February 23, 2005

Night Vision

Last night I went cross-country skiing with With-a-Why and Suburban Nephew. We circled the house a few times until I was sure that they both had gotten the hang of using the skis, and then they followed me to the trail into the woods. The woods look different at night: it's like being in a black-and-white movie. All the colour has been drained from the landscape; the trees, the bushes, the branches are in shades of grey or black, contrasting with the white snow. Even Suburban Nephew, in his bright-coloured parka, became the dark silhouette of a boy.

The woods are quiet on a winter night. No birds singing, no tree frogs, nothing rustling, just the occasional creak of a branch. Even the two boys seemed quieter, muffled, awed by the bigness of the night. I could hear the swish of their snowpants, the sliding of their skis, and the sound of their breathing. I could tell that Suburban Nephew was getting scared by the way he hurried to stay close to me.

"What if we get lost?" he asked finally. "Haven't we gone far enough?"

With-a-Why scoffed, "My Mom knows these woods like she knows her own name."

I was hoping the coyotes would howl in the distance. I hear them sometimes, off in the direction of the train track. I think other creatures use the railroad as a corridor for moving about amongst these scattered sections of undeveloped land. The howling would have scared Suburban Nephew, but would have thrilled him too. So seldom any more do we humans have the opportunity to feel scared and humbled in the woods.

We skied in single file, me following a trail that the boys could not see, until we came to a clearing where there was room for the boys to turn (a clumsy maneuver when you are first learning to ski). When we turned, I could hear Suburban Nephew give a sigh of relief. Off in the distance, through the woods, you could see the lights of our house. I could tell he felt happy skiing towards that light and all that it represented: hot cups of cocoa, the noisy play of all his cousins, and his Mom reading a book by the fire.

11 comments:

PPB said...

and his Aunt writing so beautifully that it made me forget for a moment that this exercise involved lots of sweat and exertion.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Ha! I agree with PPB - this made me want to get up and go skiing (apart from the fact that there's no snow here, I'm not the outdoorsy type, and I don't really like exercise. Though I did used to like cross-country skiing). Beautiful post.

Lisa said...

Very nice, beautiful imagery.

What Now? said...

It sounds like a lovely experience, but I have to admit that I'm with Suburban Nephew on this one--I trust lights and houses and hot chocolate a lot more than I trust myself out in the woods at night, even without the coyotes howling (which would have sent me right over the edge).

Rhonda said...

I'm just now learning downhill skiing, and when I'm trying to stand up after sliding across the snow on my face, I always think that cross-country skiing seems so peaceful. You make it sound truly beautiful.

Pilgrim/Heretic said...

As a small-town Midwesterner who now lives in Dreadful Suburbia (and where it's too far south to ski), I just ache to read descriptions like this. Thank you for the imagery and the nostalgia fix.

Dr. H said...

How cool that you know the woods so well.

Scrivener said...

I grew up in So Fla and didn't see snow until I was an adult, but I love to go outdoors in the snow when I get the chance now. I've been cross-country skiing only once, in Germany, and really enjoyed it a lot. But now I wish I'd gone out at night.

This is a beautiful post, reigniting my longing for a less urban lifestyle. I've always aspired to be one of those people who knows the woods like this, but have always been more or less stuck in urban areas. When we lived in Charlottesville, VA, I went day hiking every Wednesday--rain, shine, or snow--in Shenandoah, and loved the experience but even that wasn't enough to really know the place.

Totally agree with this sentiment: "So seldom any more do we humans have the opportunity to feel scared and humbled in the woods."

Friday Mom said...

Beautiful!

Phantom Scribbler said...

Sigh. How many times have I looked out the window the past few months (usually at the car waiting to be shovelled out of the driveway), and said, "Remember how much we used to like winter, back when we could cross-country ski?"

I just hope we're still having snowy winters when the baby is old enough to try skiing.

Thanks for this lovely post. I'll think about it longingly tomorrow, while shoveling...

Dr. Sniffly said...

That sounds wonderful.

I've never done cross-country and I'm sure I'd collapse after 5 minutes, but the few times I've gone on very long, slow downhill runs through the woods at dusk felt that way.