Thursday, December 29, 2011

Friends and Resolutions

I am not much for making New Year’s resolutions. Never have been. I like to think that if I see a change that needs making, I try to make it regardless of the date on the calendar. That may or may not be true, but it’s what I like to think.

But having just sorted the Christmas cards into piles – recyclable, throw-away, and a very few that I will keep and find next year or the year after, tucked away in the Christmas tree ornaments or wrapping paper – I think I should resolve to make more of an effort to reconnect with old friends in the new year.

In an era when our mailboxes rarely contain more than bills and catalogs, the flurry of cards at the holidays is like a boon for the heart. Some are from people who live down the road, or down the Interstate, whom I see and speak with regularly. Many are from cousins and other relatives from all sides of the family. And some cards come from friends far away, bearing photos of faces from my past in their own versions of the present.

Whether I’m opening a crisp envelope addressed in familiar handwriting, or sending my own cards to faraway places, I remember these friends from different stages of my life and the times we shared. I spent a good few years in my 20s wanderlusting from New England and Upstate New York to Europe and Colorado and Ireland and, finally, back to New England. I’ve left a piece of my heart in most of the places I’ve lived, and carry with me the friendships and memories from each stop along the way.

So, while I love the life I’m in now, the sending and receiving of Christmas card greetings and photos makes me miss acutely the folks with whom I’ve shared some of my past. The now-California girl I spent a summer with hitchhiking around Ireland. The childhood buddy I dragged out to Colorado with me, who still lives there 15 years later. The friend I got to know and love on a spontaneous wilderness backpacking trip in Colorado. The former roommate who took me camping when my beat-up truck had a flat and I was desperate to sleep under the stars. The wonderfully fun women I played soccer with during my summer in Connemara. The friends I’ve worked with and skied with in various places. The high school pals who have grown along with me, becoming doctors, teachers, parents.

Some of them I think of only occasionally. Others I miss nearly every day.

It is easy in the busy-ness of raising kids, maintaining a career, and keeping a home to become content with an occasional brief email message, phone text, or Facebook post to keep in touch. But really those are sorry replacements for an actual conversation – whether over a coffee shop latte, a glass of wine, or on the phone.

Our friendships, whether new, old, or rediscovered, make life richer in so many ways. And so I hope to reconnect with some old friends in the year to come – and make the time to create great memories with friends old and new.

Here’s to a New Year prosperous in friends!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Happy Holidays – and the so-called War on Christmas

Apparently there’s a War on Christmas being waged. The counter attack is everywhere – on cable talk shows where hosts prattle on about folks trying to “take the Christ out of Christmas” by doing things like relabeling Christmas trees “holiday trees,” on a website with the address which claims Christmas as an “American holiday,” and on Facebook postings bashing people who say, “Happy Holidays,” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

It all does little to invoke the spirit of Christmas – joy, love, peace.

As far as I can tell, the only folks trying to take the Christ out of Christmas are the large retailers who have quite effectively convinced us that the “Reason for the Season” is all about buying, with their piped holiday music starting in October, their Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, their advertising aimed at persuading us that we must have the perfect, expensive, overly packaged gift for everyone we know and love.

I’ll admit I think it’s a bit silly to call a Christmas tree a “holiday tree,” but I’ve never actually heard anyone say, “holiday tree” – other than the folks complaining about the term. I write copy for a number of Christmas tree farm associations, and I’ve never written, nor been asked to write, “holiday tree.” And while decorated firs have been a Christmas tradition since the 1800s, Christmas trees have nothing to do with Christ. In fact, many argue the bright adornment of evergreen boughs in the dark of winter is a pagan tradition.

As for Christmas being an American holiday, well, that’s simply not the case. Christmas was celebrated long before our country was founded, and it is celebrated around the world. It’s a Christian holiday, and last time I checked, the United States of America did not have a national religion. In fact the First Amendment of our Constitution guarantees free exercise of religion. Clearly, Christmas is celebrated in some form by the majority of Americans. That does not make it a national holiday any more than millions of American kids playing soccer makes that sport an American one.

