Until My Legs Shake

I want my body to do more things, but it won’t. Or at least not without complaining. I snowshoe to the end of the small cup of instant oatmeal I ate standing by the kitchen sink and need to turn around. In the afternoon I ski until my legs shake. I eat all the food it’s reasonable to eat. My back tightens. I spend the evening prone on the living room floor with my feet up.

I wake up sore in all the predictable places and a few more. I feel sure I can’t do more today, but an hour later things have loosened up. The dog fixes me with his needy stare, pleading me to go out again. It’s 10 degrees and the breeze adds a discount. My bad shoulder stiffens in anticipation, but I work it for a bit, the knots grinding against each other in a symphony of accrued doubts.

After a few minutes’ work, when the heat finally comes into my bones, things loosen again. Oatmeal fuels my striding steps. I try to puzzle why this bit of woods is all fir trees, when I’ve just been walking through sugar maples. Why all saplings ahead? That hillside was logged in the ’90s. Birch start to appear, pioneer species after a fire or a purge of human invention. Some trees are dying under the assault of tree funguses. Anyway, the woods distract me from my fuel gauge running low and the sinew in my legs pulling too taut.

At the end of that oatmeal, we turn for home. The dogs paws freeze up, and I kneel to pull the ice from between the pads. By this point, my coat swings open and a fine mist rises from my shoulders. I’m a tropical microclimate. The machine is working again.

Back at the house, I go for a second breakfast, nuke a burrito, stuff a banana in my face. The dog is done and curled in a corner of the couch.

I read the snow report, always a brighter forecast of conditions than you’ll find on the ground. The author is an optimist, and likely a better skier than I am.

We have spent a lot of our hard-earned on the gear required to get in the steep woods, so I put it all on and ready myself for the afternoon. The mercury has crested 20 degrees now, and I can run lean on the layers. My furnace runs warmer than most. That probably explains the neatly concealed state of my body. I have forgotten that I’m exhausted in blood and fiber.

The walk from the lot to the lift reminds, boots stiff against tired limbs. The ride up lets things loosen again. The first run solves that problem, but the momentum is strong. After all the gear goes on and the hill is climbed and the lift does its lifting, the urge to stay and see what’s possible carries me on.

Things get better. I forget myself.

The firs hold snow like Christmas ornaments and the steepness of the slope focuses my attention on what I’m doing, dancing with gravity as best I can, an awkward teen at a formal, winning no prizes but a stupid grin and a temporary respite from the limits my body tries to impose.

By mid-afternoon I’m Cinderella at the after party. Things have gone all pumpkin-shaped. A hot cup of coffee won’t buy me more time on the mountain, but it will help me feel better about giving up for the day. I am lucky to get what I do and to be able to chase it as long as I can. I lay twisting and stretching on the living room floor, my back now expired and my legs ready for bed. Dinner is still to be made, and the dog has come around, maybe ready to go out again.