When I was a sophomore in college, I took a course that met in the basement lecture hall of a dusty old art museum. It was the sort of natural light-less space that was perfect for slide shows, but not very good for anything that had to do with actual life—particularly life in the spring, when everything is busting out all over. I remember one of those days, when the temperatures had risen, the magnolias were in bloom, and the last place any of us wanted to be was in that windowless space. As my professor began his lecture, he started with a story about his own undergraduate years, and a class he attended in the very same room, on a day very like that day. He recalled having bestowed upon him what we were probably all wishing for: his professor walked in and announced that he had “an appointment with springtime,” and then promptly walked out, leaving his roomful of students bemused and delighted. Did such things ever really happen? I hadn’t even thought to wish for such a gift! I was jolted back to reality when I heard my professor say, “Sadly for all of you, and since we already missed a class last week, I will soldier on. Forgive me.” So we all pulled out our pens and notebooks and soldiered along with him, wishing, perhaps, that he hadn’t told us that story.
I didn’t get an unscheduled appointment with spring back then, but I did squeeze one in this week. I’d been looking at the weather forecasts for days, scouting out which weekday, if any, might be worthy of sneaking out of town and heading up north. My objective was not magnolia blooms or warbler sightings, but a taste of the springtime version of winter: one more day of skiing on my beloved Wildcat Mountain.
I know, I know. It’s been an endless winter, by all accounts. And it’s been hanging on with a death grip around here, leaving us with endless little snow events, slippery sidewalks, and snowbanks that refuse to melt away nicely. But despite all that, I was still feeling like the ski season had passed me by. In December, I was recovering from surgery; in January, I was getting a handle on the whole chemo business. I got a couple of runs here and there in February and March, but no days at all on my adopted-by-marriage home mountain. Before I knew it, one look at the calendar told me that my chances for sneaking in a mid-week spring skiing day were winding down. Radiation, which begins next week, is a Monday-through-Friday commitment, and our upcoming weekends were already spoken for. It was now or never.
Which wasn’t to say that what I would find up north would be all slush bumps and soft snow. It’s still wintertime in the White Mountains, if you go by the snowpack and the frigid temperatures leading up to my hooky day. Nevertheless, I was banking on a predicted warming trend, clear skies, and the wonder that is the sun kissing the north side of a New England mountain, come April.
Seriously, why does anyone ever bother to go skiing in the east in November, or even December, for that matter? The light is so flat, the cover is so thin, the few trails that are open are crowded, and what sun there is disappears from the trails, if it ever even hits the trails, by lunchtime. It’s just so depressing. You need to get some sunshine on your face as you ride up the lift. And the only way you can get it is to go skiing later on in the season, when the sun rises higher in the sky and stays there for longer.
Which is what I knew I would get. Seriously, is there anything so lovely as a blue sky day in April? And honestly, is there anything as delightful as mid-winter conditions and springtime sunshine, all at once?
Here’s what I was treated to:
This is a view from the top of the Wildcat Trail, looking across Pinkham Notch at Mount Washington. That big bowl in the center is the famous Tuckerman Ravine. The US Forest Service’s reported avalanche danger was rated “considerable” on this day for natural events, and “likely” for human caused events. And yet, in another week or two, there will be hundreds of people hiking up to ski the ravine. Wildcat is so close by, it feels like you can reach out and touch it. The spot where I took that photo from is where my sweetie and I want some of our ashes to be spread, when the time comes. We have a number of friends and family who have similar notions, and we know of a few folks who are already there. We’ll be in good company. Plus, it’s a gorgeous spot to hang out, for the ages.
Sunshine on spring snow. Two things you hardly ever see, all winter long, from this vantage point–the trail under the chairlift gets no man-made snow this high up, and the sun doesn’t hit this stretch at all until mid-February.
This little guy is my husband. Isn’t he adorable? A big blow-up poster of this old marketing image hangs upstairs in the Wildcat base lodge, on the way to the bathrooms. I give it a little pat every time I pass by. The 2-man gondola is long gone, but the view of Mt. Washington remains unchanged. For the record, my mother-in-law did some photo-shopping on this image, circa 1959; John was not actually at Wildcat when the photo of him was taken. I suspect some literal cutting and pasting was involved. Needless to say, this explains our love of this place, not to mention our lifetime passes. I joke that when we got married, I just traded one cold windy ski area (Sugarloaf, in Maine) for another. But the truth is, almost 30 years later, I’ve got a lot more miles on trails named Lynx and Catapult and Bobcat than I have on Sugarloaf’s Narrow Gauge. That’s saying something.
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So, I got my happy spring day, and then some. And even though my knees complained and my weary thighs felt like Jell-o, it was a day that nourished me, by giving me exactly what I needed: A day in the sunshine, a day at one of my favorite places on earth, a day to swoop down the trails and feel alive. And normal. And like me, or the me I know myself to be–not the one I’m currently seeing in the mirror.
Now I’m back home, where I will be icing my knees and gulping down Advil for a bit, to make up for my late season ski outing. The good news is my knees still work for treks around the reservoir. My sweet little screech owl was all puffed up in her hole this morning, as if to point out to me that the sun is shining on high for her these days, as well:
There she is, up high in the triangular hole. The wonders of cell phone cameras, despite the lack of a good zoom lens.