Five Minute Intervals of Courage Part 2

I came home from my double black diamond experience to find 80 degree weather in Denver. It’s surreal to go from snowy mountains to hot and dry in the city in just an hour and fifteen minutes. My neighbors buzzed by on their moped and looked utterly baffled by my snow pants and ski jacket. “Just got back from skiing.” I managed to blurt out, hoping I didn’t appear as Twilight Zone as I felt. My second beer at high altitude was still in fuzzy effect. I could already tell that my human luge experience was going to reveal its toll in full force by morning. Everything was slow motion and sunny.

When I turned on my computer to check in with the world, I found a rejection letter from a literary magazine. Before I could even sigh or feel a ping or a ting in my confidence. I filed it in my “No Vacancy” folder. That was it. No huffing or puffing. It was like I was sorting mail. I don’t know if it’s because I pushed my limits and careened down a mountain earlier or because I know the slim statistics of getting published, but it didn’t feel bad to hear, no.

I think I realized that giving myself credit for taking a risk far outweighs the result. Better to have had a David Lee Roth tumble down the mountain experience than stay with the familiar view on an intermediate trail. Better to file a No Vacancy letter than it is to keep pages dormant on a hard drive.

The intermediate trail is a fine place. One that I’m sure I’ll continue to enjoy but I know risks drive me toward progress. No guts, no glory.

“Hi Mom, guess what?”

By the tone of my voice she already knows that I am trying to convince her that something was a good idea.

“What?”

“I skied down a double black diamond trail.”

“I don’t know what this is.”

“It’s the hardest trail. I was at the top of the mountain. 12,313 feet!”

Szukasz guza!” You’re looking for a goose!

“I love that phrase.”

A ty na dupie zechalas.” And you road down on your ass.

“Yup.”

My mom, she knows me so well.

Dobrze ze portki nie zgubilas.” It’s good that you didn’t lose your pants.

And I didn’t lose my pants, but I held onto my life by the seat of them.

Five Minute Intervals of Courage

Me at Copper Mountain 3/17/12

With names like Kaboom and Revenge in the expert trail terrain, it’s not difficult to imagine why normal people stick to the intermediate trails like Windsong and Rhapsody.

‘Would you like to ski the top of the mountain?’ my friend’s husband asked. We were riding up on a lift together. He’s a well-seasoned skier.

“Mmmmm,” I hesitated. ” I don’t know. Looks steep.”

“It’s not that bad.” He replied.

I know him well enough to examine this statement carefully. He, like me, watched the Mount Everest show on Discovery. He, unlike me, would actually attempt to climb Everest. This distinction is everything I need to know about statements like ‘It’s not that bad.”

Being so high up on the lift, I saw the double black diamond trails. I watched a speck of a skier navigate the sheer drop of the mountain as if he were tracing beautiful vine paths. I turned to check out the rest of the trail below. It looked doable except for that formidable first wall of white.

‘Just take it slow.’ This not only made sense it seemed 100% possible to accomplish. After all I’ve been skiing for a while, and while I’m not an expert, and I’m still working on my form, I have been down single black diamonds before(though not my favorite). Why not see what a double is like?

 

For five minutes, I sang out Yes. By the time we got to the top, a place where I could still choose to go down an intermediate trail or traverse the rim of the mountain to reach the last 2-person lift that would take us to the tip pity top- I shook my head no.

“I can’t do it. I’m losing my courage.”

“No problem. We can meet up at the bottom.” T said. He was encouraging and kind.

I stood staring at the map. Do it and Don’t do it tugged their war in my head. The blue sky and intense Colorado sun were energizing me. The wind whipped the tip of my nose as I tried to readjust my gator.

I looked back at the map and then back over my shoulder at this mysterious part of the mountain- a place where you can walk to an edge and see the other side. It was still early in the day and I felt the pull of challenge and a promise of a reward. My ratio of fear to interest was equal.

I had another five minute interval of courage.

“Okay. I changed my mind. Let’s hurry up before I change it again.”

