The snow has been late in coming this year. Even the most promising snowstorms have veered off course to dump their treasure elsewhere. Our winters have been like this for the past several years – more rain and ice, less white stuff. More treacherous driving, less skiing.
At last we get a long day of fluffy, floating snow. It’s measured in inches instead of feet, but I can tell it’s enough. I haul my cobwebby cross-country skis up from the basement, dust off my boots and load it all into my car.
I drive to a local regional park, step into my elderly, unfashionable skis and set off on my first good ski of the season. The trail is an invitation: two parallel grooves carved in blue-white snow leading into bare-branched forest.
The sky is a bright, clear blue as it often is when the temperature is a mere handful of degrees. As I start out, my hands are stiff with cold in their heavy mitts. I feel my cheeks grow pink in the frigid breeze. I’m smiling and giddy.
The first few strokes confirm that the snow is perfect. My skis whisper — “shhhhhh” — into the silent forest. My poles rhythmically crunch and squeak with each dig into the snow. I feel the subtle contours of the land unfurling under my skis. At the first hill, I surrender to gravity and sigh with pleasure all the way down.
Little puffs of glittering snow leap suddenly from the high branches, set loose by a slight stirring of wind. My torso heats up like a furnace, pushing against the force of the cold – and slowly winning out. It’s only a matter of time before that warmth seeps out to my extremities. Soon I am unzipping outer layers and pushing my hat off my sweaty forehead. When I lick my lips, I taste the ice crystals that have formed on the tiny hairs there. My heart is thundering in my chest. I’m alive.
I seem to have the park to myself. I see no other skiers out on the trail.
But I do encounter other friends there. Coming around a corner, my eye catches the tawny hide of a deer. My heart leaps as it always does. Tears spring to my eyes. I stop to watch her and notice three more grazing here and there among the trees. Now and again they turn to glance at me, then step calmly forward on their nimble feet. One of them lazily flaps her white tail in half-hearted alarm as I finally ski by.
I finish the loop as long blue shadows stretch through the tree trunks. The lowering sun slips into the clouds, painting the sky with suddenly tropical hues.
I stop for one last savoring – my beating heart in the still forest, my burning cheeks in the icy air, the rosy sunset glow on the snow, the blessing of getting to do this thing I love so much one more time.