December morning; clear and cold. Eastern sky holds a liar’s sun: It promises warmth but will not deliver, not on this day. I open the door and let the dogs out. Then I pull it shut, tight against the cold.
Fenway, he of 20 pounds and not an ounce of fat hits the ground at a dead-on run. He’s across the yard in a flash, comes to the fence, wheels a hard turn and runs the length of the mesh. He is hunting rabbits.
Riika and Thor are more deliberate, walking causally through the snow, testing the wind for scent.
I watch the three of them for a minute then turn to the kitchen to start coffee.
Fenway barks, then Riika, and I let them in. Fenway sprints the length of hallway, turns right into Sally’s office. Riika and Thor come to the kitchen.
I make coffee and think of my dogs. admire the dogs. Fenway, a three-year old Boston terrier ill-suited for the cold has never missed a morning outside no matter how cold. I think, if I had his attitude there is no end to what I could accomplish.
Riika and Thor are old; there is no denying it. But they are unfailingly loyal and kind and I wish to myself that I can be thought of as the same.
Sally comes in, asks, “How cold is it?” and I say, “Fifteen.”
I walk into Sally’s office. Fenway is lying tight to the floor heating vent, warm air wrapping around him as a blanket. I say to him, “Beats being in Florida.” He looks up at me with his rich dark eyes; never wavers in his gaze.
And think: that’s the way it should be in December. Good dogs and a warm house and hot coffee. That’s what December is all about. That’s the way it should be.
* * *
December afternoon; mild, near 30, and new fallen snow. Clouds hold, aftermath of the snow, but to the west, where weather comes, there is some sun.
I walk to the trailhead of the ski trail. I click the bindings to boots, fasten pole straps around my wrist, stand still for a moment. First time out for the year.
December is where the good intentions of autumn come to rest. December on snow is where all the promises I made to get in some semblance of condition, all those promises are shown to be a fool’s lie. I did not ride the bicycle; did not run; roller skied three times, maybe four. Good intentions of August were only that, intentions. Now they come to ruin on the hard ground of mid December. I’ve not done the work. Ski season is here and I am not ready.
I start to ski, slowly. I tell myself it is best to go slow at the start, work on technique and form that will serve me well. My mantra is slow and easy. But the lie is that there is no other option; slow and easy is all I got.
I ski out on the familiar trail, across the open area and into the woods. The wind in the cleared area is nowhere to be felt in the shelter of the trees. I am very slow.
I have overdressed and I stop after a while to unzip the jacket before I overheat. Then I ski on; kick and glide, kick and glide. I do not feel fast nor do I feel particularly graceful and I glance over my shoulder to see if another, more accomplished skier might be overtaking me. No, not yet.
I enjoy skiing, always have and always will if things go well. I skied as a kid and as a young man and now, old and slow. I have, mercifully, put speed and skiing fast lower down the list of priorities. Now I just ski, take it as I can, do what I am able.
I will spend as much time as I can over the next months on skis, in the woods, on afternoons when I do not have to work.
Two miles into it I come to a long, gradual rise and I ski up that rise and as I do the sun comes out and there is blue sky and bright sun. I get to the top of the hill and stop and put my face up to the sun and just stand there and take it all in.
And think: that’s the way it should be in December. A day off and ski time on a day turned to sunshine. New snow; fresh air; ski time. That’s what December is all about. That’s the way it should be.
* * *
December evening; Solstice Night. Heavy cloud hides the stars but bonfire gives spark and when the embers lift on smoke it is as if stars have come down to us. We sit around the fire, bundled up, old friends and new. Conversation is relaxed and easy.
“Supposed to be a good snow year,” someone says. “Let it come,” says another. Glasses lift in a toast to the winter and the snow and the promise it brings.
It is a day on which the seasons pivot; shortest day in terms of hours of light. After this comes the long, very slow move toward season change. Day by day, always at change, the great and wonderful system in which we are a minuscule part no matter what we think.
Inside we shed our boots and parkas, our winter metamorphosis. There is chili on the stove, holiday sweets on the counter, a bottle of wine. There are friends and there is more talk as the hour grows late. In the midst of what can be a hectic, frantic season, an island in the storm.
And I think: that’s the way it should be in December. Good friends and a warm house and the season’s change in the air. That’s what December is all about. That’s the way it should be.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post, downtown Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800