I look at the weather forecast with a sense of foreboding. It looms as something not quite real, ethereal and dark like a thin edge of storm cloud etched dark on the horizon. It is unsettling as a sound in the dark of night. That’s all a forecast is, really: A sound in the dark that suggests ill will to come, nothing concrete, thought versus a reality, portent with the power of suggestion.
A mid-February forecast of temperatures at 50 degrees makes me edgy. That forecast is to me the sound in the night on the fringes of hearing that leaves me awake and wide eyed and straining to hear more. It is only after a while I can relax and accept what comes.
That’s the way I am. A winter forecast of warm weather to come unnerves me.
I look at the weather forecast repeatedly through the day; first thing in the morning and last thing at night. And in between as if it might change by repeated viewing. It never does, never changes, at least not a major shift. I may as well look at it once a day or not at all and just take what comes of it. But I do look at it, look at it a lot.
This weekend’s forecast shows warm and a chance of rain and all this in what should be prime ski season with the Birkebeiner a week away. I don’t think of the Birkebeiner as often as I think of the weather but the difference is not as great as you may imagine. I never put on a pair of skis without thinking of the Birkie and usually, if the snow is good, I start skiing in December so the race is on my mind a lot; a constant, just like the weather.
Ski the Birkie enough times and you’ll see most of it all when it comes to weather. I’ve started out at minus 15 degrees and over 30 degrees. I’ve skied it during a snowstorm and during freezing rain. I’ve seen deep snow on beautiful days or decaying snow that left bare patches on days that smelled of springtime. I’ve seen good days and bad, good times and not so good; felt exhilaration and despair.
Now, with a week to go, I look at the weather forecast and feel unease and uncertainty. And I think to myself, “Why doesn’t it get easier?” For the worries still are with me in the days leading up to the race. I check the weather forecast with what appears to be an obsession, fret over the possibilities, worry with each day about the potential for things to go wrong.
Things blur with time. I can remember bits and pieces of races but I do not have crystal clarity of any of them. The Birkie to me is a tapestry of interwoven threads that form a whole cloth; no one thread stands alone.
Except, perhaps for one. A time ages ago, 1981, when we had a thaw come roll over the land like a wave of despair. I remember calling friends who were at Telemark Lodge when there was a lodge and when all things Birkebeiner were orbits of that place. I remember calling and asking of conditions and being told it was 60 degrees with pouring rain and the snow was going fast.
That was not good news but in my life it was the least of it.
My mother died that week. Cancer took her after a long struggle. I’d watched her suffer in pain without complaint. She died on a dreary day as February snow was decaying. Despair and sorrow were heavy on my mind. We scheduled her funeral for Saturday, the day of the Birkie.
I can’t really say if I felt any sadness that I’d miss the race. It wasn’t important, not that week. Not much was.
Then it rained that ungodly rain and the snow washed away and they could not hold the race. On the day the Birkebeiner was scheduled we buried my mother under sullen cloud in late February.
They did not cancel the race, they merely postponed it. As if, fat chance, there would be snow in two weeks after the original date. Except that there was. Except that a freak blizzard dumped a ton of snow on the race course and two weeks later against all odds and against all expectations they held the race.
I don’t remember much about the details in that race. I remember it was a smaller field of skiers; many who’d flown in for the original date could not return. I remember there was plenty of snow and the track was good. I remember that I skied very well, moving up through the ranks of skiers ahead of me, passing one and then another.
I remember getting to the halfway point and a friend was there and he looked at me in wide-eyed shock and said, “Geez Mode, you’re in second place!” I remember thinking to myself, I don’t think I can hold it.
I didn’t. The lack of training caught up to me and one skier and then another and another passed me. I remember leaning on my poles, dead in the water with a long way to go and knowing it was over for me. I remember wishing I could have skied a better race in memory of my mother.
I ended up, heck, I’m not even sure; 12th or 18th or something; a long way from second.
So it went. So it goes. Next year I skied it again and I’ve kept on skiing it.
But I still worry about the weather. I still obsess about the forecast. I still fret and worry. And every year, every single Birkebeiner, I remember my mother and all she meant to me.