Saturday, January 28, 2017

The people you meet on the ski bus

I never used to ride the ski bus.  I'd see it lumbering up the hill to the ski area and think, too slow. Probably too crowded.  I don't want to be tied to a bus schedule.

Change is good, though, and after being blocked in by Subarus crammed into non existent parking spots a couple times, I decided this was going to be the Year of The Snow Bus.  I climbed onboard and haven't looked back.

Now that I'm a regular rider, I've become acquainted with the bus's cast of characters.  The bus stops a lot, and there's not a whole lot to do while you're on it, so people watching becomes an acceptable activity.  The riders seem to often fall in the following categories:

Sassy Seniors:  There's a jovial crowd of retired people who ride up in the morning, ski for half the day, and take the bus back down to town after lunch.  Most of them know each other, and strike up conversations about subjects like cooking (which makes the rest of us hungry).  They track their vertical carefully, and always seem happy.  The ones over 70 get free season passes, so if they get one run in or twenty that day, it really doesn't matter.

Silent Teens:  It's midweek and it seems as if they should be in school, but here they are, riding the ski bus.  At least if they are skipping school, it's to do something healthy.  They don't say much, but if they do talk, they're always polite.

Ski Moms:  They trail behind their enthusiastic children, picking up gloves and stray ski poles.  One runs a nonprofit program that provides gear and passes free to kids who otherwise couldn't learn to snowboard.  Sporting dyed blue hair, she affectionately barks orders at her horde.  "NO BRAGGING ABOUT HOW GOOD YOU ARE," she yells into the bus.  "If you do, you have to make the sandwiches with me."  One child looks bemused.  "I'm better at making sandwiches than I am at snowboarding," he confesses.

Helpful Harrys:  These guys see a woman holding a snowboard and just have to offer some tips.  However, they mean well and usually have useful things to say.  One adjusted my bindings and it was an improvement, so bring it, Harry.

The Outsiders:  They aren't from here.  They are on vacation and are enthusiastic about everything.  Icy slopes?  High winds?  They don't care, they're just happy to be here.

Mystery Men:  These guys get on the bus wearing civilian clothes.  Guessing what their mission is can occupy you for a few stops.  The explanation is probably something boring like they work up there in the lodge, or they pay for a locker where they keep all their ski clothes and equipment, but it's still fun to speculate.

Riding the bus isn't perfect.  If you miss one, you're stuck for an hour or more until the next one arrives.  Sometimes it's really full, or there's no heat.  But it saves me 16 miles of driving and it's free, funded by local businesses.  Plus there's built in entertainment, courtesy of the other passengers.  Ride on, ski bus!
image from here

Saturday, January 21, 2017


When I was a child, I used to marvel at the sight of robins in the woods.  They looked like the same birds we had in our yard, but here they were, living the rugged life in the forest.  It must be a lot harder for them out there, I thought (I was clearly a weird kid).

Since then, I've been lucky to (mostly) live where woods and towns overlap, and have plenty of animal visitors.  Where I live now, near a state forest, it's mostly deer and turkeys, although my neighbor had some bears come through his yard and knock down some bird feeders.  I also puzzled over an deer carcass that resembled a mountain lion kill (partially buried, hide pulled off the bones).  In other places there was more variety: a black bear loped past my cabin as I sat on the porch eating cereal; bison surrounded our state park housing in South Dakota, creating a unique excuse for being late to work.

Sometime it's not all great.  I suspect a bunny of decimating some nice plants in my garden.  A band of roving turkeys is kind of cool, and fun to laugh at when they start to roost for the night (since they aren't very good at flying, they seem to attack the trees, flying at them and hoping for the best), but they can make quite a mess.  Something was chewing on my juniper trees until I finally caught the culprits.
The perps

Still, I'd rather have wildlife than concrete and traffic.  When it snows I see their tracks, the paths they make, where they stop to eat.  It's a glimpse into a world that is parallel to ours but is largely hidden, all the animals moving around us, living and breathing and dying, while although so close to them we don't see, and mostly have no idea.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Timeline of Pretty

My coworker burst into tears on her 30th birthday.

"I only have five years left of being pretty," she wailed.

Being five years older than her, I tried not to look annoyed.  Although I knew it was illogical, I fought the urge to find a mirror.  Was there a sudden shift at age 35? Had it happened to me and I didn't know it? Realizing that we were in the Alaska wilderness and there was no way to check, I merely remained irritated.

This was years ago, and yes, my former coworker is still pretty, well beyond the five years she gave herself.  Everybody is entitled to a freak-out now and then, and she probably felt silly later.  But still, this viewpoint continues: young is beautiful.

I read a blog where the young writer talked about unwelcome attention from men, but went on to blithely say that middle age was a cure for that.  A magazine article in Marie Claire, a publication that claims to empower women, a few years ago extolled Demi Moore's beauty, but then went on to say, "but sooner or later, her body will turn to mush" (that's when I stopped reading that magazine). A friend, on the phone with one of his buddies, was describing a woman to him.  "She's attractive," he said, and then went on to utter the fateful words: "she's an older woman." She wasn't much older than they were.  Does her age matter?

