A night ski to ease the post-holiday transition

Here’s a column I wrote for the Duluth News Tribune this past Friday, about a little skiing I did one night last week:

I rode the skis down the gentle drop and coasted out onto the surface of the pond. A weeknight just two days into the new year. A little after 9 p.m. I was alone on the ghostly white saucer of snow at the edge of town.

Well, not completely alone. The yellow dog loped along ahead of me, snuffling into the cattails that ringed the pond, vacuuming up molecules of scent.

I started skiing ellipses around the pond. I had brought a headlamp along, but I could see I wouldn’t need it. The ambient light from the city, and from a nearby outdoor hockey rink, provided all the light I needed.

Snow must have been falling lightly. I could feel an occasional flake landing and melting on my cheeks.

This was precisely what I needed. I needed the silence, and I needed the grace of movement on skis. Mostly, I needed to smooth the rough edges of my transition from the holidays back to the familiar routine of deadlines and details. Life, as most of us know it.

The kids — including a bonus son-in-law — had been home for a week. They made presents for each other. They played the piano. They made guacamole and brownies and blueberry pancakes.

We all lived on top of each other, and nobody fussed about it. Ski gear festooned the radiators. Shoes seemed to breed on the back porch. Laptop power cords snaked across the carpet.

We loved it.

It is something to bring a small mammal into the world, nurture it the best you can for 18 years, then push it out into the world to see what it will become. Parenting is the ultimate gamble, the definition of vulnerability.

Now, these kids come home telling you about Africa and France and Guatemala, about an op-ed piece you might want to read, about how they envision the next phase of their lives, and you think to yourself — well, OK, then. So far, so good.

For a week or so, you live in this petri dish of stimulation, overshot with all the trappings of the holidays, all the tinsel and music and sugar cookies.

Then, one day, these grown-up mammals are hauling suitcases to the car and backing out the driveway. The two of you stand there, waving until the car rounds the corner. Then you walk back inside. There’s a pair of someone’s running socks on the radiator and some leftover brisket in the fridge. And the old house seems mighty quiet.

Somehow, you’ve got to move on.

That’s why I was at the pond the other night, carving parallel tracks in the snow, making my loops with the dog. The snow felt like silk under my skis. The glide was exquisite.

Several times while making my rounds, I had a sensation that I’ve often felt while moving across a lake at night, as if a soft light was glowing in the sky behind me.

It was almost as if someone were watching over me.

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