In which I try my first ski race and wax poetical about the coming change of season . . . with photos!

I spent my Sunday at the ski hill. My head is a bit sore, now, and my congestion continues, but the endorphins were lovely, the sun was shining (I think I might have a slight sunburn on my face!), the snow glittered as though it were covered in layers of tiny diamonds, or perhaps stardust . . .

  And I was in a ski race!

I came in dead last, of course. My first run down the hill was too funny: I lost a ski at the third pole! By the time that I hopped back up to it, figured out that the binding was still locked in position, and put it back on, my time was pretty much done. Two minutes and three seconds to cross the finish line (screaming).

That figure at the top of the hill? With the white dot that’s the helmet? That’s me! On my second run . . . still swearing a blue streak and screaming all the way down.

Well, scream-laughing, anyway. Had a good time. Of course, it was more challenging than I realized it would be, but I’d kind of expected that. I’d never been in a ski race before! The turns weren’t the hard part — I enjoy quick turns on a ski hill (although today my right hip was protesting a little). It’s that there were ruts in the snow around each pole, curving dents worn into the snow by the skis of aaaaallll the other skiers who had taken their turns before me. And like a car on a race track, when you’re moving and you hit that curve, it spits you out the other side at an even faster speed than before. Wasn’t expecting that, at all! My son raced, too, and he was the only boy in his age category, so he was his own competition. That’s not a bad thing, the first time out. He had a great time also. And we’re at this neat point where we can hold hands and propel each other forward down a trail that’s only slightly inclined, which was a nice way to end off my afternoon. In addition to enjoying the runs, I saw more animal tracks and took some pics. I really want to go snowshoeing with my proper camera to get some deep-trail photos, as well. But these I took with my iPhone:

I remember one day (last weekend?) I tried taking pictures of the tracks I saw along the T-bar lift, and I dropped my phone! A kind snowboarding instructor picked it up for me on his way up the hill, just a few minutes later. If you want to identify any of these in the comments, please do! I think that the top two are bunny tracks, and the bottom three are chipmunk because I don’t see the line of a tail, but I’m probably wrong.

There was also a very different feeling to the hill today. Maybe it’s just my own overly imaginative filter — I do this when I cross the border, when I go to a different part of the province, or even in stores — but some places have energy to me. Sometimes it’s not a good vibe, and I just feel uncomfortable. When I’m travelling, it’s as though the air just suddenly changes its texture. That happened when I went to New York State to visit my friend Tara: as soon as I’d cross the border, it felt as though my inner antenna or what-have-you was picking up on signals that I wasn’t familiar with. Just a different vibration. So anyway, I felt that change on the hill, and I realized it on one of my last trips up the lift. Maybe it was the presence of so many people having a good time, or my own endorphins and happy mood, but it seemed to me that there was something in the energy of the trees and the snow and the rocky ground underneath. Some might call it the forest stirring, waking up from its long sleep. I don’t know if it was exactly that, because I’ve seen / felt that, too, and it’s too early yet for that sensation. But it definitely wasn’t asleep, if you know what I mean. In the depths of winter, the wilderness of Northeastern Ontario is in a waiting period. It is numb, and unconscious, barely breathing with the freezing temperatures that tighten the soil and still the waters. In the spring, movement comes quickly, suddenly, and it’s dirty and messy, slushy and mucky, a very wet business of coming awake and brushing away the melting snow. This is that period in between. Spring is still just a dream for those trees and rocks and critters, even the ones who are venturing forth to replenish their cupboards. But it’s that kind of dream where you know you’re on the verge of opening your eyes to see whether it’s real. They’re listening for the drip drip drip of icicles turning into rivulets, the sliding slosh of branches losing their heaps of white in great soft clumps, the soft gurgle of brooks and streams and rivers breaking free from their covers of ice. The Northeastern boreal forest is listening for the real turn of the season and the return of the warmth, which could still be weeks away.

Can you spot the bird’s nest?

