Saturday, December 17, 2011
Up here at the Borderlands Lodge, this week has provided a welcome respite. This semester has been a busy one, of course. As many of you know, I spent the spring semester and summer in DC, and ever since my return to the land of the mountains in August I've been working hard on the "book," and hoping very much to one day remove those quotation marks for good.
Something had to give, so between classes and research, I've been scaling back my time in the Borderlands. But then again, as they say up here at the Lodge: you're always in the Borderlands somewhere.
Today was fun because I skied for the first time since the Borderland New Year's Blowout Party, held last year at Big Sky last year (I didn't bother skiing while in DC). I had a great time skiing today, even if the snow has been a bit of a disappointment so far this season.
At Bridger, our local ski hill, there is currently a base of only about twenty inches, so the ski conditions ended up being a little mashed potatoes-y, with some rocks and gravel thrown in. Still, I have a season pass so I don't care--there will be plenty of pow-pow on the mou-mou later on this winter. Now that I've got some wheels I can head up to Bridger on a whim, even when the conditions aren't the greatest.
I hadn't really thought seriously about skiing today. Mostly I had just wanted to get some work done. Maybe it's the car, but already in the morning I had the urge to get outside. After breakfast, I hopped on my bike and rode around campus, then to the coffee shop, and then to my office. The Lodge was just not the place for working quietly today.
An academic department on a Saturday after final exam week is a great place. Nobody was there, and the corridors were silent. Outside, the weather was beautiful. The brick wall that my office window looks onto, along with a sliver of sky and a nice chunk of pine tree, looked warm and inviting.
By 1:30 or so, I'd reached a finishing point with my work. Riding my bike back to the Lodge, I decided to head for the mountains.
Bridger Bowl is just fifteen miles north of Bozeman. You take one road from downtown Bozeman for fifteen miles past taller and taller mountains, white and dramatic against the blue sky.
On my way out of town, I passed a cowboy on a horse crossing Main Street. About five miles later a kid on a mountain bike comes from the opposite direction, snowboard sticking out of his backpack.
Driving out to Bridger, I passed a bunch of those trees that turn orange when they lose their leaves. When I see them in wintertime against the blue sky, I understand why the Denver Nuggets and, to a lesser extent, the Denver Broncos, have the colors they do.
Say what you want about Bozeman--it's a cool little town, and the setting is incredible. Having grown up in Michigan, where the sun never shines in winter, it was a real revelation to me when, going to college in Montreal, I realized that in some places the sun did indeed sometimes shine in winter. I'd never lived in such a place.
Bozeman is a lot sunnier than Montreal. I notice when it's cloudy for more than a day. Everyone wears sunglasses. Cowboys, skibums, students, and academic types, everybody very fit and active outdoors. Sometime I'll find myself in the parking lot of Target or someplace and suddenly I'll look up and feel my breath taken away by what I see.
Anyway, I figured today could be a good dry run for me. I'm an intermediate skier, and usually feel pretty wobbly the first day. Since all of the advanced runs are still closed, I knew I wouldn't do anything too steep. A couple of hours would be a good way to break myself in a bit.
I was indeed wobbly, but after my first run started to feel better. About halfway down my second run I remembered to be aggressive, to attack the mountain rather than just take the blows as the rain down on me. I didn't go very fast, but I felt like I got my rhythm back. Better to do that in slow-mo, I think.
I got a couple of hours in, then picked up a hitchhiker on the way home. He seemed like a student-type, among whom it's common to hitchhike to Bridger and back. My TA from last semester does it all the time, apparently.
Daniel reminded me a bit of some of my students, many of whom are a little bit older and return to university after a number of years of screwing around. Often, these students are really self-motivated once they do come back. One of my best students my first year at MSU was about twenty-five years old and was currently working full-time as a janitor on campus. Last year, I had someone in one of my classes who had worked in construction for several years and now, at age thirty, was a college freshman. He was a really good student--probably, I'm tempted to think, a lot better than he would have been had he gone to college at age 18. I also have a number of veterans in my classes--especially in the Middle East classes--and they're often among my top students.
I guess that, after serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, the pressure of a paper worth 10% of your grade does not seem quite so dire.
Anyway, Daniel was out of school for now and, soon after we arrived in town, out of my car. He gave me a thumbs-up after I dropped him off at his friend's house. I then hit the supermarket and bought some salmon for grilling tonight. And I'm feeling like I'll soon have a taste for a margarita. It's all in the limes.