First Ski


After a morning of studio work I loaded the skis into the truck, packed a small pack, and dressed in layers. Water dripped off the eaves as snow melted off the roof. The temperature was in the 40s, and the sun felt bright as I drove along Lake Cle Elum. Almost like spring. I was hoping for a short easy ski, but also had the snowshoes if the snow was just too awful. When I got to the end of the plowed road at Salmon la Sac, I could see that there was a soft rain crust on top of mushy sun-warmed snow. Stepped into the ski bindings and hoped for the best.

Living around here you get used to skiing on crud. Because the climate is maritime, the temperature fluctuates and the snowpack is in a continual state of flux. So I was pleasantly surprised to find myself floating on the slightly icy surface, able to get a good long glide for every kick. I had to pay careful attention to where my weight and center of gravity were to keep from backsliding. Much of winter revolves around physical laws, such as gravity and the body in motion tending to stay in motion. Skiing is a good way to observe the nuances.

I crossed he Cle Elum River as the sun disappeared behind a ridge, but the daylight remained. The angle of the sun is lengthening. The trail was pocked with craters from rain and blobs of snow falling from trees. Lichens had come down from the branches of the Doug-firs, sprinkling foliar and tubular shapes on the crusty surface. The fishscales on the bottoms of the skis buzzed as they skimmed over patches of ice. I heard the river, and dripping, and random peeps from forest birds going about their day.

My body falls so easily into the rhythm of skiing, muscles remembering without any help from my head. If it’s possible for muscles to feel joy, then I believe they do. There is a freedom to skiing, a release from the clumsy wallowing through snow that comes from stomping around in boots. I imagine that my toes and heels have elongated, allowing me to skim over the snow instead of sinking down into it. The skis are an extension of my feet, and I feel them flexing under me as I push forward. Then there is that whole business of sliding, of moving without any effort. That’s the magic. My arms work with the legs, poles planting and lifting to add to balance and rhythm. My lungs fill and release, the murkiness of days spent inside billowing out into the clear air. Things are better outside.

As I skied back I could feel the crust hardening as the temperature dropped toward nightfall. Icier, slicker, faster. Muscles remembered this too–the loss of control is more likely, so there was tension. I reminded my legs to soften the knees, be ready to absorb bumps, to loosen and fall if necessary.

There is the moment when I step out of the bindings and walk again. No longer floating, no longer flying. Earthbound, stepping on two legs with short feet.

Can’t wait till I ski again.

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