By Merisa Sherman
It’s chaos. Between the chairlift motors and the crowds, the noise is almost deafening. As we ski along, we are focused on the turns of all those with whom we are sharing the trail and attempting to anticipate their movements. In a split second, we must judge the downhill skier in front of us and determine what choices they will make as they, too, descend the mountain. We feel the rider approaching behind us and wonder if we’re in the blind spot on their heel edge or if they’ll be making a move toward the jib up ahead. It’s all consuming.
As we move to anticipate all the possible variables for action surrounding us, we begin to lose sight of ourselves and our own skiing. It is extremely difficult to focus on the slight movements of your own feet or ankles when you’re necessarily obsessed with predicting the actions of those behind you, next to you and in front of you. We watch their movements, looking for indicators of a possible turn initiation so that we may get out of the way. We are not just working on the physiology of our one turn, but all eight around us.
Ski faster, get more runs, track more vertical feet.
Our mind runs in overdrive, overwhelmed by the multitude of noises and variables. We cannot hear ourselves think over the backpack speakers and the groups of people chatting on the sides of the trail. The roar overwhelms the mountain itself, tuned out by the constant rumble of the bullwheel. Having no idea what our own feet are doing, we get launched into the back seat and must momentarily risk focusing on our own skiing to reestablish fore-aft balance.
It’s urban chaos. Avoid the people on the sidewalk or in the mall; don’t observe your surroundings, just keep your head down and walk. Jerk your steering wheel left and right to maneuver through the rush hour traffic, honking your horn and seeking always to get their faster, pushing to make your commute shorter. The bright lights, the blaring noises and the random motions are constant. Your mind in overdrive working to process all the activity while you still try to hold onto some semblance of what is going on. The world seems to be spinning faster and faster and faster…
Amidst the chaos surrounding me, I see my sanctuary. A half fallen tree lies precariously upon another, forming a precarious archway. The snow beneath appears plump and luscious as it beckons me to break away. Squatting low, I duck my head underneath the branch and I feel my entire body gasping for breath. As I come out the other side, I notice that I hadn’t just forgotten to pay attention to my turns, but to my breathing as well. There wasn’t time.
Sliding deeper into the woods, I can feel the anxious energy of the main trail begin to fade away. The snow covered forest is still and quiet. My breath begins to return as I have the freedom to focus on the movements of my own body, to be safe in my own container. The noise of the trail is almost gone and, finally, I can begin to hear more than the manmade world around me.
I have stepped though the looking glass, into my own secret garden. Blanketed in snow, the forest seems to stand still, its simplicity remains somehow unaffected by the modern world. Time here is recorded in seasons, rather than split-seconds, and only the astute will notice the slight changes. A pine tree has grown taller while a few birches have fallen, altering the path from year to year.
The only movement comes from the trees above us, the strong winds playing with their highest branches. Brown below, the world is still and safe. A single rabbit track lays in the freshly fallen snow, but otherwise the winter forest appears empty. In the stillness, my mind begins to relax and I can feel the forest begin to wrap herself around me. Instead of desperately blocking out the cacophony of modernity, I can relax, trusting that the mountain to show me what I need to know. I feel my heart rate lower and the connection begins to grow. The forest feels increasingly alive as I open my mind. A cherished return to nature as I let the spirit of these wonderful green mountains fill my soul. I am restored.