Another Good Book

Last year I read No Horizon is So Far by Liv Arnesen and Ann Bancroft. It was their joint telling of they journey across Antarctica on skis pulling sleds. I loved the book. I’ve read a lot of adventure stories written by men, but this one? Two women, both teachers, was decidedly different. I just finished Arnesen’s earlier book (recently translated into English from Norwegian), Skiing into the Bright Open in which she relates some of her experiences skiing solo from the edge of Antarctica to the geographical pole in 1994. It was different, too. In this book, Arnesen even write about that, wondering if there is a psychological difference in the way men and women experience similar adventures. She refers a couple of times to Reinhold Messner’s Antarctic journey (which, at the time, was pretty topical).

Many things in this book struck me, but her passage about religion was the only section I marked irrevocably with a DEEP dog ear. In the middle of her journey, she “celebrated” the halfway point with a film-can (yep) of an intoxicating beverage — Drambuie — some deep thoughts, writing in her journal and reading poetry. For her the moment was significant because at that point there was no turning back. That ship had sailed; the question of a return was moot. With every step — though she wore skis she wasn’t gliding much, just trying to stay upright and cross crevasses; the skis acted as bridges — she would move further and further from her starting point. In a way, the halfway point is the moment of total commitment. Arnesen pondered that moment and wrote:

“I knew I would never again be so alone in such a deserted place. I tried to examine my thoughts carefully: was I frightened, had I discovered something new about myself, was I in touch with higher powers? I felt no anxiety but noticed considerable tension in my body. What I felt above all was peace of mind. I had never felt calmer or more secure. I felt intensely alive. It was immensely satisfying to achieve what I’d believed possible…As the days turned into weeks, I felt that the open spaces, wind, and weather had begun controlling me, setting my natural rhythm. I felt a powerful communion with nature, with the weather, as if I was a natural part of the whole. I felt it must have been a religious experience in its true sense.”

She writes about the religion she grew up with (white-bearded God on a cloud) then writes: “I feel more in common with those who declare religion to be a link between one’s body and soul and the rest of the far as I’m concerned, religion has nothing to do with the worship of God, ritual or racial conflict; it’s about the individual, nature, and the universe all being in tune.” Liv Arnesen, Skiing into the Bright Open

Here in the San Luis Valley, each season has about 6 weeks of unadulterated purity, pure summer is usually from June 21 to the end of July more or less. Pure winter is from the end of December to mid-February. Spring is a long mess of ambivalence. Fall is a kind of paradise, pure between the end of September until November. The OTHER weeks of the year you feel the coming season sneaking in slowly. Right now, the summer night temps in the fifties (10 c) are slowly being invaded by nights in the 40s. That transformation is beginning and I welcome it. It will do that, returning to summer night temps, for the next few weeks then, sometime in September, I will worry about frost taking my beans.

The other night, it was so cold that I dreamed of snow. In my dream I was skiing on rainbows. My skis left tracks, spectra, in the beautiful white. I was aware, in the dream, of skiing on light itself. I’ve often been out there and noticed the angled winter light hitting the tiny prisms crystalline snow. The destination — as is the destination of all the snow that falls here in Heaven — was the Rio Grande River. In my dream it was partially frozen. The cottonwoods and willows around it were bare. The world of my dream had the pure silence of winter.

6 thoughts on “Another Good Book

  1. Someone I ride with said his calendar at work is blocked for “church” every Wednesday afternoon – that’s to go for a bike ride. Today I rode past a small town church just as its bells were ringing and I thought, “yep, I’m in church now”.

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