Now, onto the greeting of “Happy Holidays.” The reality is that there are several holidays happening this time of year. It starts with Thanksgiving (which IS an American holiday), moves on to Christmas – or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Festivus or whatever else people celebrate – then to New Year’s Eve. The greeting of “Happy Holidays” begins in November and covers you through New Year’s Day and beyond.

In 1942, Bing Crosby crooned “Happy Holiday”, in a song that is still played ad nauseam during the season. I seriously doubt anyone got red in the face in 1942 about Bing not wishing people “Merry Christmas!” The song’s lyrics have nothing to do with Christ, and lots to do with Santa and presents. “Christmas” is there twice, “holiday” or “holidays” more than a dozen times.

The point of the song – and of most any holiday greeting – is that it’s a happy time of year, one for wishing others well.

I now watch Christmas unfold for my three small children, for whom the season is all about magic and snow, candy canes and Santa Claus, twinkling lights and jingle bells. My kids, of course, look forward to the presents of Christmas. But they also love helping make cookies to share with others, singing songs about dancing snowmen and flying reindeer, making and wrapping presents for people they love. They’re learning that, above all, the holidays are about being kind to others, doing nice things, inspiring joy.

Kindness and finding magic in both the ordinary and extraordinary happenings of our world are at the core of the holiday spirit. It doesn’t matter if you wish others “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukkah,” or “Fabulous Festivus.” The important thing is that you mean it, that you’re kind to others whether they celebrate the same holiday as you do or not.

May we all find joy and wonder this season. Happy holidays!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Ribbon of White

(Wrote this earlier this week for the Record Littleton -- before it snowed! But with warm weather on the way, we're sure to be back to a ribbon of white soon, hopefully just for a while...)

It’s the third full week of November, which for most people means traveling to be with family, watching lots of football, enjoying and recovering from a huge Thanksgiving feast, and preparing for crazy holiday shopping sales. But if you’re a skier in the East, the third week of November probably means there’s more than turkey on the menu… that’s right, ski season officially began this week!

I’m not sure when Thanksgiving week became the traditional start to season for so many ski areas. The timing of “ski season” is something of an unnatural phenomenon, really, beginning before there’s usually much natural snow on the ground, and ending in early April, when some of the best skiing is still to come. I suppose by April, all but the most diehard of skiers have moved on to baseball and gardening.

So, with the relatively modern benefit of manmade snow, instead of skiing the longer, warmer, sunnier days of spring, we New Englanders strap on the boards for the first runs amid the colder, darker, somewhat dreary days of November. Locally, Loon Mountain opened last Sunday, Bretton Woods spun the lifts Tuesday for some pre-Turkey Day turns, and Cannon Mountain hosted its first skiers of the season today (Friday).

I’ve always been a Cannon girl, and I have a pretty good view of the mountain from my dining room table, where I do most of my work these days. Although I don’t normally ski until December, I found myself this week peering out the window each morning in the dim, pre-dawn hour, looking for plumes of snow shooting from snowguns to create their own weather system in Franconia Notch, anticipating the official start of ski season.

Whether I get out there in the first week or two or not, it’s comforting to see that one long, winding strip of white, unnaturally bright amid the dull grey-brown of a mountainside of denuded trees. The first days on the hill are generally not the best, with few trail options, minimal snow cover, and slopes crowded by eager skiers. But they lay the foundation for the good days to come. The days of soft snow, smooth corduroy, and – nature willing – sweet powder.

And so we fill up with turkey, grudgingly accept November’s darkness, and look toward the mountain, hoping to see that ribbon of white that means ski season has begun.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cleaving to Sunshine

Amid the blaring colors of autumn, summer has returned fleetingly to northern New England this week. Last week we dug out the wool socks and fleece pullovers, uncovered the mittens and ski hats, and huddled by the fireplace as frost painted the lawn and fields in an overnight cover of cold white. But then heat returned, and with it flip-flops and tee-shirts and skin bared to the light.

We call this Indian Summer, and I’ve never been sure why. Who has time to wonder, as the dark of evening creeps closer to midday? We push ourselves outside, faces turned toward the sun, knowing all too well what comes next.

