A long time ago, in a lifetime far away, I began each year with a dip in Puget Sound. My friends and I would meet at Golden Gardens or Alki, suit up in keikogi, and warm up as if for class. Then, sometimes with a banzai, and sometimes in meditative silence, we would wade chest high into the frigid water, sometimes submerging completely, others conscientiously keeping head and hands dry. Then each of us, when we felt we had been in the water long enough to prove a point, would wade back to the beach where hot coffee and sake awaited.
What point did we prove? Ultimately it was about self-control, with a dash of self-determination thrown in. There is a tradition that if you do this misogi, this cleansing, at the beginning of the year, you won’t get sick all year. The idea is that when you feel a cold coming on, you can tell yourself, “Hey, I jumped in the ocean in the middle of winter and didn’t get sick. This one’s not going to get me,” and stay healthy by force of will. But the idea is expanded beyond health to all of the challenges in life. Whenever something tough comes along, you can remind yourself of the challenge that you faced at the start of the year. The memory of how you controlled the urge to shriek at the shock of cold when you stepped in the water; how you calmly forced yourself to go forward, deeper into the water, when your body demanded that you go back. The memory of past strength can summon strength for the present challenge. Or so the thinking goes.
But then, to borrow a phrase from Lupe Fiasco, shit got greasy. For several years everyday experience made winter misogi look like stupid human tricks and I didn’t need a single feather-weight challenge more than getting to the end of the day already posed. My New Year’s Eve tradition was reduced to a five second pause to look back and say, “Thank god that one’s over.”
Well, thank god that’s over. This year we were ready for something more aspirational. So we decided to set the tone for 2013 with a day of snow play. Since it was the first day the whole family went up together, we set the bar low. We were just working out logistics.
Here were our goals:
The Daddy: Get the whole family up to the mountain and back in one piece, preferably all still on speaking terms.
Me: Don’t throw up. (I can’t remember if I mentioned that pain fear is a big issue for me. It kind of holds you back when you’re throwing yourself down a mountain.) If I only did three runs, and they were all on Daisy, so be it. The day would be a success.
XX: Ski with mom and dad together for the first time. Maybe make some jumps.
Little A: Go to ski school all by herself and play in the snow after lunch.
And we did it! I wasted a lot of time getting my boots set up right, and I took a fall of the type technically known as a “shitsplitter,” which validated my pain fear for the next week and a half. But I added two Hogsback runs to the three on Daisy, and by lunch I felt like I was where I left off at the end of last season. To XX’s tremendous delight, that was much slower than she was, and I spent the morning following lines she picked, except when she landed a couple tiny jumps in the new beginner terrain park that I rode past. A’s class marched uphill in their tiny skis, and when class got out at noon, the instructor said she was ready for the magic carpet.
We all had lunch together at Bull’s Tooth and then the girls played in the snow outside the ski school while The Daddy got a few runs in by himself. Around 2 pm we headed back to the lodge where we stacked all our gear in a pile and took turns going in to the bathroom. Little A complained that she was cold, so I pulled her helmet from the pile and put it back on to keep her head warm. Just as The Daddy started to pick up sticks to head back to the car, Little A stepped on a patch of ice next to the bench wall on the patio. Her ski boot flew out behind her like a banana peel gag, and she landed flat on her face on the ice. We heard her helmet scrape against the rock wall.
For a second we froze, waiting to see if she popped up with a characteristic, “I’m okay.” But no, the delayed response was a high pitched wail. The Daddy picked her up. There was blood on the ice. Blood covered her chin and dripped onto her little Creamcicle-colored ski suit. Her lips were cut and already swollen. Blood filled the creases between her gums and her front three teeth.
As I held her in my arms in a cold panic, my mind a blank, I could see The Daddy’s lips moving but couldn’t hear the words. Eight year-old XX piped up in response to him, “I know where the clinic is. They showed us in ski school.”
She confidently led us around the building and down the hill to the ski patrol office and clinic, where they settled Little A on a bed with pictures of doggies on the sheets. The doctor handed The Daddy gauze to dab the blood. She started asking Little A questions. Like her parents, Little A responded to her calm, professional, yet serious demeanor. She stopped crying and answered the questions. Some of the questions were obviously medical, “Can you watch me move my finger over here?” while others were simply calming, “Can you tell me how old you are?” It was really quite impressive how she managed to treat the problem and the emotions at the same time. The calm competence of everyone in the clinic, the way they took our problem seriously and assured us it wasn’t serious at the same time, really impressed me. We’ve spent our share of time in hospitals these past few years, and they could take some notes from the folks at Steven’s Pass about bedside manner.
A glove filled with snow pressed against her face, two more filled with air to serve as balloons, we carried Little A to the car, which ski patrol had allowed The Daddy to drive right up to the clinic door. We loaded up gear (abandoned without a thought back at the patio), and by the time we were out of the parking lot, Little A was asleep. Her face was bruised and swollen, but she still cried a week later when The Daddy and XX went back to the mountain without her.
We didn’t start this New Year with misogi. But we still managed to set the tone. When shit gets greasy this year, we’ll remember not to shriek and run backwards. We’ll even call it fun and go back for more.