My mother gave me and my sister a mountain when we were young. Chairlifts and an aerial tram under the Christmas tree promised cold days and clear fun. A T-bar baited us with an independence we hadn't yet known. You see, two precious passes wrapped by my mother in vision and reindeer paper lay under our tree. The Little Drummer Boy hanging from a thin branch announced our new place in the world: my sister and I were to become skiers.
Every Saturday morning, then, and for many years after, my mom left us at the foot of Jay Peak with lunch, each other, and seven hours of snowy bliss. At eight years old, I had Saturdays and my sister to myself. The mountain was ours. Hot shots in our own heads. We screamed down slopes beyond our ability, riding icy nerves that were sharper than any black diamond. We pushed boundaries – both our own and the mountain’s, learning something about strength and humility as we crashed into trees, took wrong turns over moguls, and grew, eventually, into decent skiers. We knew how to get to the secret runs and the good hot chocolate. We practiced our French with folks from Quebec and pretended we were from Quebec ourselves. We could do or be anything with those long slender sticks stretching out in front of us, propelling us toward the possible, binding us to each other and a cold joy. Eight years old, and on top of the Green Mountain world.
I skied for six years before life took me away from the mountains. After nearly a double decade of doing mostly other things, two years ago, I once again snapped into my bindings and rode the snow. Sometimes, usually when I'm on a lift or stopped by the sun setting on the Cascades, I wonder how someone born into the snow on a cold edge between Canada and the United States, how someone who skied both sides of the map, let it go so easily. How did I step out of my skis one day and let twenty years slip by before I thought to put them on again? What else have I given up with such little fight?
I think, how from an early age we learn to hang Do Not Enter signs on our bodies. My sister and I wrapped, buttoned, and zipped up to protect what lay beneath. Mittens, hats, and protective layers keep the unwanted from entering. So much care taken to safeguard what lies within, yet winter, like so much else, finds our unguarded openings. Openings big enough for an entire season to fit through. More if you dare.
I think of my sister at six or seven years old tackling the steeps. She used the same style then that she uses today in her skiing or with her children - fast, fun, fearless, and feet first. No, that's not quite it. Her style is heart first; the rest follows. At seven years old, her boldness on an icy run called the Green Mountain Boys revealed a glacier-sized courage that still makes mountains and older sisters proud.
When I was eight, my mom gave me a a cold, icy, and perfect present that has spanned decades, countries, and circumstance. I hope one day to give such a gift to someone; a gift that endures time and encourages the unconsidered.
These days, I ski a different mountain and my sister lives too far away, but as I load my skis into the truck, reflect on the past and remember the future, I think: what a cold, icy, and perfect present.