Don’t get me wrong, I love winter. Always have. Anyone who has chosen to make her home in northern New England is wise to embrace winter and its stark, white beauty. We can ski here – if we’re lucky – during at least six months of the year. But loving winter does nothing, for me anyway, to lessen the joys of these warm, bright days in October.

This is the season of country fairs, when we celebrate the beauty of fall and the bounty of the summer just gone by. We postpone putting in the storm doors, hoping for a few more days of the house flung open to outside warmth. We dodge the steady stream of leaf-peepers choking the roads and trails and return to more secret places for the season. We cover the tomatoes when frost threatens, hoping for one more harvest, and we put up a bit of the summer produce to enjoy in the darkness of winter. We stack firewood, rake leaves, cut back the flower gardens.

Even as we cleave to the sunshine, we know the icy winds and long nights of winter are coming.

As a final act of faith that summer will return to some distant time, we dig into the still-warm earth and plant bulbs, thinking beyond the depths of winter snow to the first blooms of spring, when color will return in the gentle purple of crocuses, the happy yellow of daffodils, the warm red of tulips.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

September 11 ~ My Story

I was serving lunch to tourists in the west of Ireland when the first plane hit the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Every generation has its own defining moments, plays witness to its own acts of violence and kindness. My grandparents came of age in the Great Depression and World War II. My parents’ generation had the violence and social strife surrounding Vietnam and the civil rights movement. Members of my generation know without thought where we were when the first plane hit the first building that Tuesday morning a decade ago.

Much has changed since that moment. Many things remain the same.

Ian, the New Zealander cook in the Clifden restaurant where I was slinging boiled bacon and veg, came into the dining room through the swinging doors from the kitchen to tell me the news: “A plane just flew into a building in New York, mate.” We both assumed it was a small plane, piloted by someone who didn’t have any business flying, and we laughed it off.

But Ian kept coming out of the kitchen with more reports, which grew increasingly alarming and led to unanswerable questions. Two planes into the World Trade Center – in a city as full of Irish, probably, as Clifden was – a third plane into the Pentagon, another crashed into a Pennsylvania field.

Many Americans awoke to the awful news that day, but in Ireland 9/11 happened at mid-afternoon, well into the shuffle of the day. The restaurant, which regularly fed diners ranging from busloads of demanding French tourists to farmers who came from the outlying farms and spoke Irish Gaelic, contained only a smattering of folks that afternoon.

One group left soon after word of the attacks reached the dining room; the American woman’s brother was an airline pilot, and in all the chaos of the news, she was desperate to know where he was and if he was OK. None of us had yet seen the terrible images of planes crashing into tall buildings, black smoke billowing into a blue sky, rubble falling, terrified people jumping from high windows.

Eventually I left the restaurant and called my parents in New Hampshire, where it was still morning. “What the hell is going on over there?” I asked. They couldn’t tell me. No one knew.

I sat in the corner of an uncommonly quiet pub that night with friends, watching horrific images of the attacks on a television thousands of miles away from home. I was the only American in the pub that night. I felt something between nauseated and numb. It was sickening to watch the scene play over and over, to see people who had only been going to work, picking up the newspaper, stopping by Starbucks for their morning hit of java – to see them running, crying as all around them the world fell. And yet we couldn’t stop watching.

I was five months into a six-month stint in the Connemara region of Ireland, and I’d become accustomed to being referred to as “the Yank.” My Irish friends told dumb-American jokes for my benefit. The diners at the restaurant guessed my now confused accent to be anything from British to South African.

There were no dumb-American jokes in the days after 9/11. I would not describe the Irish attitude toward me then as condoling. It was closer to subtle, unspoken sympathy. Few offered guesses at the origins of my accent, perhaps because I said so little. I felt sad, defeated.

I had been looking forward to a planned visit from my parents and younger brother, who were due to arrive in days and who cancelled their trip after 9/11. My brother could not get a flight to Boston from his home in Colorado, and my parents decided not to travel without their son.

I had already been dreading leaving Ireland, which felt as much like home to me as any of the few places I’d ever lived – and much more than some. Now, I wasn’t sure if I should go back at all. Did I want to live in a country so many people hated? A place perceived as so awful that people would volunteer to die by flying a fuel-laden plane into a building of steel and concrete and glass?

