Tuesday, March 25, 2014

25 March 2014
Tuesday evening

Now and Then

Its fun to look out the window and still see daylight after dinner. Today is, of course, a shower day, so I was up in the wheelchair for a while after that, being vertical, seeing out through the glass front doors, feeling the cool breeze every once in awhile as the doors are opened for foot traffic. Its still cold, but not the assaultive bone chilling, stone cold that the weather has been this winter.

I am a hopeless romantic and a little kid at heart, for I have always liked snow. During the stultifying days of August I have often dreamed of snow and the winter season like most people dream of their gardens at this time of year. As the autumn progresses and the days grow shorter, the air took on a less viscous quality, that was cooler and more crisp it was a sign that around the end of the Thanksgiving season the first furtive snowflakes would be flying. There was joy in my heart that real snow would be here soon, accumulations of snow, skiable snow, snow that gathered tracks of passing animals, which like photographs retained the image of animal footprints that may have been left under cover of night.

The season of dressing in layers, I always belonged to the thermally responsive set. Cutting , splitting and stacking firewood for next season (that always seemed like such an impossible chore during the warmer months, that task seemed destined for the cooler times.) Somewhere in my house was a photograph of me in some felt boots, a pair of gym shorts, a T – shirt, some work gloves and some dark sunglasses surrounded by sunny snow as I am splitting firewood. I sure do miss those days. It seemed so magical to be working outside on a still winter day, using my body, making preparations for a fire in the wood stove during the heating season. I remember when that photograph was taken, I was comfortable, I had been at it for hours and only got too warm. Luckily for me it was cool enough to peel of a few layers. Everyone else was sedentary, they only “thought” the weather was cold, so for them, it was once they got out into it.

When I used to go skiing out west I used to dress in layers as well. But often there was no place to put the layers peeled off. And once I slowed down, as on the chair lift, the layers were soon needed again. I wore a shell parka with under arm zips to open up some heat trapping jacket to ventilate when I was warm. When I got off the lift at the top of the mountain the jacket was completely zipped up. After a few hundred yards of skiing down the hill I would stop to let my screaming thighs have a rest, my heaving flatlander lungs a chance to pay down my oxygen debt, and to carefully unzip my quickly becoming too warm cocoon. Rested after a bit of scenery scoping of we would go again. The next stop another several hundred yards further downslope the wool shirt under the jacket would be unbuttoned, my arms would be brought out from the inside of the now unzipped sleeves of the jacket so it was more like an open vest with flapping sleeves that looked more like flags streaming out behind me as I once again moved down slope. Compared to those stylish folks in the nice little ski suits that could have walked right out of the fashion pages, I must have looked a sight, like a runaway clothing rack flying down hill. But the object was to ski, not lounge around in the warming shack sipping way too expensive mugs of hot chocolate impressing one another with their latest skiwear.

There were some ski areas that adapted a clothing dress code. They didn't want any poverty ridden skiers mingling with their clientele on the slopes. Usually these areas were more destination resorts that family oriented ski areas. Their lift tickets were correspondingly more expensive and they wanted to keep up their exclusive image. Skiing in jeans was not accepted.

Of course good skiers often skied in jeans as they rarely fell down. The jeans wouldn't get wet and they were therefore warm enough. I had a friend who used Scotch Guard on his jeans to give them that extra water shedding quality. I often fell about once a week during seven days of skiing. I would catch an edge and next thing I knew I was sliding on the snow watching the bare branches of the trees against a background of blue sky. I must have made a spectacular scene going down as people would call over to ask if I was alright.

The ski boots were insulated with a foam called “Flow”. It was a thermoplastic foam that when warm would adjust to the foot. This made for a great fit and as your feet swelled the foam adjusted. There were no tight and uncomfortable places. It was warm even on those long series of chair lift rides to get to the top of the mountain. The down side was after a day of skiing the foot had become sweaty and the inner boot was damp. If the boot wasn't dried and warmed in special boot warmers over night they were impossible to get on the next day. The boot was cold and damp and the foam wouldn't flow, they fit like a vice and the joy of flying down a mountain face was elusive all day. When the boots were dry they worked like a charm.

Often at the end of a day skiing everyone was next to their car taking their ski boots off and putting comfortable shoes and clothes on for the drive back down the mountain. Skis would go on the rack on the roof of the car, some beverages would be produced to resupply the body with fluids from a day of heavy breathing in dry air. During this time I would often take my ski boots off and remove the only socks I skied in, street socks, and stand barefoot on the ice next to my car. I calmly put the skis on the rack, changed my parka for a light fluffy sweater, then finally would sit down on the driver's seat to put on some athletic shoes. While standing barefoot on the ice my feet were steaming. Many times people spied my bare feet on the ice, then they saw the steam rising from my feet. Comments were made, some people took pictures of my feet steaming on the ice, the sun was setting on another day of fun in the Rockies. Right now somewhere someone is going through a bunch of old pictures, probably in a shoebox, wondering why there is a picture of someone standing bare foot in the ice of a parking lot at a ski area in the mountains. It was a magical time. I am glad that I was there for the experience.

This morning, before I got up to have my shower, I looked out the window. Snow was flying through the air. As always I was happy to see the snow fly. The radio said the temperature was four degrees with a high expected of fifty – four degrees, not bad for early spring. Soon it will be very warm and humid, the sun will bite my Celtic skin and I will retreat to the shade when ever possible.

For now the day is young, a shower lies before me and the vestiges of winter are still plying the air. Everyone is upset as the weather hasn't changed fast enough for them, the State inspectors are in the building digging into everything, creating fear and loathing and I'm the only one who seems to appreciate the snow. I'm not really a contrarian, but I do see much more acutely what others often fail to recognize. I'm glad that I was there.

John Whiting