(Another) Case for Place

Winters, for me, have always been a practice in hibernation.  Not in the most literal sense, and I haven’t always seen things this way, but as my time here continues to unfold and my views and values continue to evolve, it’s easy to see how the seasons affect many changes in my life.  My food, sleep, work, my mobility, my drive, and so much more, all are grounded and shaped by the colder months, where and how I spend them.  This year marks the ninth winter season I’ve come to Alta, Utah.  Each of these seasons has seen progression, regression, evolution and expansion.  I’ve loved, learned, limped, and continued to move forward.  While I’ve never had a vehicle with me for any of my winters here, it’s only been since 2008 that I haven’t owned a car year round, and only in the last two years that I’ve truly embraced the bike.  This season makes the second winter of Nature of Motion, and it’s interesting to see the hint of a pattern here.  Winter is truly a time for introversion, a time for reflection and renewal.  As I look back, look forward, and look inward, I continue to notice new things, re-connect with the familiar, and find my creative spark to progress.  It’s easy to look to the side of the screen and see the pattern, the abundance of posts and activity in the summer months, and the scarcity in the winter.  Granted, there’s been a lot more than just my change in transportation in these last few years, but I think that reflects a lot of what goes on behind the scenes.  Recently, I’ve been thinking and journaling a lot about this topic, this sort of seasonality and localism that plays on my life each winter.  March is usually when I start to wake up and dig myself out from the haze of the winter, it’s also the month of my birth, so it’s a pretty appropriate time to be reflecting inward on my progress and position.  A little over a year ago I wrote a piece on this subject entitled A Case for Place. Here now with a year gone by and I find myself in the same place, thinking along the same lines.  But what do I have to add?  What have I learned or how have a grown?  I find it helpful to look back first, to gain some of this perspective of time and place, so before I spewed out all the nonsense below I took a minute to read the original piece, if you’ve got a minute, and think it’d help you too, check it out here. Enjoy.

So where have I come from then?  In thinking about this place, my job and rather sedentary nature in the winter, I start to think about alternatives.  The lifestyle I’ve chosen is not exactly mainstream, but in my circle of friends and family it’s relatively normal.  But what about how others live?  What about how else I could be living?  A lot of folks might think it’s not productive to compare yourself to others, but I think in this context a periodic look into the how and what-for (purpose) you’re living for can be entirely beneficial.  There are a literally infinite amount of options in todays day and age, so I find it helpful to check in once in a while and make sure I’m following the path I should be, the one that aligns with my views and values, the path I feel proud to set, if others are to follow.  So as I start to think about the way my life is moving, the way my passions are taking it, I let my mind open; opportunities, alternatives, my mind wanders… ponders… dreams…

