A wild-eyed optimist gazes into a new year.
“Could someone clarify why
there’s no structured narrative?
No neat story-line to explain?
Wish on everything.
Pray that she remains, proud and strange
And so hopelessly hopeful.”
Exiles Among You
The ski tracks and paw prints that the dogs and I made just a day ago have all but disappeared under a mantle of freshly fallen snow. The soft white landscape has nearly been restored to its previous perfection, with only a barely discernable path left to hint at yesterday’s descent down through the trees. Vague it may be, but I know all to well where this trail leads. It takes a tentative line down a steep knoll, turns left, and then ends abruptly at a crater like depression where very recently, an “old enough to know better” skier made an impromptu and rather violent snow angel. Much more snow will have to fall before evidence of this embarrassingly impressive work of art is finally hidden from view.
Despite the emotional and physical trauma suffered in the making of said snow angel, I again dare to try. I push off, not with a reckless heart but with one renewed by hope. Hope that this time I will remember to keep more weight on my back ski through the turns, and that I won’t be intimidated when I get to that tight spot between the two huge larch trees. And even more importantly, hope that this time, there will be no embarrassing crater. That this time, the only legacy I will leave behind will be sweet arcs drawn deftly and efficiently in the newly fallen snow.
This habit of optimistically hurling oneself into challenging situations despite past disappointments is not one specific to aging telemark skiers. In fact, just a few short days ago all of humanity – or at least that portion who honour the Gregorian calendar – rushed head long into a new year.
Even though most of us took some pretty spectacular falls in 2015 and wear the black and blue merit badges of experience to prove it, we still excitedly counted down the seconds to midnight, glad to be able to throw ourselves down the hill one more time. Because this time, we think can we get it right.
Before we push off into 2016 the more prudent of us, (the ones with all those black and blue badges), have a good long look down slope. We prepare ourselves for the descent by collecting our thoughts, remembering what we have done wrong in the past and what we have to do this time to correct those mistakes. This is that most optimistic of all processes, the New Years resolution.
Some believe this to be an absolutely futile procedure wherein the resolve to improve one’s self, fades as quickly as the last notes of Auld Lang’s Syne. However, looking to the future with specific goals in mind is imperative to success. To substantiate this, one need look no further than that bible of back-country skiing, Allen and Ted’s Really Cool Telemark Tips. Right there on page 61 it says, “When you drive down the highway, are you focused on the pavement directly below your grill? No! You want to drink in the big picture … Same with skiing. Pick something down slope to focus on: a tree, a lump of snow, any thing. Just make sure it is directly down the fall line and ski towards it. Of course it is advised that you stop or pick another object once you get close. Other wise you run the danger of impacting your chosen object.” Sound advice indeed, from those shrewd and sagacious free-heelers, Allen and Mike.
From the top of my mountain, the run down into 2016 looks challenging, but ultimately do-able. I have my health, family, friends, a new career at High Country, and of course that most essential of commodities, hope.
And so with all that stowed safely in my rucksack and the old year ticking away, I pointed my tips over the edge, peered down slope and tried to focus on the futures that lay directly down the fall line. There are of course the perennial favourites like; lose some weight and write the great Canadian novel. There are also a few new, and much more attainable ones. Things like: learn to kayak with my lovely and eminently outdoorsy wife, finally climb into Nicol Lake with my son, become more proficient on the damn till at work, and of course, find the courage to ski that tight turn between the two humungus larches – the list goes on.
Well I’m a couple of weeks into the new year now and so far things are going down hill fast; too fast. Powder kicks up over the tip of my lead ski as I curtsy into the turn with – I’m pleased to say – just the right weight on my back foot. This self congratulations is quickly replaced with panic when I look down hill to focus on my next goal and see the larch trees, the distance from them, and the space between them both closing all two quickly. Bravely/foolishly refusing to panic I hold my line and focus on the gap; my gaze never wavering. There is a bump when my left shoulder grazes the first tree. I lose my balance and bounce off the second. As I lay there in the snow fending off the concerned kisses of the dogs, I realized two things; firstly that I had – all be it not that gracefully – made it between the larch trees and lived to tell the tale. And secondly, that Allen and Mike were right, it is important not to hold your focus on your goal for too long.
Will I accomplish all the other things I have my sights on in 2016? Well maybe not the great Canadian novel, but there is hope, (there’s that word again) that I will achieve the rest. They will be what I am looking towards as I peer down into this brave new year. How pretty the turns will be between those goals, well that, like all futures, remains to be seen.
Dan Mills, Jan 2016