Saturday, December 10, 2022

BANSHEE BRINK – Survival and Serenity On Cross-Country Skis

Ah-h-h, the dry, rhythmic whisper of skis on snow. Sh-h-h…sh-h-h….sh-h-h-h-h. An inch of fresh powder last night, and my green wax is spot on—grabs like tank treads going up hills; slick as Teflon going down.

Vivid sun cuts cleanly through fourteen-degree air. In the forest, trees cast pillars of shadow. Snowflakes, awakened by gentle breezes from their naps on high boughs, dust my jacket with glitter.

My body’s working well; I ask the best from every limb, and get it. My hands are already warm enough to shed my gloves. My spirits encourage me, as if skiing just ahead, laying down solid tracks, making it look and feel so easy.

          Before I know it I’m going way too fast
          to slow down.

Through a small clearing I glide, up a long herringbone hill, along a wooded ridge, and finally over the top. Speed picks up slowly; a little poling, faster and faster; now poles can’t keep up; I nearly brush the trees; hope I can stay in the tracks!

Wait! What’s this just ahead…Oh, no, too late! Over a blind crest and Whoa-h-h-h! A roller-coaster hill drops out from under my skis, sending me into near free-fall. Before I know it I’m going way too fast to slow down. Oh my God, I’m dead.

At the bottom a sudden dip catapults me out of the enclosure of the woods and into open sky over a sea of white. It feels like I'm in the air for five slo-mo seconds. I land more or less on my feet, regaining my balance, and then coasting…coasting.

A few easy strides…coasting…and then, far out on the frozen lake, I glide to a stop. I pause to catch my breath and listen. To the brittle silence of winter wilderness. To the still drumming beat of my heart.

(I later find out that I've just survived "Banshee Brink," one of the area's most notorious cross-country ski trail features.)

One’s thoughts are torn at exquisite moments like this. Between the immediate magic and deeper reflection. I’m not very religious, but for some reason, the words of a chapel reading I heard nearly 60 years ago when I was a counselor at a boys’ camp in Maine come to mind:

May the lake, the trees, the wide spaces of the fields and all the nature
 sights and sounds of earth and air be unto us as gates whereby we enter the vast kingdom of thy presence—and think quiet and compelling thoughts.


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