These Winds are called Snow-Eaters

Seeking shelter from the storm, we made our first mistake. We left the Jeep right where Sam had spun out in the slushy mud making his three-point turn and headed on foot for Diego Pass. The Upper Larch Mountain Road is closed in autumn every year. Sam bragged he knew Oregon mountain pass conditions better than me. That’s why he chose that route as our getaway.  But I didn’t think Diego Pass was where Sam persuaded me it was going to be. I was all for staying in the Jeep; cold as it was, we had the money bags tucked in the back and the blizzard howling outside our windows was getting worse than I could remember in years.

Jeeps aren’t supposed to get stuck. Just as I was telling Sam to do a three-corner to get us out of there, he was jamming the gas pedal to the floor, and still we went nowhere fast.

The whiteout that began right after we bolted from the bank with our canvass sacks stuffed with cash—seventy-two thousand, five-hundred and fifty dollars—made us feel lucky. I knew the amount to the dollar because you have a lot of time on your hands in a stuck vehicle.  Chinooks are tricky, as everybody around here knows. There’s a story about a man and his wife going out for dinner; he’s wearing summer clothes, she’s dressed for winter.  He comes back with frostbite while she’s got heatstroke. The chinook winds blowing down from Canada gave us cover, but you can get twenty degrees on one side of an air mass and minus twenty on the other. The warm, heavy winds started out to make the ground slushy, and that’s why we were sitting in that Jeep in muck up to the tailgate with three bank bags full of useless money.

That’s where Sam got his brainstorm about hitting the bank just before the season. All the ski resorts in the county gear up for winter around this time and make their big initial deposits, more than you’d see during the rest of the season. In theory, it was a good plan. In theory, capitalism allows the poor man to become a rich man. In theory, hard work will make you successful. In other words, reality says something else about how things actually work in life. The part of Sam’s plan that didn’t come out of a bottle of Jim Beam were passing back and forth one night on the rez was good; the rest not so good.

“We’re the got-damn Indians here, Julius,” Sam said to me. “If we don’t know when the chinooks are blowing, who the hell does?”

I admitted he had a point. We’d been messing around on these mountains all our lives, riding dirt bikes, four-wheelers, got caught in a few squall even, and sometimes we weren’t in cars when it happened. The worst time was when we “borrowed” Old Man de Angelis” horses while he was getting his liver prodded by the doctors in the hospital in Tacoma. We were on the wrong side of the chinooks that time as well, and I remember how my hands burned with the cold and the horses” eyes and manes were covered in fat flakes that clung and made the ride down the Cascades one of the worst times of my life—worse than growing up on the rez, worse than any jail I ever been in. Sam lost a finger on his left hand to frostbite, but you’d think it was a badge of honor to see him light up his cigarette in some bar in front of a girl and show off the missing finger to get her to talking about how it happened. Hear him tell it, you’d think we were on a secret mission, not a pair of no-count Indian boys joyriding on a pair of swaybacked stolen horses.

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