Monday, February 27, 2012

Falling Meters


My iPhone doesn't do the snow-capped White Mountains justice, especially Mount Washington's peakthe highest in the northeastat which Lu gazes from the summit of Mt. Rosebrook at Bretton Woods. Even with its upper black diamond and double black diamond runs, designed by Olympian Bode Miller, Bretton Woods seems a gentle mountain, with the sort of terrain that can be easily negotiated by experienced skiers. And I'm thankful for what it offers: a peaceful coast on which to contemplate the beauty of the surrounding mountain range, its glacial cirques and ravines.

Bretton's forgiving terrain is a balm after skiing Cannon Mountain's (where Miller traversed the slopes with his junior ski team) cold and severely pitched trails. Wind gusts at Cannon's summit reached thirty miles per hour muddling visibility in the afternoon. Its long runs became icy turns and twists that were not easily negotiated. But Cannon's steep, lower Front Five, where thighs burned hot on Avalanche, and Paulie's Extension above that, and Zoomer, and the gladesthe exhilarating skip through the treesall of which plunge down to Echo Lake, were, alone, worth the price of the ticket and the freeze that settled into the outer extremities of my body.

And then there was the snow. The glorious snow.

Falling softly and silently.

We are back home now, where the ground is shorn and sepia-steeped, and where I've had the chance to leaf through everything under the Sun, including the Moon, in this year's Old Farmer's Almanac. What I found in the Almanac is that today, this 27th day of February, is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's birthday, a birth date that is shared with sister Backwoods Betty. And I wonder now if what Betty remembers most of Longfellow mirrors my recollection: Father's animated reading of Longfellow's graceful and melodically metered epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha, especially the first few lines of its final canto:
By the shore of Gitche Gumee / By the shining Big-Sea-Water / At the doorway of his wigwam / In the pleasant Summer morning / Hiawatha stood and waited...
This past week, before snaking down the sleeted helix of the mountain, I stood and waited, heard the rhythm of the white mountains and the meters of falling snow, the sound of the crystal drifts across the north woods, the soft crunch of fresh flurries that had gathered beneath my boots.

And Longfellow, from Snow-Flakes, spoke then, too:

Out of the bosom of the Air,
        Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
        Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
                      Silent, and soft, and slow
                      Descends the snow.

Even as our cloudy fancies take
        Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled heart doth make
        In the white countenance confession,
                      The troubled sky reveals
                      The grief it feels.

This is the poem of the air,
        Slowly in silent syllables recorded;
This is the secret of despair,
        Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
                      Now whispered and revealed
                      To wood and field.

And then more: A deep breath. The deepest. 

It was all right to go home.

40 comments:

  1. Such a beautiful view!

    Longfellow knew grief well.

    His first wife died in child birth or a miscarriage, and his second wife died in a horrific fire accident - her dress caught fire after hot wax dripped on it.

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    1. Loree- He sure did. Lost a baby girl, too. Can't imagine living through all of that--the effect is has one's psyche. And writing. Snow-Flakes conveys all the stages of grief, the air of sadness, it's haunting but beautiful.

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  2. Snow, the very thing that Longfellow used to describe grief and despair is one of the things that brings you the most joy. A wonderful juxtaposition. But I am still looking forward to spring. :)

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    1. Well, Bill, snow is relief for me. It can be both dangerous and peacefully beautiful. I'd be hard pressed not to experience a wave of emotions every time it snows. These are contemplative moments. Happy and sad. Happiest though, on the mountain, when snowing!

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  3. Lovely, Jayne. Those surprisingly beautiful and devastating lines about snow and grief--who knew the father of Hiawatha could also write that? You've had your journey of flight, Jayne, it's all right to come home. xo

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    1. Melissa - Yes, I feel like I'm much less restless now. Better prepared to accept the world as it is. I suppose that's what any vacation is for, eh? 'Tis good to be home to crisp air and sunny skies. :)

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  4. Over the weekend, I started watching a (non-recent) Ken Burns series, The West. It described a particular part of Lewis & Clark's expedition, when they had gotten SO desperate wanting to have reached the Pacific... they went up a slope to a ridge, expecting to see the ocean from the summit. And saw, stretched out from horizon to horizon, the Rockies. I don't know if it was a good or bad thing that they weren't on skis. If they'd had skis, they might've viewed the coming weeks as more of an adventure, less of an ordeal. Or, on the other hand, they might have tumbled downhill in shock and broken their bodies. So, a toss-up.

