Winter Wonderland

In the last 5 months I have had two surgeries and a recall on a mammogram. It gets tiring thinking so much about one’s health. In the early fall I set intention to do two things that would signal to me that I was really recovered: volunteer to work with elementary students on environmental education activities and go cross-country skiing. This blog focuses on cross-country skiing and the next blog will focus on my delightful, active interactions with fourth graders.

When two longtime friends asked if I’d like to come join them for some skiing in their Idaho homelands this winter, my answer was an immediate: YES!!!!!!

Friends for nearly half a century, Ann, Carl, and Janelle skiing in Sun Valley.

I had scheduled toe surgery in mid-December, but I held to my hopes and plans to ski in early February. Within two weeks of the toe surgery, I was back doing rigorous dog walking and then quickly back to swimming. There was only a month to get my stamina back before skiing, but I was determined and it was fun moving at the pace of no pain and steadily back into conditioning.

Ann recovering from toe surgery at Christmas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my 70s I have no illusion about returning to some earlier level of athletic competition. I simply want to keep finding as many ways as I can to actively explore and enjoy the earth in all seasons. The trip to Idaho taught me a lot about my recovery.

It’s a beautiful drive from Boise where my friends live to Sun Valley where their condo is located.

Day #1: Wobbly

            After getting my rental skis, we went out for an “easy” 5K ski. I was shocked at how rigid I was going down small hills. Honestly, I was afraid of a fall. After 90 minutes, I had the kick and glide action of classic skis back, but my downhill snowplow skills were tight and even fearful. I was on a green, beginner run and that is exactly where I belonged.

I have been skiing for many decades, but on that first day was mighty glad to be on the flatter green runs with other beginners.

Day #2: Taking it easy, studying animal tracks, and the big fall

            My friends are skate skiers and lots faster than I, so I sent them off on intermediate and advanced trails and set off at my own pace on a beginner run alongside a beautiful creek. Oh, the tracks in the winter: weasel, mouse, snowshoe hare, squirrel, deer! When I took mammalogy in college, I put together a photographic book of different kinds of tracks. That knowledge really has stuck with me. I adore how winter reveals so many secrets of the animal world.

            I was so entranced with all the tracks that I was only vaguely aware of the steadiness of my climb. When the Gladiator loop trail crossed over the creek and started back down to Galena Lodge, I found myself a bit nervous but still strong in my snowplowing ability. Then a big dip appeared ahead. The trail made a short, sharp turn to the left at the bottom of the hill. I paused to study it. Hmm, not sure I can quite make the turn. However, the snow at the bottom is deep and fluffy. No need to take off my skis and walk down the hill. So, I got into a snowplow and headed down. As the sharp left neared, it was clear I was not going to make it.  So, I let myself head straight into the snowbank. It was soft and fun! I laughed as I untangled and uprighted myself. Some big measure of fear was gone now. The fall had happened and it was not such a big deal.

Beautiful meandering creek along the Gladiator Loop at Galena Lodge.

A brave mouse ventures out from the cover of his snowy tunnel. Chapstick for size comparison.

 

A squirrel happily jumping through the snow.

 

Day #3: The long downhill trail

            The trail system in Sun Valley is extensive. One part of the trail runs from the top of the valley all the way to the base—a distance of over 30 K. We had two cars for the out and back trail. By this time I was much more in stride with myself—doing lots of double poling, staying in the tracks on milder downhill sections, easily stepping out of the tracks to snowplow on steeper drops as we traversed about a third of that trail.

Ann skiing against the backdrop of sunny Sun Valley mountains.

Day #4: Two valley loops

            Late in the day after the big Boulder 30K race was held on the Harriman Trail running down the valley, my friend Janelle and I explored two loops that did not intersect with the race trail. Carl was recovering from competing in the race and Janelle and I donned our skis for a short, end of the day outing.

Carl carefully waxing his skate skis for his 34th or 35th Boulder Mountain 30K race.

