Last Chair

After closing and sweeping trails that won’t be illuminated for night skiing, some of the ski patrol day crew make their way to ride the chair lift one last time for the day.

They’ll wait on top of the mountain at the ski patrol base for the night crew to arrive before skiing their last run down to the locker room.

There, they’ll change some clothing for the ride home, then eat, early to bed, and do it all over again the next day.

Top of Elk Mountain

The top of Elk Mountain is now home to several communications towers.  Years ago, sometimes you could stand outside the small unmanned support buildings, and hear air traffic and other communications.

Not far from where these towers are now, up until the 1960’s a fire tower stood. I remember climbing up the tower stairs as a youngster, and seeing a transit that the ranger would use to pinpoint a fire’s location.

When looking out at the top of the mountain now and seeing how populated the area has become, it’s difficult to imagine that less than a lifetime ago, there were so few people and telephones to merit manning a fire tower.

The transit is now housed at the Clifford Township Historical Society, and can be seen on their website http://cliffordtownshiphistoricalsociety.org/

Snow Tree Shadows

Literally, skiing is a sensuous sport.

The shadows cast by snow storm coated trees contrasted against an impossibly blue sky is visually interesting, and to some very pleasing.

One could argue that tastes and scents are not nearly so obvious as pleasing views of scenery and weather.  Another may counter that discerning such senses takes time and dedication.

It may take decades of winters letting snowflakes land on your tongue before you can tell the difference between the taste of a somewhat raw December snowflake and a fully ripened February snowflake.

A bitter cold dawn smells much more clear than one that rises above freezing, damp, soupy, thick with moisture.

On the first chairlift ride,  faint smell of diesel fuel intrudes, then evaporates as snow cats, having groomed all night,  head back to the barn, rendering slopes to the days first guests.

Continuing through corridors of pines, soft wind pulls through trees, seasons air with scent of turpentine.

Above, crows caw to each other completing their morning congress. Below, squirrels chirp and chatter scurrying this way and that, hunting for and finding breakfast in places that looked like good spots to hide nuts last Autumn.

Skiing in a storm that has already delivered several inches of snow, contracts the world.

A down hood bundled under a helmet eliminates distant noises, making the world much smaller. 

Falling snow obscures everything but ski tips rhythmically thrusting out of surface snow, disappearing back in, again and again, as snow clouds explode against boots, knees and thighs.

Core instinctively poses and flexes, at once sensing and balancing speed, snow depth and body posture, keeping feet swinging back and forth, moving above the ground, below the air.

Ears hear only heartbeat and breath.

Thought stops.

So freed from earth, subject neither to ground or sky, dwelling in between, turn by turn, precious moment by precious moment,

Ten Below

Cold.

The kind of cold that demands forbearance. Day after day after day of near and sub-zero temperatures that finds it’s way into our bones, and daily conversations.

Just after finishing opening chores I came off the mountain to take a break in the ski lodge when someone asked “How’s the snow?”

“Good skiin’!” I replied enthusiastically. “Cold. Damn cold.” I thought to myself.

Before chores were over, cold found it’s way between my goggles and hood. Like a dog might snarl before a full bite, cold nipped my cheek, reminding me, warning me, this kind of cold will freeze flesh in a very few moments. 

“What did you have for breakfast, miss?” 

After the words left my mouth, I realized how personal a question that was to ask a total stranger. Maybe even inappropriate.

“Eggs with ham, and cheese.” the woman replied patiently, almost with a hint of contrition in her voice.

“That sounds good, but no bread?” I asked. “No, no bread.”

“Well don’t be shy about having a snack if you feel like it. Pretty cold, you’ll burn it up quick.”

The cold caused me concern. For myself, and anyone else sharing the outdoors in this arctic air.

I didn’t eat lunch in the cafeteria as I usually do.

“Did you eat lunch today?” asked the cafeteria cashier when I saw her in the lodge later in the afternoon.

She seemed satisfied when I recited “Some chips and cheese, two hot dogs on buns, and homemade cookies with cherry stuff on top that someone’s wife had made and sent up to ski patrol base for us to share, and plenty of hot tea to wash it all down.”

More ‘crude but effective’ than ‘healthy’ diet I thought. No matter. Whatever you throw in the furnace on a day like today will burn quick just keeping the animal warm.

“That’s good – you must have good clothing on too.” she said.

“Yes I do – and lot’s of it!”

Riding the lift later, another ski patroller asked me if I knew how many layers he had on. Before I could say anything, he declared “All of them!” I inventoried my own kit and counted seven.

The weather station never reported temperatures warmer then two below zero. A steady and gusty wind kept the windchill hovering between 24 and 27 degrees below zero.

The kind of cold that provokes compassion. The kind of cold that makes you feel lucky and grateful if you have a warm bed and enough heat. 

The kind of cold that makes it obvious how important it is we tend to each other’s, and our own animal’s well being.

Orchid Buds

Orchid Buds

With highs forecasted to venture into the teens every few days, and lows unspeakably cold for the foreseeable future, it’s nice to be reminded of unrelenting warmth.

Naturally residing on tropical trees, this individual calls home my living room window.

Now cast in front of a winter landscape, she bloomed last June and held her blossoms until November.

Separated from sub-zero air by a mere pane of glass, this orchid plant’s buds swell bigger day by day; promises of color and scent from far away tropical lands.

How much different can heaven be?