Yeah, made me all poetic-y. If I’d had my tape recorder, I would have popped it out and recorded my thoughts on the spot. Well, after getting off the tow, anyway. Thought about doing it with my phone but I wanted to preserve the battery . . .

So that was my day. It was a good one, for fun and exercise, but nothing else productive accomplished except the cleaning of Elizabeth’s tank. Her living space is substantially cleaner than ours, funnily enough, but then again, it’s also a fraction of the size of the human home and she doesn’t have papers, books, assorted craft detritus, and other clutter I shall refrain from naming here but that you know has to be bad because otherwise I would identify it. My house . . . oh, my house. I will clean you thoroughly on March break! I will not sleep the break away!

Might ski it, though. And I’m going to look again (hoping for end-of-season sales!) for my own cross-country skis and snowshoes, so I can go on the trails with the pooch and my camera without Skittles getting all barky like she normally does if she has to wait for me to get the rental equipment from inside the Complex. Time is running out to get the most out of the trails, and it’s good right now with the retreat of the freezing Arctic cold — apparently the bunnies are known for hiding close to the paths for snowshoers. One skier told me she’d almost stepped on one of them! Mind you, if I take Skittles with me, the critters will scatter . . . Like to try, though. Or do some late-night trail-walking, so I can try to get good pictures of the clear starlit sky. Again, it’s a good time for it. Once that spring weather starts in earnest, the trails will quickly become impassable until at least late June. The melting snow will cause thick, muddy morasses and running streams will cut new paths across them in the low places. Plus the return of the mosquitoes and black flies, horseflies and deer flies, and all those assorted lovelies. (shudder) No, now is a good time to get the most out of winter.

I’d like to say, “see you on the hill!” but tomorrow is Monday. Oh, dear, and I haven’t started my marking yet. My head still hurts. Why I even bother trying to bring work home with me on weekends . . .

How about now? Bird’s nest at 12 o’clock!

And now, a poem . . . about MOSQUITOES!

I thought of this while I was driving to school today. My son, riding shotgun, refused to let me go further than the first two or three lines. The darned thing has been lurking in the back of my head all day, though. So here it is, just for you.

Where Do All of the Mosquitoes Go?

Where do all of the mosquitoes go

When the earth is frozen under mounds of snow?

Their high-pitched song and piercing whine

Silenced by the cold of winter time.

Do they sleep beneath blankets of white?

Or are tiny corpses all that remains of their fight?

While their eggs, suspended, wait for spring

Near the pools of standing water that melt will bring?

It’s only the females that bite and suck blood

Driven to nourish their coming brood.

Mother’s instinct winning over manners kind

(If insects had rules of etiquette to mind . . .)

Where do all of the mosquitoes go

When the frost descends and north winds blow?

Minuscule ethereal tormentors of the skin

At end of summer meet their reckoning

Flying slowly, lazily, to peaceful destruction

Seems unfair, having survived elimination

Should we envy the lives of these summer creatures

Spared having to endure winter’s features?

Fairy-like structures able to cause such pain

Thriving in humidity, heat, and rain

Irritating with attacks by proboscis

Still, mosquitoes have their uses.

Where do all the mosquitoes go?

Do the crows and ravens miss their flow?

Crunchy snacks for wily fowl and fish

Beware, mosquito, if you’re not quick!

Evening walks are far more pleasant

When you’re not racing their annoying chant

And why do they aim for ears and nose?

If it’s blood you want, don’t head for those!

What’s the point of targeting orifices

When it’s flesh that has the tastiest pieces?

I don’t miss your high-pitched hum

When icicles hang and I freeze my bum

I’d rather pile on layers of sweaters and socks

Tingling fingertips and toes numb as rocks

Than endure itchy bumps and calamine lotion

Bleeding and scabbing from mosquito devotion!

Where do all the mosquitoes go?

Wish they didn’t come back at all, you know.

But a world without them would suffer more

Hard to remember, must not ignore.

