Christmas Arrives in Unexpected Settings

 Waterville Valley Vistas

When one has a difficult mother,  it can become essential to distance one’s self and  family, particularly at the time of significant holidays.  If one has a courageous husband, he may announce, as the parental car pulled out of our Princeton driveway after a particularly grueling visit, “That’s it.  We are not letting her ruin another Christmas.  We are going skiing at Waterville.”

My husband, Werner Oscar Joseph Edelmann (for full effect say with German accent) was 100% Swiss.  Although he had not grown up skiing, we took it up as a family, the year we moved to Princeton – 1968.  Shore friends, sitting on their dune-cushioned deck, insisted that our families learn together.  It was August and steamy.  Winter?  WHAT Winter.  We said yes.

I secretly hoped some disaster, like a broken leg, or death, would intervene before that crucial February challenge.  None did.  So we all began to learn to ski.  The girls were in kindergarten and first grade.  At Killington, they looked like bunnies in their fuzzy snowsuits and fat mittens, among a gaggle of other little beginners, huddled at the base of ‘the bunny slope.’

They, being half Swiss, did not remain beginners very long.  In the year of our deliverance from my mother, they were teens who preferred ‘bombing the black lines’   – the expert slopes.  Especially “Oblivion” in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire.  The White Mountains were Werner’s choice for our runaway Christmas, because their ski school and an authentic Swiss lodge were run by Paul Pfosi.  All Paul’s instructors were Swiss.  Extremely demanding.  “Ski marks on the inside of your ski boots” to prove you had your legs close enough together.  Off-slope, they all delighted to converse in their native (unwritten) language with this tall, dark-haired, dark-eyed very determined American skier.  Stein Eriksen in those years was our hero, our model.

stein_eriksen

No one would mistake us for Stein, but his example formed Pfosi’s Instructor Corps.

Anita Kathriner and Raphael Wyss make Alpkase, Mutschli and butter by hand in the traditional manner in a giant copper kettle over a wood burning fire at their cheese-making hut above Wengen, Switzerland

Swiss Copper Cheese Kettle in situ

Pfosi’s Lodge held the huge copper kettles we’d first seen in Emmenthaler, in which magnificent Swiss cheeses were precisely concocted.  Only Pfosi’s kettles overflowed with silky evergreen boughs from nearby endless forests.  Swiss Christmas music, such as relatives had carefully sent to Diane and Catherine over the years, pealed from hidden speakers.  Conditions were ideal on the slopes, and for any number of days we almost forgot it was Christmas.  But not quite.

Our family, over the years, had no experience of that Holiday beyond our own formal tree and hand-made-ornament tree, one by the living room fireplace, one by the family room’s slate hearth.  Heaven to us was a fire in each room, the three of us in long plaid skirts and white lace blouses, playing our guitars and caroling for Werner in the family room.  There’d always been the Nutcracker at Lincoln Center, and caroling in the neighborhood near Princeton’s Snowden Lane.  Could Christmas find us in New Hampshire?

There was a tiny church in the village below the lodge.  It felt very odd to go to church in ski clothes and apres-ski boots.  Instead of a jungle of poinsettias in the Princeton church, but two tiny ones ‘decked’ this austere altar.  Instead of instruments sustaining voices back home, a motley choir with cracking voices sang in a small wooden balcony high overhead.  But it was Midnight Mass, and it did hold all the magic we needed.  And the quivering voices underscored a somehow more memaningful reality.

We drove back up the mountain, past the restaurant where we’d had Christmas Eve Supper.  We’d sat next to a live birch tree, somehow able to live and thrive indoors, reaching for the midnight sky.  Between dinner and church, we’d been astounded by stars beyond counting, which seemed nearly blinding.  But between church and the lodge, no stars.  Instead, white swirls, glistening to be sure, of new snowflakes — no more welcome blessing in ski country at Christmas.

Swiss Santa in Boat

Back in our rooms — it must have been near 2 a.m. by now — we found dark Swiss chocolates wrapped in bright gold foil upon our pillows,.  Pfosi’s had signed lacy old-fashioned Christmas cards with gilt arabesques, such as those which arrived every year from Tante Li, Onkel Joni, Cousin Vera and the rest of the family in and near St. Gallen.  I cannot spell their Christmas message, but we all knew how to say it in Swiss — it sounded like FRO-LIKKA-VIE-NOCKTEN.  One said this with certain notes in our voices which the girls had heard since babyhood..

Frohlichi Wiehnacht Swiss Christmas Card

Diane’s and Catherine’s room was right across the narrow hall from ours.  They burst in, laughing all over.  “Come Quick!  Come Quick!  Carolers!”

We “thrust open the windows, threw up the sash” onto a scene I will never forget.  Snow circled, enfolding us as though we had been transported into the Milky Way. itself, Horses snorted and their visible breath mingled with the flakes.  Yes, sleigh bells jingled.  Tucked into hay in an old fashioned sleigh were male and female carolers, dressed as we had been for Mass, in ski parkas and ski mitts and knit hats.  These voices sounded like tiny silver chimes, like bells, rising into the heavens in celebration.

And we’d thought Christmas was only in our family room…

It wasn’t every Christmas morning that opened on a trail named “Oblivion”!

The Mountain, Waterville Valley

May each of you find your special holiday exactly as you need it this year — and may its real message of Peace on Earth, Good Will, suffuse our entire planet.

Here is an ad from the 1970’s, when we were there:

ski watervi w va NEW HAMPSHIRE PFOSI S LODGE Willkommen! Paul Pfosi, Director of the Waterville Valley Ski School, invites you to enjoy the Swiss-American hospitality of Pfosi’s Lodge. Alodge unique in every way combining old world charm with the most modern American accommodations and conveniences; …

The future would bring Christmas in other realms:

Aspen skiing scene,jpg

In Aspen, we could ski through forests.

