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Published: January 6th 2006
A Solstice Pilgrimage
For over ten years now I’ve traveled north to New England for Christmas. The drive is always too long, longer than the sunlit hours, stretching into travel advisories and severe weather warnings. Rush hour always hits somewhere along the way, be it Wilmington, Delaware, the New Jersey Turnpike or Connecticut. And yet every year I return to the north country, renewing my soul in its snow- covered hills.
At least once a year I like to get out on my skis and feel the rhythm of kick-and-glide, kick-and-glide. There is a starkly beautiful border between trudging on skis and skiing, when you kick free of friction and glide effortlessly across the snow, kick and glide again. Yet the zen-moment of kick and glide is fickle and fleeting. How much easier to bolt your feet onto the skis and barrel downhill!
Early one crisp morning in Maine I broke out the skis, a blue sky stark and deep above a white house on a field of snow bordered by evergreens. Remembering the days of yore with three-pin cross-country bindings I kicked easily into the new style bindings, and slid away from snowshoes half-buried at the
doorstep in a pile of shoveled snow.
I trudge across the yard, and into the small field adjacent. Carving a circuit into two inches of fresh powder, I relish the feel of my skis sliding into the snow, the tips cutting a track. “Expedition skis,” they call these, ideal for laying a broad track through deep snow. Tiny skis disappear into deep powder, never seeing the light of day. But a big ski, ah a big ski slides easily above it, tracing across the glittiering white field as easily as an ink brush across snow-white paper.
A second circuit around the meadow, past the centuries old maple tree, gray and laying at rest till spring, and the trail becomes smoother, following my original tracks, sliding farther, stretching my legs, feeling my ligaments limber. Stretching out with my arms I pop my poles in and out of snow, a percussive beat atop my breathing,
I lose my self in a Nordic nirvana, wondering how many of my ancestors from the old country found this same bliss. But in Norway they skied to live, while today I live to ski.
A third circuit around the meadow, following the old gray stone wall crowned in white snow. I unzip my jacket halfway, venting my body heat, and nudge up my matron-knit wool hat.
In high school on the cross-country ski team I had always straggled behind my fleeter, smaller teammates. At over six feet and two hundred pounds, I felt like a Clydesdale running with ponies. Off they flitted on their narrow little skis, and I crushed their tiny trails beneath my massively wide skis. In my Junior Varsity days I was lapped in last place by Olympian trainees. I finished one race on just one ski, as my old-fashioned, recreational binding blew, and I was forced to carry a useless ski jammed up the back of my jacket. Knowing how slow I was, I showed up wearing knee braces atop lycra, and a pair of jam Hawaiian shorts. If I was going to lose, at least I would lose loudly.
Now I glide out in Gore-tex®, my body waterproofed from head to toe. I bike in it, I ski in it. I relish my dryness in a driving downpour from beneath my Seattle Sombrero, “Life is good. And Gore-tex® makes it better.”
I slide beneath snow-laden bows, emerging into an old orchard. The trees stand knarled on their hilltop, perhaps forgotten and untended, but perhaps not. My tracks cross those of a deer, and a canine, maybe coyote, maybe dog.
And then I return home, my private gliding meditation subsumed into the joyful hubbub of a meandering family brunch. The coffee pot never full, the griddle sizzling and warm.
“How was your ski?” my aunt asks me,
“It was good,” I say with a smile, the warmth of the kitchen rushing over my wind-bitten cheeks, “It was very good.”
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