“Goodnight”, four of us, in turn, each politely say to Elmer, our driver, as we make our way from the aisle of the typical yellow school bus, down the 3 steps and onto the frozen driveway of our farmyard. We have about an hour before dark, I think, as we walk into the house, drop our book-bags, and rush off to change into our ski clothes. Minutes later, my younger brother, Brian, and I are in the porch colouring sticky wax onto the skis we had found in the rafters of the garage, left behind by our dad’s aunt and uncle, the previous owners of the property. We have made this our after-school ritual this winter, corking smooth the wax and clipping the toes of our cross-country boots into the 3-pin bindings, clicking them down with our poles.
First skiing west out of the yard to the little rise in the field across from the house, then turning south, we gain slight speed before tapering off again, finding a rhythm, trying to out-do each other. Stronger than me, Brian often takes the lead, and I let him, for breaking blown-in trail is difficult work. When he tires, I take a turn in front as we kick and glide down the old, snow-covered road towards the quarter my dad calls ‘the homestead’. Reaching that corner, we instead enter into the adjacent ‘school section’. A barb-wired fence makes the threshold of that place clumsy for us and our skis, but, once we manage to straighten up again, we are rewarded with the sight of the path through the trembling aspen stands. Rarely, just around a bend, we might see a deer dart off the path like they know my brother will become a hunter in his adulthood. Every day we go a little bit further, exploring, with our dog, Coal, panting behind us. Climbing up and racing down as many hills as we can find, my breath fogs up my glasses and I realize the fading light urges us to turn towards home.
Rushing to get back in time for supper, we make it to the yard but it’s already dark. We can see Mom‘s silhouette back-lit at the kitchen window, putting the final touches on the supper table. Hurrying in, we stomp off the snow and remove our winter clothes, faces pink and breath steaming. In my body, if not yet in my mind, I know, in this moment, that we are a part of nature, not apart from it. The environment is not totally separate from me. I am shaped by it and also shape it.
And so, when I consider ‘the environment’ and what it means to me, I instantly feel the desire to ski. It’s that itch to be outside, on that long track that I share with the deer and others. It implies home-places, a connection to the more-than-human. It’s a yearning to cross paths with the moose once again, the one that I’ve seen a few times before in the bush I now frequent; to hold my breath as I watch her, both of us with a little bit of fear perhaps, graceful and majestic in her gait as she leaves me to my swishing. I’m also reminded of my tendency to romanticize my relationship with the Earth, to write things like this (from 2010):
a winter day’s delight: a poem for the solstice.
hoar frost on dormant trees
pristine snow banks settle under my skis
soft late-morning white light bursts into blue-afternoon
then the sun shines a promise of tonight’s full moon
Being romantic feels nice, but also makes me wonder more broadly about (my) connections to place and nature. What could this mean for me, as I allow myself to question my fondest attachments towards unsettling myself? Who gets to cross-country ski… and furthermore, as some of my teachers have asked me, who gets to do this work? Perhaps this will continue to be some of the questions that sit with me as I clip in and take to the trails once more, saying a “goodnight” greeting to the moose, to the moon, to my fondest attachments.