It has been a warm fall in Sawtooth Valley. Most nights have been above zero. There are spots on the south sides of the house where the ground is soft. The ice on the creeks is still too thin to walk on. A few gray leaves hang on wind-sheltered stands of aspen.
But we're expecting a big winter. Julie and I are ready. The firewood is split and under a big tarp in the backyard. The sprinkler system is drained and the pump and hoses put away. If avalanches close the roads into the valley, we have squash and potatoes in the hall closet and a case of pork and beans and a plastic tub of freeze-dried apocalypse food in the crawl space.
We'll make it through the winter, although I'd feel more secure if we had a 55-gallon drum of coffee beans out in the garage.
The snow has come and gone and come again, but we're still waiting for the big snow that will let us put away our rock skis and get on our good boards. Last year we waited all winter to put away the rock skis, and when we finally did in March, there still wasn't enough snow and all our skis became rock skis by April. I've been repairing their bases and sharpening their edges, and in the right light they look almost new.
We can't say the same thing for ourselves, but aside from normal wear-and-tear, which wouldn't be covered under warranty anyway, we're doing fine.
In a world where lots of things are far more uncertain than the weather, we can count on each other's good will and healthy outlook, even though we lack sharp edges and intact bases.
If life is one long steep powder slope, we've been watching ourselves transform into the human equivalent of rock skis. But the metaphorical snow remains light and soft and deep. We'll put figure-eights all the way to the bottom, and, if there's any daylight left, we'll put our skins back on and hobble back up for another go-round.
We have been skiing into Redfish Lake from the highway. On blue sky days, it's a nice way to spend an hour: 30 minutes skinning up to the boat dock, 10 minutes on one of the benches listening to the shoreline ice sing and crack as the afternoon shadows move east from the Grand Mogul and Mount Heyburn, 15 minutes gliding back to the car, five minutes to the post office in Stanley.
You get your exercise and you get the mail, and if it's dark when you get back to the house, there's the woodstove and a cup of tea and a good book, pleasures rendered almost guilt-free because you've actually done something with the day.
Check off the mail and the exercise from your to-do list, and all those other tasks--the letter to President Obama detailing how to fix health care, the insulation that still needs to be installed in the crawl space, the next chapter of the novel--these things lose their ability to make you feel guilty for not completing them.
By January, things will be different. The novel will be done, accepted by a publisher, and short-listed for the Booker Prize. A few nights of minus 40 will have provided an implacable impetus for installing insulation, and the health care crisis will have gone away, possibly because the sick and poor and uninsured will have all perished from a combination of the cold, bird flu and high-fructose-based diabetes.
In January, we will ski into Redfish only on snowy, windy, I-don't-want-to-go-outside days that discourage a trip to Galena or Copper Mountain. We still have to get out the door--otherwise it means facing the new unfinished novel, the new layer of attic insulation and the new letter to President Obama about the dubious morality of drone warfare. But it's only an hour and not a day of walking into wind-blasted snow.
It's not even an hour. By January, we hope to be in good enough shape we can leave our skins in the car and skate up to the boat dock on ski bases that have been repaired, flat-filed and covered with high-speed wax. We can't sit on the boat-dock benches for 10 minutes because we'd stick there, and the food in the crawl space wouldn't be the only freeze-dried thing in the valley.
Besides, it's a little creepy sitting above a frozen lake in January, looking at the empty lawn of the Lodge, remembering the warm days of July when hundreds of people gathered there to listen to music and drink margaritas.
In January, the ghosts of children dance in spindrifts in front of the band platform. The howl of the wolves replaces the happy barking of dogs. Snow drifts in between the beached hulls of rental boats. The peaks disappear behind snow squalls, and the sun threatens to disappear forever behind the southern horizon.
So we mark the half-foot of snow on the dock's bench with a ski pole to prove that we've been there, and turn around and skate back to the car, going so fast that a caught edge would mean a full on lawn-sale, skipping the post office on the off-chance that our box would be empty and dark, heading for the woodstove and a guilt-be-damned hot buttered rum and checking that we've got enough wood in to last us through the night.
We're not so quick to make ski metaphors for the human condition in January. If we did, they would involve treacherous cornices, wind pack and avalanches. Instead, we seek the meaning of life in the literal: clear days, calm winds and February.