    Speaking of Longfellow, have you read The Dante Club? HWL is sorta-kinda the "hero" of it. (Very entertaining, I thought.)

    Glad you're back. Thanks for treating us to the view (no matter how well/poorly captured), to the poetry, and to your reflections about it all!

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    1. Funny, the other day a I read a review Pearl's The Technologists but I've never read one of his books. I think I'd like Dante. I remember, while in college, talking about Longfellow's Five of Clubs clan while he was at Harvard, and the Dante Club. Must have been fascinating to socialize with these groups. Oh, the list! Yet, another read... how will I ever get through it?

      I missed Burns's West series. Love his documentaries. Had L&C had skis with them on their journey, I'd wager they'd be quite thrilled with the view of the Rockies! But imagine trying to figure out how to get beyond that mountain range? The logistics! Waxed skis would have helped. ;)

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  5. Ahhh, yes, love, love, love the White Mountains and even if I can't ski I'll take their birches anytime

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    1. Linda, dear, when that foot of yours finally heals, we're going to get out there together. ;)

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  6. I treasured the Song of Hiawatha as a kid. We summered in Lake of the Woods in Canada and loved building tepees and miniature birch bark canoes. And really, it all sprang from what Longfellow set down in our imagination. So, here you are, now, coming up with a gorgeous, lyrical post, and ending it all for us with a reminder of Longfellow's lyricism, good for any season. Welcome back!

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    1. Me too, Susan! And Evangeline! Longfellow was captivating. It's hard to not look at a birch without thinking of Longfellow (or Frost, for that matter).

      Good to be back!

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  7. I am in awe of that view. I bet it was a million times more spectacular in person. Wow.

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    1. Much more spectacular, Nessa. If not a bit intimidating, and certainly, humbling. The crisp, clean air, alone, is pure joy. And then, to stick snow-capped peaks on the landscape? Brilliant. ;)

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  8. Skiing!! Burrrrrr. Give me a snorkel, mask and warm water any day! A chilled Mai Tai on the beach afterward is not too bad either.

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    1. Well, Robert, a Mai Tai on the beach doesn't sound so bad either. I'm glad you spoiled yourself in Hawaii. Some day Hawaii perhaps... but I'm more of an Alps girl. The islands (even HI) are way down on my bucket list, as I'm not one to sit on the beach (or snorkel) for long. But I would sit longer with a cool drink in hand. ;)

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  9. Because of your blog design, I kind of see your world as sepia-steeped. :)

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    1. Suze- I must admit, I am drawn to antiquity. And I love words liketawny, amber and fawn. I like things in amber. As a kid, Burnt Sienna was my favorite crayon color. And I love, love estate jewelry. Huh? What does that have to do with this? Idk. Oh, antiquity. And I also don't know if a sepia-steeped world is a good thing or a bad thing, but I like the sound of it (I like it better than "rose-colored"), so I'm sticking with GOOD! ;)

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  10. Jayne it looks like you got some good snow there - proper snow at last!

    Your photo makes me want to scale a mountain and breathe in some of that crisp, restorative air.

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    1. Lucy- Oh, I'm glad you're inspired by this to scale a mountain! That would be quite an exciting adventure. More exciting than skiing, I'd say. I hear we may even get more snow this week. Would love to close out the winter in high polar style. :)

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  11. small world, we have a mount washington too! for some funny reason you have me thinking of jim ignatowski camping with alex and the boys. a very pleasant thought indeed.

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    1. You do, Billy? And I'll bet some decent skiing, too. Camping w/Iggy and friends? That's quite an interesting (and entertaining) connection you've made there. ;)

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  12. A beautiful read, as always Jane! I'm glad the snow decided to make a return visit to the Western Mountains of Maine (with even more to come tomorrow night). I wasn't quite ready to hang up my 'Jeremiah Johnson' personna just yet....

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    1. Looks like the lion's going to stick around in these here mountains, my Lord! The snow is coming down here like a confection sifted from the sky. Beautiful. The kids may finally get the snow day out of school for which they've long been waiting. I'll keep doing my snow dance for the mountain man. (And suburban moms who wouldn't at all mind a good cross country trek.) ;)

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  13. What an incredible post! Filled with bravery and boldness. I am so happy you were able to experience this outing, Jayne! You've captured the experience so beautifully! You really amaze and inspire so many!