We traversed areas roped off at ledges and jumped on the lift. I only noticed a handful of people. It was so quiet and beautiful. At the top of the lift, we had to take off our skis and walk another 5-10 minutes. This is what crazy expert people do, and I am only one of these things.
At 12, 313 feet, I was panting. I could really feel the altitude. The base of the mountain is a little over 9,000 feet.

And this is where I paused for the first picture.

That was my first reward: Mother Nature saying, check out these guns. The moment was deserving of the word, awesome.
Every second I looked over the ledge though, another minute of courage drained from my sun-kissed face. T offered pitch perfect encouragement and had saint-status patience. He had moved a few feet down the mountain. His black and white coat framed the sky. I saw nothing below where he stood. Just the sense of space, a drop off.

I felt like a cat who stands at a door threshold and backs up with hind legs when it discovers the weather is not to their liking.

Nope definitely cannot do this.

“I can’t.” I croaked to T.

He encouraged, he cajoled. I waved him on to stop waiting. I knew I was holding him back. I was clearly having some decision making issues. Scared or stupid, I couldn’t tell which one I was being. And not necessarily certain if it was exclusive to one definition.

I popped my skis off. Two older gentlemen walked up.

“I’ve lost my courage” I said to them both. “I’m turning back.”

“You don’t need courage” one said, “You just need to turn.”

“One turn at a time. Little U shapes. Gravity will pull you forward but tip your skis back up toward the mountain.”

“You can do it.”

“But I feel like I just fell out of the turnip truck.”

He laughed. “We all fall out of the turnip truck.”

And I thought, right. No one is born knowing how to ski double black diamonds. You learn it. You do it. You try. Essentially baby steps.
I was renewed. I clicked my skis back on and slid into the first position where I had seen T at the ledge. The older gent saw me pause again.

“Do you see a path you can take?”

“Mmhm.” I said.

I thought: I can do this and cut into the first mogul and moved toward my second.

This is the part where you might think I’m getting ready to do my victory lap on the page.
But this is the part in the story where the back of my ski felt like it had an uh-oh.

I wiped out.

I started sliding down the mountain. Not just sliding, but I somersaulted like a sneaker in a washing machine. Skis popped off one at a time, I couldn’t tell you when because I was too busy thinking: Shitshitshitshitshitshit. Stop body stop!

I must have looked cartoonish. My heavy ski boots plunked into the mountain and gave my ragdoll body some gravity, like a magnet keeping me on the mountain. I was thrown forwards, to the side, spun upside down, and for a few seconds I was lateral to the mountain in some weird David Lee Roth split. I erupted into laughter and puh- and uh and erred my way down. I managed to straighten myself out and untangled a pole from between my crossed ankles. I went even faster.

I had become a human luge.

I laughed harder and harder and kept thinking to myself: As long as you’re laughing you won’t break anything. The sound of speed crackled under my jacket. I went down 200-300 feet. It took about 10-15 seconds, I guess. It was blur. I landed at the merciful plateau before the next much less steep dive down.

“Well, that’s one way to get down the mountain!” I yelled laughing to the graceful gent who effortlessly weaved around moguls and picked up my skis and poles littered on the mountain.

“You almost had it. You always have to go toward the future.” He said as he leaned forward on his ski showing me the balance I didn’t manage to keep.

“Don’t lean into the past too much. “ He said shifting his weight all the way back. “You’ll lose your balance.”

Wise words.

“Don’t give up.”

“I won’t. Thank you.”

He handed me my skis and I met up with T who by chance had looked up the mountain and saw me start my descent. We had the most brilliant ski down the rest of the trail. And he bought me a beer at lunch. The hardest part was behind me. While I didn’t actually ski down the face of the double black section, I certainly experienced it. If I practiced a little more on some single black diamonds, I could do it again. I could get better.
Sometimes you just have to get a feel for something.

As my brother John texted: No guts, No glory.

…Next week: Part 2: What mom said and how I relate this incident to writing.

