This surprises me as much as, I’m sure, it surprises you! I had no idea that I didn’t believe in mountain lions. It never occurred to me to seriously contemplate whether or not they existed, until now. Now, I live in a land of mountain lions. I hike on trails posted with signs that say “mountain lion territory.” And yet when I read these signs, my mind automatically replaces the words “mountain lion” with “unicorn.”
I’m very fond of the word catamount. It rolls off of my tongue so sweetly, so naturally. I decided that I wanted to go to Middlebury College when I was ten because of the bronze catamount statue in their sports center. (Spoiler: I didn’t get accepted, but I went to a different small liberal arts college that tried very hard to be Middlebury, only in brick instead of marble.) I wrote a moderately good poem in college with the lines:
A catamount behind circus bars
cannot carry off your children and chickens
to kill and eat.
And yet, for all the word rolls off of my tongue so sweetly, so naturally, I find myself firmly believing that catamounts, real live cougars, are figments of one’s imagination. Here’s why:
Vermont’s last resident mountain lion was killed in 1881.
I found an article from 2012 that says Vermont’s division of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gets 45-50 cougar sightings a year. That’s 45-50 people a year who don’t know what a bobcat/deer/large dog/fox/Maine coon cat/etc. looks like.
So, pardon me for being suspicious of anyone who says they’ve seen one. I also never believed in the toothfairy; I just played along as long as I kept receiving cash deposits under my pillow.
Mountain lions are, apparently, a serious thing out here with several verified attacks on human and even human fatalities around these parts. I even picked up a book specifically about the mountain lions who are my new neighbors, The Beast in the Garden by David Baron. It’s quite good, reading like a fast paced crime novel and cautionary parable. I biked by the trail where a woman my age was treed by two cougars.
Apparently, they wander into town fairly regularly. Or they lounge in the trees off of popular hiking spots just out of town.
Reading The Beast in the Garden was supposed to cool my enthusiasm about the possibility of running into a mountain lion. The accounts really are frightening. But. I can’t help it. I get a little excited thinking…
It’s springtime in Colorado, though for someone used to the growling weather in New England, it’s felt like spring for an awfully long time. The clouds roll in and high above us linger. Here, again unlike the east, the clouds seem so far away and, for all their attempts, appear thin. I swear I can feel the sun through them.
Even the dark days seem bright.
Two weekends ago, driving back from a weekend in Fruita, we drove through sun, rain, snow, and rain again. Now that felt like home.
Do you remember (it feels so long ago) when I wrote down my resolutions post Wanderlust Fest? Once of them was to write where other people can see.
I’ve always been afraid of showing people what I write. But there’s this wonderful thing that happens when I’m busy or distracted. I write, I write well, I edit, and I publish without a moment’s thought to my inner critic because my coworkers have already gone over it to say, “Yes, yes. Change this, not that. Looks good. Hit send.”
In the course of these last five months, I’ve written a lot. I’ve conducted more interviews than I can probably count. Edited more articles than I can recall. And hit the publish button over and over again.
That last one was actually pretty nuts. It was the first time I’d interviewed anyone since college, for one. For two, Tim Robinson was elected to the Bentonville, Arkansas city council. For three, he’s also a director for Walmart. He and I covered so much ground in that interview, me from my tiny desk after hours, him from his car overlooking the city. Far too much didn’t make it to the final piece.
We talked about bikes, you see. But what I was really fascinated was the look into Walmart that didn’t show an evil corporation, but instead showed the passionate, civic-minded people who really are trying.
I still hate Walmart. But.
I think that’s an important thing. Incredible things can be accomplished by people who try.
I can’t describe the way the world drops dead the moment before one drops over a cornice and into a field of moguls. How the universe contracts and expands to encompass just the line – your line – through the mounds that rise and fall at their own leisure, not yours.
Maybe I can explain this:
One of the first runs we took lead us through a copse of trees called Half Moon. Early on, the grade pitches down, snow caked against a rock face. There is a left line and a right line. Neither is particularly narrow or long. A couple of turns, then out. No biggie.
Left line, two turns and I’m down. Thrown backwards and twisted so that my skis are above me, momentum pulling me down, down. Still sliding, I (panicked) barrel roll and, with my skis below me, I brake to a halt. A few seconds, that’s all.
My ski partner laughs and compliments my “smooth recovery.” Let this be a lesson to you; barrel rolls are always cool.
This fall is my achilles heel. It’s happened, moment by moment, dozens of times before and with the same result. I try to dump speed, I fall. The fall is always caused by imbalance, my weight thrown toward the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s incredibly frustrating. Even in the moment, it feels like a rookie mistake that I’ve been on skis too long to make.
I dust myself off, emptying the snow from my coat.
And we skied off.
We skied hard pack, we skied trees. We dropped off the sharp rim of Zuma Bowl. I pointed us down mogul runs until Brian, respectfully, started to decline and met me at the lift.
Maybe I can explain this, too.
I like the way moguls, perhaps more than any other terrain, force you to adhere to their path, bending you and your skis to their will. I like the way that if you ski them and ski them well, then in a way… your rhythm, your heart beats in time with that of the mountain.
But maybe Hemingway said all that needs to be said about skiing. It really is better than anything else.
It’s dumped something like five feet in Vermont in the span of a week, while here it’s hardpack and heavy, sun-warmed cement. I don’t mind. A day in the mountains is a good day to be alive.
Last night, I downloaded Sandra Lahnsteiner’s PURE (a really, really damn good ski film) off of iTunes. I watched a bit, paced a bit, then sat down again to watch some more. I sketch-write in my journal. I hold my ski jacket so that it all tucks into its own hood. I debate the merits of athletic leggings or compression shorts so well used they no longer compress much of anything. (I go with the shorts.) I sit back down to watch more. It’s getting late. I have to be up early the next morning. I keep watching.
