Tuesday, February 25, 2014

occasionally and consistently

There is a small ski mountain that we have visited a few times now in the past years, since we discovered it.  It is far away.  Maine far away.  As in one of those Maine places that is farther from us here in Portland than places three states away.  It is up in The County (Aroostook, for those of you from away), and it takes 5 hours for us to get there.  It is in the town in which my father grew up, where I visited my grandparents as a child, and where we still have a family camp, built by my father and his father.  We go there often in the summer.  But winter?  It just doesn't make sense, really.

What I remember from the winters of my childhood in this town, when we visited my grandparents year-round home, is the snow.  My grandfather and father were in the electric utility business, and so, given what their eyes were drawn to, one of the things I noticed was the height of the telephone poles, the wires strung between them held quite obviously further from the ground than they were down south.

To keep them above the height of the snowbanks, my parents explained.  Similarly, mailboxes there had disproportionately long necks.  Of course, you only really noticed this in the summer.

The other thing I remember was the fun that the mammoth amount of snow up there could bring to kids.  My brother and I used to have epic snowball fights, the one lucky enough to have the small milk delivery door in my grandparents' garage within our own bounds having an obvious slammable advantage.

Last year, with less snow down where we live, we headed north to Presque Isle during school break, to ski in that snow, both nordic skiing at the Nordic Heritage Center, and once there and discovered, alpine skiing at Quoggy Jo.

Returning this year, as we drove, the kids asked again and again in the car, how much longer?  How many more hours?  How high do the mile markers on the Maine Turnpike go (because up there, it's just you, the moose, and the mile markers for hours).  There are signs that warn you to watch for eagles in the road.  And patches of birches bent to the ground from the ice storms.  And snow banks.  Hundreds of miles of snow banks.  I resisted the temptation to answer with a didactic, it used to take my family 8 hours to get there before the 75 mph speed limit.

Quoggy Jo Ski Center is a simple but well maintained place with a small town feel.  It holds a special place in my heart, and for my family.

It is family oriented, intended for novice and intermediate skiers, and feels friendly, comfortable, safe, and therefore allows the kids to feel a good deal of freedom while there.  Thank goodness it has received support from Maine Winter Sports Center, because a place like this should not go under in the way that so many small mountain centers have quietly disappeared, much like the drive in movie places of summer.

With prices like this.

This mountain.  Or, is it a hill?  Is this a small mountain or a large hill?  Elliott asked me these kinds of questions as we rode up the incline together, however you choose to describe it, over and over.

I realized.  There is something about coming to a place that stays largely the same, occasionally but consistently.  It makes you realize just how much has changed since you were there last.  As I watched everyone get into their gear, I realized how different, how much more independent they had become from last year.  And how much each of them had grown in height.  Our stop on the way north at LL Bean for replacements for snow pants that had become too short and too threadbare on the knees had also made this apparent.

There will never be another year in which Elliott is sporting a toothless grin.

Or when he is half as tall as Jonathan.

The thing my children talk about most about Quoggy Jo, when we are not actually at Quoggy Jo, is the T-bar.  

It is our nemesis.  It is also strangely beautiful.  As is the case with many a nemesis.

Jonathan and I in particular have struggled with it.  Last year, all of us wiped out when trying to get on it, but Jonathan and I most dramatically.  Lurching forward, tipping our already precarious balance, skis going in opposite directions and also behaving as though they are left behind while your upper body jolts forward.  And then, the total flop, the often painful flop, in which we have somehow ended up in a knot.  And yes, it is embarrassing to say that there was usually a small child underneath our heap of chaos.  Screaming.  Because our large adult bodies are heavy.  

It gets each of us a bit nervous as we drive north, thinking about trying to mount that bucking bronco the next day.

Last year, we worked out a system, after a good deal of public flailing, which unfortunately, given alpine ski equipment, is only worsened by what happens after the flailing, when one lies prone in a tangle of skis and poles and a small screaming child and boots that do not yield and feet that are so heavy that it feels like they are encased in buckets of concrete while upside down T's pass rhythmically past your head...all of this happening within approximately five feet of an audience, those skiers waiting in line for their turn to gracefully ride their way up.

By the end of the day last year, we had it figured out. Nicholas rode alone.  Jonathan rode with Elliott between his legs on one side of a T.  And Julia and I shared a T.

And this is how we did it this year too, on our first visit there over Martin Luther King Day weekend a month ago.

Julia and I?  We were anxious T bar riders.  We processed all the way up the mountain how our entrance to the T bar had gone, how we might have done better.  How something had almost gone wrong, but we had made it.  And about half way up the mountain, our discussion would turn to planning.  For how we were going to get off the T.  How we were going to exit.  Without ending up in a heap.  We were like little old ladies discussing our wild rides on our motorized scooter Larks.

