Elk Hill Winter

elk_hill_winterWinter began early, with vigor and enthusiasm. Still a couple of days away from the solstice, the snowpack is nearly a foot deep here on The Hill. It remains to be seen how much the predicted warm weekend weather will reduce it. My bet is that we will have a White Christmas here on The Hill.

Elk Mountain Ski Resort has nearly all their trails open – quite unusual this early in the season. The snow, natural collaborating with man-made, has had some describing the sensation of skiing this week as “crushing velvet with your skis.” Though cold weather would be more desirable, rest assured, the skiing will continue to be outstanding, record warmth notwithstanding.

Faithful buddy black labrador has been enjoying night cross-country skiing in the woods the past few evenings, my headlamp illuminating our way, our ski and paw tracks crossing deer, fox, and coyote tracks as we make our way through the woods and meadows.

The lights of Elk Mountain and the full moon illuminate the snow, sparkling and squeaking under ski and paw; other than our breathing, the only sound.

Trusting each other to protect each other, me having the opposing thumbs, she having the sharp teeth, the deep night beyond the range of my headlamp reminds us that our neighbor recently captured an image of a mountain lion on their trail camera in the valley just below the meadow through which we ski.

Vigorous exercise in 10 degree weather is the perfect antidote for my buddy’s boredom, easing her, bringing sleep to her more readily, letting her rest till dawn.

“My apples, my apples, MY APPLES!!!” is a fairly accurate Labrador/English translation of her sharp alert bark that startled me awake at 4 AM this morning. The provocation revealed as I peered out the window to see three doe scratching snow from the last of the fruit that had fallen around the apple tree weeks ago.

I went downstairs to console her, to tell her to stop barking, and to feel good about sharing her apples. Those girls, I explained to my buddy, have been having a tough go of it lately. My buddy, somewhat reluctantly, relented, and quietly let the doe eat their fill as dawn began to break.

An early morning treat of sweet apples must be a delightful respite from having to keep constant vigilance, avoiding the hunters in the woods, who for the past several days, for sport or sustenance, have been tracking and hunting these girls, their friends, and families.

By default it seems, us humans tend to forget that we too are animals. Just like our woodland creature neighbors, all our motivations distill to the desire to eat, mate, and avoid fear.

In the woodland world, some are prey, some are predators, some both. This truth can make the distinction between good and bad, evil or good blurry at best. To the deer, the hunter is evil – an instrument of death. To the hunter’s family, he is good, a hero, provider of food. Had the lioness pounced on me and took me back to feed me to her brood, this perspective, though accurate, would probably not be so easy to assume.

Unlike the beings in the woods who must maintain vigilance against predators, or be in constant search of food or mates, our human community has the capacity for calm, joy, and bliss.

It’s not so hard really to have these positive feelings almost all the time; it takes just a little mental effort. As we near the shortest day of the year, we remember that all the celebrations at this time of year started with our ancient family, who’s understanding of the sun, moon, and stars defined their lifestyle. They too traveled dark woods filled with tracks of animals.

Our ancestors huddled facing a common fire, backs to the dark, and celebrated light, celebrated each other, as they waited together for dawn to overwhelm the longest night of the year.

The trust my best buddy and I have in each other gives us the confidence to venture together into the darkness of the woodland community; we both find comfort in the realization that as long as we stay together, we’ll be safe.

If, in our human community, we realize that all of us are facing challenges unique to our individual lives and, no matter the strength of one’s character, our paths are made easier by cooperation.

If we simply cherish each other as if our life depends on it, if we simply honor the common light of divinity that animates all of us, fear and uncertainty can’t help but be overcome by comfort, calm, joy, and bliss.

And always, always, share your apples, and let yourself feel good about it.

Hoar Frost

hoar_frostWikipedia reports that “If a solid surface is chilled below the dew point of the surrounding air and the surface itself is colder than freezing, frost will form on the surface. Frost consists of spicules of ice which grow out from the solid surface. The size of the crystals depends on time, temperature, and the amount of water vapor available.

The name hoar comes from an Old English adjective for showing signs of old age…, in reference to the frost which makes trees and bushes look like white hair.

Opening Day

opening_dayFor the last couple of hundred days or so, many of us have been waiting for opening day at Elk Mountain. This year our wait ended on the 4th of December.

The compressor technicians, snow making crew, grooming tractor operators, and the rest of the mountain staff made the most of the recent weather, and worked up a deep base of snow with a beautiful man-made surface. Mother nature cooperated with a bright blue sky, and moderate temperatures for the first day of skiing.

It’s uncertain if this is the earliest opening ever, but according to The Ski King, it’s the earliest opening he can remember.

He and me and the rest of the crew started just after dawn, spending the morning hiking up and down the slopes, adjusting orange ribbons on fence poles, padding sign posts, ferrying supplies to the top of the mountain, and accomplishing final preparations so that The Big and Friendly would look her best to greet the first guests of the season – most of whom we recognized and knew by name.

Even before all of the chores were done, we could wait no longer; it was time. Sliding off the top of the lift, we glided over to the steepest pitch, pointed ’em down, and let ’em rip – wind rushing past us, the familiar, cherished pull of gravity forcing big smiles on our faces.

Though impossible, it would be interesting to compare our smiles from yesterday with the smiles that we undoubtedly wore nearly half a century ago when The Ski King’s father took him and me to the top of the mountain for the very first time. That day, we took our first run from the top of the mountain together down the Delaware trail, only weeks after the cows that had pastured there all Summer were led down to their Winter meadows.

We rode the lift to the top of the mountain as kids; when we got back to the bottom of the mountain, we were skiers.

Yup, one would think that after seeing nearly fifty opening days, one’s anticipation and subsequent enthusiasm for the ski season would be tempered by maturity, and diminish with age.

Yup, one would think that….