From Nothingness to Somethingness

Skype snapshot

My parents just learned how to use Skype.  I practiced with them on my Dad’s birthday last week. (Happy Birthday again Dad!) So far so good– if we can just get Ciocia and my Mom to stay in the webcam frame.  They’d just finished up a nice birthday dinner and I said I was jealous. Ciocia disappeared from view and came back with a slice of her meatloaf on a paper plate so I could see it.  Something she cooked up after watching a cooking show.

Skype snapshot: Ciocia's prized meatloaf.

I made an email appointment for them to talk to their niece, Gienia (Geh-niah), in Lithuania today. My mom and aunt and I last saw her in person in 1997, Dad only by photo.  So it’s a little more than exciting to get them coordinated.

I seem to appreciate technology much more when I’m connecting my parents to it.  I tend to have a ‘Look Mom! It’s magic!’ disposition.  She is always surprised about what is possible. Dad keeps up with these things so it’s my mom who stays marveled.  For a person who used to call a travel agent and show up in person to procure multi-layered paper stock boarding passes, I revel in telling her that now you can check in at the gate using your phone.

Well, I can’t because as you know, I’m just a few steps up from Michael Douglas’ Wall Street phone. But still the possibility exists!

Sometimes my mom will ask, “Masz wiadomość od Spacebook?”  Do you have news from Spacebook?

“Ma, it’s Facebook. My Space is one thing. Facebook is another.”

“Spacebook. Facebook. I don’t know these junks.”

I like the idea of Spacebook so much better. I picture everyone on it floating around like a tethered astronaut in space. Only silence and waving.

I have Facebook and Skype to thank for connecting me with some of my relatives in Poland and Lithuania. Otherwise it’s the slow romantic letter changing hands and making its way onto planes and into letter bags for delivery through a mail slot. I don’t want to see that ever end. But to see a long lost relative face to face on a computer screen feels like magic. What couldn’t be done before is now completely possible. From nothingness to somethingness.

Sometimes I can’t wrap my head around how something so simple can be so historic.

Lifting the Roof

 

 

Last week my brother texted me: hey your blog didn’t go through. Really? I replied. I worried that I messed up synching my website and WordPress. Normally I have things set to automatically post on Central Mountain time. But since I was in Massachusetts for the weekend, I thought I made an error since I was on Eastern Standard Time.

“You didn’t see the pictures?” I asked.

“Yeah, I saw the pictures. But no text.”.

“Did you read the title? It says Photo Essay.”

“Oh.”

We had a laugh.

I had a lot I wanted to write about last weekend but the pictures of the bird feeder captured what I was feeling that I couldn’t (still can’t) find words to express.

Since I was last home, Ciocia Felicia hot glued an aluminum pan to the bottom of the bird feeder-  a wider base for the birds to rest while they ate. I was drawn to the tied twine over the roof.  It was hard to tell whether the roof was holding up the floor or if the floor and twine was keeping the roof from blowing off.  Either way, it was fortified.

At first I was puzzled by this. Wouldn’t the wide, flat base invite a squirrel to set up a lawn chair on it? Wouldn’t it gorge away on seeds like the way someone at the beach reaches down into a bag of chips?

“No squirrel.” Ciocia said. Apparently, they don’t have the palate for Wild Bird seed.

I flew home to help take care of my Dad, while my Mom and Ciocia had a respite weekend at a casino-complete with tickets to the Farewell Glen Campbell tour. A Christmas gift from our family.  May the record state that my mother who usually goes to bed at 7pm stayed out until 3:30am. When they called to tell me this they were giggling like girls at a sleep over.  I got to spend quality time with my Dad. Heard a new story about the house he grew up in in Poland.

I hope I have this energy at age 73 and age 85. I hope I have my father’s grace when I am thrown into things beyond my control.

The high winds battered the feeder the next day. I went outside to fix it. It had flipped up on the corners where there was no twine. The glue came undone on the edge.

I stood there reshaping the aluminum, trying to make the floor straight again. I did the best I could.

The house swung from its hook in the wind.