I found an article about a 57 year old model online.  I thought she was gorgeous.  But when I started to read the comments, I was amazed at the level of animosity that was directed toward this woman, from people who didn't even know her.  Most of the comments were from men.  Why? Did they feel threatened? Were they upset that their wives didn't look like her? If they didn't know she was 57, would they have felt the same?

We'd all (I think) like to believe that inner beauty is the only thing that matters.  And really, it is.  I know some people who would not be considered conventionally attractive who are incredibly beautiful because of what lies beneath, and others who look like models but are ugly for the same reason.  But everyone cares about the outside, even if it's just a little bit.  Otherwise we'd still be sporting our overalls and satin baseball jackets from the '80s (why for the love of all that is good and holy, did we wear these things?) and the bangs that looked like a cresting tidal wave (again, why??).  The makeup industry would go out of business, and plastic surgeons would only do reconstructive surgery.  You wouldn't see 30 year old actresses as the romantic interests of 50 year old men in movies.

I happen to think that pretty-on-the-outside doesn't have a half-life or a time stamp.  I don't think you have to be a millennial to be gorgeous.  Maybe that's wishful thinking, since I'm no longer a young person.  But I really don't see my friends' wrinkles or gray hairs.  I only see their beautiful smiles and their beautiful souls.
Yazmeenah Rossi, 61 year  old model.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Sharpening the edge

It's been cold here.  Not Fairbanks cold, although Fairbanks seems to have gotten warmer than it was when I lived there; I don't see the regular -40F temperatures that I suffered through being recorded regularly now.  Here, it's been below zero and windy for quite some time.

The other day I looked glumly out the window.  It wasn't snowing, but it was a few degrees below zero with a brisk wind.  Apparently the wind chill made it feel like -15.  Gym day, I thought.  Then I caught myself.

What was this wimpiness? Retreating to the soulless treadmill when it got a little tough? Had I lost  my edge? Gotten soft?

I started running during what was called a "running boom," decades ago.  The sports bra (called the JogBra!) had just been invented.  Spandex for running was a few years off; people trotted down the road in sweats, or shorts over long johns when it was cold.  There were no yak trax or spikes; we ran on ice and sometimes we fell.  I didn't know anyone who ran on a treadmill.  We ran in howling winds, deep snow, and ice storms.  We suffered, but we felt really good about it.

I'd like to think that I haven't changed that much.  I don't want to be a person who used to charge hard at life but then gradually gave up and sought the easier path. 

I put on expedition weight capilene, top and bottom, and attached my spikes to my running shoes.  I put on gloves, pulled a balaclava over my head, and headed for the woods.

The wind cut through my layers.  Although the dog walkers had made a valiant effort to pack down the trails, there is an area that always drifts over.  People had postholed and made the trail a mess in places.  The homemade mountain bike jumps were buried and had to be climbed over.  My pace was slow.  Nobody else was around.  But I was out there.

I thought about the young girl I had been, running on ice and snow and during a tornado watch once (I don't recommend this).  She didn't debate whether to go or not.  She just went.

I think she would have looked at me and said, "It's really not that cold out," and run off, much faster than I do now, expecting her decades-older self to make the same decision.  To just get out there.  To just go.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Good Men

The stories keep coming out.  Women, firefighters and others, are still being harassed and discriminated against while working in the government agencies.

This is nothing new.  As a rookie firefighter in the late '80s, I saw it, and kept seeing it throughout my career.  From the men who would stand in front of me at briefings, refusing to move so I could see the map, the overhead who would address my male trainee instead of me, to the crew boss on my second fire who told me I should take a male crewmember's creepy comments as a "compliment," it was out there.  Many women had it much worse, with actions committed against them that were criminal.

But this is for the good men.  The ones who gave me a chance early in my career, and didn't treat me differently than anyone else, as long as I could do the work.  The ones who didn't judge all women by one who might have failed.  The ones who, although they were skeptical about female firefighters (and believe me, we knew you were), didn't show it in their actions.  The smokejumper who parachuted into my first big fire as an incident commander and didn't take over, even though he easily could have.  The men who worked all night alongside me on the fireline and treated me as a sister and an equal.

Change is slow.  There are still old boys' clubs, people who will talk over women at meetings, and those who think it's okay to make crude comments.  Those of us who started long ago learned to keep our heads down, work hard, and not to show emotions. We knew that would help the women of the future who were coming up behind us.

But it's easy to get into man-bashing, and the good men are out there.  I'd like to think there are more of them than the other kind.  So to all the men who helped me along the way, I appreciate you.  You offered me a job, showed me how to fight fire, and treated me the same as any other firefighter. Thanks, guys.
At a spike camp in 1997.  Thanks jumpers for the parachute.  What a mess! I was there for 21 days straight.