“In every ski with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
adapted from John Muir
Expecting cold windy conditions, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself stripping layers within a mile of leaving the trailhead for our backcountry ski-trek. Sun shone between clouds and the forecast winds did not materialize. White, wind-swept snow created an almost other-worldly landscape as Katy, Diane, Jane and I slowly inched our way deeper into the wilderness, grins growing with each glide.
We were on an owl survey mission, a volunteer effort organized by Katy, our leader. While Katy focused on collecting data, Jane, Diane and I acted as support crew. We broke trail when necessary, carried gear, and maintained safety on cold mornings, checking for white cheek patches (fortunately we saw none), and listening for the call of our target species. While the data-gathering was serious, we also made time for joy, gratitude and laughter.
Conditions during of the four years that I’ve been involved in Katy’s research have varied: Our first season the solid crust allowed us to cruise anywhere we desired on our skis, staying on top of the snow. I remember sitting in the sun to eat lunch in the open with no worries of wind or chill; it is one of my favorite memories. One year it rained for 24 hours straight with snow so rotten that we could not reach our destination, and so spent more time in only one small area, skiing out a day early.
This year’s trip was the coldest with sub-zero temperatures. The snow crust, while fairly firm, would often break through to ‘sugar’ and we would travel to ‘China’. China became our word for sinking down into holes that could sometimes create difficulty in climbing out while carrying heavy packs on skis. We found that taking ‘baby ski steps’, working to maintain even weight distribution was the ticket to staying on the surface longer. We often advised each other to ‘think light thoughts’, ‘make like a balloon and hold your breath’. All good humor, not a crabby word was spoken.
On our off time, our conversations revolved around many topics, though as I look back, the golden thread that ran through everything was gratitude. Home now, in front of a warm fire, gratitude lingers. It winds its way through my thoughts and memories, warming my heart with the joy of good friends, good science, and good skiing.
“Heaven is under our skis as well as over our heads.” adapted from Henry David Thoreau