It’s been unseasonably warm for December here in Wyoming. We were almost afraid there wouldn’t be any snow to speak of in the mountains when the Snowy Range Ski Area opened.
Matt and I went up to the Snowies the weekend before last to get our Christmas tree, just like last year. We stopped by the ski lodge to pick up our passes, have my skis and Matt’s board waxed, and go up the lift and down the the slopes a couple times. The lodge has a little bar upstairs overlooking the slopes, and we had a draught beer from Sheep Mountain Brewery, basically a guy outside of Laramie who makes great beer in his oversized garage. I believe it was a red IPA – really delicious! The bearded man sitting next to us introduced himself as a foreign exchange student from Tasmania studying at the University of Wyoming. I drank a free additional pint of the red IPA because the bartender messed up a pour. You know, typical Laramie-area happenings.
I was pleased that I hadn’t completely forgotten how to ski and that neither of us fell while getting on or off the lift, which had proved more difficult than I had anticipated last year. It was warm enough that I hadn’t been dying to get off the lift by the time we reached the top of the mountain, and sunny too.
Sometimes, caught in a turn, the view obscured by pines, you forget that you’re not completely alone with the trees and the snow. You feel small and a part of something wide and deep and beautiful in the almost-silence of the wind and the sshhhh of your skis against the snow.
After skiing, we drove up the road a ways to find ourselves a tree. We walked by a family on snowshoes carrying their own tree on the snowed-in trail. If you stayed on the cross-country ski trail you didn’t need snowshoes, but we eventually had to wander off the trail to find our tree, as per Forest Service regulations. I believe the word “trudging” was invented to describe one’s slow, labored walk through over a foot of snow. If you’ve never had the good fortune of needing to trudge through so much snow that it’s a small miracle every time your boot reappears, whole – just imagine a small child so bored they’ve grown exasperated with the feeling, chin to the ceiling, eyes rolled up in their sockets, shoulders sagging, walking away from you. That, too, is a trudge.
To ease your sadness about severing forever a pine from its roots, the Forest Service informs you in their handy brochure, which accompanies the $10 permit for the tree cutting, that your act assists the growth of the surrounding trees, and thus the forest as a whole (I admit it would be better here if I quoted directly from the pamphlet but, after a ~30-second search through my recent mail, I’ve come to the conclusion that I probably threw it out). Harvesting the tree, then, is like giving the grove a haircut. Mowing the lawn. Holding two or three kids back a grade. You know, science: not everyone wins and gets to become a magnificent Christmas tree – just the pretty ones.
We picked a more suitably-sized tree for both the inside of the car and our house this year, though its much skinnier trunk repeatedly rebelled at our positioning it in the Christmas tree stand. It remains crooked but only if you look at it from either the perspective of the gas fireplace or the dusty corner behind the couch which likes to collect tumbleweeds of dog fur. From the front door it looks very nice. We only broke one ornament wrestling with it and the stand.
Christmas is fast approaching! I’ve already watched “Elf” once, and listened to probably 50 hours of Christmas music, so I’m prepared. I’ve wrapped all the presents, created plenty of online wishlists at various outlets in anticipation of the receipt of gift cards, and made at least one Christmas-related dessert item, though I have yet to watch the Charlie Brown Christmas special, which I have on DVD – yes, it’s that important. I’m looking forward to seeing my family in North Carolina, but I’d gladly skip over the whole shuttle-to-the-airport/plane-from-one-airport-to-the-next thing if I could. I think this is a sign you’re officially an adult, when the prospect of traveling via plane exhausts you and causes you to go out and buy crystallized ginger and anti-nausea pills instead of giving you boundless, exuberant joy.
But after all that sitting and wondering which ridiculously expensive dry sandwich or stale burger to order and weaseling your way into public bathroom stalls only to find there is no toilet paper – after all that mess comes FAMILY. And old friends, and presents, and free food, and all those wonderful, wonderful things. This is why I love Christmas.
Happy holidays and safe travels, everyone!