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.

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A QUESTION OF VALLEYS

Delaware River image 1 green hills

Delaware River Valley

A QUESTION OF VALLEYS

Throughout most of Robert Macfarlane’s books on old ways and wild places, I’m right there with him. But I part ways with this adventuresome author, –quite literally–, when he speaks of the capacity of valleys to “shock our thoughts.” Macfarlane’s idea of a valley involves “cresting a ridge,” and “significant dropping away of the ground” at his feet.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone 1

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

It surprises me to disagree with this powerful, experienced, eloquent writer. I’ve ‘journeyed’ with him for weeks now, learning not only amazing trails in Scotland and Ireland mostly, but also a string of new vocabulary words to equal my year in Provence. I honor Macfarlane and yet I beg to differ as to the meaning and effect of valleys.

Goat Hill View of Delaware River Valley Brenda Jones

Goat Hill Preserve View of Delaware looking north, by Brenda Jones

The last thing that comes to my mind concerning valleys is edges or crests.
I do rejoice in his emphasis on valleys’ capacity. What would be my valley words?
wide / broad
deep / profound
often wooded,
comforting
welcoming
enveloping
gentling
soothing
often blessed by waterfalls
laved by streams, sometimes invisible, even inaudible.
silence except for birdsong, and/or breezes in treetops
secluded
subtle
places of solitude
rich in grandeur

Materhorn reflected

Materhorn Valley

I feel wrapped by every valley I revisit in memory.

Hopewell Valley Paintking by Joe Kaziemierczyk

Hopewell Valley from St. Michaels Preserve

by Joe Kazimierczyk

Macfarlane’s “edge-dropping-off” phenomenon was the harsh reality in Provence’s Gorge du Verdon. I drove it, –rather well, actually–, but there was no welcoming atmosphere, such as suffuses me in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

Gorges du Verdon Valley 1

Gorge du Verdon, Provence, France

 

Even studded with trees and tumbled with rocks, the valleys I’ve hiked and kayaked have been hushed.

Delaware River Kayaking at Bulls Island

Kayaking the Delaware River North from Bull’s Island

I seek valleys as antidotes to our harsh world, this arena of bustle, noise and harm

Maroon Bells storm

Maroon Bells Valley, which I’ve known only on skis

In the depths of valleys, light trickles in like sunrays pouring from distant cumulus clouds. It’s something about light juxtaposed with darkness, and its effect on me is uplift, otherwise known as hope.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone with rainbow

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone With Rainbow

Valleys cradle life: In certain seasons, in certain valleys, salmon splash and writhe en route to natal sites. Eggs will be released in pristine pools, above glistening pebbles, in soundless eddies of whatever waterway blesses that valley.

Oregon Columbia River Gorge from Cascade Locks

Columbia River Gorge, May 2014, by Carolyn Foote Edelmann

Remoteness and stillness are essential for this recurring miracle. Along their way, creatures from ospreys to eagles to bears, and God knows how many microbes, will have been nourished, while the sapping away of salmon essence nourishes towering trees.

Indian fishing for spring chinook in Oregon Des Chutes and White River trip, May 2014 006

Indian Fishing The Old Ways, Des Chutes River, near Columbia

Oregon 2014 by Carolyn Foote Edelmann

Some valleys, such as the Columbia and its tributaries, belong to the Indians, their ancient ways and skills.

Tying the Net Spring Chinook Run along Oregon Des Chutes and White River trip, May 2014 010

Tying the Net, Des Chutes River

Oregon, 2014 by Carolyn Foote Edelmann

“Valley” has a somewhat different meaning in our Hopewell Valle, our Delaware River Valley. Here, ‘the Valley’ is something to be protected at all costs, both land and water. At D&R Greenway we have worked day and night, since 1989, –protesting, writing, negotiating, funding, pondering, discussing, acting, publicizing, celebrating, even literally building trails and weeding, then planting the natives of the Delaware Valley. We create art and science events to call attention to the urgency of preserving these valleys and their sacred waterways, in perpetuity. We were founded to save waters and lands of the Delaware & Raritan Canal. We’re now in seven counties, including the lands and waters of the sacred Delaware Bay, guarding the watershed, of that essential River, and the sea to which she journeys.

Table View Black Bass Autumn 2010

View of Delaware Valley from Table at Black Bass Inn

by Carolyn Foote Edelmann

In the 1980’s, a broad array of people from New Jersey and Pennsylvania fought and lost the battle to prevent “The Pump” from removing 200 million gallons a day from our tidal river. We did succeed in lowering the amount of water taken daily, to cool a nuclear plant on the Susquehanna. It is hard to hold full gratitude and pride for a partial victory. But the Delaware, creator of this valley, thrives because of those efforts. Some of its reaches have been officially named “wild and scenic.” Some of its reaches welcome the holy shad each April, on their run to their natal territories.

Delaware's Watery Beauty, Spring

Peaceful Delaware River Spring from Bull’s Island

by Carolyn Foote Edelmann

Once, hiking in bathing suits and bare feet, my family climbed down a Jamaican valley, accompanied by a blithe waterfall. At the bottom, we sat for timeless time, in the salt sea, blessed by the freshwater falls. That startling juxtaposition remains rare. That Jamaica valley recedes into mythic time. But the blending of salt and fresh takes place each day in our Delaware, all the way up to Trenton. One spring, a whale demonstrated this reality by coming so far after shad in the spring that it could be seen at the Scenic Observatory on Route 295 adjacent to Trenton.

East Point  The Beckoning   Delaware Bay

Delaware Bay at East Point Light

Fall 2014, by Carolyn Foote Edelmann

The valleys of memory take many forms. For me, none involves “shock”. Macfarlane is a phenomenal writer, and taking virtual hikes with him enriches my days and nights. Valleys are not, however, about edges dropping away below my feet. Valleys are refuge; valleys are home.

Materhorn Valley image evening

How the Materhorn Valley Shelters at Night

when you’re staying/skiing in Zermatt

Long ago, I fell in love with Robert Frost’s description of woods as “lovely, dark and deep.” Valleys are the true possessors of that description.