground and they keep the gate to the utility road unlocked.
I’ll keep going. While I still can.