Secret Tunnels in A Judgement-Free Season

It is with a degree of frank humility with which I confess that I am not the sort of physical specimen that I used to be.  Thirty is racing toward me like a crashing wave, and I live in the desperate hope that along with wrinkles and squeaky joints it will bring clever wisdom and lots of quirky outfits.  

If you know me, you're probably giggling a little, because in truth, I've never been much of a natural athlete.  

I spent all of 8th grade gym class alternately sporting red or blue cotton sweatpants (featuring a circa-1995 elastic waistband, prime for getting pantsed, which only happened occasionally more often than I would have liked), and a variety of Tweety Bird t-shirts three sizes too big (Tweety in rastafari cap?  check.  Tweety in Kris Kross backward denim?  kcehc.).  Every Twister mat within the county lived in paralyzing fear of my stretchy, striking ensemble.  There was no limit to my lunge. 

Just when you thought an outfit couldn't be worked, they worked it.

In 9th grade I managed to completely miss a volleyball pass, because in an effort to "get low" in proper form, I accidentally swung and hooked my clasped hands underneath my left leg.  The ball dropped at my feet, as did any chance of getting the MVP - no, any - award that season, and perhaps ever.

Every winter, we are faced with the prospect of looking so pale and fleshy that you would wonder whether we really live here in the woods or if it's actually a cover story to hide the fact that we survive in a network of gloomy, lightless tunnels below Gotham.  Though riveting adventure and the glistening prospect of exploration linger just outside our doorway, indoor dwelling seduces us via its arsenal of velvety fleece blankets, spongy couch cushions, mesmerizing works of fiction, and steaming cups of earl grey.  Upon our surrender, the extra pudge and pasty countenance take root.   

And soon, the tunnel story appears suspiciously probable to the outside world.  

Fortunately, our work is our salvation. Part of my job is to play for a living.  I mean this exactly as such - to literally play.  In the season of ice and snow, this can involve hucking adults and young children down a winding snow-tube run and sliding across an ice rink in a herculean effort to score goals stay upright.  Some people, like a certain few friends of ours, are freakishly good at playing broom ball, a northern hybrid of ice hockey and Dance Dance Revolution that we offer as an activity here on The Compound.  These crazies run along the glassy surface of ice with the grace of a leaping impala, while the rest of us plod about like appaloosas on roller skates.  It's completely disgraceful.  

But we suffer the disgrace, because we know the alternative to be worse.  Physical prowess may never by my thing and coordination may not be my calling card, but I will do my darndest to be sure that scary, subterranean eyes and a penchant for underground digging aren't either.  


She's Got An Icy Grip, That One

This winter has contained everything you can imagine: whipping winds, blizzard white-outs, sub-zero weeks, slipping and sliding, and certainly the occasional power outage.  There was a time recently when the temperature, from one Monday to the next rose a full 70 degrees.  And I can't quite remember, but I'm pretty sure that it dropped at least 50 degrees again in the next two days.  The weather has been awesome.

Beautifully terrifying.  Terrifyingly beautiful.

Terrifying as an icy river, while you sit bobbing in your kayak, taking a momentary break to float gingerly downstream, perched just so, knowing that you are always on the verge of catching an edge and embarking on an arctic triathlon (paddle, swim, mountaineer), minus the survival suit.  But beautiful.

Beautiful, like a friend described at lunch the other day, is that moment when you need to venture down from your bear stand deep in the woods. But terrifying, with the nerve-wracking knowledge of the sow and two cubs milling around somewhere beyond your eyesight.  Don't worry though, they can see you just fine.

It is standing at the altar - beautiful.  Or rather, waking up a week later in bed to the realization that you had better get used to the pulsing aroma of that particular vintage of morning breath, because it is a gift from your soulmate, offered to you, forever.  Terrifying.

These are the sort of things to which we pay pretty sweet lip service, in hindsight.  After we survive them, of course.

How cool!  
Adventure of a lifetime!  
You wouldn't believe...!
What a story!

However, in that moment of the thrill, as you float down a river at 11PM with the sound of an upcoming rapid pounding against your eardrums and a full moon illuminating the surface foam, you can't decide whether it is literally-the-coolest-thing-you-have-ever-done or if it will literally be the last thing you ever accomplish in this lifetime.

The weather is that sort of deadly mistress.  My husband was in a car accident recently, and for me, the most alarming feature of the incident was not the rolling of the vehicle (no), the speedy launch into the woods (no), or even the potential for strandedness on an what used to be an old logging road to Canada (no).

By now, you are likely questioning what kind of wife I am.  Unnerving, isn't it?

What was most terrifying to me was the -15 degree evening temperature, plus windchill.  That fact, combined with the others is what still gives me a sour feeling in my stomach when I recall the day.  Would he be able to make the one mile walk to our driveway, then the three mile hike home?  In the dark?  In the biting, snapping cold and the snow?  This is the kind of cold that wraps its icy hands around the base of your neck and threatens to squeeze out your last breath as lightning fast as falling out of a tree knocks the wind from your lungs.  It's so cold that you gasp instantly as if you were standing naked in a shower of ice cubes.  You blink often because the mucous covering your eyes tends, like every other liquid, to freeze.  Your cheeks don't sting at this point because the surface nerves have stopped functioning, and you can't zip the neck of your jacket because the dexterity in your fingers is reduced to what would be playing the piano with ten blocks of cheese tied to your hands.

Thankfully (miraculously), C arrived home unscathed, thanks to a humbling amount of timely provision (friends, emergency personnel, kind sheriff, snacks), but the occasion serves as another reminder of the awesome dual nature of our weather:

it's terror, it's beauty.

This is precisely why we love the river.

Being in nature.

Living in the woods.

Taking risks.

Why exactly? Because, simply put - we cannot control these things.  The river, nature, the woods - they exist outside of our reach, and the moment you or I think that we have them under our thumb - the second the paddler lifts that blade out of the water and relaxes her grip - these things will level us with the strength of a thousand man-made engines.

And why on earth would this be good?

Because it reminds us of the greatness of what we've already been given in relation to the smallness of what we try to please ourselves with.  It reminds us that there is a great symphony being played around us all the time, but that we are busy banging on a piano with cheese block fingers.

And it promises that we will hear that beautiful music

if only we would stop making such terrible noise.

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