18 March 2011


When I moved here I was told by one of those wise local types that I would never ski first tracks at Chamonix. Seemed like a reasonable prophecy. I don't live in Chamonix, I live an hour and a half away. Skiing in Chamonix is expensive and you pretty much have to invest in a lift ticket to access anything of interest. Add to that French toll roads, European gas prices, family responsibilities, and a general aversion to competitive crowds and the wise local saw no argument from me. He still wouldn't. That doesn't mean I wouldn't try, either.

But first there were a lot of roads to roam.

Like through the first track train tracks and the fog dawn of Lausanne.

Through the impossibly steep vineyards of the Valais that rise above the blue hole of Martigny.

Two hours later and an elevation gain of 5,000 feet the roads become a little more white and a little more narrow.

Too frozen to ski and nowhere to go but up, the roads disappear and you take to your feet.

In Chamonix, as much as you struggle and as high as you go, someone or something has been there before you, even if it is for the purpose of blowing a high pressured gas mixture to clear the slopes of avalanche danger.

With Phase One below it's time to turn attention to Phase Two above.

The absence of roads, lifts, and Gazex tubes means that in Phase Two you enter a somewhat more natural world and are bound by a set of laws different from those that determine who finds first tracks or not. Sometimes those laws, and the physical compositions contained within those laws, prevent passage, so up turns back down and you compete with all that came before. There are worse competitions. Wind loaded, ice packed, razor ridges tend to trump human desires anyway.

As Townes Van Zandt said, "You don't need no engine to go downhill." Enter Phase Three and the road less traveled.

It continued this way for a while, the quest to find something that does not exist. Finally, though, at the bottom, I found them, all the tracks from all the skiers that came first, before me. I conceded as I was told to concede and my own tracks were soon lost to the river of lines that led to the bottom.

There are places where you don't or can't go.

There are places where everybody goes.

In between those two lines of demarcation is an abundance of fleeting moments of solitary wonder so perfect and pristine that the naked eye, fixated on limitations, is often blinded by their availability. Maybe it's like staring at the sun. You're not supposed to do it, right? Too much exposure will damage the something-or-other and you'll be blind for life. Look one way or the other but not, under any circumstances, directly at the object itself.

We all do it anyway, don't we? We all take a glance and hold it as long as we feel comfortable and then we close our eyes and turn away. But what happens in the liminal phase, that brief threshold between time and space when we close our eyes and open them up again?

It's there, I think, we experience a new vision. It's there that the black composite of the sun allows us to see what we couldn't see before. It's negative space and it offers not only complementary perspective but also opportunity.

When negative space is employed you are better able to see the hidden, the gray space between right and wrong, yes and no, or even Heaven and Hell. You begin to realize that a choice is more than a two dimensional proposition but rather an opportunity to open yourself up to a world of possibilities, even if that world is one of snow and your choice of where and how to leave your mark.

I haven't completely perfected this approach but I'm trying. Life is short and I believe the best moments are micro in size and scale compared to the overall production. They are the negative spaces in an epic drama that too often pass unnoticed. This brings me back to Townes Van Zandt who I think tried to adhere to a similar philosophy; at least he expressed it more eloquently.

Days up and down they come,
Like rain on a conga drum.
Forget most, remember some,
But don't turn none away.

Everything is not enough.
Nothin' is too much to bear.
Where you been is good and gone,
All you keep is the gettin' there.

To live is to fly
Low and high,
So shake the dust off of your wings
And the sleep out of your eyes.

Or, with words that engage the gray areas of choice:

Well, I come through this life a stumbler, my friends,
I expect to die that way.
It could be twenty years from now,
It could be most any day.
But if there is no whiskey and women, Lord,
Behind them heavenly doors,
I'm gonna take my chances down below,
And of that you can be sure.

1 comment:

Carlos said...

awesome post Steven, I also like the historic post. I am glad you are enjoying Switzerland!