Gordon Nightingale

She was young and inexperienced,
A teacher at a Melbourne School.
She taught social studies and English,
And tried hard to teach the golden rule.
She was asked to volunteer for a field trip,
Twelve teenage girls of which she was in charge.
Though she wasn’t exactly the outdoor type
She’d do her best while in the bush at large.

They alighted from the school bus at the chalet
And went to unpack and stow their gear.
The girls spent the evening in high spirits,
They were all boisterous and in good cheer.
Though weather in the morning was overcast,
A hike on the mountain loop had been arranged.
The young teacher suggested taking raincoats
Just in case the weather unexpectedly turned strange.

The teacher stayed back with the slower walkers,
While the fitter and fast went on ahead.
Later when the weather began to turn dirty,
The teacher began to get a sense of dread.
But she thought, “We are below the snow-line.
If it only rains we should get back alright.
But I think we’d better turn around now,
And try to get to the chalet before night.”

But the rain began and turned into a blizzard,
With snow driven by a howling gale.
“I think we’re all gonna die here!”
One of the slower girls began to wail.
The faster girls returned to joined the group.
They’d wisely turned as the weather got bad.
“At least we are now all together.”
One of the older school girls said.

The situation was really looking desparate.
They we getting colder and wet through,
Chilled right to the bone and shivering,
Their lips and fingers rapidly turning blue,
As no-one had gloves to protect their hands,
And their toes and feet were freezing too,
And the inexperience young teacher
Had no idea where to go or what to do.

Then a girl cried out loud, “I can see smoke!”
“Are you sure it isn’t just a whiff of mist?”
“No, it’s definitely smoke I can see;
We passed that way before. How could we have missed?”
They stumbled through the snow toward the smoke
To find themselves outside a mountain hut.
They opened the door and went inside,
So glad to out of the snow and slush.

An old man tending the fire turned to look.
He regarded them with a slightly amused gaze,
But didn’t utter a single word to them,
And then turn back to stoke his blaze.
The teacher and the girls were tired and weary.
They lay down in the warmth and fell asleep.
They were awakened by sunlight through a window
It caused their spirits to take a mighty leap.

There was no sign at all of the old man.
He was not inside and nowhere to be seen.
They began to walk away from the mountain hut,
To get back to the chalet they were keen.
They hadn’t gone very far along when
They saw a helicopter hovering above the trail.
A crewman learnt right out the cabin door
To greet them with a hearty hale.

A short time later they met the rescue team,
Who met them with considerable relief.
When the girls had been reported overdue,
Their parents were all overcome with grief.
“How did you survive the snow and blizzard?
You had no shelter or proper weather gear.”
“We slept in an old man’s hut.” Said she,
But the rescuer looked at her rather queer.

“But there are no mountain cabins now,
They’ve been removed twenty years or so.
Old Bill Evans lived in one near here though,
Until he died in a fire ten years ago.”
The teacher insisted, “We stayed in a hut!
The old man had a warm fire going.
Why would I say it was If it wasn’t really there?
How else could we have survived the snowing?”

She led the man along the trail
To the place they had spent the night.
When they arrived a cairn and a storyboard
Were the only things in sight.
She thought silently to herself
On the walk back toward the town,
They’d been saved from almost certain death
By a ghost mountain hut and a long-dead man.

Gordon Nightingale is a local author and poet and the convenor of the Daylesford U3A Writers’ Circle. This poem was inspired by Clair Lewis, a member of the Circle.