Deep cold has lingered for weeks, though the January sun is strong and already there’s a spring-like quality to the afternoon light, the way it slants across the landscape, across my upturned face, forces me to squint my eyes or simply close them altogether. We’re still a bit lean on snow – the blizzard tilted eastward and left us in its shadow – but the skiing in the woods and fields is excellent and by now I’m well enough acclimated to the weather that even this morning, at an even dozen degrees below, I soon found myself hatless and sweating as I climbed an old skid road deep in the woods just over the crest of the mountain. It was the first time I’d come this way, but already I knew I’d be back, I liked the openness of the trees – sugar maple, mostly, with a scattering of birch – and the contours of the land, rising steep on my left to rock abutments before topping out at what appeared to be a sort of plateau and dropping on my right into a snowed-in drainage where I suspected I could still find fluid water under the snow if I were inclined to go looking. Which I was not. The air was stone still and when I stopped to linger I could hear nothing but the muted noises of my body’s mysterious inner workings: A vaguely electrical hum that’s more sensation than sound, a steady whump, the occasional gurgle. Then back to it, leaning forward to get my weight positioned just right so that my skis would find traction against the slope.
An hour later I emerged from the woods into the full force of the sun and started gliding back toward the road along the edge of a large, south-facing logging cut, mindful of the stubble lurking just under the surface of the shallow snow. Yet the slope kept pitching downward, and the temptation to let ’em run got the best of me, and so I now I leaned back in hopes that doing so would allow the tips of my skis to ride up and over any unseen hazards until I was legitimately going pretty fucking fast with no real plan other than to keep riding it out and trying to gently steer between the more-obvious perils.
Soon I’d reached the bottom (with no ensuing calamity!) and then turned to ski atop the snowbank at the side of the mountain road, now in-and-out of the sun according to the placement of trees, the sensation of cold settling back into my body but even as I thought to reach for my hat, I could see the nose of the truck up around the bend and instead I just skied a little faster.
And that was the last morning of January.