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call of the wild

January 24th, 2012 | Comments Off on call of the wild

January 23rd, yesterday, I strapped on my cross-country skis for the first time this winter.

This Winter, waiting for snow cover deep enough to kick through has nearly killed me in anticipation, especially given that last year I was out almost every week between late November to well through March. Every snowfall that came our way found me holding my breath, anxiously awaiting the perfect amount that never came.

Certain activities are just part of who I am. Cooking, for one. But this, the strapping on of tiny thin skis, grasping the little poles and facing an open path of fresh snow, wind in the trees and clouds scuttling overhead is also a part of me that goes back to moments in childhood that seared to my brain like fire. I don’t even know how old I was the first time I put on the skinny skis. But I was a kid, and our school class went to a golf course one winter day, lush with a endless expanse of unbroken snow and we all were given those skis, the long poles and funny shoes and we set out over the empty golf course, where it clicked within me.

And in repeated winters, over growing years, those endless snows spread out in front of me as I faced them, tall poles in hand, face to the wind. Then at some point, they just stopped. But the call within me never left and finally several winters ago, I urged Mike to get ski packages and join me on the trails. It was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.

Because the first time ¬†I headed along a trail, pushing every muscle from shoulder to ankle over the snow, I felt that thrill again. I felt the flood of oxygen to every working muscle. I felt the quiet cold air and saw those dancing clouds. I felt alive again, working with muscles that still held the perfect memory of how this was done, even though it had to be more than 20 years since we’d moved in this way. I marveled at a body that remembered, when I had nearly forgotten; marveled at muscles that snapped into recall, pulling memory from some long ago moment in time. And I wondered why I’d stopped.

There is a tiny little park near our house; hardly a spot on a map but it’s flat, and just large enough to make for a perfect workout. I carve a trail around the perimeter, and go four, five six, sometimes eight laps or more around that park. It’s enough to make my lungs pump fiercely. It’s enough to drench me in sweat. It’s plenty, and it’s close and it’s 45 minutes to an hour of intense cardio work. If I can do this a few times a week, it’s all I could ever ask for from Winter.

The snow flies, and I hear the siren call from the trails.¬†Yesterday was that call, and barely a half hour after I was home from work, I faced that empty park, with a wicked cold Easterly wind on my back and stepped in to my skinny skis. The first path over the snow cuts my trail, and every lap gets easier as I go. My lungs engage, my muscles warm, the wind doesn’t seem so bitter and Winter doesn’t seem all that long anymore. It’s just me and the snow.

It’s Just Write Tuesday, Version 19.0.

embracing a season

February 8th, 2011 | Comments Off on embracing a season

When I wrote this post, which was last week, it had just snowed a gorgeous fluffy three or four inches, the temperatures were decent for a February day and it was lovely, really. But today, when this post goes live, the weather has sunk once again into a deep, bone chilling cold, so I do realize that asking a Minnesotan to embrace winter is quite a stretch. Still, I’m posting this because when it was actually occurring with me, it was really beautiful, and it’s worth sharing even if today is merciless and cold. Also, the photos are not in black and white. It was just the light that day, low and monochromatic and beautiful in it’s own soft, gray way.

There are plenty of those in Minnesota who, right about now I realize, are really, really tired of winter. We’ve had a lot of snow, most certainly, and it causes quite a few headaches, especially if you commute to your work. I’ve been fortunate that being out driving in it hasn’t been necessary for me during the worst of the storms. I can sit home, warm and snug and the only hassle I need to deal with is getting the newest snowfall amounts off the driveway, up and over the six-foot high snowbanks lining the sides. It’s Mother Nature’s workout at it’s finest.

And I’m a cross-country skier, so naturally the more snow, and the more frequently it snows, the better the skiing conditions will be. After our most recent several inches of fluff fell, I slid my skis in my car on a quiet Monday morning and headed over to the regional park near our house where a perfect 3K trail is carved through woods and wide open areas. When I arrived, there was a snow-shoeing class going on, with young children and their parents. I locked my boots into my skis and slid off on the trail. Pretty soon, the rest of the world fell away and it was just me, the sheer glaring white of a fresh snowfall and an empty park. The weather was perfect, and with each stride I felt like I was propelling myself further away from the clenched teeth feel of everyday life and into some place where I could breathe deep, let go and just be.

Sometimes when I ski, the rhythm of the stride, the movements of my shoulders and my very breath all seem like they’re fighting one another to co-exist. It’s a struggle to sweep myself along the trail; I feel clumsy and breathless, like I just can’t make my body work the way it needs to. On other days, within the first 5 minutes, my body slips into the familiar patterns it’s known since I was a young girl, and every muscle, breath and reach feels like the well-oiled machine that it is. On this snowy and silent Monday, I had one of those perfect days where it all fit. And with the trail to myself, I stretched, flew, slowed, stopped and breathed in the clear cold goodness of a winter day.

At one point in the trail, both sides are closely guarded by long stands of large pine trees, with sweeping boughs of green. They line the path like sentries, watching as you pass. I like to stop on this part, to look around under the trees as it’s a good place for wildlife to lurk as the tree cover tends to prevent the snowfall accumulation on the ground underneath. Sometimes there are deer in those trees, silently watching me; one time I was blessed to see a bright red fox for one good look before he leapt off, thick tail flashing wildly. This morning, I glimpsed a quiet rabbit, ears placed against it’s back under one majestic pine, and I stopped to catch my breath and watch. It was nibbling on something, paying little attention to me. I was struck with how content it looked, sitting there in a thick fur coat, like this snowy day was just another part of life.

And in reality, it is. The animals know nothing else but instinct. They just know what to do and how to manage the seasons as they change. And we could pick up a clue or two from their behavior. I don’t think they hang around each other, complaining about the current snow, the cold temperatures, and how much longer it is until Spring, at least those that stay here year round. But it seems like human beings somehow become hard-wired to complain about what they can’t change. Somehow there’s a sense of entitlement to having life exactly the way you want it, all the time. When it’s cold we want it hot, then when it’s hot we wish it wasn’t. The glass is full, but we drain it, then want it full again; always wishing for what is not. I don’t love the bitter cold, but there isn’t a single thing I can do about it when it comes except wait it out, wrapped up snug in wool sweaters. No words that can be formed with my tongue will make any difference, and the more bitterness I throw at circumstances beyond my control, the higher my dissatisfaction with my life rises. And that’s no good for anyone.

This all was churning through my mind as I skied further on the trail that day, listening to the whirl of wind over the open snow, and the moaning of a train whistle nearby. Being content with winter is challenging, I’ll be the first to admit that. But it’s also inevitable where we live. The snow falls, the snow banks grow, the muck in the streets covers our cars and potholes are everywhere. Granted, that part of the season isn’t the prettiest, but out there in the park that day, with just the wind and the train, and the endless lines of brown branches against the leaden sky, there’s a beauty that shouldn’t be ignored. And the best part about Winter is that Spring always comes, like the sunrise, a new day and with a sweet breath of relief.

Winter light

December 14th, 2009 | 3 Comments »

I almost feel cheated waking up to a fresh snowfall. After all, watching it come down is the best part.

But then again, I finally got to see this.

And making this trail made my day much better.