Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Case for Place

I haven't been cycling in months.  Although this might come as some sort of sad irony in light of this blog being born from bicycle-powered adventure, I'm not really that broken up about it.  Sure, I miss the bike, and those long warm rides in the mountains, but I miss it like I miss asparagus or basil, those ephemeral staples of spring and summer that might be short lived, but they have a time, and will be back next season.  For now I'm loving the winter, the numbing cold, the short days parenthesized by extended darkness, the styrofoam crunch of snow under my skis, and the unparalleled beauty of the play of light on mountains dressed in white.  I'm embracing the winter for what it is: now.

I've been thinking about our relationship between the seasons and mobility, and how living car-free ties in.  How traveling at the speed of human power has changed my perception of time and place, giving me a deeper appreciation and patience for the passage of time and my movement through it.  Like the small birds and ermine's that inhabit the forest around me, I cannot escape the winter, it comes to us and we bend to it's will.  It changes our range, our modes of transportation, and the scope of our adventures.  Much like those who make the choice to eat locally, living car-free has pushed us toward a more intimate relationship with the season's, a natural ebb and flow of action and activity.

Since we've removed the aid of an automobile, we've removed one of the underlying realities of our society: speed.  It isn't that we're not moving fast in the mountains, but when you move at the pace of human power, you naturally have that much more of an appreciation and awareness for every piece of land you travel over, because you spend that much more time being intimate with it, and relying on your own physical power to move through it.

As Ernest Hemingway wrote: "It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.  Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motorcar only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of a country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle."

Similarly, when traveling in the winter, to tour by ski is to gain an "accurate remembrance" of each climb, and more notably, each descent.  Your skis become like appendages giving you an understanding of the snow by just sliding over it.  How well your skis glide, how much you sink in with each stride or turn, each movement gives feedback to the constitution of the snow without ever bending over to touch it.  The winter is of course, cold, and in the cold everything seems to quiet and slow, including time.

For us, winter is time for a sort of hibernation.  Not the inactive hibernation of a bear that comes to mind first, but a kind of adventure hibernation, when the physical range of our explorations is made smaller, somewhat due to weather but mostly due to our surroundings and our dominant mode of transportation.  Looking from above, our travel mimics that of the ermine, scurrying about our more immediate surroundings foraging for food, or in our case, soft snow and good turns.  Eventually the sun's strength will return and the snow will melt, the air will warm and we'll return to the vibrant growth and buzzing activity of the summer, when the days will be long and the range of our human power is drastically increased, allowing us to sleep outside and carry on longer, more comfortable trips.  But for now we'll return each night to our fireplaces and our small, cozy rooms to hatch the next days plans.

For most of us, the relationship between the season's and our mobility is tedious at best, and the use of fossil fuels for transportation and heat has only helped to dull it, allowing us do drive to different climates, or save our soft-asses from the blistering sun or frost-biting cold.  When the season's change we simply strap a different object to our car and drive off to the trailhead.  Bikes in summer, skis in winter.  But without the aid of the automobile, we're returned to a more similar relationship to the winter as the rest of the forests residents: survival.  Not that we're not thriving in light of the bulk of primaloft, fat skis and snow goggles, but at the end of the day, the call for a warm bed, and a hot meal overrides our thirst to make it to the next ridge, the next summit.

I started writing with a bag of mixed emotions and I feel like I've managed to spill only some of them out.  I'd been thinking about this relationship between the seasons and our mobility, how winter shrinks the scope of my roaming and changes my dominant mode of transportation, and I think I've layed that out, but somehow I feel like there's something left that's begging to be said.  That might just be another way winter has it's effect on me, the subtle melancholy that comes from frozen breath, falling snow, and the most beautiful sunrises.  The slow, cold, world, where usually the only thing moving fast is the wind, and even that has some sort of solitary quality that reminds you that you're out, alone, and can't stay there for long.

I expected this to devolve into some sort of rant about fossil fueled transportation and seasonal mobility, or a look into the relationship between the Localvore movement and human-powered transportation, and how each can lead to an increased appreciation for the seasons and places we live and visit.  But I don't really feel all that coming out.  I guess this is what it's meant to be, just me being appreciative of the winter and how it's changed my habits.

This is a blog about sustainable mobility, and for me, living car-free, that means that for these 6 months of the year, I'll probably not usually travel any farther then 10 miles from home, and that'll mostly be by ski.  I've got plenty of plans and motivation for longer, more extended duration tours for the winter, but until money and time are no object, I'll stick to the day trips of ski mountaineering and powder seeking in this wonderful mountain range.

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