In Zermatt, the Materhorn always tantalized:

Zermatt Materhorn from Internet

 

But the slopes held the magic:

 

Swiss skier from Internet

BUT NOTHING EVER TOPPED CAROLERS IN THE HORSE-DRAWN SLEIGH OUTSIDE THE OPEN WINDOWS OF PFOSI’S LODGE OF WATERVILLE.

ONCE UPON A TIME, THERE WAS SNOW

Drowning in Snow

Drowning in Snow – Early 2016

On a hot day in a hot week in the early part of March, I am tempted to call this blog post, “Remember Snow?”  As people walk into our 1900 barn, –where we save land, the ultimate carbon sink–, they exult over “this lovely day.”

All day I tried to correct them:  “It’s tragic!”

“Why?!,” they’d demand.

“Climate change,” I’d retort, mourning in my voice.

“Oh, well,” says the first entrant, with a dismissive wave of the hand.  If I give up on climate change – o, please may I never give up upon calling attention to this debacle – today will have been my tipping point.

On the phone, I attempted to correct a hunter, also pleased that it is nearing seventy degrees.  When I used the dread ‘C Words’, he chuckled.  “Oh, that won’t be upon us for some time yet…”  His voice reveals that he too may have been using dismissive gestures.

Early Blizzard Chair and Table

Patio Time

Only a handful of people dare admit to me, as I literally sit in a barn with its doors thrown open to the March heat, “I happen to be a lover of winter.  This year is a fizzle.”

Yes, YES!  Realize this.  Snow is part of a significant and crucially necessary cycle.  Without it, nature’s processes are seriously skewed.

Snow, with its accompanying low temperatures, blesses fox habitat, killing microbes in their dens that otherwise doom these animals to the dire death of mange.  Ice covering a bay, such as Barnegat, permits new healthy foxes to scamper across to Island Beach, strengthening the vulpine tribe.

Snow on the mountains creates snow pack, ‘designed’ to hold water not meant to be released until the droughty months ahead.  This is particularly essential in states such as Oregon.  But New Jersey, the Garden State, requires her snow, too.  My mother used to call snow “nature’s fertilizer,” particularly rejoicing in late blizzards.  Something about nitrogen and she could see visible improvements, thereafter, in her garden.

The mailman countered, “You want snow?  Move to Minnesota.”  I lived in Minnesota in the first years of marriage to a Mayo-training urologist.  Yes, snow, whiteout snow, ‘blowing and drifting snow’, the norm and fifteen inches on my first fifteenth of April.

I want snow, now, when it belongs here, doing its sweet silent work.

Face it, we should ALL want snow.

Frantic Birds, Blizzard 1 2016

Frantic Birds Feed in Blizzard

I remember soft swathes of flakes circling down each Aspen night, frosting the long blonde hair of my teen-aged daughters.  The girls in their long skirts and clunky after-ski boots, our family family made its silent nightly way on foot to yet another intriguing dinner.  In the morning, new snow would cushioned long sweet sweeps through Big Burn and into a forest, where we sort-of slalomed in and out of ancient trees.  Their boughs were thick with snow pillows.

At the very top, each dawn, flaky frost would surround tree branches, and even float through the air, all rainbowed and fascinating.  There is no silence, not even a cathedral’s, to equal that on a chairlift through snowed forests.

At home in Princeton, snow meant ‘a snow day’, the ‘telephone tree’ informing us that PDS was closed.  Fires in the fireplaces in the morning, and chicken soup steaming up the windows, so we could barely see the universal whiteness outside.  Cardinals dancing in and out of flakes and shadows, surrounding our bountiful feeders.  A raptor zooming over to snatch the neck among steaming chicken bones I negotiated my way through confusing drifts to place at the edge of our woods.

Sitting on the hearth, playing our guitars and singing folk songs.  If it were the right kind of snow, (this was the 1970’s), snowmen – only my girls insisted on snow-women, of course.  We didn’t always have a carrot for a nose, and never coal.  Snow meant the cats wouldn’t go out the front door into it, insisting on the back – as though there wouldn’t be any snow out there.

Depth of Field late blizzard

Remarkable Snow Depth – Courtesy of Catastrophic Climate Change

Well, if we had those cats now, there wouldn’t be any snow out any doors.

Think about it, at seventy degrees in March.  If it’s this many degrees hotter than March norms, how will August be?

Flowers are opening months earlier than they should – what will the pollinators do?

Goldfinches at my Lawrenceville feeders are turning gold under their wings.  Does that mean they’re thinking breeding thoughts?  And where will the insects be to feed their premature young?

You’ve heard it before.  We’ve ignored it before.

Roof Overhang

Overhand, Morning After the Blizzard

The snow quantities in these pictures are brought to us, via our insistence upon fossil fuels, by Catastrophic Climate Change.

There is no ‘if’ about climate change.  My Climate Change Reader, edited by legendary Bill McKibben, proffers 100 years of writing (pro and con) on this subject.  McKibben dared author his his tome heralding our planet’s gravest crisis (The End of Nature) in 1989.  Is anybody listening?

When Pogo asserted, “We have seen the enemy and he is us,” he was not considering climate.

We have seen the future, and it is now.

You don’t want to be in sleeveless tops and running shorts in March.

At the very least, write your senators, representatives and editors and urge them to grapple with this most significant issue of our time, immediately and effectively now.

HOW IT SHOULD BE IN WINTER:

Falling Fast and Furiously

Falling Fast and Furiously

It’s not just snow that’s endangered.  It’s the planet itself, and we ourselves are part of what Elizabeth Kolbert titles “The Sixth Extinction.”