Nobody hates Ireland. In Ireland I felt safe. I had the comforting scents of the sea and peat smoke all around me and warm pubs filled with voices I cherished. I had even come to love the rain and think now of Connemara whenever it rains in my northern New England home.

But my family – and my American life – was across that sea. And so a month after 9/11, I packed my bags, said a tearful goodbye to friends, and boarded a plane back to the States. Six hours from departure I was back on American soil at Boston’s Logan Airport. The transition was brutal. For months I had heard mainly Irish voices, which are lyrical even when they’re cussing (which is often). The harsh Boston accents, the smell of airport grime, and my own exhaustion combined to form a mild sense of despair. That there were military police armed with rifles patrolling the airport created in me a sense of edgy confusion – was this Cold War East Germany or good old Bean Town?

From Boston I flew to Denver, where friends collected me very late at night. I slept without dreams that night and woke up, strangely it seemed to me, in America. What I remember most from the nearly 5-hour drive that day, from Denver to the small mountain town where I lived, is the American flags and “God Bless America” signs hanging from every highway overpass. Ten years later, people continue to hang flags and signs from bridges to welcome home local soldiers returned from war.

Much has changed. Some things remain the same.

In the days and months and years that have passed since September 11, 2001, there has been much political divisiveness in our country. That is nothing new, I suppose. Patriotism, despite what some would have us believe, has never been strictly black and white. It is not a matter of love it or leave it, you’re with us or against us. War is not simply a question of right or wrong; there are endless shades to both. I remain conflicted about a war that is in many ways vague, that has affected the lives of so many, that has no certain end.

In the past decade I have returned home to my New England roots, married, started a career, born three beautiful children. I have lamented the wars of my country and the wars of the world.

My brother-in-law, a firefighter in Tennessee, was sent to the Pentagon after 9/11 to help in the aftermath of the attacks. My neighbor lost a grandson, also a firefighter, at Ground Zero. My older brother, an officer in both the California Highway Patrol and the United States Army Reserve, has been to Iraq, has lived amid the hell that is war. One of the quotes he lists on his Facebook page is this one, from the movie We Were Soldiers: “We who have seen war will never stop seeing it. In the silence of the night, we will always hear the screams.” He is still a soldier and a police officer.

Much has changed. Some things remain the same.

As I look upon the mountains of home, sometimes I still dream of the sea in Ireland. I can hear the waves lapping the shore and the happy voices of friends in the pub, smell the smoke of peat fires, feel the cool morning mist against my skin. I have dreamed of Ireland forever, since long before I set eyes on the country’s rocky shores, and I do still. September 11 interrupted that dream, but only briefly. For others the interruption has been devastatingly more abrupt. Lives ended or forever changed. Loved ones gone. Innocence lost.

From the chaos and terror of 9/11 have emerged anger and hatred, war and destruction. That is, I suppose, a part of our human nature. But we have also found stories of love and kindness, heroism and unity. That, too, is a part of our human nature. In our brightest moments and during our darkest days, we harbor hope. We dream our dreams. We go on.

Much has changed. But this remains the same.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Cape Cod Memories

With the exception of the six months I spent living by the sea in the west of Ireland, I have always been a mountain girl. It took me to adulthood to realize (like so many other things) that I need to be within sight or, better yet, touch of tall mountains to maintain my emotional wellbeing. But that half a year I spent wandering the small, quiet beach in a small, quiet Connemara town, plus a week at the beach each summer of my childhood, have also inspired a love of and reverence for the ocean.

And so it was a joy to explore the beaches of my childhood with my own children last week, at the summer mecca that is Cape Cod.

Here, the beaches teem with sun seekers and sand lovers. The roads to the beach are many and filled with cars. Ice cream shops, pizza parlors and seafood restaurants, and stores hawking all nature of small colorful rafts and plastic knickknacks pop up regularly. Cedar shingled houses fill postage stamp lots everywhere. This is not the sea of the West of Ireland, with its beaches nearly empty of people, dolphins leaping through the dark water off the shore, and solitary fishermen rowing long curraghs out to check lobster pots – the idyllic and useful sea that tugs at my soul.

