Thursday, December 27, 2012

Praying for Snow

Looking out the window on a December morning as the snow piles up into burbly tussocks, it would seem that the wishes of the North Country folk--who depend on snow for their winter livelihood, as well as their mental tonic--were granted. The hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing began early around here as leaves and temperatures plunged: when will it snow? Sometimes there’s an October tease, a dump of snow foreshadowing the deep, rich, even layer of winter to come. Sometimes there’s a painful delay, leaving naked trees to shamefully stand watch in the cold, provoking cries of climate change, and, prayer.

Praying for snow is a custom up here. It is printed on the buttons advertising Pinnacle Ski & Sports that are handed out by David Wolfgang as he makes his seasonal pilgrimage to the local lodges, dropping off ski rental coupons. It is written in the dirty rear windows of cars, instead of “wash me.” And it is used as a sign off between friends concluding a telephone conversation: “Okay, talk to you later. Pray for snow.”

But there is a new secularism that’s creeping into the language that threatens the potency of prayer with waffling indifference. The bland imperative, “Think Snow” has become the mantra of the middling. Thinking and praying are different. To think is to contemplate, to cogitate, to ponder, to consider, but not to commit. To pray is to invoke, to call upon, to implore--in short, to ask for something. Thinking is the precursor to prayer, not its replacement. We may think of snow on a summer day as a relief from heat, but we wouldn’t pray for snow in July, unless we were vacationing in a Chilean ski resort.

The purpose of prayer isn’t to get what your want from God--or a god, or the universe, or whatever your force is. The purpose of prayer is prayer. It’s a way to facilitate cellular alignment, to actually influence the solid world, and the people inhabiting it, for there is a connection between the spiritual and the physical, between the mental and the manual, between the theory and the practice. The point is that prayer has a point, a purpose, a goal. In the case of the ski bums, innkeepers, and restauranteurs who inhabit the North Country, the point of prayer is snow. Equivocating with unfocused meditation just won’t get it done.

So pray for snow. Pray in your own way, but pray, because prayer works. It doesn’t work because lists are submitted and orders are filled. It works because it fills up the temporal world with positive energy, and that energy works miracles on weather systems. I know, because I’m looking out the window at the shape of prayers answered: snow.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Connoisseur of the Turn

Chantal and I made our first turns of the season up on Mt. Mansfield this week. Ski-crazed flatlanders might gasp and lust after out good fortune, but by Stowe standards we’re a little behind the curve. Folks have been grabbing runs on the hill up here since mid-November. Thanks to a shiny new snowmaking system, Stowe Mountain Resort has been able to piggyback on Ma Nature and lay down the canvass upon which we skiers express our art.

That’s what all the turning is about up there: Art. Self-expression. Style. If art is anything, it’s the engagement of the individual with the natural world in a way that transcends both the individual and nature to create a new, unique product, something recognizable as an entity beyond the creator: the ski turn.

There’s little use in advocating for one kind of style or method of turning over another. The parallel turns of alpine skiers and the free-heeled carving of telemark skiers both allow an intense, artistic platform for expression. Several years ago I made the transition to tele turns, and there are a few aspects of telemarking that have changed not only my style, but my spirit.

For many years my goal was to conquer the intersection of speed and edge. I bombed the mountain with stiff downhill skis, cramming high numbers of runs into my time on the hill; it was discussion capital used to demonstrate my mastery. Membership in the 10 by 10 club was the goal (10 runs before 10 a.m.), and I acquired it early and often. But the thrill of speed began to wane for me; I needed more information to quaff my intellectual thirst. Telemark skiing offered that.

The telemark turn slowed me down and exaggerated the shapes of my movements across the mountain. At first, my concentration was on the turn itself. But then, my pace and fresh explorations of the hill brought on by slower, deeper turns opened up a new world to me. There were nuances and undulations of the terrain that I’d never noticed before because I was always rocketing downhill. Suddenly I could pick out waves and rolls in the slope to explore, feeling the snow-frozen earth beneath my boots reach up and manipulate my path. Skiing became a dance, not unlike lovemaking, requiring time, patience, and, most of all, paying attention to the needs of a partner.

Telemark skiing has given me that partner in the snow. I can feel the mountain tickling me, caressing my skis, luring me into blissful adoration. I give myself to the earth, becoming its expression, translating its imperatives into the tele turns that define me. It’s an endless work in progress, much like my writing.

This week, my frozen dance partner expressed fickleness through my boots. I tentatively genuflected to the earth, and it rejected me, sending me reeling off-balance several times. I deserved it; I’d ignored the mountain all summer and fall, and now, like an itinerant lover, I was back, demanding satisfaction. I didn’t get any.

But I’ll return for more abuse. I’ll humbly submit to the terrain, and to the muse of my turns, in search of a perfect interaction between mountain and man: the unachievable. I’ll find the inner balance that I hope to demonstrate through my skiing, and I’ll remain a connoisseur of the turn.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Lightening Up

I was not going to write this blog post. I was going to write a completely different piece. In fact, I did. But as is my custom, I wrote the column, put it away for a couple of days, and went back to re-read it. And it's a good thing I did.

It wasn't bad; it was superb. Tightly written, concise, well-paced, and fascinating, the column was another blend of my lives, this time the life of the rhetoric teacher and the life of the innkeeper. The only problem was its tone.

A friend recently told me that it seems like I have a chip on my shoulder about innkeeping, and he's right. I'm too critical of not only innkeeping's modern incarnations, but the way people practice something I consider to be a sacred art. I've written in detail about innkeeping's history in both this space and my book A Brief History of Innkeeping in the 20th Century. I consider it a true vocation.

In my opinion, too many other people don't feel the way I feel about innkeeping. To them, it's just a business, a hobby, a cutesy dream. There's nothing wrong or negative about that; it's actually a good thing. It brings wonderful diversity to the metier. The problem is with me. I need to lighten up.

So please accept this mea culpa for my sometimes chippy attitude. I really love this innkeeping gig. I get to meet the most interesting people, I get to control my own path, and I get to practice something I take seriously. Most of all, I get to exchange ideas and experiences with innkeepers of all stripes, as we work hard to make traveling a little bit nicer, a little more unique, and a little more eccentric for the folks who visit us.