The Extravagant Cocoon
Snow can both be sublime and terrifying.
Last weekend, I found myself carpooling with two other students, heading north towards snow, fog, and the Selkirk Mountains–some sixty miles south of the Canadian border. One could have been sensible and holed up at home to wait the bad weather out, but sensible was definitely out of the question when academics were involved.
A memorable five mile stretch somewhere in the vicinity of Algoma kick-started the third hour of the trip–not because the scenery was particularly spectacular or interesting but because we couldn’t see any scenery, let alone the road. The world had narrowed into nothing but snow, darkness, and the timid growling of the car heater. The driver’s knuckles glowed white. The passenger riding shotgun denied being scared. I kept peering out of the windows feeling exhausted, anxious, and out of sorts. The final leg of the journey climbed about five thousand feet, peppered with reckless deer and sharp, hairpin turns. Other vehicles passed ours, roaring up the snow-caked roads like Evel Knievel on steroids.
The final destination sparkled and winked, a cloud of lights nestled within a steep black-blue mantle, a commercialized village cut off from the rest of the world by trees and altitude. A ditzy blonde greeted us to the land of the ski bunnies by messing up our reservations, twice.
The next day (after a somewhat nervous morning of presenting my research), I didn’t head off to the slopes. Instead, I rented a pair of snowshoes and literally dove (head first) into the pines, away from the screaming kids, the ski enthusiasts, and the red-faced yuppies with their expensive equipment. Snowshoeing around the mountain was a bit like wading through cotton candy in flip-flops, while bundled up like a mummy. But it wasn’t a bad way to get around–just different. On foot, I admired firs and hemlocks and larch. Animal tracks dotted the surrounding snow and squirrels overhead chattered warnings to trespassers–i.e. me. About ten minutes into the hike, snow began to fall, silent and windless.
What other way can one cozily imagine being encased inside a snow globe?
In the late afternoon, I stumbled into a nearby lodge after my exertions and curled up on a bench next to the fireplace. Fog covered the mountain and the nearby trees as it continued to snow. Just outside the window, hot pools steamed and ruddy-jowled, middle-aged men sucked in their guts before lolling about in the water with their younger buxom girlfriends. Inside, a plump matron sipping cola read a Harlequin.
Before I briefly dozed off, the idea that I didn’t belong in this place drifted in my thoughts. Resorts were for moneyed clichés. Resorts were for rich men and posh women who wouldn’t think twice about paying ten bucks for a sandwich that would only cost three on a campus cafeteria. Resorts were for skiers and snowboarders who wanted to play with their lavish toys. They didn’t care about their surroundings–only the flash they generated as they tackled yet another physical challenge. Around the resort, large expensive houses cut into the mountainside. Even in what was supposed to be wilderness, some people felt it necessary to mark the landscape with their conspicuous consumption.
Or maybe I just don’t quite understand all of this faux-survivalist luxury.
Coming back, we passed Lake Pend Oreille. In the morning light, I saw the edges of the lake white with ice. Lonely figures sat on stools–small, black, ant-like–and fished at that precarious edge without a care in the world.