But on Cape Cod, amid all the hubbub, are the beaches of my childhood, when my family would spend a week at a friend’s house, walking down the sandy lane and ducking through a hedge of beach roses to reach the nearest swath of shore.

The return to the Cape, after a long absence and with my own children, was a replay of memories and the making of new ones, with new characters and changed roles. The parents of 30 years ago are now happy grandparents, holding on to the small hands of new swimmers. The carefree child of that time now the watchful mother, orchestrating lunch on the beach and sandcastle construction. The delight of children at the beach – skipping through waves, scooping handfuls of shells into bright buckets, chasing seagulls – is the same, though the faces have changed.

My children basked in a week of tiptoeing through seaweed and discovering hermit crabs and horseshoe crabs and sand crabs, returning to our cottage each afternoon with sand in their bathing suits and hair, the salty-thick air of the shore clinging to skin and filling noses. They played mini golf, nudging turquoise and yellow and fuchsia balls through tiny lighthouse doors and under windmills. They spit out the salt water of the sea when waves trespassed too far and savored the sweetness of ice cream at a place called Sundae School, my own childhood haunt. They took boat rides with old friends to quiet beaches that disappear when the tide rises and looked for lighthouses rising from rocky outcrops.

A Cape Cod friend gave my mother a card that reads “Once you get Cape Cod sand in your shoes, you will always return.” We have come home to our mountains, inadvertently and inevitably carrying Cape sand in our shoes, the car, our bags. Along with the sand, my children have carried home buckets of seashells from the seashore, picking up each newly discovered shell as if it is the most wonderful, most beautiful, most unique of all the millions gathered in long piles on the beach. I hope they also carry in their hearts good memories of the sea and all the joys of childhood summers at the ocean.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Top Notch Triathlon: surrounded by men in spandex

In honor of Saturday's running of the 19th annual Top Notch Triathlon, I'm posting an article I wrote for the Courier back in 2002 (or 2003?) about my own second Top Notch experience. I believe the headline with this front page gem was: Surrounded by Men in Spandex, Our Reporter Makes it to the Top.

That's me on the left, during my so-far-only Iron
woman attempt, circa 1995. And that's Trevor
Hamilton next to me.
 We came up with the inane idea in February, during a late night discussion, after a consuming a few beers. Summer seemed distant then, a world away.
The three of us would be training partners for the Top Notch Triathlon, six months down the road. We'd have weekly training sessions.  We'd ride our bikes hard, swim in Echo Lake's icy waters, practice scrambling quickly up mountains.
I'd finished the "Race to the Face" as an Iron woman once during my college years.  My mother has a picture of me at the finish that day. I look only slightly tired and out of breath.  I look happy. It would be fun.
By the time July hit, we'd conceded to compete as a team. Carrie couldn't get the day off from managing the Echo Lake Park, but she could do the swim. Nicole hadn't recovered completely from a winter knee injury, but she could do the mountain bike portion. 
That left me with the questionable honor of running the final leg, a 2.5-mile jaunt up Cannon Mountain. I felt relatively fit from riding my new road bike all summer. I hadn't done much hiking or been running in months, but I figured, "What the heck, it's only two and a half miles."
Well, about a third of the way up the mountain last Saturday, I wondered what on earth had inspired me to put myself through this ordeal.
It was hot. It was steep. I was surrounded by men in spandex, and they were passing me left and right.
My legs ached. My lungs burned. I though surely I would finish last, or collapse somewhere along the way.
I've spent a lot of time on Cannon Mountain. I like it a lot better when it's covered in snow and I've got skis strapped to my feet.
Most of the way I was in a pack of competitors strung along in a winding, panting queue creeping up the mountain's ski trails. When we reached the Tramway trail, folks passing overhead shouted encouragement from the open windows of the tramcars.  I was extremely envious of their free ride.
As I finally approached the finish, I spotted my teammate Nicole waiting for me.  She had finished her biking leg nearly an hour earlier, had gone for a swim to cool off, changed clothes.  She looked refreshed.  She cheered me on, and I actually found the strength to run through the finish.
All I wanted to do was sit down in a shady spot, drink some water, catch the breath I'd lost 40 minutes ago. As I came through the finish my friend Tim, the race director, yelled encouragement. I figured that whatever I'd been through in the last 40 minutes was pretty miniscule considering the cancer treatments he'd endured all winter and into spring. I was glad to see him there cheering us on.
A few minutes later, as we looked out at the blue sky surrounding the magnificent mountain named Lafayette, Nicole said, "Wow, that was really fun."
Fun? Well, I guess after the fact, yeah, it was fun in some strange, competitive sense. And we managed to finish second out of the women's teams.
We're already discussing our strategy for next year's race.
The team who beat us was the "Go girls."  We figure next year we'll train a little harder. I may actually go for a few trail runs or hikes before the race. We're thinking about calling ourselves the "Go faster girls."

