Snow Spirits in the Mothership
his grandson says.
How do you want me to talk,
Talk to me like Grandpa.
27 February 2011
AND THE WILDERNESS TAKES THEM, TOO
The grandkids call Paradise Basin the beautiful place. On the map it's the gateway to the Goat Rocks Wilderness. The geographical area of White Pass doubles in one year after an environmental fight lasting nearly a quarter of a century. The grandkids have it right. The Beautiful Place.
From what I can tell, what the child confronts here on skis is raw imagination.
It is not an easy entry. Boots are heavy. Kids can hardly navigate in heavy clothes on snow. No one will carry their skis. You can carry them. I'll show you. There are tears. You can go back. You don't have to ski. The child doesn't have to go to the bathroom either--but he will. She will. Maybe he'll make it. Maybe he won't. This is a crossing period for adults and children. The child is in charge. One doesn't get here overnight.
From the moment the child learns to turn across the fall line, she skis into the dream world. She is Alice, this is wonderland. He is any number of Super Heroes. A transformer. His coat, unzipped, is a cape following his skis. Thousands of acres of terrain, instantly available in the external world, exploding possibilities from within. Problems remain. Potty breaks, the moment of tension between parents and children tested around the family bathroom, takes place outside, in winter, where toilets hardly exist. And muscles, still shaping themselves while children sleep, are different in the morning. The muscles become new to the child on the mountain on skis. The illusion of safety remains, but this is the wilderness, this is the world the child knows from books and movies. The child skis into the wilderness, and from this moment, what happens happens to you, too.
This is the world the child enters stepping into his bindings. He is skiing away from the world he knows. The child is leaving others behind. Skiing with children changes one's relationship to power. The adult leads by cancelling himself out, he follows as he leads. He is with, and he is behind. He's in solidarity with rising and falling.
Elevation of White Pass is 4,000 feet. This is where the kids step onto their skis, where the Magic Carpet first pulled them up a 40-foot treadmill on snow, the first thing that must be mastered. This takes most of their third year. At four, they're still on the Magic Carpet, a year away from the Platter and their first chair lift. They leave lower lifts behind like childhood itself--hold on. Not quite. Childhood is what they re-enter. Many doors, many ways. Elevation gain is consumed in great gulps. The lower chair lift gains nearly 1,000 feet. The Great White Lift unloads skiers at 6,000 feet. A cross country slide/walk will take nearly twenty minutes to another series of lifts. They will ski and ride two chairlifts and the elevation gain will take them to 6,100 feet, leaving them just below the summit of Hogback Mountain. This is the world the child enters stepping into his skis.
The two five year-old kids ski on K-2 Indy's. They are 76 centimeters long. Twenty-nine inches. This is their second pair of skis. The first ones, plastic, have been handed down to their younger sisters. These short K-2's will transport these children over hundreds of acres of snow and trails in a single day. They will ski 10,000 feet of elevation.This is not a bragging parent here. I am staggered daily by the facts of the mountain, that any of us are here. Of what the mountain gives to a child.
Here's how we get there. One last ride on the Magic Carpet followed by a traverse to the Platter, which is a plate that fits between their legs, pulling them up the hill. The kids know what it means to traverse. They learned it getting here. They had to learn it in order to be transported. From the Magic Carpet the kids gain access to elevation needed to load on the chairlift which will take them part way up the mountain. An intermediate hill, 1,000 feet of elevation will take them down and over to the Great White, which takes them 1,500 feet to 6,000 feet over spectacular terrain. Unloading at the summit, the kids ski about 50 yards where the first descent will take them into Paradise Basin, nearly 1,000 acres of new trails and runs bordering the Goat Rocks Wilderness.
We stop and look at Hogback across the way. I point my ski pole at a small-looking building across the mountain on the other side. "See that building? That's High Camp Lodge." The kids have been there. It's like a place they know from their movies. It's their first glimpse into how far they've traveled. "Is that the beautiful place, Grandpa?" "It's close, but that's one more ski run and one more chair lift further."
We descend for about a half mile. At a couple of points, I'll have to give them a pole and swing them. We're on our way to High Camp. We're on a journey of skis. Getting off the Quad taking us to just below the summit of Hogback Mountain, we are outback. At this point we're miles from where we started. We're way away. The distance that each of us have traveled to get here, is quite stunning. It's beautiful, too. I didn't name it. The kids did, in one first moment of awe. This is the place that the kids call The Beautiful Place.
Crossing over to the world of children. Being in their world, not their being in mine. It happens to all of us in many places. It doesn't have to be on a mountain. But what is a mountain? That's the thing. Where is the wilderness we need to enter with children? I'm crossing too. The adult crosses into children's lives. Their muscles. Their bladders. Out of my time and into their time. Their time in the wilderness. Where adults can't walk into another room. Here, no one can walk away. One doesn't know when their toes are cold until they tell you. One anticipates, but one doesn't know. When kids need a rest, they need a rest. This doesn't mean they're done. They'll want those skis again. They like to keep going. They're beginning to find nuances in the fall line. They're liking speed. They're finding trees, skiing bumps. They're eating snow. They're taking in the wilderness. The beautiful place. It's wild.
26 Februay 2011
THE CHILD WHO FINDS A WAY
Her family shapes her spirit time,
giving her formulas and structure,
but her spirit walks alone and is hers,
given by what family can and can't give.
She walks with what must be called God
in a manner that can't be taught,
the strange way that can't be copied
but is old and ancient belonging to no religion.
She remains her age in all ways but this one.
As a pilgrim, she walks with pilgrims.
She is not a civilian in her prayers.
She carries her temple
in her backpack singing her way.
26 February 2011
SPIRIT TALK IN THE MOTHERSHIP
WITH GRANDCHILDREN RESUMES
THE NEXT MORNING ON THE CHAIRLIFT
The night before, watching a movie on sheep
farmers, and shepherding, after night skiing,
the child had said her prayers, and taught her grandfather
her prayer. Then she told him about her dream.
They had talked about dreams before,
and she hung dream-catchers by her beds,
the one in her house, with her mother,
and another by the bunk-bed
at her father's house. When I get a bad dream,
the grandfather says, I try to go back to sleep
and back into the dream. Then I know it's ok,
and I can look for something good
that I couldn't see when I was afraid.
They were riding the chairlift
called Great White, the one taking them
up over the rock cliff, in front of the great mountain.
I tried that, Grandpa, she says.
And I asked God to go with me,
but God wasn't there. I looked everywhere.
The only God the grandfather knows
won't release the grandfather through magic.
The chairlift ride is short, but the day is long.
His granddaughter, now five,
had been given adult work since she was three,
when she began walking her one year-old sister
to her father's on weekends. The girl's mother
had the gift of language and listening.
Her mother talked to her daughter
like she herself talked to God.
Mother and daughter carrying gifts of prayer
manifesting itself in the world as love.
Both of them carried the spirit of children,
God in the powerless, extreme crossover
as a way into the other.
One time God wasn't there, his granddaughter said.
You've got to go back to God, grandfather says.
It's your dream. You get to tell it your way.
That's the only way I know, the grandfather says.
You can't be afraid.
20 February--25 February 2011