Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Two Epiphanies on Being in the Mountains...
The last four days in Jackson have been truly transformative for me. I was trying to explain myself, my feeling, my understanding of my life and my place and my insane desire to turn my skis over and over again to Tom when I got home, and while he looked a bit like "Sudden movements may set her off, back slowly out of the room..." There was also some understanding there, which was exciting, and prompted me to write it down for real.
I had two sort of major epiphanies while I was out wandering around in the Tetons that I'd like to share with you.
The first being that skiing is for certain the most meditative activity I have yet to be involved in, and I think that this is one of the reasons I am so drawn to it.
In every other sport, the court is the constant, and what you do with your body within the confines of the arena is where you succeed or fail. In tennis, you learn a forehand, back hand, down the line on both sides, drop shots, lobs... In boxing you learn jabs, crosses, uppercuts, blocks... in basketball there are jump shots, and layups and passes, defense, patterns, offense...
In skiing, there is a turn.
And, as Jonathan remarked with a giant grin on his face, skiing is the quest for the perfect turn. And by the perfect turn, you could see from the look of far off bliss as he gazed at the very steep peak in the distance, he isn't talking about the reward being a technically perfect turn. There is this amazing blissfully place that is past the technically correct turn, where those movements are ingrained and belong to your body, which allows your body to belong in this insane environment, some ridiculously steep terrain covered in snow, in which your job is to do one thing: turn, and then turn again.
Because there is only one thing we are doing, whether its powder, bumps, steeps, slough, mank, just turning, and its the same turn, just with the Emphasis on a different syllable of the movement.
In this way, to quote Doug Commbs, "You are moving through the mountains...", viscerally connected with this host organism that we all crawl on and sleep on, and play on, and when that turn, those movements that live in your body come together in conversation with the snow, there is bliss to be found.
I think another thing that skiing teaches me, which I am grateful for, is patience, and a willingness to listen to what the mountain needs, rather than just to go out and play ON her, to take from her, to really, seamlessly exist with her, you have to listen with every one of your senses to the snow, the sun, the wind, all of it paints a picture which minutely changes how hard you push, how hard you steer, how far you drop, and whether you even choose to venture out there, or whether you are listening well enough to know that she needs some alone time today, and today, you ride a bike along the foothills and appreciate it from afar, because she's obviously cranky and shedding layers, continually changing and morphing.
This leads me to the second little epiphany I had whilst climbing for the fourth day out into Avalanche Bowl, that I have always felt very connected at a visceral level to "mother earth" as it were, but lately, I have felt more tuned into the sounds and feelings of her breathing, and living, and struggling with the cankers that are all of the creatures claiming home on her skin. I wondered why this was for a while, and then I realized that many of the people I am spending time with out there are feeling the same way.
I took some time this morning to lay in the long grass and watch the dandelion fluff waft by in the breeze, and I asked myself why? Why do you feel so alive when you are out there, and even just here? And I think part of the answer is that when I am hiking up something, feeling the snow and listening to the mountain, wondering what the conclusion to the conversation will be: okay, go ski, but ski over here... or bail out route, or you can do it, but you are going to have to pay it... while I am hiking up in that place, everything makes sense in a vital, basic way.
I think you get a much clearer perspective that the world is not a built environment, but an organism that contains many built environments, that are a fiction we perpetrate all over the surface of the planet. And most of our time, we spend time trying to prop up, patch, fix and make those fictional built environments function, so that we can feel safe, secure, and protected, as well has have life be easy, and happier somehow.
And I love visiting a city just for that reason. The ability of man to imagine and produce is fantastic, and the bizarre sense of community and culture come together to produce an amazing tapestry of humanity and the human condition, with the volume turned all the way up.
But to step away from the enclave and wander away from the pavement and realize that it runs out, and that the earth is awfully tolerant with all these insane little bundles of ego running all over her, insisting on the size and importance of our beings, sometimes I feel, while I am hiking, the sigh of the tolerant mother, who sometimes has to be firm to get her kids in line, and who sometimes looses her temper, as we all do when we feel trapped and bound and taken for granted...
I am rambling in circles here trying to catch this little thread of a thought, that the WHY, the why of why I never want to leave, and I always want to hike, and I can't stop wanting to turn... is because when I am out there, I feel at my most basically, alive. And while adrenaline is fun and excellent, that's not the quest I feel. It's certainly a nice side bonus, but its more leaving the fiction and entering reality, and turning down the insanity of human existence and struggle, and just listening, feeling where I am, the vast reality of the surface of this planet, and the tiny microscopic portion that I am struggling to mount so that I may look across the horizon in the sun, and then fall, flying and turning over and over in rhythm and harmony and gratitude to the mother who lets me play.
And when I come home, I look at my children, and I feel I've learned a valuable lesson about patience.