What will the New Year reveal?
By Mitch Mode
Special to the Star Journal
During the night, rain fell and in morning daylight did not break, only a grudging thinning of the leaden cloud that smothered the dawn. Car lights shone on wet asphalt; commuters on the move.
There is no redemption in January rain, no sliver of optimism, no cause for hope, no celebration in the dawning, not from January rain.
January rain is an abomination, an affront to the natural order, a cruel twist borne in chill air in the first days of the first week of this new year. It portends sorry times and weary days.
We were in Madison, a buying show; work days. There was scant trace of snow, only dead grass and sullen mud and wet sidewalks and streets. Any color was washed away by cloud and spitting rain: The city gone monochromatic. Madison looked aged and forlorn and worn.
We stayed two nights in the capital city and then drove home in drizzle and fog. Darkness came early; thin light of late afternoon was crushed by the weight of January rain. North of Wausau we finally saw enough snow to mantle the land.
A day later I was on skis on tracks softened by a week of high humidity and unseasonable temperatures. I was unsettled by the rain and the days in Madison. Weather as that brings no comfort, only unease of mind and a weariness of the soul. There is enough in this world that does the same. Nobody needs more.
I would ski that day and in the skiing perhaps touch the edge of fatigue that comes with physical effort and in that fatigue find a measure of refreshment and renewal. The rush of the holiday week was past, times of equal part enthusiasm and burden; there is so much expected in that time it becomes difficult to rise up to it all. One needs, too often, a respite in the aftermath.
I took Bella with me, she of long legs and boundless energy for whom the holiday has no meaning other than that she is housebound too often as we go our busy ways.
She is a quirky dog in many ways and in that quirkiness comes charm. She curled up in the passenger seat of the truck and rested her chin on the shift lever between us, her head bent up and her neck strained and the shift lever jarring with each bump in the road. I told her that she looked uncomfortable. She met my eyes but did not lift her head off the lever. And in thus we drove the side roads to the ski trail.
The ski track was soft and worn; we have not had enough new snow to bring it up to good shape. But my mind was on Madison and the somber landscape there. I thought to myself how frustrating it must be to be a skier in January with no snow. Odd, perhaps, that for many, January snow brings hope and optimism in the same manner as springtime warmth and flowering.
A lackluster ski track was a small inconvenience. If I lived south of here I’d have nothing.
Walking, or in the winter, snowshoeing, can bring one a familiarity with landscape. One can walk the hills and the valleys and experience the roll and pitch of the land. And this is good. This is of value.
But in skiing one can feel the true rhythm of the land and that is something else altogether for rhythm of the land is a different thing than a familiarity with the landscape. Rhythm of land is a flowing, emotional experience, not simply a physical act. Rhythm evokes exhilaration and reward. One can feel that on skis, the slow move uphills and in the long sweeping glide down; rise and fall, ebb and flow. In the gliding of skis: Rhythm.
It does not always come. It comes best when one does not think of it, when one lets things rise in the metronomic kick and glide repetition of skiing. On this day I have hints of it but I am distracted. Thoughts of rain intrude; my skis slip too often; I watch Bella run, wait for her, call her back when she strays. My mind is cluttered and the rhythm of the skiing does not happen. I do not feel it on this day.
But there are other things at play on this first ski of the new year. A good trail does not run straight and true, it weaves and winds, rises and drops, carves a path as a river does; never arrow-straight, instead, meandering as a casual melody.
In this, the true beauty of it all. The path is never straight and clear cut. It wanders and when one looks ahead one sees a gentle curve and the curve hides what is beyond it and only when one skis up to it does one see what lies ahead. And beyond, another bend, another curve, another mystery. In that, of course, our lives, for one never knows what lies ahead in life. The future is a mystery, always hidden, unknown until we arrive.
On this day in the new year the ski trail serves as reminder of what we deal with in times ahead; certainty for as far as we can see but then a twist, a turn, a curve that hides what lies ahead and only in reaching it does one see what might come.
In that, a realization on this day. A reminder of life in the new year.
I ski slowly and deliberately, waiting to see what the trail will reveal, waiting to see the new landscape, hoping to feel the rhythm of the land, moving forward to what lies ahead.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post, downtown Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800.