It’s Christmas Eve day, and here at my house on the mountain the snow is falling thickly. Humpy Mountain is hidden behind a leaden gray sky that has fallen to the earth with heaviness. Everything – evergreen limbs, roof, apple tree branches, the snow, the sky – sinks towards the earth.
But my spirits are soaring. The snow, the cold air, the blasts of cold wind, the wintry sky – everything weather-wise makes me happy this winter.
After a ten-year hiatus, due partly to lack of snow and partly to being in graduate school, I can at last go cross-country skiing. Last week my friend Mike and I skied at Lake of the Woods Summit Trail. The skiing was superb – the snow deep and powdery; the trail gently uphill in a light snow-fall, past big trees and occasional open spaces; the returning memory of the joy of this unique, graceful movement. Even breaking trail, though a powerful exertion, was a joy, but we were grateful enough to the four people who passed us and would now be breaking trail. When we got to the ski shelter, they had already started a fire in the stove.
The six of us stood around the stove, steam rising from our shoulders as we chatted, ate our sandwiches, and held up our wet coats and hats to the heat to steam dry. I hung my gloves on the back of the stove to dry, but when I retrieved them I found a hole melted right through the thumb and first finger on one. (Fortunately, I had an extra pair with me.) A woodrat scooted around the rafters, darting angry looks at us until Mike threw him a piece of apple. He snatched it and disappeared.
The return to the car was glorious – long smooth hills, not too steep for this first ski of the season but downhill enough to give us long gliding rides. I was exultant. I remembered how to ski; I could still do it; I had found again that beautiful graceful movement: push, glide, push, glide. I still loved the snow, the cold nipping my nose, the exertion, the demand for skill.
A few days later I celebrated Winter Solstice with some good friends. We talked, laughed, played games, ate good food, and drank to the return of the sun. I kept trying to get us to toast the dark of the year, but I was the only one who seemed excited about it, who wanted to celebrate the darkest day of the year precisely because it is the time of the dark. Above all, I wanted to celebrate the return of winter to our winter-starved part of the country. So I give it my private toast: to Winter Solstice precisely because the days are short and the evenings long by the fire, because the snow falls gently and silently, because we are fortunate enough to have a winter this year.