Friday, July 15, 2011

Hidden Gardens

There is a mid-summer bloom of cheerful orange at the edge of our side yard, where the forest meets the lawn. In that otherwise dull corner, a group of bright day lilies grows tall as the days grow hot, bursting into a flame of color each July to reveal somebody else’s patch of flower garden.

Walk through the woods about anywhere in northern New England, and you’re likely to stumble upon a centuries-old cellar hole, or notice a bulging line of mossy earth below which lies a forgotten stone wall, or find yourself in an old apple orchard gone wild with time. Those are the obvious indicators that someone once dwelled where you roam, digging that cellar by hand and storing root vegetables there for the long winter, painstakingly prying rocks from the ground to create a pasture or garden plot, tending apple trees to grow fruit for eating – or for fermenting into hard cider.

Open your eyes a bit wider, and you’ll also find the flowers of gardens past tucked into the woods and along the edges of uncultivated fields. They suggest a memory of the finer things in life: afternoons puttering in the garden, new blooms picked for a table set for the company of friends, fresh herbs plucked for seasoning dinner. The stone walls and helter-skelter apple orchards, lilacs and lilies, are pieces to a puzzle whose answers are buried in time. Who lived here? When? For how long? Why did they leave, abandoning a house, a pasture, a garden of perennials?

I’ve noticed lady’s mantel and wide swaths of forget-me-nots bordering the back roads where I run, small patches of bright purple irises growing through scrubby weeds along old stone walls, even daffodils popping happy yellow heads through forest undergrowth as the snow recedes slowly in springtime.

At our house, the gnarled lilac bushes along the driveway faithfully produce purple blooms each May, around the same time snowy white apple blossoms fill the back field. The apple trees, we were told by the former owner of this house, were planted during Prohibition to produce hard cider. Perhaps once they formed neat rows, but now they grow in an unruly jumble. In summers when the field has not been mowed for a couple of years, thick brambles of blackberries grow beneath the apple trees, creating a feast for the bears who ramble through each late summer and fall, bulking up for winter.

Bishop’s weed grows with abandon (as Bishop’s weed will) down the slope from the driveway. Vast patches of yarrow frolic through the fields. A thick stand of tansy, used in Colonial times to season food in place of sage, claims the narrow hill above our vegetable garden.

I know little of the human history of this piece of the earth. It seems probable that it was once pastureland, and there is plenty of evidence of old stone walls, buried now in tall ferns and prickly berry bushes. The house was built in 1929, and we are the fourth set of inhabitants to live in it. The woman from whom we bought the house and land created a large perennial garden in the front yard, taking full advantage of the southern exposure there. We’ve altered that garden, pulling out the ajuga, which continues to grow freely in the lawn, and the ornamental grasses, some of which have transplanted themselves into a tall, oblong patch in the field.

There are plenty of Stella d’Oro daylilies in that garden now – amid the astilbe and hosta, the rudbeckia and evening primrose and sprawling baptisia – but none of the big orange lilies that thrive beyond the edge of our lawn. I’ll probably never know who planted those lilies, or what once grew alongside them. Were they part of a garden, or did they travel there on their own? Were they planted the same time as the heirloom lilac bushes and apple trees? And what, I wonder, will future inhabitants of this place uncover from the plants I tend today?

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Other Side of the Saddle

In honor of this week's publication of my book, A History of Cannon Mountain: Trails, Tales and Skiing Legends… I’m posting an essay I wrote several years ago, before Mittersill was officially reopened as part of Cannon Mountain.