We analyzed the signs like they held secret truths.

I laughed at us when, in the car ride after skiing that day, Jonathan told me about the funny story that he and Elliott had made up while riding up the hill.  Something to do with what it would be like to put our cats, dogs, chickens and honeybees on skis.  They were giggling and being goofy.  This was not how Julia and I were spending our time.

And so, it probably is for the best that this time, Julia ditched me.  It only took one ride, in which she detailed for me everything that I had done wrong and had almost made her fall, and that I should really think about getting some more fashionable ski clothing, after which she informed me that she was going to ride the T with Nicholas today.  And I think that was good, because I wasn't sure how much more my weak ego could take.  And also, having looked at these pictures?  She's right about the parka.  And the pants.

Julia and Nicholas asked if they could ski alone.  I swallowed.  Looked at the bump/mountain and the lovely families there with us, and the awesome teenaged ski staff.  And said yes.

It was really very moving to watch the two of them figure out this process together.  To begin to chat with the very cool teenager who was loading the T.  And to watch them ride up the mountain together, laughing and chatting, each of them helping the other out with loose goggles, mittens, and bindings.  Much more evenly matched in height than Julia and I, and yet Nicholas clearly stepping into a bigger sibling role that I don't always see from him.  Which I think is good, he is definitely not always in charge, his say does not overrule the others, and Elliott and Julia are just as likely to have the strongest voice in a discussion as he is.  But it is nice to see him rise to the occasion when it is appropriate.

The benefit of Julia's unfriending me was that I moved down the line in ski buddies.  I got to ride with Elliott.  And Elliott had the opportunity to learn how to ride the T like a big kid.  Alone, on his own side.  

There was a bit of a height mismatch.  

And my muscles are still screaming at me about the contorted position I needed to assume in order to make riding side by side with that toothless three foot skiing dynamo work.  

But it was worth it.

And so, with this shift in riding and hence in ski pairings, all of us a bit more skilled than last time, all of us able to at least try all of the trails on this small mountain, we had a day of togetherness that was so very wonderful.  

And we really did do all of the trails.  And then, running out of options, the kids began their backwoods skiing.  

Following little paths, single sets of tracks off the groomed trails heading into the woods, where other kids had built jumps and moguls and quick turns and several series of steep mounds that you had to bounce up and down on while in a crouch in order to fit under tree branches.  

It was so much fun for them.  Jonathan and I -- after we had gamely followed them into the trees where he face planted and I actually wrapped myself around a tree when one foot went on one side and the other disobediently went the other, a branch to my gut -- stayed on the wider groomed trails, able to catch glimpses of them as they sailed along next to us.  We could hear them giggling the whole time.  

And without being told, they never left each other behind.  I could hear them calling to each other and checking in if someone was out of view for a few moments too long, taking off their skis and walking back to help someone who was in a tangle.  And then, whoosh, they would all three fly out of the woods and down the hill again, collecting at the bottom in order to do it all again.

Nicholas was floored by Elliott's fearlessness and balance on his skis.  And he knew to tell Elliott this, and the grin that Elliott gave him back?  Well worth every penny of the $8.00 ski passes.  And, honestly, worth the five hour trip, the aching muscles, and the testing of roles and boundaries.  And patience.

But the real highlight?  Eating the mountain's culinary delight.  The gourmet walking taco.  That would be a taco.  In a Doritos bag.  Speared with a plastic fork.  When eaten during a day of skiing, sitting on a porch in the warmish sunshine, looking out over snow covered potato fields?  It is the most delicious thing you have ever tasted.

Toward the end of the day, I was even allowed another ride with Julia.  This time she told me about the awesome air she had taken on a jump.  And how Nicholas was really fun to ride with.

And of course, the boys took selfies when they all rode together.

And we all realized.  All the measuring, comparing, adjusting, boundary testing and equalizing.  All of that.  That is what makes the drive worth it.  For an occasional but consistent reevaluation, sizing up, seeing where we are, and realizing that it will only be like this momentarily.  It will only work like this, be like this, for now.

And, therefore, throw yourself into it, be in it while it lasts.  Because next time, we are likely to do this -- will have to do this -- differently.

All this during a day on the sweetest little mountain in Maine.

* Note: The Maine Winter Sports Center -- the backbone of many skiing venues throughout Maine -- has recently lost its primary funding and is seeking new sources of financial support.  If you can, they would benefit enormously from any support you can provide whether financially and/or by spreading the word about their programming and capital campaign.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for posting about Quoggy Jo! The staff and volunteers work very hard for everyone to have a great experience. Thanks again! Your writing captures the same emotion a lot of us still feel skiing at Quoggy Jo!


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