The world was so white they gave me goggles to shield my green eyes and put me in a ski lift, feet dangling, up and up past rocks and dark pines, watching so many stick figures around me swoop up and down the arms of a giant. M and her father are life-long skiers and he is a giant himself; he crosses my ski poles at the tips and places them over and around me and inside this triangle I can focus on moving myself with my thighs, hands on my knees, and somewhere behind me his big presence is there holding me up, holding me together, because when he lets me go on there is such wild fear. Never have I felt so strong every moment that I steer myself correctly or pull to a stop without falling. Never have I felt so fragile and so aware of all of my 30 year old muscles and joints and tendons and veins and senses pulling together, working overtime, trying to slow down against an unnatural swiftness and when my skis crossed and my legs flipped out behind me and I flew through the air in a circle, head over shoulders, felt the skis snapping off, one knee twisting in the process, I was somewhere mid-air, my head passing back underneath my feet, when I heard myself think, wow, I bet people really hurt themselves doing this kind of thing sometimes.
But I got up and kept skiing and later there was the smell of pine and wood fire and our breaths guided us through absolute blackness to a restaurant on a hill. Outside we looked up in delight — there’s Orion, and the Dippers and a million stars, and here below us a snowy, old outpost town, and inside strings of lights everywhere with snow piled up outside the windows and whole crisp leaves of lettuce tossed in caeser dressing, blistered brussel sprouts with truffle oil and sharp cheese and pink, soft salmon on a bed of curry and thinly sliced vegetables (this is when we still thought my knee would be cured by a few hours of icing and elevating, a nice meal, and some stiff cocktails). As M helped me hobble back to the car we paused in the entry and she pointed out a large, framed photograph on the wall of Lake Tahoe and a bridge and the mountains and forests. “Doesn’t that feel SO ’90s?” And we laughed. “Yes! Yes it does!” “So — why is that? What is it about this that just screams that it was shot in the ’90’s?” For a moment we both stare at it mutely and then I have a theory. “It’s the quality of light. It’s the lack of quality of light. See the trees up front, and then the bridge behind them, and then the big lake behind all of that and the mountains beyond that and the forest on either side — there should be so much depth in this shot, but because everything is lit exactly the same way — because the photographer shot this in the middle of the day when everything is lit the exact same way — it all looks flat. There’s no mystery — no magic.”
Ski at Squaw Valley
Stop by New Moon Natural Foods – healthy food, snacks & an impressive wine selection
Decadent dinner and a view at Cottonwood
Now I am hobbling, and when I wrote this I sat at my kitchen table with my leg resting on a yellow stool and I could see another JM moving around me, never still, doing a hundred things at once on strong legs and she has never gone skiing and she has never lost a week or two of movement — even now she is fading from my world and moving on into her own. And here I am, moving into the future with my tattoos and my bad eyesight and something damaged inside me (although apparently I never needed my ACL anyway) and at this point, I have to ask, was it all worth it, and I already know, obviously, it was. Because all of life is a gamble and you can try to play it safe but you never really know and if there is a Venn Diagram somewhere where one of the circles is living and risking the most and another circle is living safely and comfortably I want to be in the crease where those ideas overlap. The other JM may never feel that rush of adrenaline that comes from doing something actually new and utterly terrifying. Never feel her body move faster than it ever had before as though she were flying through a bright blue sky above diamond clouds. There was no machine holding me, only myself and two thin sticks of wood moving me forward as my body frantically tried to stay vertical, and as I moved through the air and the earth below reached to pull me back down and I fell over and over, face sinking into a powdery cold, each time I heard the rush of wings gliding in and strong arms were there to pull me back up again.
I have another California story to share with you soon, but in a day I am getting on a train and I don’t know exactly where I will end up or when I will be back in SF. There’s old friends to visit, a new baby to meet, family to catch up with, and new towns on the horizon. I’ll definitely be traveling through Seattle, Minneapolis, Chicago and New Orleans, so if you’re there and would like to have a cup of coffee or take photos together email me and let’s see if our dates can match up! I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you as always for reading.