Saturday, May 19, 2012

Bark More Wag Less

Leslie cranking turns

I am a creature of habit. I drink the same coffee every morning, eat the same breakfast, perform the same ritual tasks. On the ice I warm up the same way. Looking for mushrooms I go to the same trails, same trees, in the same order. Traveling in familiar country, I stay in the same hotels, go to the same restaurants, shop in the same stores. There’s a part of me that believes this litany of rituals somehow prepares me for surprise and invention.
Wednesday May 16, the surprise arrived around 10:30 PM. Leslie and I were all tucked in at our hotel, The Entrada Lodge in Bend, Oregon (been staying here 15 years). We’d dined at Cascades Lake Brewery (always our first stop - half price appetizers 4 - 6 PM weekdays and an appetizer is plenty for us). We perused the Bend Outlet Center, capturing some amazing bargains (we always do this, too). Bought lunch supplies at Fred Meyer. Ice cream at Baskin Robbins. All well and good and normal as sunshine. And of course we were tired and jetlagged and therefore in the sack early. 
Compared to Weehawken, Bend is as quiet as a classroom on Christmas day. I was lying perfectly still, listening to the vast nothingness, when I detected a faint, rhythmic, high-pitched wheezing. “Leslie’s sinuses,” I thought, recalling she’d just got over a whopper of a cold. It was a small intimacy, so personal it made me grin. She was asleep, I reasoned, asleep and wheezing. I listened to a few more soft whistles, and then she suddenly asked, “What is that sound?”
My senses jolted into high alert. What, indeed! It had become polytonal, louder, and more dangerous sounding, with a wicked undertone and an unmistakeable, raise-the-hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck animal distress quality. I got up and went to the door.
As soon as I cracked it open a chorus of shrieks and yells and yips flooded in. It took but a second to recognize: “Coyotes!” I said. 
“Wow. Cool,” Leslie responded, as I backed away from the door and held it open, inviting in the full symphony. 
A coyote pack yelping is never a sound I expect in a motel. Other, more entertaining noises - yes. But the shrieks of wilderness? I realize Bend is not urban New Jersey, but in all our years coming here we’d never heard coyotes before. It made me feel that something momentous and grand was going to happen.
Going back to bed I lay awake a few more minutes. I’d been hoping to come up with a new bread formula, something that can be made in a microwave oven. Maybe the grand solution was about to materialize.
Soft snow telemark turn
Alas it did not. But what did happen was pretty momentous for the two of us: the next day we not only both have a terrific, no-falls 4 hours of skiing, but Leslie skied so well she was on black diamond runs by day’s end.
To understand the significance of this you have to realize several things. Leslie took up the sport late in life (40’s); she’d never skied before she met me (1992); the first skis she put on were telemark (toe only bindings); she hates the cold; she’s had plenty of bad experiences skiing with me, some of which were enumerated in my previous post; the last time we skied together she broke a finger.
But Thursday, and the days that have followed, have been a sea change. Leslie is slipping and slithering down steeps and around trees, through mogul fields and off-piste, all without hesitation, fear, or whining. I have somehow lost my fear too - a fact that led me to ski a portion of this mountain I’ve never tried before, a terrifyingly steep (@ 50 degrees) headwall off the summit. My descents weren’t pretty - in fact I muffed one and took a long and scary slide. But the more I did them the more fun they were.
We both think our skiing is so much better because of all the hours we’ve put in figure skating. This sport requires so much precision, such careful alignment of body to ice and gear, and so much practice, it’s the only factor that makes sense in our improvement tally. So here’s to our coaches, Ken and Victoria. Helmet’s off!
And here’s to you, Gentle Reader. No recipe at all this time (we’re dining in restaurants at the moment) but an activity prescription instead: go to your local rink, rent a pair of skates, and give it a whirl. If you like it, take some lessons. If you can get your significant other interested (the best scenario of all!) take some ice dancing lessons. Your body and your brain will thank you for it.
Maybe the coyotes will too.

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