Monday, January 17, 2011

Owning the Mountain

Just after Thanksgiving, I sat in my home office, looking out at Catamount, the ski mountain across the street. They'd begun making snow and I felt a bit ambivalent about it.

We live on a mountain with a steep driveway that winds half a mile to the road. It's idyllic, really. It's a place that others only dream of living, a place to spend holidays, a place filled with natural beauty, a place of serenity. But then there's the snow.

We moved here four years ago. I can remember the first snowfall in early December, silently drifting to earth, sponging all the sound from the air, slowly blanketing the ground with a pristine white that left everything feeling bright and clean.

The next morning, when we got up to leave for work, the driveway was still covered. Although we pay a couple of guys who own a garage in Hillsdale to plow, they hadn't showed up. Iris called Chris, the owner of the garage, who told us they'd be there in twenty minutes.

Two hours later, we gave up on the plow-guys and decided take on the driveway, snow and all. We hopped into our little red Saab-aru, let the engine warm up a bit, and headed down. As we descended, all the reasons that I don't like anti-lock brakes were brought home.

Growing up in Illinois, I learned how to drive used controlled skidding to navigate precarious icy and snowy patches. It works really well, and I'm quite comfortable with it. Anti-lock brakes neither let you have control, nor do they actually stop you from sliding. They're kind of the worst of both worlds. All the way down the driveway, it was slide-stutter-stutter-stutter-roll, slide-stutter-stutter-stutter-roll with no hope of actually being able to stop. By the time we slowed to a halt on a relatively flat section just before the road, my heart was pounding at about 180 and Iris' grip on my right arm had reduced the blood flow to my hand to a mere trickle.

After a few deep breaths, we drove onto the road and headed for work. Iris, continued calling the plow guys throughout the day, and when we got home, the driveway had indeed been cleared.

Our first winter continued in this manner. Sometimes the guys would show up on time, sometimes they'd show up late and sometimes, not at all. We tried to enlist others, but everyone was booked. We started parking our car at the bottom of the driveway on nights where snow had been predicted. We bought these little traction devices that attach to your shoes so we could walk up without slipping.

Every once in a while, someone would overestimate his car's (and his) capacity to climb the driveway and end up sliding backwards. The experienced among them would safely roll back to the bottom. The less experienced would try to brake and quickly come to learn just how immovable trees are.

After one big snowfall, they guys showed up so late, that they simply couldn't get up the driveway with the plow. For the next three weeks, we parked at the bottom and walked up.

Our idyllic home had became a source of anxiety.

The next winter, I bought a big 36-inch snow-blower to clear the parking area and the steepest parts of the driveway. It worked pretty well. However, it took forever to clear even half the driveway and it was too big and unwieldy for Iris to use. So I spent a lot of time learning to love my snow-blower. It wasn't the greatest solution, but it at least meant that we wouldn't get completely stuck if the guys were late.

Throughout that winter and the next, as I trunched up and down with my mega-snowblower, I'd think to myself, there's got to be a better way. I thought about getting a plow for our truck, but then wondered about driving around all winter with the extra weight. I thought about garden tractors and whether or not they could be equipped to plow. And then I started thinking about about ATVs.

ATVs (All Terrain Vehicles) are like four-wheel-drive motorcycles. They're powerful. They have big nobby tires for driving through riverbeds and over steep hills. Why not get one of them and equip it with a plow blade?

I started asking people about whether or not they'd every seen an ATV with a plow blade? How much would something like that cost? How well would it work? Would it work at all? And I got every response from, "Sure, it would work great!" to "No way that would work. An ATV is too light to plow snow!"

When I talked to Iris about it, she seemed a bit dubious. Actually, she just kind of laughed and said, "Yeah... Right..."

Then one Saturday, just after Thanksgiving, we got up early, and I told Iris, "C'mon, let's go look at some ATVs."

I wrote before about our experience buying the ATV and deciding to embrace winter (stopping at the KMart for long underwear, hats, mittens and overalls), and I want to report to you today that it has been transformative, in ways that I'd never anticipated.

We've had several big snowfalls and I've had no problem plowing through 18 inches or 24 inches. The ATV does indeed work, and it works well. It even plows going up the driveway. I regained my love of snow! I love how it brightens winter amplifying every drop of sunlight into buckets of gold and every ounce of moonlight into gallons of silver. I love how a windless snowfall consumes all sound, transforming nature into a huge anechoic chamber. I love how center and focused I become when it's snowing and I'm not doing anxiety.

However, there's more. Not only am I not anxious about snow, but I look forward to it. It's really fun to plow! My enthusiasm for snow has been accompanied by a general enthusiasm for all things winter. Whereas many who live here in the frigid northeast begin to long for spring just about now, I am loving winter! I don't know if it's all attitudinal or if it's because I've been spending more time outside or if it's because I've been juicing every day (that's another story), but I am absolutely in no hurry for winter to be over. I haven't even felt cold yet. It's just amazing.

I guess the thing is this: if there's something that you can't avoid, something that's just gonna be a part of your life, deciding to embrace it completely can absolutely transform your experience of it.

I think the operative word is completely. Whenever, you leave room for lamenting or regret or doubt or simply wanting something else, you undermine the effect. Sure, you'll see some change, but it's marginalized by the compromise. However, when you completely embrace a situation, everything changes. Although I've been cognizant of the effect of attitudinal changes, I've never experienced them so fully and so multidimensionally as I have this winter.

What's waiting for your embrace?

Happy Monday,

PS, Happy Birthday, Eila!

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