categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour
There come days skiing back in the woods, early and late in the season, when it rains and then rains more, and the ice is busted up by the resulting freshet, and you cross even the small brooks without some thought. On my regular route, the first brook is one I’ve named Nina Brook, since no one else seems to have named it. On my first morning of skiing this year, just a few inches of snow, I took my skis off, threw them over, crossed on the usual rocks, put the skis back on and continued. But on the second day came the rain, all day, all night, all the next night, then more snow. You could hear Temple Stream in the night, and you could hear Nina Brook, wow.
I kicked and glided to the brook the next sunshine morning and stared. The usual rocks were under water. But the miles I wanted to ski were over there, on the other side. Over summer, a skinny brown-ash tree had fallen across, too shaky for a bridge, but firmed up with a bit of new ice. Fuck it. I threw my skis across. And was thus committed. Ski poles for balance, I crossed about halfway on the log, then vaulted. This is not Christian Taylor, mind you, the football star and triple jump champion, this is Bill Roorbach, with a titanium plate in his neck and general physical confidence only slowly returning, pain minimal. But still pain! The fellow who fell in the brook a few months ago when there was no snow! Nor ice caps on the rocks available now that the usual rocks were under water.
Anyway. I had gotten to a place where I couldn’t turn around. The log at that end was not firm, would dump me in about two feet of water, not the end of the world on a 30 degree day, but certainly a trip-shortener. So I just stepped, into the brook, onto a submerged usual rock, and forward quickly enough that only a few ounces of water entered my boot from the top. My high, backcountry ski boot, I mean, which is more-or-less waterproof. And clacked into my skis and onward, lovely, fast, damp-snow, warm-day skiing, fast and perilous.
Upon my return to the brook, a half-hour or so later, my choices for crossing were worse. But home was that way, so I threw the skis across and made my way rock to rock, leaning hard on those ski poles, rock to submerged usual rock and over, wet. But I made it, and home, where I dried out.
But another time the temperature was ten below. The brook had broken out in a late February thaw, and refrozen quickly, every rock coated slick, the snow bridge eaten entirely. I threw my first ski, and it javelined into the snow across the way, perfect. I threw the second and it landed on its tip, flexed, and sprang directly back to the brook, where it floated (blessed wood core) in the strong current to the far side of the stream and disappeared under a shelf of new ice, all in an instant.
The ash tree hadn’t yet fallen, so that poor option wasn’t available. I was younger then, though, so many other options were. Without skis I was thigh deep in the old snow, but made my way down to where the brook meets Temple Stream, struggled upstream to a bend where I could cross on the smashed heaps of ice that had gotten caught there, pans a foot thick that the stream in its rage had stacked ten and fifteen high, like mountain climbing. And down the far bank of the stream till I got to another bend, and could cross. This was an hour’s work, every bit the workout skiing would have been and then some, enjoyable in its emergency kind of way. Then back up to the brook, where I recovered the one ski and put it on, giving me some float on the snow as I worked down the brook to where the other ski had disappeared. And now it was all ice-breaking, using my pole, working downbrook to a little bend where no ski could have made further sub-glacian progress. And there it was. Bare hand to tug it out quick (best not to get mittens wet), ski held aloft in gloved hand so as not to touch the snow, wet, bare hand under armpit for a quick dry, mitten back on, searing cold pain. The water on the ski froze in less than a minute, and I got myself back up to the broken trail where the snow was stable and I put it back on.
Now, that was more fun than skiing, though unplanned. And I was on the wrong side of the brook, sunset.
Anyway, the bad advice is this:
Throw your skis over the brook. In life. In writing. In all pursuits. Sometimes to go forward you just have to, well, go forward, straight through the obstacles. Throw your skis over the brook. That is what commitment is all about, and there is much to be learned as you improvise your way to safety, and to the trail you can see just across the way.