Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Skiing is where you find it

The winter of 1993-94 was the classic, almost mythic, New England winter. The cold hit early and bit hard. Snow began in December. By the beginning of February, roofs were collapsing around the region.

The temperatures stayed low. My records show morning lows of 10 below, 15 below, 20 below, and one morning at minus 27 after a high of 5 the day before. We'd get very brief respites, when 20 felt balmy and 40 was torrid, but mostly it was just relentlessly cold.

New Hampshire's a tough economy. I found myself in one of those times when I had a surplus of time and a shortage of money.

We started to run out of firewood. This was serious, because that was the only source of heat. With one thing and another, and a series of lackluster winters, I hadn't cut the four cords I used to pile up for winter. I would get most of it from clearing trails on my property, but now I'd cleared about all I wanted. Come fall, the pile looked big, but the ceaseless cold shrank it with every armload I shoved into the stove. And this was for a tiny house.

Even before the snow I was trudging into the woods to cut dead pine trees to supplement the hardwood I knew would dwindle far too fast.

The snow got deep in a hurry. I went out on snowshoes, but that just added to the toil. So I started skiing in on some old beater Karhus, 55 millimeters wide, with 3-pin bindings. They were derelicts. The original owner had discarded them with a chunk broken out of the sidewall, but he'd included the chunk when he dropped them at the shop. I just epoxied it back in and figured the skis were good enough for chores. At 210 cm, they were longer than anything else I owned, but they were soft.

After juggling ski poles, a bow saw, an axe and dead wood a few times, I began to ski in carrying only the tools, skiing out with a dead tree balanced on each shoulder. It seemed like drudgery for all of a day or so, but then I saw a picture in the newspaper of a woman in Sarajevo, dodging sniper fire to drag a green tree limb home to burn in her apartment living room. And she didn't even have a fireplace. The citizens of Sarajevo were having a nasty winter camping trip that year.

Suddenly my life seemed extraordinarily privileged. I have viewed it that way ever since. I had hot water, plenty of food, dry, dead wood to cut and no one shooting at me.

For the rest of the winter, I honed my balance and strength, skiing to get trees. I don't want to return to those hard times, but they made my life better. You don't really plan to have experiences like that. You really shouldn't. It was just what life dealt at the time.

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