 

Finish line of the 50th annual Boulder Mountain 30K race. Since I had skied a number of marathon cross country ski races, this was a lot of fun to watch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day #5: Fresh snow

            On the last day Janelle and Carl switched to classic skis and we glided our way through 4 inches of beautiful fresh snow. Fresh snow makes the track slower—an advantage for me. Two people breaking trail in front—another advantage for me. Snow covered pines, ice encrusted creek, and only one other person on the trail besides the three of us. It felt so much like the wilderness skiing I have mostly done over the years. On the way down I sang and sang and sang. The successful return to skiing skill and form, the adrenalin of exercise, and the euphoria of mountain snow beauty all erupted into my made-up song of pure joy.

Longtime friends at the end of a terrific, snowy skiing day.

Maybe it is being raised in Minnesota and basically living my entire life in northern snow country. Maybe it’s my Scandinavian blood. I have always loved snow—the deeper, the more remote the better. Whatever the reason, the privilege of mountain skiing with two dear friends this past week marked a turning point in my healing from back surgery. I have high hopes for active years ahead. And for that, I drop to my knees in the snow. Grateful beyond words . . . and happy to get up with very little problem!

The beauty of winter

Love the folks in front of you–Neighborliness in 2023

In my little book, The Seven Whispers, Spiritual Practice for Times like These, each “whisper” is an instruction that came to me over the course of several months.This is an exploration of one whisper: Love the folks in front of you.

Love the folks in front of you means to develop relationships with the people clustered around our lives: the folks in the apartment hallway, adjacent work cubicles, or up and down the street. We call this neighborliness, and I see it as the foundational building block of community, civility, and sometimes, survival.

Neighborliness is the recognition that we need each other, that we are interdependent, and that local good-will is the foundation for how we navigate where we live and work. Neighborliness is practice in friendliness. Neighborliness is built on little gestures that signal acknowledgement: to wave, to smile and say hello, to open doors and close gates, to compliment one another, to say please and thank you.

A little work party gets us together.

Though not always humming Mr. Rogers’ theme song, I often feel  “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.”  Neighbors are a motley crew determined by who has bought or rented (or tented) next to one another. This happenstance insures that we will have opportunities to reckon with diversity, division, and difference. A friend who serves on her neighborhood’s HOA (homeowners’ association) board, has a placard on her desk that reads: “Neighbor is not a geographic term, it’s a moral obligation.” Seeing that, everything I believe about the necessity of “Love the folks in front of you,” snapped into focus.

I live at the island edge of the Seattle metropolitan area. My neighborhood has close friends, congenial acquaintances, folks who keep to themselves, folks who think everything should go their way. We have a range of differences and

Neighborliness keeps us out of hot water. Have tea instead.

judgment can burst forth unexpectedly. But here’s the essential question about neighborliness: if I see a need, do I move toward it or away? And here’s my answer: there is no one I would hesitate to help. And the other good news: I think every person in my neighborhood would choose to move toward helping. Mutuality survives our foibles and misunderstandings.

Writing this, I acknowledge it is privilege to live with assumptions of mutual aid. I am awash with grief over our societal disarray, the shouts and insults and prejudice, misuses of power, escalating violence. Families are mourning dead children, siblings, parents.

Carlton Winfrey, an African American journalist, writes in his column after the death of Tyre Nichols, “To convey to those not in my skin the trauma of having another Black man killed by police in America is too much.”  He’s right, I cannot apprehend his pain, the pain of his race, his daily fear that neighborliness has completely broken down—now not only between the races, but within the Black community. Terror. Being beaten to death and not rendered aid. How can “Love the folks in front of you” have any meaning when tasers and fists override pleas for mercy?

We are all in trauma, though only some of us are bloodied. I wish with all my soul that I could even out the imbalances of race, caste, economy, supremacy and redistribute these things into a more just society. I am doing what I can with the size of life and influence I have been given. It’s not enough: it is something. And that is moral obligation: to exert ourselves, to look up, around, greet, pay attention, tend at whatever level of engagement and size our lives are. Maybe it’s a school classroom, or a wing in the nursing home. Be with the folks in front of you. Love anyway. Love anyway you can.