vendredi 20 février 2009

Life found

Our walks in the forest of la Moraine

This year marks our tenth year coming to the valley of Chamonix-Mont Blanc in the Haute Savoie. I had to make a decision when Sam was little: he would ski or he would not ski. This might not sound like the sort of decision that is particularly weighty, but for a single mother of a 7-year-old boy living on slim means of support, it was a very, very significant decision. I grew up skiing. It's what I did with my father, when he was still there, in my life.

He started me early. I'd only been walking a year when he'd attached my first pair of little unpainted wood skis to my winter boots and took me out to the side yard, the show coming up over my head were it not frozen solid enough from a cold Central New York winter to let him walk backwards on it, pulling me along by my poles, dowels with rounds of wood at the sharp ends. By the next year, or later that same winter, I had graduated to being hauled up the bunny slope between his legs on the J-bar. To say that he was eager to grow a ski partner would be an understatement.

We'd go every weekend, from those first ski school classes to teach me the snowplow down the bunny slope until I mastered Stem-Christie turns and parallel turns and he was gone, and I looked forward to the afternoons when there would be tuna noodle casserole for an early pre-ski dinner, and I'd bundle up and hop in my dad's car the minute he got home from work to go ski for the evening. Mom called me her little Jean-Claude Killy, and never was I prouder.

If you have to lose your father early, then those are the kind of memories to have.

Nothing was ever more beautiful to my eyes than newly fallen snow on forests of pine and fir trees. Snow on anything. On a rare day when it snows in Mousseaux, and I am in a rapture looking at the snow that covers the tips of the gently bent and swaying reeds in the fish basin, I gasp and tell my husband, "Oh, c'est si beau, n'est-ce pas?"

And, he says to me, "Tu trouves ça beau? Je le trouve triste."

Walking along in the dark of nightfall the other evening, at the foot of les Grands Montets and les Choselets, our feet crunching in the cold, pure white snow, I saw a nearly perfectly round tree, its limbs holding the day's snow like an offering to the starry sky. The sky is so black and the stars so bright that you can count the individual stars of the Pleiades right there, just above your head.

"Oh, Sam, isn't it beautiful?" I cringed at myself. He's 17. Maybe he isn't any more moved by trees covered in lacy snow than his stepfather.

"Yeah." You need to imagine that sounding like the person saying it found the sight truly beautiful. I felt such gratitude.

"Really? Audouin finds it a sad sight, he says. I guess you have to grow up seeing it to find it beautiful. But, you didn't. Not really." It didn't snow much in Fairfield County, Connecticut, and it certainly doesn't snow much in Mousseaux sur Seine. It snowed nearly every night of the winter's of my childhood and adolescence, and I would get up in the middle of the night, when everyone else was sleeping, just to sit at the dining room window and watch the snow fall on the front lawn, the street and the front lawns of the houses across the street and listen to the silence.

"You always told me that it was beautiful." I felt another surge of gratitude rise up and fill me.

"Because I told you it is beautiful, that was enough?"

"It's like why people watch TV and enjoy it," he said, "it becomes their reality, watching night after night, and they learn to like it." His, he was saying, was formed, in part, by my own.

If you have to never have a father, then these are the kinds of memories I could help him make.

It's past time to walk the dogs with Sam, who is probably fast asleep. The skiing and the mountain air do it every time.

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