The longer you stay away from a place, the more its clichés – the things you roll your eyes at when others bring them up – become apparent.
The empty landscape. The cold weather. The wildlife.
I have the same relationship with skis and Canada that most tourists who come to Amsterdam do with bikes, nostalgically getting on one after not having ridden one since their early teens. I grew up skiing, and have put in my 10 000 hours, so it doesn’t take me too long to regain a semblence of my skiing past, even after ten years of not having strapped them on.
And after the first substantial snowfall, an itch still develops in my legs that won’t go away. Until a decision is made, and a place is found in which to satisfy that itch.
Sometimes the rules must be disobeyed. Any skier knows this.
A friend of mine believes in “blood memory” – the act of doing something and feeling one’s ancestors in the act, of feeling that one’s body has been formed by the work it’s doing. I won’t say that what I felt while skiing for the first time in a decade was exactly that, but it had a similar tinge: not of the “like riding a bicycle” kind, but the longer I’m more consistently away from snow, and skis, when I do strap them on and start lunging through the landscape, they make a kind of sense to me that they never have before.
I always stop and think: of course. Of course skis make sense in this kind of a landscape. Their invention was predetermined by it (and long, cold winters). There’s a kind of “memory” there that allows me to access the minds of those in the past that had to navigate these kinds of places for survival, and not for recreation – something I didn’t appreciate while putting in my 10 000 hours. Not consciously, anyway.
And wobbly first strokes or not, it’s a way to spend time in, yes, largely empty landscape, crisp, fresh air, the insulating silence of snow, and a cold that goes deep – in the best of all ways...
– something that goes straight to the heart of any Canadian.