MY "LIMO" RIDE OVER, (Sky High Wilderness Ranch's conciliatory gesture to make me feel better about being too weeny to do real dog mushing with my friends), I headed for the yurt where I was to await Becky and Dawn and where (tour guide Lauren advised) I could get some hot cocoa and heat. I'd heard of yurts, but had never been in one. I had no idea what to expect.
I stomped my boots going up the stairs by the Christmas tree, tugged open the door, and found myself inside a hollow-out marshmallow, thinly insulated, and none too warm. A few sofas, some camping chairs--oh, yes, a dining room table with an attempt at Christmas decorations hanging from the chandelier. Wait, where was I? Japan?
Fifteen to twenty Japanese adults mulled around, tucked into bulky red parkas and toques of every color, the air a bubbled stew of vowels in a thick, savory broth of unintelligible chatter. I felt oddly disoriented.
I edged toward the wood stove in this sea of red and foreign tongue. Midway, a woman gave a startled cry, stood, and started going through her pockets. Everyone shifted, turned in their seats, looked under cushions. Just then Lauren entered. A tall girl, head and shoulders above the rest of us, the agitated woman and her friends flocked around like cardinals seeking suet.
A lot of jabbering, Lauren guessing, no one understanding, and then the pantomiming got really interesting. Lauren and I figured it out the same time. The young woman thought she'd lost her phone down the outhouse. I'd just come from there. Had I peed on her Samsung?
I'd been quite impressed, actually, with the outhouse--an attempt to make any girl feel right at home. With the possible exception of anyone Asian, of course. A picture and red "X" informed them they couldn't climb up to squat and do their business. Other than that, it was a cozy little corner of everything feminine: hand sanitizer, a bouquet of lavender, candles, matches, a whisk broom. Everything a girl could want, minus the heat. Word of warning, do not touch the metal chain that holds the door shut with bare fingers. It's a burn to make you squeal and jump, skin peeling right off and another squeal. No joke. Now try to lay out the toilet paper on ice crystals coating the royal throne.
But back to the Japanese woman frantic over losing her phone down this upside-down bucket into a frozen sea of, well, shit.
"I mean, I can shine a light down there," offered Lauren. "But if it's in there, we can't..." She and the distraught woman left. I pulled out my computer. Two hours to go. I was cold. My pals Becky and Dawn had to be totally frost bitten out there in the wilds of the Yukon, flying along behind race-dog Huskies. I was beginning to feel very grateful for being such a weeny, unable to do the real dog mushing. I was so cold I couldn't type, my fingers too clumsy. My nose dribbled. I finally got up and stood next to the man hogging the stove, hoping he'd get the hint and step to the side so we could at least share.
No such luck. He did take an absent-minded short step forward, however. Twelve inches. Was I supposed to squeeze in between him and the heat? With seventeen layers and a parka? Another tour guide stumbled in, blowing on her hands. She reached into a pocket. "Someone's lucky day," she said and dropped a phone onto the coffee table.
"Oy! Oii! Ouii!" The Japanese all slapped their hands over their mouths. "Oii!" they giggled and laughed, only their eyes visible above cupped hands. The guide leaned over, rebooted the phone, set it back down. All watched with baited breath, even me, until the apple lit up and made the reassuring ding.
The shy, excited crowd circled in, laughing and clucking, even the man hogging the stove. I seized my moment. I stuck my backside to the flames, fingers behind my fanny, and shuddered from the thrill of heat going up my spine even while smiling at the gleeful enthusiasm surrounding the discovered phone--a miracle not covered in poop but instead ice and snow. Clearly it had fallen out of a pocket and landed on a trail. The happy owner swooped it up with a wild cry and smile and plugged in her password. She held it over her head. Everyone cheered.
I let the man rejoin me at the fire, and allowed the bubbled stew of vowels in a thick, savory broth of unintelligible chatter embrace me, feeling oddly connected to these people from the other side of the world.