Foundering in the empty white. The life altering choice of pens. Looking for a plot line to plumb. A character waits. Does the hero find a parking place, or does he have to circle the block, while the heroine leaves the coffee shop, and thus missing her and his fate entirely?
Body count, elementary school.
This morning I drove a friend to her doctor’s appointment at McLean Hospital, the nation’s first and finest mental hospital. Robert Lowell spent time here. So did Sexton and Plath, Ray Charles and James Taylor. Some of the original buildings – big red brick Victorian heaps, still stand. With landscaping by Olmstead, madness seems elegant and refined. Once home, I looked up the poem by Dickinson -
Much Madness is divinest Sense -
To a discerning Eye -
Much Sense – the starkest Madness -
- Tis the Majority
In this, as all, prevail -
Assent – and you are sane -
Demur – you’re straightaway dangerous -
And handled with a Chain
Just before Thanksgiving, I nearly ran over a flock of wild turkeys in Belmont, a suburb just west of Boston. I joked to my passenger that if I hadn’t already bought our turkey I would haven’t have stopped the car.
This afternoon I came home to a young Cooper’s hawk in the backyard with a fresh kill. The hawk and I watched each other. Then he flew off with his prey, low just clearing the neighbor’s stockade fence.
Parked in a driveway not far from the elementary school that my kids attend is a car with this bumper sticker. While the folks who drive it seem nice enough (he’s a Korean vet; I run into her occasionally at the grocery store; the son works at a nearby university.) the sentiment behind the bumper sticker nags at me. It’s not that dogs aren’t great (friendly, loyal, fun-loving, social), and there are times when the company of a dog may be preferable to the company of people, and sure, I get the riff on all those “My child is an honor student at …” bumper stickers. But still, comparing kids and dogs and having the dogs come out ahead? What’s wrong with this picture?
While dogs have many sterling qualities, who is more likely to discover the next wonder drug, a dog or someone who was once a kid? If you’re 50 or younger, the physician who attends you in your final days may have just started kindergarten. The guy who manages your pension fund through your golden years could be one of those tweenies who hang out the the corner store. The driver who gets you to and from the senior center may not have been born yet. Who offers more hope for the future? Your dog, or my honor student?
First, there is the all the stuff. Clothes for eight days, and toys (from iPad to Kindle to books and Barbies) and the ski gear. Times 4. Then there are the expectations we take with us and the ones we leave behind. We’re going to a new place, where we don’t speak the language and fumble with foreign coins. And then, there is how we carry ourselves, through the car rides, checkpoints and airports, as we fall asleep in strange rooms, and eventually, as we take a lift to stand on the side of a new mountain.
We packed light. One checked bag and one carry-on each. We took our ski boots, and left the sticks and poles behind. You can rent skis just about anywhere and the fit is easy. Boots are harder. Having a pair that fit is worth carrying their weight.
We were going to Europe, to ski in the Alps. As fancy as that sounds, we were going to Slovenia – there would be no movie stars in the lift lines, G6s parked on the tarmac or stores selling cashmere socks. St. Moritz? How hard is that? But Kranjska Gora? Whoa! Now you’re talking adventure – skiing with the locals. So we carried ourselves, two moms and their two kids, like explorers.
Posted in Skiiing
First, there is the deciding to go – the where, the when, the how long. With kids in school, the when and how long are preordained, leaving only the where. I tried talking my ex-pat brother into coming to New England, holding out Sunday River as our destination. He didn’t bite. I shifted gears. What if we were to come him and ski in Europe? Our only perimeters - it had to cheap, and it had to be kid friendly. Kranjska Gora became our where.
Then there is the getting there. The booking of flights, the packing of bags, the selection of reading materials just before the final boarding call, followed by the long night flight to Berlin. Passport control, short hop to Munich, collecting the bags, and finally, the brother waiting to take us to his flat, pour us glasses of wine and shots of the local walnut brandy and tuck us into bed. The next day, he drives us into the mountains, through mile long tunnels and hairpin turns on steep mountain roads, and then we’re there – in a place that feels like skiing was invented.
Posted in Skiiing
Last season, when our son was in fifth grade we took advantage of SkiNH Snowsport Passport program – the kid got a free lift ticket at all the ski areas in the Granite State (pretty cool, huh?) real motivation check out different mountains. We started close to home and went to Mount Sunapee and Pat’s Peak. While Sunapee was nice, Pat’s Peak won the side-by-side. A short drive by 20 minutes and, when a staff member helped the kids carry their gear from the loading zone to the racks outside the lodge the deal was sealed – we thought we’d found our new favorite. While the lifts were slow, and the lodge in need of a need of a renno, the old-timey family friendly feel suited us.
This year for the MLK long weekend, we headed back to Pat’s. Saturday and Sunday were brutally cold – the wind chill brought the temp down to 20 below – so we explored the charms of Main Street Concord, and swam in the motel’s indoor pool. On Monday, when the temperature climbed within a degree or two of zero, we layered up, headed to the mountain, when through the whole unload the gear (no helpful attendant this time), park the car, buy tickets, suit up routine. Finally, a little before noon, we were ready for our first run. With three of us we went to get on the Hurricane Triple lift – that’s went things went south. Our seven year old daughter mistimed getting on the lift. I looked back and saw the liftie continuing to groom the snow in the loading zone and my little pink clad peanut wondering what to do. “Get on the next one!” her brother and I yelled. She did. She got in the chair by herself, alone. She wasn’t big enough or strong enough to pull down the bar. “Sit back! Sit back! You’re doing great!” I shouted over my shoulder all the way up. Later I learned that it takes a seven and a half minutes to get to the top. She was crying when she unloaded. I held her close, told her how brave she was. It took awhile, but we skied down. We got back on the lift that threw us, skied down again and then packed it in. All of the fun had gone out of it.
That evening I called Pat’s Peak and told the woman at customer services what had happened. She listened and sympathized and promised that Sarah, the director of lift operations would call back. A couple of days went by – no call from Sarah. I called again, and left a message. A couple of hours later Bob called. He heard explained that lowering the bar isn’t the lift attendant’s responsibility and that, as Pat’s Peak hosts school ski team races many, many kids ski at their mountain and kids even younger then seven are capable of lowing the restraining bar themselves. Bob said that he was sorry we’d had a bad experience, but we should come back again. He was sure that we’d have a better time. When I told my daughter that I was talking to folks about what had happened to her she asked if they even knew her name. They never asked. A note to her would have gone along way to heal her hurt. I bet she never skis at Pat’s again.
A week later, she and I went to Wachusetts, had a long lunch and then rode the chair lift where the attendant helped her on, lowered the bar, gave her a big smile and an “atta girl.”
Hey! Those are real books! And was that Fred and Ginger dancing? There’s nothing quite like a real book – or a real bookstore.