Saturday, February 19, 2011

night flying

The thing about skiing in the dark is this: you have to believe. You have to trust your body's instinctual memory, trust your balance, trust that you know how to fly.

Skiing in the dark is like night flying. The light dims to a smoky blue, then fades. In the time before the moon rises to hang in the sky, all you see are faint outlines: the silhouettes of trees, the curve of the road, but most of it is by feel. You hear the differences in the snow as your skis pass through; the crusty places where the sun has lingered, soft powder where it hasn't. Every little thing is magnified: the swish of skis, the chuckle of the river, your breath.

I don't remember when I stopped trusting in the night. Years ago our small initial attack crew prepared to leave an escaped campfire as darkness fell. We had been at it all day, snuffing out the embers that sprawled lazily in a patchwork of glowing orange. Our work was not quite done, but our sleeping bags and food were back at the Pavement Puppy, our low rider white Ford, three miles away. As Jack and I started to turn on our headlamps, Young Mike stopped us. "Let's hike out in the dark," he said. "Our feet know how to do this."

Skeptical, we followed, the flat pane of the lake we rounded turning opaque as the first stars pricked the night. It felt strange to hike by night, and foreign, but soon I discovered Mike was right. My feet figured it out, navigating easily on the rocky trail with a confidence I never had in daylight, when I was focused on avoiding obstacles. We flew down the trail much faster than ever before.

Years later I have lost some of the trust I used to have. Trust in balance, trust that all will turn out fine. It wasn't just skiing. Maybe it was when Roger died on a fiery mountain and I realized: we won't always make it out alive.Maybe it was the long rehab back from knee surgery and the unsettling knowledge that youth and marathons are now limited. I can't say for sure when things turned from a careless belief that I would never be lost, never lose someone important, never be afraid.

 Sometimes now I focus on what could go wrong: what if it's icy under this snow? What if a tree is submerged under this snow and I face plant? What if, what if, all the unseen dangers that lurk beneath. I have grown used to seeing the upcoming hazards and worrying about them. There's a stream to cross. There's a big hill to go down with skinny skis I can't quite control. What to do, how to control the uncontrollable.

Here's the only pic I got of the recent eclipse.
But in the end it is just night skiing, on a snowy road. Jerry is up ahead, skijoring with his dogs. He has his headlamp on.

In the dark, I give myself up to it, trust, believe. My skis find the track somebody has broken a few hours before. I learn the road the way I never do in daylight, feel the curves, loosen the tug of  awareness, and just fly.


  1. OK, that leaves me out. No balance. No instinctual memory in my body. And I really don't think I can fly.

    On a more serious note, I love this post. You are quite a writer.

    And going back to me :) I wish I had your trust. This is something I never had. Maybe one day.

  2. Night flying...dark skiing....good metaphor for trusting life, too, eh? Like the images, and the photo. What Ewa are quite a writer. Keep trusting...keep writing.

  3. My dad long ago taught me to "see with my feet". And for always, the flashlight is the last thing I reach for in the dark. I thank him.

  4. Probably doesn't mean "flying by the seat of your pants" in this context! Vivid, beautiful writing, Marre.

  5. The entire idea of letting your feet know and guide you is so important. I recall being in a white out condition at least once and letting my feet and skiis lead me down the mountain. It was an energizing experience for me and obviously got to the bottom in good shape. You have to trust to your senses.

  6. What a beautiful picture. Wow.


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