'membering · Skiing · Writing

New Skier Blues

I do not downhill ski. My whole acquaintance with skiing was a brief familiarity through watching it on TV and going “downhill” on cross-country skis as a child. However all that was about to change as my new sweetie and I buckled into our seats on an airplane bound for Calgary. Greg was an avid skier and wanted me to try it. At Banff.

We arrived on the slopes of Lake Louise after a day of skiing at Sunshine. I had had lessons, Greg and his sister Susan had gone to ski the double black diamond runs they loved so much. I had mastered the art of sliding precariously down the bunny run snowplowing like mad all the way. But my time had come. After lunch, we were to do the green run down Lake Louise. The long green run all the way down the mountain.

Greg, Susan and I got in the gondola and up we went up and up and up. My ears popped but I was quite relaxed. I had no idea what I was about to try and was enjoying my oblivion. No one told me that I could go down in the gondola as well as up. The top of the green run (what did green mean?!) was nasty. Steep and narrow. I didn’t really know how to stop except by falling over. So once they coaxed me over the “edge” fall is what I did, in almost every possible configuration. Did anyone mention how hard it is to get up without ankles?

Greg and Susan helped me slowly fall my way down the mountain. Gradually I learned how to turn, although it was still a terrifying exercise. What do you mean, point my skis downhill? What if I can’t get them pointed sideways again? One memorable moment came as I was skiing across the mountain (something I did much of) and noticed a nice friendly knoll that I could ski up onto. Skiing up anything was heaven as far as I was concerned since I didn’t have to go down and so I went for it. Suddenly there was a shriek from behind me and, in a flurry of snow, Greg arrived. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” he yelled. I gestured at the friendly little hill and opened my mouth to explain when, in the same breath he said ‘DON’T YOU REALIZE THAT WAY WILL TAKE YOU TO THE WOMEN’S DOWNHILL RUN? YOU DON’T WANT TO GO THERE”. Oh. I said. Not really knowing what the “women’s downhill run” was, but assuming that whatever it was, was worse than what I was on. Sigh. I was going to have to point my skis downhill again after all.

I got to the bottom with snow everywhere, after having left the top some 3 hours previous. Greg and Susan and I were all together and I said “That was GREAT let’s do it AGAIN!” Suddenly we all got caught up in the moment. Greg said the gondola would close at 4 so if we were going to do it we’d better be quick about it and suddenly we were running that ungainly ski-booted run across to the gondola. Made it! We were sitting in the car going up and up and up and I was wondering (silently) what I’d just done?

We started off down the green run again (I still didn’t know one could go down the gondola) only  it was 3 hours later, I was 3 hours tireder, and despite having learned a lot, I still didn’t know enough. Gradually I realized that while I was still having fun, I was having less fun than I had had the first time down. Somewhat later I noticed ski patrol skiing behind us, back and forth. After a while they skied up to Greg and I listened to their conversation. “Do you need any help?” they asked. “No I think we are okay” answered Greg “after all we are more than half way down by now aren’t we?”. As it turned out, we weren’t. We were only just about a quarter of the way down and the ski patrol wanted us OFF the mountain. Normally for Greg and Susan that wouldn’t have been a problem, they could just point their skis down and go. For me, however, the picture was somewhat different.

A few more ungainly turns, my quads and calves complained, and the ski patrol person came up to me. “How are you doing?” he asked. “I’m FINE” I answered, somewhat belligerently. I didn’t need any help. Except … I did, and I was starting to realize it. I was skied out, my brain knew (more or less) what to do but my legs had long ago stopped taking orders from my brain and were in the process of inventing entirely new ways to ski most of which involved falling. “Just so you know, in case you want some help, there is a ski patrol hut a couple of turns further down, and lots of people there who are willing to help you” said the friendly ski patrol person. Part of me wanted to drape my body over theirs right then and there, but the other part of me wanted to prove to all these people that I was JUST FINE and could do it without ANY HELP.

Two turns later and the part of me that realized I needed help was in ascendance. It was starting to get dark and my legs were dangerously close to revolting altogether. There were a cluster of people with red ski patrol jackets standing around a hut and as I appeared several of them started towards me. The first one to reach me, put his arm around me and helped me ski the last few yards. A sled appeared and it became clear that it was for me. I lay down, and was competently and professionally bundled up with much friendly banter.

