The Dress

From Patagonia: Notes from the Field
By Jean Weiss

The dress is black, cocktail length and not without flair. Its lace bodice scoops lower in the back than in the front, revealing every bit of neck and shoulder one has to offer up. With the slightest movement, the skirt’s three chiffon tiers dally around each other like school girls huddled in between chasing boys at recess. When I wear this dress, my hair pulled tightly back with a ribbon, I feel like a Spanish dancer.

Two miles of snow on a windswept road lie between me, my car and the wearing of this dress at tonight’s Jackson Hole News Christmas party. Today, as I figure how I’m going to get out, it seems cruel and unfair that the road has closed early my first season down here. It makes living alone in this small cabin just a little bit harder.

There are options to my party dress dilemma, I know. I could ski out and borrow something else from a friend. I could carry out a pair of black slacks less likely to wrinkle. But for some reason, these are inadequate. The abyss in my gut, not the desire to wear this dark dress, is compelling me. Was my move to this lonely cabin rash? Was it smart to extract myself from a secure life with a handsome doctor? Had my joie de vivre survived the three-year ordeal? There it is, honestly and simply before me. I do not want to feel isolated in this cabin, in love, in wildness. I have to wear this dress tonight, wrinkle free and fully accessorized. With new resolve, I call the neighbors.

Yes, the caretakers of the ranch down the road respond, they are heading out in their snowcat this morning. It is too early to send the dress and have it rumpled all day in my car, but I box up my high heels and coat and pile it into their Thiokol. The wildlife photographer who lives to the North snowmobiles out mid-day. Not a good ride for my dress either, but he carries a small box of jewelry and a hair clasp.

Everything else out, there remains the dress. As the sun sinks behind the Tetons, shining light beams into the cabin through sections of broken shade, I pull on long underwear, layers of pile and a hefty down jacket. I stretch skins over the base of my telemark skis, lace into leather boots and find my gloves and poles.

It’s cold tonight, maybe zero degrees Fahrenheit. On my back is a pack containing a few toiletries, a change of clothes should I get stranded in town and two pairs of stockings. Hooked to the top of my backpack on a hanger is the dress flowing freely in the wind. Enveloped in night halfway between my cabin and the road, I hear a gentle tapping as waves of chiffon lap against me. Only the stars are loud—shimmering, applauding and laughing around me, studding the sky like sequins, guiding me on.

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