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    1. Trust me Michael, I'm not as brave as I once was--not on those hills! (Mother can't afford broken bones.) But slowing it down a bit on the course doesn't at all take away from the the thrill of the swoosh down the mountain. Glad you enjoyed this post. :)

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  14. I envy you for this vacation with snow, mountains, ski, crisp air, none of which we have here in Israel.
    I wish you many returns of this enjoyable vacation!

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    1. But based on your beautiful photography, Duta, there's much beauty to be found in Israel. I'd really love to travel there someday. I'd always want to live, though, within driving distance of the mountains. Or tucked away in them. ;)

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  15. Jayne, you finally found your snow. Your soul was ready to greet the sky, slopes, frosty air, rejoicing, for it had been such a very long time. This post was beautiful, sharing your magical moments through words. I was there.

    I miss the beauty of New England winters.
    Thank you!

    Longfellow... sigh

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    1. Leah--yes, at long last! I was beyond ready. The day we left for NH we got to our destination too late to hit the slopes and I was an antsy mess. Actually considered night skiing, which is crazy on my eyes, and way too cold. We had some really nice days on the mountains, though, and I'm happy for those moments, even if there were only a few of them this winter.

      And it's snowing here in lil Rhody, and throughout New England! I'm trying to not get too excited--I may pack up the car again! ;)

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  16. Looks like a grat place to ski.

    Bode Miller grew up in kind of a hippie-collective in that area, didn't he? No wonder he spent a lot of time outdoor, and became a world-class skier (did you see him skiing the entire downhill course on one ski some years ago?)

    Good to see you're using helmets

    Snow is the white gold >:)

    Cold As Heaven

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    1. Cold--Bode grew up in a very bohemian environment. Home schooled, no electricity (no interior facilities--had an outhouse) even though it was certainly available where he lived. And as a boy, he had a wee bit of a reputation as a rebel. (No!) My sister lives close to where he grew up and there are sometimes Bode sitings around town. He also has a beautiful ski chalet near Bretton Woods and rents it out for $1,000/nt. A bit steep, but hey, it's Bode's home!

      Much to my chagrin, my hubby still does not wear a helmet. When the kids were born I started using one. Before then, we didn't see too many people wearing ski helmets. I also had a pretty bad fall (the face plant kind) on the hills the year before my son was born, and it shook me. Now, it's unusual to see someone on the slopes w/out a helmet. Wise thing to do.

      White gold. :D

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  17. Wow...snow...a very alien concept to me...i did not see it til i was 21 and in denver, whereupon i ran out to the car park of the motel i was staying in and started throwing dirty ole snowballs about..im sure people thought i was an escaped mental patient...
    great piece that really evokes the way snow, real snow can affect the human psyche...well done..again! ;)

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    1. Says the man down under... that must have been quite a moment for you, arriving in Denver to snow! What else would you do but pack snowballs?! I remember my first trip to Denver, Vail, Breckenridge, A-basin and other ski areas outside of Denver, powder up to my thighs--it is an incredibly beautiful slice of the world. The air is thin, but after a couple of days, I was ready for any elevation. It's an odd feeling to be so far above sea level, yet still on ground. Pretty thrilling.

      We don't have the same remarkable views or ski conditions here in New England, but I can't complain about our northern landscape. :)

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    2. What a beautiful trip! And a fitting selection of Longfellow's to share.

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    3. Don't you just love Longfellow, Elizabeth? The mountain, the snow, is poetry. ;)

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    1. Thanks for dropping in Marko. I'll stop by your place to see what you're up to--always enjoy a good photography site. :)

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  19. Oh, how lovely. I've missed snow, really epic snow. Not the kind we'd sometimes get in NC that would look nice, but disappear quickly; I'm talking the kind of implacable snows of Alaska, of ski country, where the snow belongs and you exist to appreciate it and feel grateful to cozy up against it or play with it safely.

    And Longfellow. Just lovely, Jayne.

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  20. Nance- It's the epic stuff that I miss, too! Much of the snow we skied on was manmade, so northern New Hampshire didn't even receive its share of epic snow this winter. But it did snow while we were there and that went a long way in lifting my spirits--just as the skiing did, of course!

    Alaska. Someday! :)

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