   The swath of gray clouds pours over and around Cannon Mountain, exposing glimpses of winter sunshine, bursts of warmth onto the snowy ribbons of ski trails, as we look back at the summit from the top of the saddle between Cannon and Mount Jackson, catching our breath after a short climb.
   Fifteen minutes earlier we’d been in the fog at the top of Cannon, contemplating the hike over the saddle. Now, standing in an island of light, a donut hole of blue sky above us, it seems we made a good choice. 
   Unlike many ski areas in North America, Cannon has not been bastardized by a glut of humongous second homes and row upon row of condos built at its base and encroaching its slopes. The view from here includes more houses than it did when I was a child, but that is true of many places, and here they still only dot the landscape, without ruin. The climb seemed longer then, the skis heavier for my small body to carry. But standing on the saddle, that bridge between familiarity and adventure, groomed and ungroomed, has always inspired in me anticipation of the sweet turns to come.
   Behind us lies the boot-packed trail we just climbed, leading gradually up from Cannon, whose ski trails reach like icy appendages toward the valley. Most of the trails from the summit are nearly as old as skiing in America. The one we just descended, Taft Slalom, is part of the oldest mountain trail cut specifically for skiing in this part of the world, back in 1932 and ’33. The others were added beginning in 1938, when Cannon Mountain became home to the continent’s first passenger aerial tramway – and Cannon became one of America’s first ski areas.
   On the saddle’s other side, through spruce trees stunted to midget form by decades of ice storms and wicked wind, lies the promise of an adventure down trails forgotten by many, but still revered by Cannon old timers and more recent locals. There are runs nearly overgrown in places, where legends were once made of daredevilish racers who were willing to launch their bodies down steep, icy, narrow passages through forests logged then regrown. And there are newer, hidden runs, cut clandestinely by more modern thrill seekers.
   On days when there is new snow, a thin, steady line of hikers winds up the saddle, and visitors to Cannon wonder where the line leads. Little do they know the joy on the other side, the exhilaration of the turns earned with a short hike, a few beads of sweat. But on this day of weird weather and no new snow, we are the only two here.
   On the saddle, skiers pause to ponder the view and their imminent run. A tangle of runs – some well-traveled, many tucked secretly into the forest – winds down from the saddle. Skiers might head down the Tucker Brook Trail, built by Civilian Conservation Corps workers in 1934. The trail’s entrance is hidden now in the brush, and its series of 13 quick, steep turns has been legendary among area skiers for generations. Or they may choose the less intimidating Baron’s Run, named after the charismatic Austrian Baron who established the now defunct Mittersill ski area on the opposite side of the saddle from Cannon. The Baron’s village of chalets remains nestled into the nooks of the mountain, below the old ski trails and rusting chair lift towers.
   Today we head through the first narrow trail with no specific route in mind. A few turns down the concave path of uneven moguls is all it takes to get breathing hard again, and we stop to catch our breath and look through the woods, wondering if we should bushwhack in search of a clearing we’ve seen hidden somewhere along that ledge.
   We decide to keep on the way we were headed and soon funnel out at the top of the expired chairlift, where a labyrinth of overgrown runs waits for us. We point our skis down the old lift line, dodging poplar shoots and small fir trees. At junctions we change direction with little conversation, creeping lower and lower, as the trees grow taller and the rooftops of the Baron’s village come into sight. The snow is not deep, but it is smooth, and we glide turn to turn, finding a rhythm, then losing it, and finding it again.
   Eventually we turn sharply to the right, on a narrow path through a forest of white birch that leads to Cannon’s base area. The trail rolls from slight mound to small divot, and we push with our poles, projecting our bodies between the trees. Soon we can hear the steady electric hum of a chairlift bullwheel and the voices of skiers calling to each other.
   We pop out onto one of the lower trails, a wide, flat beginner run so opposite of the pitch we just skied. We glide to the lift line, smile, and join the sparse crowd of skiers who remain oblivious to the secrets of the saddle’s other side.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Sunday, as I was walking to the garden to plant the seeds which I hope will bear an abundance of vegetables in the weeks and months to come, I was ambushed by a slew of miniature helicopters. The tiny whirligigs came spinning on a gust of wind from a great sugar maple, which only a couple of months ago was surrounded by a sea of snow, with two sap buckets hanging from its wide trunk. On Sunday, the small disks – the tree’s winged seeds – cut merrily through a summerlike mid-day. I’d never seen such a fleet.

