Feeding My Soul
Its the middle of winter, and I'm in my full-bore schedule which consists of a lot of work, little bit of play, and not nearly enough sleep. My full time gig is driving a propane truck, and my part-time one involves working for a Vail limo company. In between work stints, I try to squeeze in as much play as possible. "Play" in the winter means skiing, hockey, and the odd trip to a tailwater to try to tempt a trout with a small fly. Sometimes I spend so much time working that I begin to feel like wage slave, but that's where the play part comes in. Most weeks I don't get to enjoy nearly enough of life's fun moments and fill my soul with doing the things I love, but last week I did and it’s what makes me look forward to winter.
First of, one night I finally got to do some ice skating on the Colorado River, after several sessions of clearing the snow from it. In the eleven years that we've lived up here we've been able to make an ice rink most but not all winters. River ice can be extremely dynamic and volatile. Some winters I'll get the surface perfect, and the river level will inexplicably rise and ruin it. Or we'll get more snow than I can clear with a shovel, or the weather will turn warm and it will thaw prematurely. This year we had a warm fall, and no cold weather until the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, and then it got cold and snowed heavily all at once. This left the ice very bumpy, and I wondered whether this would be one of those years without skating. But even though the ice looked very unpromising, I spent a sunny Sunday afternoon clearing it anyway, hoping that sunshine would eventually do the work of smoothing it out. After a week or so, it was somewhat better but not yet smooth enough to skate on, and then it snowed again. Once more I spent a couple of hours out there getting that white, reflective powder off my rink, and it was at least smooth enough underneath that I could wear skates as I shoveled, which gave me a lot more leverage.
Another week passed, and I finally had a little time after work enjoy my handiwork. The waxing moon lit up the backyard aided by the bright white snow, making artificial illumination unnecessary. I laced up my skates, and made my first few strides down the black ice surface, and suddenly felt as though I was flying. The skatable ice that I shoveled was almost three hundred feet long, though not very wide. But the width didn't matter, just being able to zoom up and down the river felt surreal.
My wife came out but didn't trust the ice enough to put on her skates, so she walked around with me on it until she got cold. At one point a train came by over the bridge spanning the river, and we watched it pass by while almost underneath it, feeling its tremendous power. When she went back inside, I told her that I would in shortly, that I just wanted to do a few more fast laps. After doing that, it warmed me up so much that I just kept skating. Finally I was able to reluctantly tear myself away, and go back inside, happy in the knowledge that all of my hard work shoveling snow was not for nothing.
The next day, I got my soul filled in a different way. Terena and I drove down to Evergreen, where I gave a presentation to the Trout Unlimited chapter there. Not long after I began my float fishing business, I hit upon the idea of doing Powerpoint presentations to TU chapters as a means of getting my name out there, and drumming a little business. Not wanting it to be an overt sales pitch, my presentation talks mostly about public fishing access along the eastern Flat Top Mountains where I live. Over the years, I've kept adding more and more slides and maps to it, to the point where I could probably spend hours doing it. I love living where I do, just downstream from some of the most spectacular river mileage in Colorado, and the enthusiasm I have for sharing it with people seems to be appreciated. I've now done this presentation to perhaps a dozen TU chapters, and have also given it at the Fly Fishing Show in Denver a couple of times, but it had been over a year since the last time I’d given it when I spoke in Evergreen last week. I had almost forgotten how much fun it could be talking about my beautiful backyard in front of a roomful of slightly inebriated fishermen, with huge images of colorful cliffs and trout behind me. They wanted me to try and keep it to about forty-five minutes, but it ended up being closer to an hour and a half (though no one seemed to mind). When I was done the chapter members gave me a nice round of applause, and it was wonderful to see my wife's beautiful face beaming at me as they did. That was another big deposit into my soul account!
On Saturday, I had to deliver some propane in the morning, and delivered an entire truck full of gas to a single customer with multiple tanks. This left time in the afternoon to run up to Beaver Creek to do some skiing. In the winter, I leave my skis and boots in my car just in case the opportunity arises to get out for an hour or two, and this was one of those opportunities. Even though our winter was off to great start in terms of snowfall, it had been a full week since had gotten any fresh powder. Nonetheless, there are plenty of places to find untracked snow at Beaver Creek if you know where to go, and I do. Mostly that involves skiing in one of the many aspen glades that abound between the main mountain and Arrowhead. Most of that terrain is in-bounds, but some of the runs I do were shown to me by my good friend Ted Duckarope.
It was a beautiful day to be on the mountain, with mild temperatures and the cobalt blue skies Colorado is rightly famous for. I parked at the free Arrowhead lot and began my afternoon there. From the top of the lift, I skate-skied straight ahead into the trees and could see the single set of tracks I had made a week earlier. For the next three hours, I made one run after another on virgin snow that the thousand other skiers who had been here in the last week had missed. How this is the case is a bit of a mystery to me. A lot of people are terrified of skiing in the trees, and as I can personally attest the are quite painful to run into. But I think that groomed runs full of other skiers are much more dangerous than trees, for as hard as they may be, trees don't move and won't run into you!
With each run I took I grew happier and confident, until I was in a completely blissed-out state. At one point I came upon a steep bump run while traversing the mountain to get to another glade, and barely paused before dropping in. I began skiing bumps rather late in my career, not until my late thirties, and I still stop and check them out thoroughly before plunging in. But on this day I was skiing with such a high level of confidence that I tore right into them. Halfway down the steep hillside I had what was almost an out-of-body experience. My head seemed to be unconnected to my body, and it was like I couldn't feel my body or even control it. I flew down the hill but didn't seem to be touching it at all, it was like I was flying. My fifty-two year old body just performed like a well-oiled skiing machine, and I was just along for the ride. I had experienced this state of grace before in powder, but not in the bumps. It might be how a skier in a Warren Miller movie might feel like, watching themselves projected on a large screen, but the screen was completely inside my head.
I finished the day as I usually do, by catching the Strawberry Park lift just before it stopped running at four pm. This gives me one a long, last run along the spine of the mountain and back to the top of Arrowhead. I was the last one down off the hill, and felt like the only person on the planet. Days like this are why people make the sacrifices they do to live in the mountains they love. Careers and relationships can take a backseat to getting that narcotic-like fix. I work twice as hard as I did in my twenties and make half as much, but I get to live beside the Colorado River with a beautiful woman surrounded by the mountains that prompted me to move here twenty-eight years ago. How long my aging body will allow me to keep pursuing this rigorous and active lifestyle is an open question that I'm not sure I want to know the answer to. But I intend to ski and fish and skate and row until I'm physically unable to do so, and maybe even a little past that.
Maybe heaven is a place that people with kind and benevolent souls get to go to once they shake off their mortal coils, but I'm not sure I want to put all of my eggs in that basket. I think that heaven is inside off all of us, and can be found in those moments of sublime perfection that occur when we make an effortless turn in the powder, or in a perfect cast to willing trout, or when making love to our life's partner, or in making a perfect pass to a teammate’s stick in the blinding blur of a hockey game.
To do something right and well in the moment is to be in state of grace, and to create as many of those moments as we can in this lifetime is as close to heaven as we can reasonably expect. If a bearded and berobed St. Peter is waiting for me someday like a bouncer for the world's most exclusive nightclub, I hope that I'm not found wanting. But until then, I'll just keep feeding my soul every opportunity I can get, and try to enjoy this daily miracle we call life for as long as I can.