I’ll enjoy the mosquito-less months while they last

And kill them on sight when winter has passed

For they’re neither endangered nor hard to locate

— impossible to escape when they think I taste great —

And they flock out en masse when the sun starts to set

Settling on my skin as though I were their pet!

They bite me through jeans! Wiggle into my hair!

In unending numbers they seek me everywhere!

Miniature vampires, blood-sucking pests

Beloved by baby birds being fed in their nests

But not by me, and my obsession should stop

Since it’s winter, and “skeeters” there are not

But I have to wonder, and ponder, this January day,

When in four months or so the bugs come back to play,

As much as I hate those damnable insects,

Where did they come from? I have to respect

For even though I loathe and despise their very being

At least their presence indicates the cold’s ending.

–Tori L. Ridgewood, 1/13/15

October Dark

There is a certain difference to the blackness of night in October. In September, the night is still optimistic — there is a residual, lingering hopefulness and life. In November, everything is sleeping or dead, only awaiting the shroud of snow to bed it down.

But October…

October is the time for the dying to complete itself.

The sun goes down, and even with moonrise, the dusk is pensive. The stillness is not natural. The land feels like it is waiting for the cross-over, a steady but almost imperceptible slide into death and silence. You can sense the energies wafting invisibly past — the spirits whose time is pressing closer, until the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest and they may make their best efforts to contact living beings. The October dark is the calm before some kind of storm…the tension before essential news is delivered…the closed curtain on a quiet stage before the drama is unleashed.

I think I had a visitor last night.

I remember distinctly waking up, but not opening my eyes. It was the same feeling I have when my daughter comes padding in because she can’t sleep, that eerie sensation of being watched. But normally, when she comes in, if I pretend to be asleep she will whisper my name to wake me up.

Last night, I felt watched, but heard nothing.

I kept expecting to hear my daughter say “Mommy” to wake me up so I could take her to the bathroom, but there was nothing. To say that it was creepy is a bit of an understatement. I was scared to open my eyes. I wanted to look, but at the same time, not knowing what I would see, I just couldn’t do it. I felt silly. There was probably nothing there. If I had been brave enough to look, I know there was probably nothing there.

But that certainty still lingers in me.

I felt it again earlier, when I let the dog out in the back yard and felt that oppressive, October dark. It was not evil, or good, in any Hollywood sense of the term. Simply…something.

Shadows in the darkness…

It seems rather unnecessary, doesn’t it? The title of this blog. How can shadows — which are themselves, dark — exist where there is no light?

They simply do.

My life is filled with them. They haunt me when I am trying to fall asleep. I see them on these grey and dreary days of fall, as the yearly cycle comes to a close. I feel them in my heart, as the dwindling light begins to sap the energy reserves I built all summer.

This is a dangerous time of year for me. I love Hallowe’en and Samhain, but as an adult, I haven’t expressed that feeling as I did when I was younger. My husband is also an eager devotee to Hallowe’en, and given a free rein, would turn our home into the creepiest on the block. So what stops me from fulfilling my every spooky desire at this time of year?

The shadows, in the form of depression. I feel them gathering in the corners and moving slowly toward me, as inexorable as the winter dark. I’m better armed against them this year, and I’m not spiralling as I have done in the past. But nevertheless, I feel them. It is the lack of motivation to get off the couch…the increasing desire to sleep…the lack of motivation to do anything, really, but those low-energy activities that help me feel less lonely. Like going on Facebook, looking at lolsnaps, fails, etc. The more I indulge in these time-suckers, the more connected I do feel but the less I get done in the things that matter in a physical sense. The shadows are gaining ground.

I attended a series of workshops in the spring, learning methods for dealing with my anxiety and chronic depression. To some extent, those techniques are working. I’ve been treated for anemia since May, also, which is helping. The techniques are going to become even more vital, now.

