surfaces

We haul wood from the shed to the house in two orange plastic sleds, connected by rope and a carabiner, and these days, the driveway would be better for skating than walking, if the person navigating it knew how to skate, which i don’t. On the almost-undetectable slope, the second sled slides perpendicular and bumps up against the first, while i struggle to keep upright. A log rolls out and slides a few feet away, i fall on my butt trying to retrieve it, repeat.

Where i pull the sleds over the places c spread sand or the snow melted down to gravel before refreezing into this absurd sheet of ice, the noise of the scraped plastic changes into something more textured. I remember “cinder sledding” at Wupatki: taking those little flying saucer sleds up on snowless Woodhouse Mesa on snow days, when school was canceled in town but it was all bare cinder and blue sky at home. Jealous of my peers, who i was sure were sledding in town, i propelled myself down the mesa on plastic disks, shredding my purple stretch pants in the process. It wasn’t that i didn’t enjoy playing on the mesa when there wasn’t snow, but that *other* places had snow, and the snow day forced comparison.

It’s a dull task, mostly, something useful and physical to do on days i’m holed up with the computer, which is often. Years ago, hauling wood down to my little cabin on the hill, i listened to an itunes playlist i’d made myself for just that activity, titled “wood on the hill songs”–energetic songs with bittersweet lyrics focused on the miserable glory of being wherever you were at that moment, and some murder ballads. Sometimes i still listen to it, and reminisce about how much has changed, and the pleasantness of level ground and a second heat source and musical nostalgia. It’s a nice routine.

Today, though, i was feeling a little paranoid about The Bear. The first bear, an injured three-legged winter bear who dripped blood on the trails before we got home from Arizona, and Thailand before that, hasn’t been seen or left evidence of itself in several weeks. While we were traveling, we read that it was being followed by wolves, and wasn’t likely to live long. And now there’s another one, seen on the river, and this time with a cub who i’ve only heard described as “pug-sized.” A pug-sized cub would be just a month old, not adapted to be awake and walking around yet, a sort of premature second birth. They’ll be looking for food wherever they can find it in a world they don’t know how to deal with. What’s left of the snow after the weirdly warm days that likely thawed their den has refrozen, and the ground is too cold to dig even where it’s clear of snow and ice. It’s strange to think of them, alien to winter, trying to survive.

So i jump at the sudden movement of a squirrel or magpie out of the corner of my eye, and, sliding around the driveway, think about how equally clumsy i am on this absurd ice sheet of a driveway.

Image
The edge of the ice. While it’s not fun to walk on, it’s fun to crawl around and stare at.

It was worse a couple weeks ago, when the temperature was near 50 some days and all the snow slid off the roof. For a few days, the world had an almost science fiction-y feel, every surface unfit in some way to walk or ski or drive on. During those days, i realized how content i am being house-bound, when friends were going stir-crazy from the lack of skiing. I was glad to have a big, time-consuming indoor project (writing a thesis) on days when the outside world was so difficult and confusing to navigate. Water on top of the ice made the roads extra treacherous, and walking on recently hard-packed snow meant post-holing up to your knees and water seeping into your boot from the bottom of the hole. A friend told me about her dog stepping briefly onto the porch, slipping, looking around in disdain, and going back inside, DONE.

When i made my obligatory slide off the road, an 8mph hydroplane that didn’t quite turn the car around completely, i, having lost any authority over our direction, thought well, we’re bound to hit something soft at some point. My passenger and i, and another friend who, passing by, decided to stay and watch the slow-motion rescue, looked at the stars, brilliant in a clear sky, and the faintly moving band of northern lights, standing comfortably, relatively uncovered, on the wet ice. I’d never seen the sky like that here, and been so warm at the same time.

Soon there were four of us, taking tiny shuffling steps around the cars to shovel gravel and attach the tow strap, and with some help the car slid out as easily as it had slid in. it felt otherworldly somehow, and i, usually absurdly self-conscious when i do something stupid in a car and have to ask for help, felt no shame at all, because in this sci-fi world where everything is coated in warm ice, what can you expect but to slide off of it? It felt too ridiculous to be critical of myself.

Now, frozen again, the ice keeps caribou and voles from their food, and keeps people from skiing and mushing, and keeps us all talking about it. It keeps me from feeling pressured to go outside, which is dangerous, because i am, despite all appearances, a kind of lazy person prone to long sedentary periods as long as i have books and the internet. Glorious days remind me to get out and go, but crappy snow and an ice driveway and melted ski trails let me sit around, as if i’m doing exactly the thing the world is asking of me. I think of the bear and the pug-sized cub, and the level on which they can recognize that what has happened is very wrong for them, that what the world seemed to be asking by warming and thawing their den (if that is what happened) and what the world can now provide for them are very different things. I’m rooting for them. I just want them to stay away from my ice sheet.

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