Parallel Lines

I find it impossible to run on icy roads in the successive waves of storm that have gripped the Northeast this real January.  But every day at about 2, if I possibly can, I disappear into this wonderful winterland of white. I might get a more thorough workout at the gym, and my mom tries to get me to explore the local snowmobile trails, and sweet as they may be, I love dropping my skis by my own shed door, pressing the toes of my old boots into the locks, and plunging off into my own familiar woods and fields, made unfamiliar by the continuing snows, shaped by the wind.  No driving in a tin can involved, so it feels like drinking our own well water, or felling our own firewood.  Independent, organic, right livelihood – never mind that the rest of my working day depends on the internet, the jet engine, and the telephone.

In this weather, wind is the chief determinant of my choice of route.  With the temperature hovering around 0F (-20C), skiing into the wind is the claws of a wolverine tearing away at your cheeks.  Usually the route out or back involves the pond, a fast half-mile compared to the woods or fields, but it’s better downwind.  The upwind component I do as much as I can in the woods, where the wind is muted.

Breaking trails like this is usually a job for snowshoes (or snowmobiles, those hateful, noisy things), but I like picking my way with the tips of the skis; even in the close woods, there’s a seam, a thread, a way to move forward.  I rarely take the same path twice.   Everything is frozen in deep – no streams stop me, no bugs to bite me – the occasional track of a deer or a rabbit or a coyote and rarely a bobcat cross my trail, but all in silence except for the clacking teeth of the trees, plaintive in the wind.  Yesterday, a partridge shot up with a beating of wings like a machine gun, startling us both.  How do they fly so fast in such thick branches without hitting anything?

By the end of the first few minutes, I am perfectly warm for the trip, though if I am out for a couple of hours one limb or another begins to lose warmth, telling me its time to turn an eye for home.  But while I am out there, it’s perfect exercise for my lines, lifting the front line to place the ski on the snow’s surface, pushing off with the back line to motivate.  When going up banks or over rocks, the push down is more vertical, and the lateral lines carry the bulk of stabilizing tension from the poles to my shoulders to the trunk to the alternating legs.  Get on the level and the spirals move to the fore, leaning forward into their double-helix embrace – by the time I return I have expanded into all my creaks and crevices, and am comfy in myself.  Keep going, keep going, keep going – the idea is to move with the terrain – slow parcour, maybe.

But this was to be about colour: the closer to noon I get started, the whiter the whites – dazzling, color-enhanced like your wash after Tide, too much glare for the eye. With each tree coated until the wind whips the branches free in swirls, the world is a frosted wedding cake, wild with confetti. A Mardi Gras of light; dark is banished.

The last snows have been very cold and therefore fluffy, and wind braids the snow as it tears it off the fields or out of the tracks behind me, the patterns in the air made visible, as they never are in a sailboat.  Until Force 8 when the spume appears, you are always guessing at the shape of the air from the pattern on the water, but here its plain for all to see.

But here no one else is looking; I am utterly alone.  I have been lost (but not for long); I have fallen through and gotten wet, and have headed home with a stiffening shoe and pantleg; I suppose I could suffer a heart-attack or break a bone; even a sprained ankle could leave me vulnerable – but I feel so safe and embraced by a silent nature.

As the horizon lifts toward the sun (which happens so early these days), the light becomes more yellow, then orange as it lights up the trunks for a few tequila moments.  Forsaking the trees, the light burns more red and purple, and pools of ooblek begin to gather around the base of the pines, spreading across the snow and snuffing out its shine.  By the time I get home the color is drained from the landscape, my way in lit by the fading yellow in the western sky.  Tea, a cup of tea sounds good, feed the fire and the cats, share a hug and review our different days.

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