A dream in three parts…

Part I
Buried deep beneath sagging piles of snow, a wisp of smoke rises from it’s chimney.  No driveway plowed, perhaps no road even reaches within a mile, skis are stuck tail first in the snow outside the front porch after a long days use.  Paths of compacted snow lead into the woods sporadically, where they go, or who takes them isn’t known, a look at the tracks gives hints, bicycle tires, feet, paws, skis, anything goes.  Inside the cabin the humid smell of drying wool, mohair, wood-heat, and simmering stew dominate.  The stillness and quiet that dominates outdoors in punctuated by the crack of the fire and food simmering inside.  The cabin is not some homesteaders dream, but rather, sits at the edge of town, friends find their way to and from it often.  Just outside, the occasional fence post and trellace push up through the snow, waiting for the thaw, the melt that will bring the garden to life once more.  The wood has been cut for the fire, food put up, money earned, now is the time to hole up, to retreat to the warmest center of the cabin where reading, writing, mending cloths and sharpening tools are the dominant activities.  The days are short but the inhabitants often manage to make them seem longer by heading out before dawn, and returning home after sunset, having spent all day exploring like children, perhaps to the peak of a nearby mountain, or maybe only deeper into the forest, where a frozen waterfall and open water draw the animals.
Part II
Outside it’s raining, not in the way you can hear it fall, but as cars pass by, you can hear the water they push and know that it has not stopped.  The window looks out above the street, a flight of stairs seperating it from the ground.  Inside there is not much, a small kitchen, wood floors and a colorful rug, two comfortable chairs for reading, and short hallway that leads to a small bedroom.  The kettle on the stove is about to boil, and no one attempts to stop it.  The walls are mostly spartan, a few framed photos of someone clinging to a cold rock, another with three figures standing silently on top of a snow covered peak.  Through the glass we cannot hear the wind that was ripping through them, the cries and fear that came when a stone quietly dislodged and flew inches away from the small party.  It’s similar inside, the silence of words being read and others being scribbled onto a sheet of paper speaks nothing of the life the inhabitants live.  Only the simplicity and minimalism give you a hint of how things are overall.  The bicycle is still dripping from this morning’s rain.  A stack of pay stubs litters a corner of the counter, one from a small farm, the other from a book shop, yet another from a bicycle mechanic.  In the closet two packs lean against one another, a single half rope is draped accross their tops.  The bags are small but carry enough for three nights.  The plan was to leave early and cycle the whole way, but as the rain has not abaited, they will soon be catching a bus, and a small train that will get them closer.  But first, another cup.
Part III
The room is small, perhaps ten feet by twelve.  Everything is counted by one; a single window looks out on the mountain, one long bookshelf, a small couch to sit two, a beaureau, a cloths rack of jackets and sweaters and yet more hung on the opposite wall.  The bed folds up, and underneath I sit at a small and simple desk.  A single piece of plywood, supported by a single brace.  On the desk lie notes, notebooks, a calendar, and the computer where I sit typing my steccato beat.  It’s midmorning and mostly silent, below the floor you can hear the constant rhythm of the compressor for the walk-in cooler.  Occasionally you hear shouts down the hall, a door close, and ski boots shuffle down the long hall.  Cumpulsion pulls me out on the hill, or perhaps it’s obsession, or both.  Either way my door is shut to block out the guilt, the question of why I’m sitting inside.  That I cannot think of anything to do but ski speaks of my obsession, without turning my head I notice the slow movement of the chairlift through the window.  I want to give my feel a rest, along with my legs and back, but taking time off here is difficult, and I know that soon I’ll be putting my foot back into one of several boots to go outside and play in the snow.  The days are all a blur, but my pass assures me I’ve skied them all.  Countless rides on the chairlift, the terrain so familiar and habitual I sometimes think I could ski it with my eyes closed, and sometimes think I am.  A part of me feels tethered to the hill, like I am unable to get away because of it.  The distant mountains, the unknown, the fatigue of traveling all day under your own power calls to me.  But another part of me knows there will be a time for exploration, and I am blessed to call this place home, and to call my occupation work.  I strive to find a balance, to keep myself satisfied on all ends, but continually I ask myself if I’m doing it for me, if I’m acting for myself, or for the others…  A knock on the door and it slowly opens, in pops a head and a shy voice, it’s time to go outside.

Whether or not these are my dreams, even I don’t know.  They’re someone’s.  Perhaps mine once before, or in the future.  Parts of them I like, I believe in, others I’m not so sure of.  It’s what I’m seeing now, but who or where it’s coming from I know not.  We all have a vision, a goal or a feeling we move towards.  For some of us this vision begins when we are very young, we know it requires years of hard work, education and dedication.  For others, our dreams are feelings that pull us, and slowly develop after years of exploration, both personal, and physical.  Most of my ideas start with some sort of vision, I see how things could be and try my hardest to create the image that exists in my mind, refining and revising as it becomes a reality.  Recently I see myself and friends riding through the mountains with skis on our bikes, snow dominated the landscape but the sun is shining and the riding is good.  But for many reasons this image is blurry, and fleeting, and as much as I hope to make it a reality, I know only time will bring it to fruition.  I focused on the homes above because it’s the moments in between our time in the mountains that really matter.  How we balance our time with family and friends, in short, how we live.