Part of that is learning to accept my own limitations and not comparing myself to others. I need to stop saying “I should” and be satisfied with what I do accomplish. For example, this weekend I aimed to finish my Hallowe’en decorating. Didn’t even start. I constantly visualize one of the best moms I know and berate myself for not being more like her, but at the same time, the logical part of my brain is fighting back to tell me what I am doing well and why I should not be ashamed or feel inferior. That particular mom doesn’t have a mental illness. That particular mom hasn’t gone through the money troubles we have experienced. That particular mom has gone through her own battles, faced her own demons, and for her own personal reasons, has gained victory. Maybe I’m just jealous of that and I want my own battles to be over. Could be a form of battle fatigue — maybe I could call it “life fatigue”.

I remember my mother giving me full control over decorating for Hallowe’en, and not understanding why she didn’t want to do it. Now I know…it’s just not on my to-do list of things that must be done. What I am supposed to be doing — housework, marking, shopping — those things aren’t be done either. And the whole avoidance makes me feel ashamed all over again, so I shrink further into my shell and keep avoiding until every dish is dirty, the clean laundry threatens to topple over in its mountain, and/or people are coming to the house so clean is a must.

I miss decorating for Hallowe’en.

I miss setting up for Samhain.

I miss my enthusiasm. It’s there, just dampened.

I once had a conversation with two of my colleagues and friends (one of whom was the above super-mom), about the point of Hallowe’en. The points of view were a) it’s all about spending money on candy and costumes, which is a waste, and b) it’s the Devil’s holiday, so if anything, the candy and costumes are the main focal point to take power away from the skulls and gore. My perspective is Pagan, Wiccan, witchy, and anthropological: we need a day in the fall to blow off some steam. It was once the Devil’s night, yes — after months of hard work, harvesting, preparing for winter, young people would perform acts of mischief like tipping outhouses and soaping windows. Kids needed that release, and some adults did as well. It still happens in places, when eggs are thrown or trees toilet papered.

Pagans and Wiccans of all stripes recognize Samhain as the night when the veil between the worlds is the thinnest, and it’s important to remember those who have passed on. The traditions in this sense cross many cultural boundaries, and the food that is shared represents honouring the dead, feeding hungry spirits that come to the door, appeasing evil spirits wishing to do mischief, and I think, sharing the bounty of one’s harvest.

Today, the costumes and decorations and candy are mainly symbolic of cultures long dead. How many of us really believe that children in masks will frighten away spirits on the streets, or that the jack’o’lantern will protect the home? Why do we buy sugary junk to fill their sacks? I think it’s a remnant of the community spirit of making sure that all have enough before winter. We have our Thanksgivings, an official harvest festival of light and warmth and nourishing food — Hallowe’en / Samhain is another, celebrating the coming darkness with noise, colour, sweets, and candlelight. As the trees bare their skeletal arms to the sky, the rain and snow chill the air, the plants wither and die, those of us with depression (and even those who are not) are brought to thoughts of death, loss, and loneliness. Death is a solitary thing, after all. So at Hallowe’en, we push back our fears of death by poking fun at it, admonishing it by taking control of it with decorative skulls, gravestones, ghost stories, and gifts to those who represent the dead. If we laugh at what we fear, it has less control over us (or so we would like to believe). Hallowe’en is a powerful psychological device in helping us to deal with our fears. It’s a necessary device, I think.

Which brings me back to my shadows.

One of them is always money, because there is never enough. We live constantly in debt, which is a long story; my wish to indulge in Hallowe’en is necessarily curtailed by budget. I am perfectly capable of whipping up papier-mâché bats and spiders, sewing costumes from clothing remnants, etc., but I find it difficult as an adult with two children to raise. Much easier when I was single and a dependent. When I was a teenager and a young married wife, I envisioned my house changing with the seasons — throw pillows, blankets, tableware, towels, even the pictures on the walls changed to reflect each turn of the wheel of the year. We’re not even close to that goal. But I take out that dream, every October, and December with the approach of Yule, and I polish it. Maybe I should print it and post it on my fridge.

My dreams keep the shadows away.