I waste time folding the next day’s kit up and piling them up in the exact order that I will put them on in the morning. I’m procrastinating, obviously.
From what? Preparing… for my first ever backcountry tour.
Backcountry skiing. From a very, very young age, I knew I wanted to be a backcountry skier. Last night, falling down the rabbit hole of nerves and too much kombucha, I tried to trace that desire back to its root… down to the trembling husk of the seed from which this dream propagated. If I could just identify the seed, then I could explain why in gods’ names I was so nervous… why I felt like I was on the threshold to a door that would take me — somewhere I really, really desperately wanted to go.
My best guess is that it started, like so many other obsessions, with one particular sequence in Warren Miller’s Double Exposure; The Atlas Mountains.
More than anywhere in the world, I want to ski Morocco’s Atlas Mountains. Last night, sitting on my bed with my eighth bottle of kombucha since I fell sick last week, I thought: That’s it. If I can fall in love with backcountry, then I will be well on my way to making it to the Atlas Mountains. And yes, I’m fully aware that every single ski sequence I’ve seen that was shot in the Atlas Mountains showcased stunningly lackluster conditions. I don’t care. To me, the Atlas Mountains are mythic. They are my one-item bucket list.
Into the mountains!
I woke up this morning and put on my kit in exactly the order I intended. I brewed a strong cup of black coffee. I gave myself the time to savor it. (I finally got an Able Disk filter for my Aeropress… Liz is back in caffeinated business.) I threw my gear in the car, and with Speed of Light from PURE on my lips, I drove to Brian’s and we were on our way.
It was very, very windy in the parking lot, but the day’s route kept us happily in the trees. Staying sheltered meant that I didn’t have to worry about being blown about, so I had plenty of mind-space to worry about what was going on with my feet.
Skinning is really, really weird. While the idea is similar to cross country skiing, in practical application, it isn’t very much like cross country skiing at all. It’s a lot more like snowshoeing on snowshoes that are much too big for you. When you adjust your bindings into their tallest “walk assist” mode, it starts feeling a whole heck of a lot like telemark skiing with super glue on your bases. Still no glide, but suddenly your upper thighs hurt. A bit like wearing heels, actually.
To sum up: skinning up mountains is kind of like snowshoeing in high heels.
I haven’t taken an Avvy 1 course yet (believe me, I know how important this is. Yes, I will do one. Yes, as soon as possible), so Brian was kind enough to stop and explain the basics as we went. Here is what layers of snow feel like when you’re using a probe. This is how to dig a pit. This is how to do a compression test. This is what slab looks like. This is what slab feels like when someone inadvertently tosses a shovel full of it into your face. Ow. Slab hurts.
Then, we skied. The trees (spruce of some sort?) were tight, then open, like lungs breathing. Technical, then dappled with light, technical again, a perfectly-placed kicker (apparently, I’m into those now), then a fast run out. Ah! Divinity. The snow was heavy, 5-10″ of lazy cement, but satisfying. Fast with moments of fluff.
And it was over far too soon.
Back at the car, I peeled off my socks, examining two raw blisters on my heels. I don’t have AT boots, see. Or, apparently, ski socks with the appropriate amount of heel padding to deal with the added rubbing.
Any sock recommendations?
Also, seriously. Go watch PURE. The filmography is incredibly badass, and the athletes are all powerful women. Sandra is one of the loveliest people I’ve ever had the honor to chat with, however briefly, and however entirely over email. I seriously, seriously regret not going up to her at IF3 last year when I had the chance.
One of my first public blog posts ever no longer exists on the internet. It was published on the blog of the company I first worked for after college, which has since undergone a massive (and kind of perplexing) rebranding. Fortunately, I saved it: From Ugly to Design: Draplin Design Co. Rocks Vermont.
It was a run down on a presentation Aaron Draplin gave in a Burlington basement.
In the original blog, there are five direct quotes, but I frankly forgot about all but two. The two that, really, sum up the rest.
Say yes a little bit more than no.
Do good work for good people.
Some days, the hardest part is saying yes more often than no. I have a deep appreciation for the word no. I don’t think it’s anywhere near as negative as people make it out to be. No is as much positive as it is negative (just as yes can really, honestly and truly, be a negative). That said, sometimes it feels so good to say yes.
Some things I have recently said yes to: 24 Hours in Chicago, Talking to strangers, Cutting half my hair off, Extra hours in the office, One more cup of coffee at Ozo, Owning my geekiness (no matter how dweeby), Late night bike rides to clear the sickness from my throat.
What’s bringing this strange appreciation on? Well, today I went pawing through my old journals. I’ve kept one, more or less faithfully, since senior year of high school. One, more or less, for every year. I avoid looking at my journals.
While I keep writing in them and carried all of them from Vermont to Colorado like a jealous, possessive, paranoid lover, I avoid reading them. I’m ashamed of them. Ashamed of the things I’ve written, the thoughts I had, the mistakes, the whining, the way life occasionally blindsided me in my naiveté. I hate reading them.
Except, today I flipped through them looking for a poem I half-remembered copying down among the pages. As the sheets turned, worn out spines cracking, I read sentences, paragraphs, entire pages.
I surprised myself with my own tenderness, looking back not with disgust but with patience. I found poetic lines, honest struggle, bravery, and above all the sincere desire to do good. To try with all my might, even if my trying was misplaced.
All this newfound sweetness is probably due to being in the midst of a grand adventure, maturing so much in just a year, and overflowing with love. But, for what it’s worth, today at least, I wouldn’t change anything. Not a single line in any of those black moleskine books.
Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.
I’m several weeks late with my birthday list, I know. I know. I’ll post again soon. Promise. xo