We’re at nearly 12,500 feet, the most beautiful place in the world. At least today. I’m taking my Women’s Week ski group here on our last run after six mornings skiing at Taos Ski Valley. They say repeating an action 10,000 times leads to mastery. Is that 10,000 turns? I’ve skied for more than fifty years, more than half of them teaching. People have been known to fall and slide off some of these expert slopes up here, but not today. We’ve got fresh powder and the lift just opened, a bliss bought by luck and those 10,000 turns.
At the top of the lift, it’s a short hike up to the summit of Kachina Peak, where glittering mountains stretch on forever from the Sandias by Albuquerque to Colorado’s Spanish Peaks. Of course, we share some sacred chocolate and document our good fortune with photos. Buddhist prayer flags flutter against an indigo sky.
I love skiing beyond measure. It can also be an elitist, consumerist sport. Still, it’s been a life-saving journey for my three sons and me through some tough times over the 27 years I’ve been teaching on this mountain. When we arrived after a stint in New Jersey, I got an old life back when I fell in love with skiing again. I felt like I hadn’t taken a breath in a decade. I laughed at dumb jokes til my stomach hurt. I loved the silliness of being like a kid again, yet somehow taking skiing seriously, as if mountains were something my life depended upon.
But we’re not down yet. The grace is perfect snow. I begin with the simplest traverse first so I don’t scare the bejesus out of anybody.
My least experienced student is strong, and an expert at self-talk. So when she tips over, she pops up and we all laugh. Her husband didn’t think she’d get far this year but she’s proving him wrong. Even more importantly, we prove these things to ourselves. Every turn is a triumphant declaration. We got this. Everything we need is already here with us.
I wish writing felt this easy. I lead a double life. After skiing, I go home to solitude: reading and writing. Lately, I’ve been writing about my travels in Eastern Europe. I wish I knew how to fix Ukraine. I’m shedding my naivete, but I also don’t want to waste my one “wild and precious” life by ignoring the beauty and meaning in front of me. That means I have to ski. And write. Sharing a day like today is a dream.
This first world-world mountain community has its struggles, but is a well-loved place in a prosperous nation. My grandmother thought the Dakota prairie was the most beautiful place in the world, despite deadly blizzards and scorching summers. My other grandmother arrived in the Dakotas alone, from Norway, at age 16. She missed the mountains of Norway. We are all migratory creatures, and full of longing.
We are the world and the world is us.
At the bottom, we’re elated. We look uphill and see our beautiful turns. I write to see the arc of history and family, the same way we look up and study our tracks. So this is where we are. So that is where we came from.
I live a seasonal life, and this is the last gasp of winter. Mountain snow yields to water in the ditches, rafting in the Rio Grande, and blue and yellow pansies in my window boxes. I’ll camp out in the VW van with my boyfriend, hike with my friends, and sit in my treehouse with my two-year-old granddaughter. And yes, I’ll keep writing because I’m afraid to stop. The book I’m writing is for her, starting years before her birth. I want her to know who she is, where she came from, and how we are all woven into our evolving global history.
Every season builds depth into our lives, from frozen feet to frustration to authentic joy. It’s all a part of life’s ebb and flow. Sometimes you have to hang on until grace finds you again…