Flash back to 1992. That’s the part of my life that I’m writing about now. Here is a part of Chapter 35, entitled, Winter on the Coast. At the time we were living on the coast of Maine. This is an excerpt in which I describe one of our cross country skiing experiences.
“Here you go Chuck,” said Jim, handing Chuck his old skis. He disentangled my skis and handed them over. After snapping my boots into the toe holds I pulled on my gloves and got my wrists settled in the straps of my poles. “Okay, everybody ready?” asked Jim. “Let’s go.” We had to go up a very slight hill into the woods and then along a path to the carriage trail. I got there first. As Jim came out of the woods I said, “Any tracks?” While cross country ski trails in Acadia National Park are not professionally groomed enough people ski there to keep the trails pretty well defined. “Yep, about two feet to your left,” Jim instructed. Stepping in that direction I felt the first track. “Left or right?” I called. “Right,” Jim called back. We had done this so often that we had a sort of shorthand. Feeling further left with my left ski I found the parallel track and settled both skis firmly in the tracks. When Jim and Chuck were ready we set off. We went about thirty yards on this carriage trail and then took a left. This was the beginning of a long gradual downhill slope that I loved. Insuring I had my skis in the tracks I whooped and set off. At first I took long graceful gliding strides, using my poles to propel me forward. As my speed reached the critical point where propulsion was no longer necessary I put my skis together, leaned forward, and began to fly. The wind whipped through my hair. Along with the sound of my skis flying over the snow came the sound of the stream below and to my right. Both of us ran along our appointed courses, free and joyful. I knew I was going to pass the place where we needed to turn right but I didn’t care. I never wanted to stop. When I reached the bottom of the hill I turned and headed back up to the intersecting carriage trail. Jim and Chuck were there waiting for me. The next part was short but tricky. “How do you want to do this,” asked Jim. “Want me to go ahead and call you when I’m down or do you want me to ski behind you and tell you when to turn.” Considering the alternatives I said, “Behind me I think. That way you’ll be closer the whole way and I’ll be able to hear you more easily.” “Okay, go for it. The snow is pretty uniform along here, no tracks to really follow. I’ll stay close behind you.” I set off more slowly. This part was steeper and I knew I’d be flying again soon. The tricky part was the ninety degree turn to the left halfway down. I picked up speed. “Left,” called Jim. I angled my right ski to the left and leaned into it. “Okay, good,” Jim called. “Now straighten up and go for it!” I did, and arrived breathless at the bottom of the hill.
*End of excerpt*
As I wrote I again experienced the physical sensations. I felt the cold wind on my face. I felt my muscles tense and relax. I felt my right leg take all of my weight as I glided forward. As the words took shape on the page I created something else. It was the thrill of the moment. It was the pure joy of doing something that I was really good at. It was the easy grace of mastery.
When it was over, when I had done it, I sat back and took a deep breath. I felt as though I had just skied the four miles about which I had written. I felt satisfyingly tired. I felt joyful. Then I smiled. Using words to recreate an experience that happened 20 years ago is another kind of mastery. It’s a mastery of the craft of writing.