Pale fingers of daylight crept stealthily into our bedroom and the stark blackness of a freezing night in the Sierras leaked from the house. Strains of music by Dire Straits accompanied background clatter from the kitchen, indicating someone was up and about. I checked to make sure it wasn’t me. Nope… I was smugly cocooned in the glow of my doona. It was -18 degrees Celsius outside. I stretched and rolled into the warmth of my wife’s recently vacated side of the bed. The enticing smell of freshly percolating coffee wafted through the bedroom door, caressing my nostrils.
Mediaeval Mama had woken early and, propped in the warmth of our bed, begun her day with a little pillaging and plundering on the iPad. You see, my wife has an alternate life in a cyber universe - a cunning keyboard warrior in The Kingdoms of Camelot. Married to a predictable, boring man in this world, my mild-mannered wife regularly dons digital armour and commands tens of thousands of footsoldiers in a parallel universe. Strategic, cunning, devious are valid descriptors of this valiant and venerable vegetarian vixen. She intermittently returns to this world in varying moods – freed, elated, exasperated.
“And how was your mediaeval morning, darling?” I inquire.
“Hmmm. Not too bad…. took another castle and half a million in gold. Only lost 30 thousand infantry. I’m knackered. Get in the kitchen, serf. Bake me a pie. Vegetarian.”
Our decision to forego today’s skiing was bittersweet. Yesterday had rated amongst our best ski days ever. Lift queues were non-existent on Mammoth Mountain so, torn between the lure of pristine powder and body aches accumulated from consecutive days of skiing, the whining muscles won out. Besides, a winter storm warning had been issued for the Sierra Nevadas. Expecting anything from 2 to 5 feet of snow, we’d stocked up on firewood and pine cones and shopped for groceries lest the roads prove too icy or unplowed.
By mid-afternoon we’re lounge lizards in our chalet home below the Eagle chairlift on Mammoth Mountain. Fat flakes of snow have fallen steadily all morning and we’re smugly sucking up heat pumped from the fireplace. Tongues of flame dance and lick at the glass of the firebox; we read, talk, watch TV and listen to Dire Straits ad-nauseum while revelling in the magic of our neighbourhood’s deepening blanket of white.
A cocktail of warmth, a fire and the hypnotic notes of ‘Ride across the River’ seduces me and I’m drifting. Imagine a personal performance, by Mark Knopfler (ex Dire Straits), legend of rock, blues and Gibson guitars. Having paid extortionate prices from an internet scalper, here we are, 4th row, smack in front of Mark, with direct eye contact. The Red Rocks amphitheatre is a natural cliff-face setting in the foothills of the Rockies just west of Denver. A red sunset silhouettes the mountains and the 9000 people behind us. The atmosphere is electric, and sweet with the familiar smell of dope. For nearly 3 hours, Mark’s guitar talks as he wends his way through a mix of newer songs and some of the older Dire Straits icons. We dance, we sing, we hoot and holler, we are in the personal space of a legend.
Midway through ‘Telegraph Road’ Mark gives the Mediaeval Mama a wink and a nod of approval of her dance moves. She’s in raptures. Then, wait, he motions me onto the stage to accompany him with one of his Gibson Les Paul guitars.
“Mark! Dave! Mark! Dave! Mark! Dave!” 9000 fans are chanting rhythmically, mesmerised by our haunting riffs and chord sequences on the Gibsons. But... slowly I find myself drifting back into the 4th row. Did I mention the pall of dope? Have I inhaled too much as a passive smoker? No, I have fallen asleep on a lounge in Mammoth Lakes, under the intoxication of a woodfire, a stunning winter scene and a forgettable afternoon movie. Before the keyboard warrior notices, I furtively wipe away strings of drool from my cheek and the lounge cushion.
Outside, a forlorn, one-armed snowman and brooding skeletal birch trees stand as vigilant sentinels in our yard. The sun is surreptitiously creeping behind the Sierra Nevadas which appear eerily luminous against a pink and grey tinged sky. Darkness will quickly begin to seep back into this panorama. A feisty little mountain squirrel descends a pine tree near our loungeroom window, and bounds quickly and comically across the snow-filled driveway.
Mediaeval Mama has momentarily encountered a time warp. With a low maniacal laugh, she bounces from days of yore to this world. Opening the firebox door she surveys the fire with a keenness of eye that has necessarily evolved through living in mediaeval times. Nodding self-approvingly at her hearth skills, I am summoned to fetch more firewood, then clutching her iPad she disappears down a well-travelled time tunnel. Seemingly now dismissed by both Mark and Mediaeval Mama, I determine I will have a glass of red wine. Perhaps two.