Slippery Slope

Cocooned in the muffled silence of the snowy woods and listening to the soft voices of my companions, I struggle to keep up.  My feet and legs have absolutely no control over my shiny, brand-new cross-country skis.  Jane and Miranda promised me no hills, or at least a minimum of hills, but each time I raise my eyes from the snowy track, I find I’m either looking up or down.  My fingers are frozen sausage links stuffed into my gloves, curled in a rigid grip on my ski poles, as if these thin plastic rods will save me.  I like the feeling of having something to hold onto, though, and try to relax into this strange new posture.  My fingers and wrists ache.

The layer of fresh snow that landed softly this morning gives me something to dig my skis into as I try to duck-walk my way up the next hill.  Barbara, the other woman who came with us, glides along in front, following the smooth, narrow track cut by a previous skier.  Jane or Miranda follow behind her, taking turns, one of them always careful to stay behind with me as I stumble along.  Brambly pricker bushes catch the tips of my skis, first on the left, then on the right and my legs are not sure what to do to dislodge the narrow strip.  I stand, stuck, pulling my leg back and forth, trying to find a way to convince the ski to pull itself from the tangle.  I escape by chance, and each time I repeat getting caught, try to figure out how to move myself to get what I want.  Frustrated, I look down and see I am stepping on one ski with the other.  I grunt and wrench myself loose, hurrying to catch up with whichever woman stands waiting patiently ahead for me.

Each in  turn shares their special tips for skiing through the woods of Dogtown.  On the steeper hills going down, I should turn my skis in a bit to slow down.  Going up, Jane tells me to almost try and run, to barely touch down so I don’t slide backwards.  I slide.  I turn my feet out, forcing the skis to follow, and dig my poles into the snow to hold every inch of ground I gain.  Miranda demonstrates the glide I should be aiming for with each forward movement.  I work on the glide along the flatter parts of the trail, but mostly find myself hiking along, awkwardly lugging the sticks locked into my boots.

There are moments when I sense that feeling hiding just around the corner— that feeling of being one with my mind and body, of moving almost effortlessly along with the rhythm of my heartbeat.  The air is cold on my cheeks, but my fingers finally warm up, although they retain the grip of the terrified.  My legs don’t mind the work.  I am happy to have strong thighs and calves from running so many miles, ankles firm from doing so much barefoot work.  My shoulders feel good too, and I am grateful for choosing to spend time working on upper body strength.  But my elbows throb, my fingers ache.  I find myself using the poles just to hold my own ground, pressing hard into the edges of the track, tensing my shoulders, working hard to keep my elbows bent.

I choose to fall rather that zip down some of the hills, and the women turn to look at me, asking if I’m okay, if I need anything.  I count each fall, even the ones I choose over speeding downhill.  After a while, I lose count, though and it doesn’t really matter.  I fall easily, lightly, sometimes to the left side, sometimes to the right.  A couple of times I go down backwards, and wonder how I will feel tomorrow.  I scoot right back up to standing, grateful again for strong legs, and continue.  We stop at Whale’s Jaw for a minute, then again when we meet other skiers on the path.  After a little more than an hour, I realize I need to go back so I can pick up my daughter from school.  Although I feel confident about making it back on my own, the group decides to turn back with me.  The return trip is faster, either because I am improving or because that’s just how return trips feel.  I look for my tracks in the snow— not my ski tracks, but my body imprint tracks from the places where I toppled by accident or necessity.  I can only find six.  I know that next time there will be fewer, and cannot stop thinking about snow, skiing, the woods, these friends, and the gift of this day.

We part at a fork in the woods; Miranda and Jane decide to continue on for a bit longer; Barbara has had enough.  She leads me out to the edge of the trail, guiding me, sharing more tips for success out here in the snow.  I follow behind her, doing my best to imitate her movements.  She is graceful, like both of the other women I trailed behind today.  Their bodies barely move; their skis, poles, legs and arms find their own easy rhythms and they glide along gracefully and silently, their occasional chatter floating up into the snow covered tree limbs, disappearing into the blue-gray sky.

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3 Comments on “Slippery Slope”

  1. Craig Says:

    This makes me wish I had a pair of skis as well. Partly to be able to spend time with you in moments like these. And partly because it sounds like there is finally something I can do as least as good as you.

  2. I think you would love cross-country skiing, probably for both of those reasons. Remember, though, that there are many, many things you do far better than I ever could. It is our differences that bring about the balance which creates the graceful ballet ‘us’ out of you and me. That balance is the best dance of my life.

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