Some years ago, Julie and I declared February "fitness month." That meant no alcohol, lots of fruits and vegetables, daily walks or ski treks and only Pure Thoughts. Some of these strictures were easier than others, but we kept to all of them. Our definition of Pure Thoughts was pretty broad.
We marked the arrival of March with a fine Oregon pinot noir, barbecued rib steaks and chocolate Haagen-Dazs floating in dark chocolate syrup. A few hours later we woke from a fitful sleep, bloated and nauseous, with headaches and leaden limbs, deprived of a comforting self-righteousness we hadn't even known we possessed until it was gone. We decided to have February Fitness Month again the next year--and maybe cool the wretched excess a little during March, April and May.
That's been the pattern ever since. Friends have pointed out that we're not that much fun in February and if we go to restaurants with them, we tend to watch them like hungry puppies as they drink wine. Some of them, noting that Sawtooth Valley is already cold, dark and lonely in February, consider us antisocial, less than convivial, seasonally out-of-sync and just--wrong.
But this year, the holidays were more festive than usual, so we began February Fitness Month two weeks early. We missed Stanley's weekend apres-skiing, snowmobiling and curling events. The Super Bowl party at the Kasino Club found us at home, sipping herbal tea and listening to neurologists discuss sports-related concussions on NPR. When the new Sluice Cafe opened up in the Stanley Town Square, we looked longingly at all the burgers on the menu, gazed with unconcealed grief at the beer and wine list, and ordered salads.
Still, it hasn't been all self-denial. Two days ago, taking advantage of a hard base under six inches of new powder, we climbed a long ridge to a peak on the north side of Beaver Creek, opposite the Boy Scouts' Camp Bradley--the Halstead Fire had burned hot through the entire area two summers ago. We put an easy track up through fire-gladed trees. Our turquoise, red and yellow parkas were the only colors in a black-and-white landscape.
The trees had been flame-shrunken into narrow human forms. It was like being on a busy city sidewalk, if city sidewalks had extreme uphill tilts and were crowded with anorexics. At least that was what I thought for a half-mile or so, until those human forms, with their clawed branches reaching over us as we climbed, started looking like the living dead.
"Zombies," I said to Julie, who was a few steps ahead of me, taking her turn breaking trail.
"Am I going too slow for you?" she asked.
"I was just thinking that on any city sidewalk, you could be surrounded by zombies, and you wouldn't even know it unless they started trying to eat your brains. Lots of people: You just look at them and step around them. How do you know they're not dead?"
"Your turn to break trail," Julie said. "Try to go fast enough you don't have enough breath to talk."
"I mean, how do you know other people are really alive? All those cars on the webcams, headed into the city every morning? For all you know, zombies could be driving them. What if they're the decent, upright, middle-class living dead, still holding down corporate jobs, worried about getting in shape for summer, determined to get back in their old prom dresses and army uniforms? Maybe they're all doing the zombie equivalent of February Fitness Month. Maybe they've all become vegans--artichoke hearts and rotten avocados, mostly. They like the texture."
No answer from Julie. I stopped talking and concentrated on putting one ski in front of the other. When we finally got to the top of the ridge, we pulled our climbing skins off our skis, put on our parkas, buckled our boots, shortened our poles and ate a lunch of dried peaches, apples and nuts. Then we skied down, stopping here and there as we approached downed trees or sudden drop-offs. In the backcountry, no hazards are marked. A zombie tree wouldn't even try to get out of the way if you were about to run into it.
At the bottom, watching Julie telemark down through a hillside of blackened and eroded tree trunks, I wondered when and how she had become such a wonderful skier. I had tried to teach her at the start of our marriage, but something weird and supernatural gets in the way if you try to teach your spouse to ski. I really can't take credit for her skills, and usually don't. When I do, it's never during February.
I suppose zombies would have a tough time becoming backcountry skiers. Even if they did, nobody would want to ski with them. If you're skiing miles from anywhere, you want to be skiing with folks who will avoid the lethal spots, who have the stamina to be part of a rescue team if needed and who aren't reckless or thoughtless. Zombies would have trouble with any of these standards.
I mentioned this idea on the drive back to Stanley.
"Why are you going on and on about zombies?" Julie asked. "We just had a great day skiing."
"We've escaped the Clutching Zombie Forest of Beaver Creek," I said, "and Lived to Ski Another Day."
"And you've managed to spend the whole time violating the Pure Thought rule," she said.
We drove on into Stanley, picked up the mail and drove home. We were chilled and shivering, tired and hungry, ready for dinner and a couple of Doctor Who episodes on Netflix before heading for bed. There we planned to sleep the sleep of the just, as we have every night for four-and-a-half really long weeks.