my learning mountain

December 23, 2010

The whir of the ski lift. The chants of enraptured children. Skiers swishing effortlessly in a haze of white. Icicles clinging to my eyelashes.

I had never seen a place like this before. A place where “catching air” was more than a catchphrase. Where the brisk cold in your face is a welcome reward as you sweep down the hill.

I had never seen snow in these quantities. Growing up southern, snow days were a rare, but coveted, occurrence. While it only took a light layer of ice to bring everyone to a halt, even that did not happen often.

It’s a different life—up north.

In the north, anything under five inches of snow and ice is simply pushed to the side with nothing more than a resigned grunt and a zipped-up jacket. They live differently up there.

Here, in Oklahoma, we live with chilly, 20-degree days, and we still pray for spring.

Far from where I am right now.

My visibility went maybe five feet out, my toes feeling like frozen stubs, doing nothing for my balance, and my arms and chest ready to implode under three layers of long underwear.

After a three hour snowboarding lesson, I felt sufficiently confident in heading down the hill. However, latching on my board and exiting the ski lift were quite a different story.

It’s amazing more people don’t careen off these death traps, I thought as I eyed my dreaded exit, feeling my palms start to sweat. A friend tried to comfort me with the story of his old skiing buddy who would refuse to ski off the lift, forcing the attendant to stop all operations to allow her to vacate. I chuckled on the outside but pondered that option on the inside. If my fear of causing a scene were not so strong, I would have seriously considered that option.

However, being me, I opted for a slightly less humiliating dismount but far more comical, I’m sure, for the fortunate onlookers.

As I tumbled out and onto my knees, I thanked the winter gods for my hat and goggle cloaking devices. At least I was somewhat shielded from my embarrassment.

I stopped to buckle my other foot into place on my board, all the while wondering how others got over their harsh but supposedly liberating learning curve—liberating as I’ve been told by veteran riders; although, I find their encouragement sorely lacking, knowing that their days of snow-filled mouths and sore backsides were but a distant memory.

It’s funny though, how a moment of awkwardness can be so quickly forgotten when it is so briskly followed by minutes of sheer, dare I say it, liberation. Winter has never been an anticipated time of year for me. But with the rush of crisp air pulling at my eyelids, the sound of soft snow under foot, the embrace of towering evergreens and the smell of winter that only northerners can describe, I felt awakened in a sense previously unknown to me.

I couldn’t wait to do it again.

Books have always offered a way to escape. In more recent times, while they may have had to yield to movies, TV and video games, nothing quite matches the growth in imagination, the building of vocabulary and general peace that comes with a consuming novel.

Just another precious gift that most youngsters today will never receive.

However, as I get older and the world becomes a little scarier, when I run for a bookstore, I find myself gravitating more and more to cookbooks, health magazines and travel guides. Three hobbies I adore. And yet, just once, I wish I could come across a book without teenage vampires, five obscenities on every page, descriptive intimacies and violence.

Books are supposed to be about escape. About fantasy. Who wants to fantasize about sadistic terrorists and unthinkable rape crimes? Unless you are in fact a sadistic terrorist. In which case, you got bigger problems buddy.

Both of the aforementioned books are currently found on the bestsellers lists, might I add.

Truth be told, these types of books have always been on the shelves. Although maybe not as blatantly explicit: Invisible Man, The Great Gatsby, The Fountainhead, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Jane Eyre. All depictions of real life for colored people, privileged debutantes, social outcasts and orphans.

Fact is, humans have always enjoyed learning about life on the “other side of the tracks,” strolling in someone else’s shoes.

I guess things haven’t changed so very much over the decades. What has changed is our idea of reality. We’ve moved from reading about the abuse of the poor and under-priveleged to unflinchingly evaluating a 2-day-old bloodied body and then reliving the murder through the killer’s mind.

The human psyche is continuing to disintegrate into an oblivion of blood, sex and anger. And we have the books to prove it.

Meanderings

December 10, 2010

The fog began to lift as the morning slowly awakened. Though somewhat hindered by the rain, it still managed to greet its residents with a sluggish grin.

Later, I tugged at my hat, feeling my soaking bangs cling to my scalp, not sure how much was sweat and how much was rain. I had been walking for a while. Vancouver is not a place to get lost in—well, I take that back. It is very much the place to lose your way and then discover it again, three hours later after a train ride through magnificent fire-red trees or after a morning winding through the city streets filled with commuters, trendy hipsters and starving art students to find yourself swinging on a swing set over clear ocean water as sail boats weave in and out of the harbor.

But all too easily, this evening, I found myself in a noisy, unfamiliar neighborhood filled with undesirable sights and sounds. My hotel, I felt sure, was just up ahead. But I had said that an hour ago; I glanced at my watch uneasily and prayed for invisibility.

Like any big city, Vancouver has its good, and it has its bad. My hotel overlooked the water, serving as a convenient location to jump the unassuming ferryboat to Granville Island, with its artsy shops, its daily fresh market and its lush beauty.

My feet reminded me of how much ground I traversed today. With an early morning jog to arrive me at the doorstep of a local coffee shop, frequented by in-the-know locals and a few imports such as myself. I gazed at the illusive French sayings scrawled across my paper cup, accompanied by their English counterparts—looking so very drab in comparison. I stopped to sip my foamy latte and listen to the many accents floating around me; that’s when I felt my eagerness for knowledge and adventure grasp hold. All I wanted to do was find an intriguing stranger, sit down for another latte and listen to him.

We all have such stories. I sometimes fool myself into thinking that I have some interesting tales to share around the campfire, but, really, as I pause to listen to others, I find I have so little to contribute. Yes, I feel like I’ve lived, to a certain extent, in my measly 26 years; and yet, my story is only one small story.

What about the student in Bolivia who, although never having been out of her country, speaks two languages fluently, plays and teaches piano and violin, spends 70 hours a month teaching the Bible and lives in a close-knit, supportive family? Or what about the young mother of two who knew how to ride a horse before she could walk and feels more comfortable herding cattle than she ever could in a shopping mall? Or the grandmother who dreamed of travel and college but could never afford them, and, instead, received her most precious desire: to raise a family in a loving, nurturing home.

Everyone has a gripping, inspiring story—no matter how large or small we think our lives to be.

The important thing is to realize it’s there and, then, look for more.

My wandering mind wandered no further as I gratefully crossed the street to my comforting hotel. My day of discovery and reflection ending as my head hit the pillow. With only my journal to share my secrets, tomorrow will bring more learnings, more inspirations, more potential journeys.

The finding will only stop when I cease to look.