Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Sounds of Silence*

My first snowshoe experience was on Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park in Washington State. It was a tame excursion, but I had never been so immersed in a deep winter environment. Afterward, my husband and I tried to hold in fits of laughter while watching a narrated film about winter in the park. “Winter melts into spring,” the narrator intoned as footage flashed on the screen. Every other word, it seemed, was a play on “silence.” It actually would have been better as a silent film.

We made up our own lines all day: The silent snow falls silently upon the silent trees silently waiting out the long, silent winter.

My favorite places take some effort to reach and, during the winter, special equipment. I like to stop in the middle of a steep run or on a Nordic trail lined by trees or next to an icy stream off a snowshoe trail. The effort is worth it. Once you arrive in places like these, what you see and hear pulls you right out of your comfortable little niche in the world.

I don’t listen to music on the trails like many people do because without it I can hear the “silence” of the world around me: My skis managing different kinds of snow – scraping across icy hardpack in the morning shade, muffled swipes through the softening snow in the afternoon sun. I can listen to what’s going on in the forest. The squirrel scolding me from the side of the trail as I pass. Rockfall echoing across a valley. Boulders crashing to the valley floor. Creaking branches of an evergreen swaying in the breeze, creating a moment of doubt. Is it going to fall?

It’s as if my sight sharpens, too, in these quiet moments, and I notice what I’d otherwise miss. The play of light on the mountainsides. The sparkling rainbows of snowflakes floating in the brightening morning. Different layers of snow colored by the angle of the sun. Blue ice peeking through a scraped-off mogul. The lone raven seeming to hang motionless, yet moving on its silent way from one side of the ski area to another.

Years ago, on an early morning Nordic ski in the Methow Valley, a gurgling creek kept me company as I skied toward the middle of the long, wide valley. The schussing of my skis hypnotized me a little, but I was called to attention by the unmistakable call of a bald eagle overhead. The eagle was making its lazy way in the same direction I was going. We paced each other for several kilometers before I turned back toward town and the eagle continued on its way.

It was a long time ago, but I remember the experience so clearly, as if it were a momentous event instead of a quick ski before packing the car to return to Seattle.

I still chuckle when I remember the melodramatic narration of the film, but I’m humbled by the silence it clumsily referenced, too. There’s a fine line between purple prose and the desire to share your astonishment at what you see around you. Maybe we should all just remain silent and watch and listen and keep it to ourselves.

Or maybe not.

*This essay was originally posted on the OutdoorsNW website in Winter 2013. http://outdoorsnw.com/2013/tales-from-the-lift-lines-ix-the-sounds-of-silence/

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Dude*

One of the snowboarders sitting on the run yelled to me, “Dude! Are you okay?”  Tales_021413_hipsters

“Yes, thanks!” I called back. I was on my back, sliding down the slope in a slow-motion rotation, wondering when my edges could catch enough to bring me to a stop. It was a gentle gravitational journey with enough time to think a bit.

“Did that kid really call me ‘Dude’? How nice of him.”

Sakeaus Bankson, editor of The Ski Journal, opened the Winter 2012-2013  issue with a description I can relate to: “I am a Grammarian. I am a bookworm. I am a word nerd.” He then laments his inevitable linguistic decline into ski-speak, which “is not the language of an educated, sane person—this [is] bro-cab, a dialect I had spent high school despising.” It’s a force that Bankson admits he’s powerless to forestall when the winter arrives, but he still tries to resist. I understand why.

I was talking with other skiers one day recently and realized how deep I am in ski jargon myself. “Bluebird day,” “catching an edge,” “taking a line,” “lifties,” “going uptop,” “catching air,” “chop,” “taking a core shot,” “avi debris” – these have naturally entered my conversation over the years because that’s just what happens. A specialized vocabulary is always part of joining a community with shared interests. There was a time when I’d hear conversations sprinkled with these terms and not follow everything being said. Now I join in that sprinkling without giving it much thought.

What I continue to successfully resist, however, is the bro-cab. Maybe it’s a generational thing. I’m in my mid-40s, so “shredding the gnar” or “taking a sick run” or being “stoked” about the “epic pow” just sounds weird coming from me. It reminds me of my mom kidding around with us, adopting Valley Girl speak at the most embarrassing moments.

More likely, though, it’s because I’m a word nerd, too. I can’t even write a text message without making it into a proper sentence. No shortcuts for me.

Bro-cab is full of shortcuts. It’s a code that I haven’t fully cracked. It’s a code with highly personalized meaning. What is a “sick” run? Depends upon who’s saying it. What is “epic pow” as opposed to regular powder? Who knows? It’s all a matter of taste.

And that’s where my natural interest in words severs me forever from being a Dude. Once you start studying the etymology of bro-cab you’re hopeless. You won’t even come close to getting a membership card to that community.

But that’s okay. I’m, like, totally over it.

*This essay was originally posted on the OutdoorsNW website in Winter 2013. http://outdoorsnw.com/2013/tales-from-the-lift-line-vi-dude/

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