There is a ritual to buckling on skis. If you don’t fully open the binding, there is no amount of forcing that will allow your foot to catch and hold. Good life lesson: open first. It’s what marriage and my dog both have taught me to do.
I buckled on my skis, and took a few long strides to feel the packed snow underneath my skis. It was several days old, but it slid well. The winter-covered pine trees nestle in around to hug me as I glided and I began to cry. There was no dog at our side as my husband and I skied.
This has been the spot to take our dog, Ode Yedder, skiing, and she would bound ahead, paws floating atop the packed groomed trails. The edges always beckoned to her, and she’d deep dive into the four or five foot piles of snow off the trail. I always had to dig her out, regularly getting myself into a mess in the process.
My husband glanced at me in the frigid air. I was busy remembering how to cross country ski. Thumb leads, hop up, let the foot kick forward, step down and slide. Let your wrist make a vertical circle and plant pole in the snow. Vertical circles with feet and wrists kept me moving forward until the first tear fell and I finally stopped. My husband side-steps his skis over to me, “I’m missing Yedder too,” he says as he puts his gloved hand over my shoulder and wraps me in a hug.
Together we ski ahead because there is nothing to do but absorb grief as it works its way through your pores.
It is late in the day and the sun is shining through the trees, casting orange streaks on the big expanses of open snow. There are glades and meadows here in the summer, filled with the occasional stream or pond. Indian Paintbrush, which was one of my mother’s favorite flowers, populates these fields. Now all the wildflowers rest under a blanket of white.
The cold air refreshes me as does the exercise and I begin to sweat inside my jacket. I try again to remember the rhythm hop-kick-slide pointing thumbs forward, circling the pole to expend the least energy. Coordinating feet and hands demands my concentration and I am glad. Initially, these vertical circles are so counter-intuitive, but anything new is at least mildly uncomfortable while I adjust.
Forward. The way is forward. And, strangely, it feels good.
The setting sun plays hide and seek with us, just as our Yedder used to do. The sun hides behind the multitudes of trees, ever green, that balance wings of snow like women in eastern bazaars who carry baskets on their heads, and under each arm. Then, with a singular glide of my skis, the threads of the sun, reach around and through the trees’ branches, popping out to shine an orange welcome mat down a ribbon of snow.
Yedder was always the seeker when we played. “Sit. Stay,” I would begin the game before I left the room to hide in the bathtub or behind our bedroom door. “OK, Yedder, come!” That was her signal to seek. Tail wagging, I’d hear her paws click down the wood floor of the hallway. Then silence as she’d stop to turn her head and peek (smell) into the bathroom. Her ears would soften, her tail wag and she’d jolly up to me in search of the Cheerio or peanut she got when she found the hiders. A pat on the head, some ear scratches and, “Sit. Stay,” to play again.
We ski around another corner where I know there is a coming drop off. I catch my breath as the rising full moon is framed by trees, butter yellow in a blueberry sky. It is a moon ball smiling at me, ready to play, not some far away circle lighting a night sky. More skiing hides this nursery rhyme moon, but it follows us as we make our way back down the long path toward our truck, bobbing its head “hello” through the trees and above each crest as we round the occasional bend.
The tears find me again as I make my way around the last turn on our snowy trek. Ever present, David is there with another hug. “It’s so beautiful here,” I say through my tears, remembering her 14 years. “She took so many walks with me. She might have shared more beautiful moments with me than anyone. I miss her so much.”
These altared spaces, the spectacularly simple moments of natural beauty, my dog shared with me in silent prayers. It is good to have a dog. And when a dog dies, it is essential to have a husband who understands and will ski beside me, stay, and ski again.
Please join my mailing list. Click here to get my stories delivered to your inbox.