Curtains of cold held open
To winter’s hard face.
I’ve been skiing up the ridge of Nottingham Mountain for decades, following the gradual rise of Tarleton Road to a sharp turn where the old road hairpins up a steep pitch. At the top of the pitch, the road turns back to the north and follows the ridgeline out to the clearing of Neville Peak, where you can see the White Mountains on clear days, including the distant, often white tip of Mt. Washington. Thirty years ago we skied up Nottingham on our old wooden Bonas, with 3 pin bindings holding the boot in front of our toe to the skis. Control was minimal, but we never attempted the steep ski unless there was ample powder to fall into. Which meant deep snow to climb up through. Lots of work, lots of fun.
In the years since my equipment has improved, greatly improving the control possible while skiing. But the greatest control has come in better understanding what I can realistically do. Today, David and I set off to ski up Tarleton Road with our snowshoes in our backpacks. At the steep pitch, we’d leave our skis and snowshoe up to the summit of Neville Peak. We’d still have the glorious run down Tarleton in ski tracks through luscious powder to enjoy, without thrashing up and down a nearly impossible, twisting pitch. The ski down Tarleton Road, below the steep section, has always been a joy, enough of a drop to provide a fast run, sweeping around corners, dropping through hard woods and hemlocks, and finishing up with a long straight hill down to a bridge over a brook.
When we got to the beginning of the trail up Tarleton Road, a young man was just leaving. I asked him where he’d been. “I went up to Neville Peak,” he said.
“Up the steep ridge?”
“Yes, it was great. But I needed my skins to climb up,” he said, and then talked about how wonderful the ski down was. I wasn’t the least bit tempted. I don’t have skins and I don’t need to be able to do everything I could 30 years ago. Much of it, but not all.
When we got to the beginning of the steep rise and changed into snowshoes, I felt as if I was floating. With the weight of the snowshoes out of my pack, and only the snowshoes on my feet to navigate through the powder, climbing the last of the ridge felt almost effortless. As we got to the top, the sun came out and drew sharp shadows on the snow. On Neville Peak, we could see snow clouds coming our way. We had a snack and started down, flakes floating around us like tiny pieces of our day settling deep to be remembered in the work week ahead.
This morning I heard steps across my porch. My neighbor and friend Amy was at the door. “We’re hoping you and David want to ski with Paul and me?” It was like a childhood friend knocking at my door 50 years ago to ask, “Can you come out and play?” Earlier this week, another friend emailed to say her husband “can go out and play for a couple of hours on Sunday. Are you guys up for some snowshoeing?”
Three weeks ago it suddenly became winter in NH — snow, frigid air, snow, snow, snow. The skiing and snowshoeing is the best it’s been in several years, and all our outdoor friends are taking advantage of it. Last weekend, when I got home from NY, there was a message on my answering machine from Alison. “The skiing’s great if you’re interested.” I didn’t get the message until late that evening, after skiing with David, but Alison called again on Sunday morning. “Anne and Peter are coming over at 11:00 to snowshoe, then Anne and I are skiing. Want to come?”
I called back. “Yes, David and I want to come over and play.” And play we did, snowshoeing the new trail through the Epsom Town Forest, then skiing up a snowmobile trail to the untraveled rise of Tarleton Road, making our own tracks to the height of the ridge. The snow was dry, light, deep and very cold.
Today is warmer. There’s been more snow. After skiing with Amy and Paul, David and I came home and had some lunch and headed back out to play. This time we skied the snowmobile trails from our house, then followed the ski tracks we made last weekend down an old road to a marsh, out across the open expanse. We crossed the brook that feeds the marsh and skied up along its bank, the snow keeping us high above the few spots with water still running between deep mounds. As we crossed the marsh, I thought of a weekend just about four years ago.
It was another frigid winter, but there was less snow. Adrienne had come home for the weekend, as she did almost every weekend that winter after Eric died, and we went for a walk in the woods. The brook had frozen solid and clear, a long flow of ice, into the frozen swamp. The poem I wrote that night ended up in the book I wrote that year, and was published the following winter. Here it is, and here I am, four years later, playing my way through the winter, bumping up against deep snow and silence.
I am squatting in the fireplace, hands out
to catch the heat off the first flame, the only
heat in the house, the furnace fan out,
the belt and pulleys jiggled off their mounts.
Last night a friend and I were comparing pathetic
and now I win. I am trying silence today,
lie on the floor, again, in the sun on the carpet
in the room where you died, heavy wind,
the shadow of plants below the great windows,
warm, how grateful you were for this room, open
and high. I don’t want to make sense, I am fed up
with misfortune. I walked the frozen brook
into the wind of the marsh, following the tracks
of a dog. I sat in the sun but it was too cold.
Snow again, again
Outlining every branch
Trail ever onward
It’s -12 degrees. The dawn is washing gray over the black and white, snow and ice world. I’m getting ready to go to work, not carrying my grandson around while I make my morning coffee, then cradling him in my bent-knee lap so he can move his head and arms and legs around, whirling the world into view, into his mind, into his churn of newness and marvel and plain figuring-it-all-out. Like most babies, he moves his head to look at light and lifts his face to let the morning through the window fill his eyes. I look out the window most mornings myself, I get up and raise the shades and see what’s what. Today I see frigid air and snow still clumped on the miniature blue spruce. It’s too cold to make the long walk out to the paper tube, long because the path across the front yard isn’t shoveled and getting to the paper means walking out the driveway, across the road in front of the house, down the road to the side of the house. There’s a five foot wall of plowed snow between the house and the newspaper. I’ll get the news soon enough today. I’m going to work, and there’s no baby in my lap.
Deep snow brook still falls
Over rock under thin ice
One stone standing clear.
Snow again last night
House full of morning sunshine
Dig out dig under.
Two weeks ago I stepped out of my daily life and everything has changed. Two weeks ago Sam and Marianna and I left New Hampshire, headed back to New York to be with Adrienne and Matt for the last weekend of the Sam and Marianna’s visit from Tennessee. We were all hoping Adrienne would have her baby over the weekend, but if not, we’d have a fine time anyway.
And then came Emilio, perfect, scrunchable, adorable, sweet, robust, enormous and tiny Emilio. The grandchild Eric never met, Adrienne and Matt’s first child. Sam’s nephew. My grandson, making me Mimi. The rest of the world continued on its daily path, as it did, to my astonishment, after Eric died. Life is birth and death, which we all know, but we don’t all get to live it as close up and real as I have over the past four and a half years, and this side of the birth/death equation has been astounding and profound. Amazing that everyone isn’t stopping what they’re doing and marveling at this wondrous new being Emilio.
David has come and gone twice in these two weeks, and we talk every day, do our daily downloads the best we can long distance. I’ve talked with most of my close friends, at least once, since Emilio’s been born, and am emailing many of them. But mostly I’m keeping up with the larger sphere of my personal life via Facebook, which means simply posting photos of Emilio.
I’m trying, somewhat in vain, to stay on top of my job by working remotely. But being the Mimi is what I want to be doing, and doing work phone calls, staying up on email, frantically reading whatever needs to be read for the call I have coming up in the next hour, has been draining. I’m all baby brain and that’s where I want to be. Every email I return has photos of Emilio attached.
Saturday I’m leaving to go back to New Hampshire, to my home, to my job, to my life as I formerly knew it. But it’s fundamentally altered now, and that’s only wonderful. My arms will be aching to hold Emilio and I’ll probably want to video-chat with Emilio like a crack addict, but that’s what babies do to me, to many women I know. We’re hard-wired to fall in love this way and I’m in love.
Same house different
Lining grids of crossing streets
Big enough to live.