My first real job was as a salesperson at a local outdoor outfitters called Kreeger and Sons. At 17 I’d done lots of backpacking – their specialty – and I was a downhill skier, but I knew next to nothing about cross-country skiing. That didn’t stop them from assigning me the task of teaching a cross-country workshop one bright, snowy weekend at Pound Ridge Reservation. I arrived an hour early with a couple of my co-workers, so they could teach me how to ski before I became an “expert” instructor. Who knows if I fooled anyone later that morning. I wobbled a lot, but I dutifully aped the instructions that had just been thrown at me. I felt like I'd pulled off something brilliant.
Later that winter, my senior year, a classmate friend and photographer asked me to meet her at the school fields after a snowfall. She used photographs of me on Nordic skis for an art project, using the silhouette of a skier in full extension against the pure white backdrop of winter. She edited out the shots of me flailing, poles and skis creating awkward and precarious geometric shapes.
Forty-five years later, I still wobble. Cross-country has never been my metier, but those early introductions stuck with me, associating the activity forever with a sense of competence and beauty, even if faked. Nothing gives me quite the same joy as skiing across a sparkling landscape of new fallen snow, leaving first tracks, gliding in smooth rhythm, sweeping down hills with a teenager’s smile on my face, undimmed even after the flail and crash.
Robin Clifford Wood is an award-winning author, poet, and writing teacher. She lives in central Maine with her husband, loves to be outdoors, and enjoys ever-expanding horizons through her children, grandchildren, and granddogs.