This whole idea, the concept of a car-free and bicycle-powered climbing and skiing lifestyle was born from a similar vision.  The amalgamation of magazine clippings, personal experiences, creative insights, and psychedelic influences melded together to influence me on the possibility of this vision.  As it became a reality, limitations arose, and were subsequently broken through.  Refinement and revision continued, and boundaries continued to be explored.  Throughout all of this my vision for balance and the seasons continues to evolve.  My love for winter and skiing keeps me coming back to Alta year after year, but my proclivity for exploration and evolution keeps me questioning if this is the path I wish to be on.  Is this still the life I want to be living or am I acting out of habit.  Am I continuing to learn and challange myself, or have I fallen into a rut?  After all, as Twight said, the only difference between that and a grave, is one’s a little bit longer.

Not to be to drastic but these questions are important to me.  I have found such a fulfilling and creative way to live in the summer I want to know that I can balance it with an equally suitable lifestyle in the winter.  It’s a crazy world we live in, where anything is possible, most all of it is socially accepted, and you can find voices that both support and condemn it all.  With all of these influences, it can be hard to cut through the B.S. and get to what really interests YOU, where YOUR passions and values truly lie.  For myself, the mountains shown through, and have spoken to me in a way to show me what is real, although I am still continually trying to resolve this relationship.  I ride chairlifts everyday at Alta, although there are plenty of folks to speak up with the adopted adage “the lift would spin anyway”  I think it’s a worthwhile question to ask myself if this is an industry I want to support.  Although a lot of the things I do and ways I live in the winter contradict the beliefs and values I live by in the warmer months, I find ways to justify them by comparing them to larger social norms and realities of “our times”.  It is an endless act to find balance in one’s life, and this has proven to be very evident in my efforts to find balance in a seasonal lifestyle.  I have never found rest trying to realize and evolve my values for a simpler, less impactful life, while also wanting to take part in selfish activities like climbing and skiing, and wishing to be a part of todays social spectrum.  I do not wish to be a hermit, to “opt out” or be some sort of bitter and codgy individual.  I enjoy being a part of the movement towards sustainability, offering examples and alternatives.

But in the winter I feel quiet.  I see people acting and reacting in ways that I don’t necessarily agree with, but I don’t feel like I’m living with enough conviction to offer an alternative.  I am incredibly fortunate to be able to ski every day, to live at the bottom of a ski lift that never fails to turn.  Who am I to judge those driving to the trailhead when 90% of my turns aren’t earned, but rather taken from the energy made by burned coal and oil.  I think it’s good to throw these questions at yourself every now and again, to keep yourself in check.  Weather you’re having fun or not, challenging yourself and putting your beliefs and values under a critical light leads to positive personal growth.  Hopefully you prove to yourself you’re on the right path, but every so often you uncover a piece of truth you might have previously failed to see, one that can get you back on track or remind you where you were going in the first place.

A Case for Place was originally born from an idea I had about comparing the Localvore food movement to a car-free existance.  There are many similarites, I believe, and many benifits as well; the closeness to the land, the intimacy and understanding that comes with both is invalueable to our health and well-being.  What I ended up writing about was how the winter shrinks my scope of exploration and adventure, while simultaneously adding an intimacy and understanding that only comes with these sort of relationships, and how much I like that.  This time, my Case for Place is more of a question, as my work and life moves me more towards the mechanized aspect of the ski industry, how am I to maintain this balance with my love of human-power and simplicity.  How do I relate and interact with those who are out there earning their turns, even if they’re driving to the trailhead.  I’m not often a fan of people writing about a bunch of unanswered questions, but I do believe in the power that stating a question has to open peoples minds who might not have ever even considered these things in the first place.  I’m not nearly egomaniacal enough to consider that’s what I’ve done here, but my point is that I’m sorry I don’t have answers, and I hope that by asking them I’m helping myself, and posiibly you, move forward.

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