I could cross country ski before I could ride a bike without training wheels. When I was preschool age, we lived in the northern part of the lower peninsula of Michigan. It was across the street from Lake Huron and next door to a national forest. I don’t remember much from that time (We moved before I started school.) but I have a few memories of heading out the back door on skis with Mom and Dad.
The rest of my formative years were spent in northern Indiana and southern Michigan, so winter usually involved enough snow to enjoy sledding and skiing. I’ve always enjoyed cross country (or nordic) skiing. It’s peaceful in an immersive way.
There is just something about being out in the woods or the fields covered in snow. It’s quieter than any other time of year. Birds are typically not singing. Any squirrels scampering around are muffled by the snow. Even when it is snowing, snow lands quietly, not striking the ground like rain.
It’s possible to feel really alone on skis, especially when you’re cutting your own trail. You know no one has been where you are in a while, because there are no other tracks. You can even tell if deer or rabbits have crossed the path since the last snowfall.
Skiing is rhythmic. The muffled sound of snow being displaced by your skis. The quiet thump of poles punching into the snow. It is one of the few physical activities in which I feel somewhat graceful while participating.
I was recalling this while driving today next to snow-covered fields and forests. My mind went back to what I would classify as a “core memory” of my life, to borrow a concept from the recent movie Inside Out. I was in college and had the opportunity to take part in our school’s Colorado Semester Program. Six guys and six girls lived in a center outside of Manitou Springs and traveled the Rockies while learning about ecology, history, and literature.
One of our first big trips was to Yellowstone in the month of February. We entered the park in snow coaches, stayed at the historic lodge, and went cross-country skiing. We skied past Old Faithful and other thermal spectacles. We took a trail out to a waterfall and back. It was sunny and snowy. It was magical.
There were buffalo that congregate around the hot springs because it is the only open water in the winter. We had to ski around a bull moose lying in the middle of the trail. I could have poked him with my ski pole. I’ll never forget how big he was. And I got to share it all with this girl I was totally smitten with. This year, we’ll celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.
We’ve skied together a few times since then, but not many. Having kids and living most of the last 12 years in the southern tier of states has kept us busy with other things. I’ve found my affinity for winter in general has waned, but every now and then, on afternoons like today, I find myself longing to clip on some skis and head out into the undisturbed snow.