Where I grew up, “camp” was the word most people used to describe summer camps; places where they left their children for weeks or months at a time. In my family, camp meant a little red house on the banks of Lake Seymour. It’s too home-like to be a cottage, too rustic for a summer house. This place lies smack dab in the middle of cottage and home. It’s camp.
I just finished Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel, which has me daydreaming of far-off shores, but also reminded me of why I love it here – a little red house resting quietly on a lake in the Northeast Kingdom.
At night, I sleep on the back porch with every window thrown open and the brook raging in my ears. The trees are our curtains. In the morning, I brew weak coffee in the percolator and drink it all day long. I sweep the front deck and set out the chair cushions. The lake is at our doorstep. She has her moods – rowdy in the morning and calm at night, or vice versa. She is wide enough that motorboats don’t cause a ruckus and deep enough that she never really gets warm. Even in July, her crystal-clear waters make you gasp. It’s best to just dive in.
Our main view is of the pointed hill across the lake. (It’s name is Elon, but I always think of it as Élan.) Behind it, the pointed peaks of Mount Westmore. Stretching like a snout from the hill into the water is Wolf Point. It certainly looks like a long canine muzzle, complete with a defined patch of conifers for a nose. I sometimes wish it didn’t look so much like a nose… I find myself staring at it when I really could be looking at other things –
Like the loons diving into the water, or the conical silhouettes of conifers against their round, deciduous neighbors.
After an evening run along VT Route 111, I cool my muscles the fastest way I can think of – by walking into the water. The water level is high this week, so it takes just a few steps to reach my thigh. I dive in. I don’t fully know how to describe the shock of submerging oneself in truly cold water. It’s as if your cells go into panic mode as your mind narrows to encompass one simple word (COLD) and one simple purpose (GET OUT YOU CRAZY GIRL). I don’t stay in for long; just a minute or two. But before I leave the water, I smile and touch my wet fingers to my lips. Thank you, I love you.
If you’re looking for me this week, I’m not around. I’m just spending a few days by the lake and nights on the porch of a little red camp. The brook will sing me to sleep.
For many, Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer. Families roll out barbecue grills. Co-eds drink beer in folding lawn chairs.
Today, Memorial Day 2013, I went skiing.
Between Saturday night and Sunday, a beautiful nor’easter dumped 8″ on the summit of Mt. Mansfield (and 3 feet on New York’s White Face). The lowlands were pelted with rain. Monday morning had me waking up to sunshine and blue skies. Naturally, I threw my skis into my car and high-tailed it for the hills.
All day, two thoughts circled through my mind. One I’ll write about now. The other I will save for the next blog post.
The first: Brendan Leonard over at Semi-Rad wrote about a divide between Uphill People and Downhill People. He is of the former – finding pleasure in the journey UP, whether it’s sending a climbing route or skinning into the backcountry. As he describes, “I enjoy the Zen rhythm of methodically skinning up the snow, forcing myself to stay at a pace that I could hold for an hour straight without stopping…”
I have a deep appreciation for the uphill. Movement is my meditation, after all; the more all-consuming the better. This morning, I took a round-about way up to avoid the sight and sounds of other hikers (all four of them). In no time at all, I fell into a natural, steady pace. With no one to catch up to or slow down for, I simply walked forward. And up.
It was a warm day in the sun, but the wind flowing downhill was cold. It picked up the smell of the snow and beckoned me ever forward.
I stopped to eat lunch below the gondola summit and leaned again the pylon. Here, the snow lay inches thick and heavy with the morning’s warmth. I felt no need to walk any higher. The tops of things don’t interest me, particularly when I’m hungry and surrounded by snow. By the time I was done eating, the cold wind had picked up and drove me to my skis.
Clicked in and buckled up, I pushed off. The first turn wasn’t so good. Neither was the second. But, as I made my third arc, I hit the rhythm and my face exploded into a wide, open-mouthed grin. I turned off Gondolier and onto Switchback – which was perhaps not the brightest idea. Riding down Switchback meant navigating over ditches and large rocks while sliding on a fifty-fifty mix of snow and small rocks. I loved every minute of it. I was drunk on the same heady elation that overcomes me on long powder runs. It’s a thick, rich, sweet feeling of absolute thankfulness. (I imagine this is analogous to drinking Turkish Coffee.)
See, I’m a Downhill Person. I love stepping down, then down again, then down once more, ever faster as momentum builds. I love the jarring shock of my legs absorbing the full weight of me with each step or turn. When I ski, I fly downhill. When I hike, I run downhill. When I am in the throes of a moment I want to savor forever, I run downhill. Even when I’m afraid, I find it’s best to take a deep breath and go downhill.
If the uphill is meditation, the downhill is ecstasy. At speed, I am released to being the child flying, arms flailing, as she runs into the arms of her mother.
(Aside: My love of the downhill is funny, because I am afraid of heights. But I think much of my fear isn’t fear at all, simply a horrified reaction to l’appel du vide. The call is strong in me. It stubbornly persists, insisting that I could fly if only I jumped. I long to fly. If I could, I would fly as high as Icarus, then drop like a peregrine, only to open my wings and climb once more. This is why I ski. It is my answer to l’appel du vide.)
The balance between Uphill and Downhill is the joy of earning your turns. By going both ways, reap the benefits of both motions and mindsets. The zen and the ecstasy – or whatever it is that goes through your heart as you get out there and enjoy.
How did you spend your Memorial Day weekend – going Uphill or Downhill? (Or relaxing around a grill?)
In the span of a week, my photostream transformed from this:
Now, my routine has turned to running and long bike rides along the water.
Running-wise, my mileage is low and the pace steady. It’s taking time for my body to re-align after a cold winter spent locked in to stiff ski boots. Monday morning’s brisk 2 mile jog was the first time I really felt myself hitting the perfect stride – forefoot striking with balance and energy.
As to the cycling, I confess. I’m not much of a biker. My dad and elder brothers are pretty into it, so I made a point to not be. But, after a 14 mile spin along the waterfront, I’m starting to see the appeal: the gratifying sensation of speed, the pleasure of exercising in the sun, and, more importantly… a built-in air conditioner! It’s no skiing, but at least it’s cool.
I’m looking forward to getting back to the mountains, though. First for hiking, then trail running, picking up the pace as I train for the Spartan Race. I did the 3 mile version last year, and am looking forward to the long form. Nothing sounds like more fun that running up and down a mountain through mud, under obstacles, over rope ladders… and through a gauntlet of gladiators.
There’s a lot I’m looking forward to this summer, but don’t expect the ski talk to disappear completely. I’ll be writing up a review of my new skis (Head’s Sweet Ones) in a few days, and I’m sure I’ll find some other way to keep the snow alive this summer.
How’s your spring going? Are you keeping the snow alive?