One of the ski patrol proceeded to pull me  headfirst down the mountain. I could see the tops of trees go by and Greg, skiing back and forth behind us. The speed was terrifying but there was nothing I could do except relax and enjoy the ride. When we got to the bottom I disentangled myself and when I could stand I gave the woman who had just pulled me down a big hug. She deserved it!

On our third and last day of skiing Greg and I went up to the top of Lake Louise and skied the long green run all the way to the bottom. I significantly improved upon my time, and I did it without any help. Yes. I’m just FINE. 🙂

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'membering

Haying

As a farmer there is a pattern, a rhythm to your life that is unavoidable. Much of it is tied to the rhythm of the year, the change in the seasons and things that have to be done when they have to be done. Haying is a prime example. Haying happens when it is hot; full summer, with its long hot days, not a whisper of the fall that is to come. Haying happens when the timothy grass is long and lush, fed by days of sunshine and rain, ready to be cut. The army jeep is pulled out and gotten serviceable, our version of a tractor – hey don’t knock it, at least it has brakes that work! –the mower teeth sharpened. Into the field, bumpety bump, and down goes the mower arm, scything through the grass hundreds of times faster than the original scythe could.

Then, an anxious time as one hopes and prays that the rain – normally much heralded for its gentle feeding of the garden – stay away as the grass dries on the fields. Then! To work! A great bustle of activity as one gets in to drive (usually father), two stand in the back of the open backed jeep with pitchforks to pack the hay down and some walk behind the rake to pick up errant bits of hay and shepherd them into the truck. The work begins. Hot prickly musty work as the hay rolls inevitably into the truck and another rhythm establishes itself. One person towards the back of the truck forking the hay in, and the other further back, tramping it down as it comes in. The success of the tramping is measured by how high the load can be piled. The higher the load the fewer the trips.

Hay seed gets in everything! Below the breasts, down the back, into the underwear, everything becomes scratchy and itchy. Sweat burns as it drips down off the forehead, into the dry sweet smelling hay. Occasionally a halt is called, lemonade and food shared around. Then, back to the tamping down of hay, tamp tamp tamp until the load is precarious and high, towering above the roof of the jeep, hay mounded, sloping outward until the pitchforks become a necessary tool to stay on top of the load.

Bounce bounce the truck ponders its way back towards the barn, everyone sighs, movement stills, hay prickles make their fierce announcement of their presence. The barn slowly fills with the fragrance of summer, a reminder in the months to come of the sunshine and heat of late July.

'membering

It’s Cold Outside

It was cold outside. Very very cold. It was in fact one of those nights when the sky stretches up up up to eternity and the stars blink coldly down. There was no moon. Throughout the house the night cold pushed bitter fingers through each window as I walked past. Our two wood stoves pushed heat back and the coziness of the indoors was only exacerbated by the bitterness outside. Night chores were done, dinner was long past and I was ensconced in a comfy armchair, legs dangling over one arm, reading. But I was also aware that I had to pee. And the urge to pee was fast becoming something I could not ignore.

Until I was thirteen, this cold night air and the need to use a washroom were two utterly disconnected things, but now I was living in a century farmhouse that only had warm water running in the kitchen when the stove was well on. The bathroom was, in fact, an outhouse, and I needed to go. Cold or not, I was going to have to go outside.

Slowly and yet with a mounting sense of urgency I put on my boots, scarf, tuque, mittens, and thick down coat. I was as ready as I was going to be. I stepped outside, my chest constricting with the first inbreath of the icy night air. The house lights dropped behind me but I knew where I was going. The white outhouse gleamed in the starlight, pointing the way.

It was only when I get to the outhouse that the full awfulness of the situation became understood. Despite my urgency, I had put all my layers of clothing on. Sweater, followed by a scarf and then thick coat over all. However, what I had not remembered was the pair of overalls I was wearing under everything else. Overalls that could not be pulled down to do the necessary.

It took me a long time to get warm again once I was back in the house, even with both stoves pumping out heat. I knew that I would never again forget the lesson I had learned that night. Never ever go to the outhouse on a cold winter night with overalls under everything!!