My brothers and I used to take great delight in collecting the seeds – called samara – that fell from the large maple tree, whose thick limbs were perfect for climbing, next to our back deck. We’d toss handfuls of helicopters into the air, or drop them over the railing one at a time, wonderingly watching their twirling descent to the ground. The bombardment of seeds the other day reminded me of those childhood helicopter launches.

Sometimes I feel as if adulthood – dare I admit middle age? – has snuck up on me. Wasn’t I just a kid last week, flitting through the fabulous, carefree days of summer with skinned knees and new freckles? How is it that I have three kids of my own, that my parents are grandparents, that those lazy summer days are now filled with so much busy activity?

Likewise, the full bloom of late spring somehow surprises me each year. The snow seems to take forever to recede after ski season, the green emerges painstakingly slowly – a wisp of grass here, a budding tree there, the miniscule leaf of a lupine poking out from the brown field. And then, all of a sudden, my children are handing me great golden bouquets of dandelions, the lilacs are in full bloom, and the forests bordering the fields have formed a broad canopy of foliage.

And so it was this year, one day hauling buckets of sap from the old sugar maple for our small sugaring operation, the next marveling at the tree’s fruit spinning through the bright air, seeking a place for the next generation to take root and thrive.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Coming Home

The house on Timber Lane wasn’t, at first, our full time house. It was a relatively rustic retreat we absconded to during summer vacations and winter weekends. Here, the air was a bit crisper, the stars brighter, the mountain views spectacular enough to both calm and inspire. Summer meant warm afternoons at the cool river, hikes over tall mountains, forays into the woods to build forts. Winters were filled with creating giant snow structures, exploring on skis, wood smoke curling from the chimney, and the laughter of friends to warm us.
When my parents retired to the peace of the mountains, the house on Timber Lane became the family home. With my brothers and I grown and thousands of miles away, when we came “home” it was to Timber Lane.  Last summer, with my younger brother and I living within a few miles of my folks and my older brother entering his second decade on the opposite side of this wide country, my folks downsized. They left the house on Timber Lane – some two miles from where my family and I live – and moved just around the corner from us.
We didn’t grow up on Timber Lane, technically speaking, my brothers and I. It wasn’t where we waited for the school bus each weekday morning and concentrated over homework in the evenings. But this was the house my father built, using boards milled from two pasture pines that once stood on the property. It was in this house that we waited impatiently to come down the rough-finished stairs on the Christmas mornings of our childhood, jostling each other for a position that might allow a peek at what Santa had left. It was here that we arose winter mornings in the frigid predawn to head off to ski races, sometimes catching the first soft glow of sunlight pushing up from behind the tall mountains in the east. Here we built campfires for roasting marshmallows and lighting sparklers on the Fourth of July, crafted tiny dams from sand and clay in the stream along the driveway, picked blackberries heavy with sunshine from brambles along the road.
It was here, when I was abroad a decade ago and wandering beyond my mother’s comfort level, that I decided to return – not to the lofty mountains of Colorado or the mesmerizing sea and lilting voices of Ireland, although I hold those places dear. But to a tiny town in northern New England, to a house filled with light and memories. And so in some ways, my parents leaving that house was a bit melancholic for all of us. Yet it was a good move. Their new home is warm and cozy, and I am happy to have them so close. It is an oddity in modern America that my children live literally, if the volume is high enough (and with three small kids, it often is), within shouting distance of all four grandparents.
My children, too, loved the house on Timber Lane in their earliest years. But they’ve moved on to new adventures with the youthful oblivion of little kids. They are thrilled to be able to walk to Nana’s and Poppy’s house, and to help transform it gradually into “home.” Along the way they wander down a lane where blackberries ripen in summer, past places perfect for building secret forts, along a path where their own sweet memories will be made.