They Don’t Make Boots Like They Used To

The last time it snowed in Lawrence, Paul and I threw our cross-country skis into the Subaru and drove out to the grounds of the country club. We snapped into our skis and were off across the expanse of crusted white snow covering the fairways.

When we came to the top of a hill, Paul went first steering straight down. I followed, grateful for his tracks. We skied over a little bridge, across a flat and made our way up a hill. Down Paul went.

This time, I decided to be more independent so I followed someone else’s tracks. As I skied down, I noticed Paul had fallen. When he didn’t get right up, I herringboned my way across the way and back up the hill.

“What’s wrong? I asked when I reached him. He held up one leg. The sole of his ski boot was missing. I looked down. There it was attached to his ski.

“This was a short ski trip,” I said.

When were almost back to the lot where we had parked our car–Paul trudging with the jerk of boots piercing the crust of snow, me gliding gloatingly along–my right foot suddenly broke free. It took me a moment to register what had happened. My right ski with the boot’s sole was still flat on the snow. My right boot not sure what it was doing all alone up in the air.

As we threw our cross-country skis back in the car, Paul turned to me and said, “Next time, we’ll use duct tape.”

About Happy Times in Norway

In a telephone conversation with my older sister, Krissie, two weeks ago, she asked me if I had ever read Sigrid Undset’s Happy Times in Norway.

“No, I don’t think so,” I said.

“Well, if you haven’t, you must. It’s kind of a memoir, and she tells all about Christmas, the 17th of May, and summer in the mountains.”

As if Krissie were talking food, I drooled. Then I took action. Quick to Amazon.com. I found an old copy for $10. When it came in the mail, I tore open the padded mailer.

That night I read the first section–Merry Christmas. Oh, oh, oh, the old Norwegian Christmases Mom used to tell us about: The nipping white snow right outside the front door offset by cozy interiors featuring weeks baking to serve drop-by guests, preparing special cured meats for the early morning family feast after Christmas Eve, the beckoning glamour and warmth of the candle-lit table. In a country with so many mountains, a long cold dark winter, and few people, the Christmas gathering and rejoicing created sparks of nourishing “light,” pointing the human spirit towards spring.

And in spring came the next holiday, the celebration of the creation of Norway’s independence from Denmark and Sweden, which occurred on May 17, 1814. On this day, in the town of Eidsvold, a constitution was signed to protect “the rights and justice, the dignity and honor of the Norwegian people….to live under laws ‘sewn’ to meet their own requirements.” Celebrated with fireworks, parades, speeches, and song, Undset’s book recounts Norway’s pride in freedom.

And, lastly, Summer Vacation, Undset’s third section in Happy Times in Norway, which is a descriptive piece about life lived simply and richly at a saeter (cabin) in the mountains during the brief Norwegian summer when Unsets tells of the goats and cows who eat grass from the meadows in the valleys and produce milk for butter and cheeses, where hikes give the eyes a visual bath of moss and lichen, heather and huckleberry bushes, monkshood, and “flats of juicy grass,” blueberries, and cloudberries.

Ah, some of the wonders of three important Norwegian traditions in one little red book.

Picnic in the Park

I am thinking of a tableau I came across once. Paul and I were strolling through Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. It was spring. It had just rained. We had encountered a few redwood trees originally planted in a cluster. I imagined trying to wrap my arms around each one. That it would be an impossible hug.

Further on, the lush green foliage unfolded along the path where we walked. The tender green leaves sparkled with moisture in the early afternoon sunlight.

We entered a grove where three women were gathered in front of a park bench. Two middle-aged, one old. The youngest one was leaning over removing the contents from a wooden picnic basket and setting it on a blue and white checked tablecloth spread out on the grass.

The old woman sat gracefully down on the bench, lips lifted, toes up. The second youngest one sat next to her, legs spread wide, resting on the heels of her sneakers, her hands palms up holding the stems of three plastic champagne glasses through her fingers.

The youngest one stood up, the bottle between her knees and pulled hard on the cork. With a loud POP it flew off. Then she poured.

The three women clinked glasses, sipped and laughed. A circle of women, one mother, two daughters.

Looking straight ahead as we passed them, we pretended we hadn’t seen the glory of their moment in the park.

Innocence Lost

Two minutes ago, I closed the last page of When I Came West by Laurie Wagner Buyer and sighed. My thoughts went to a wood sculpture of a young nude woman in my living room titled “Innocence.” When I bought the 2 1/2 foot high hewn piece of wood in 2004, it already had a crack from the side of the head, down the neck, across the heart to the pubic bone. The sculptor said the piece was fragile and needed special care. “Innocence,” with a crack in the object, seemed a fitting title. It still does.

Innocence always ends and is replaced by the experience of reality. This is why I sighed on completing Laurie Wagner Buyer’s book. The author’s memoir of arriving, all twenty year-old innocence, at a remote cabin in Montana to live with a mountain man she only knows through letters, is a situation the reader intuits from the outset will not work out. But, we do want to know all the details of her loss of innocence, and what she learns along the way. We want to know how deep the cracks go. We want to know what form the cracks take. We want to know what’s on the other side of innocence.

Following the author’s narrative, the reader learns about the ingenuity, work, and grit of the mountain man in his daily existence. A clear picture emerges of Little Fawn (Laurie) trying desperately to adapt from her previous suburban lifestyle to this spartan, rugged, harsh existence on the bank of the Northfork of the Flathead River in Montana. Laurie’s acute young sensibilities lap up the wild beauty of this wilderness, and cling to the inside of her and won’t let go.

As I first imagined, I found out that reality meant:

The mountain man needed… separateness… more than he could take togetherness.

The innocent young girl needed… connection…so that she could enjoy her separateness.

CLASH!

I understand why Oklahoma University Press has published this book. It is full of authentic details of what living successfully in the wilderness in the 1970’s actually entailed. It is a piece of the West’s history.

By the end of reading When I Came West, I knew how and why Little Fawn’s innocence ended and what took innocence’s place. Who wouldn’t sigh with a little regret about a beautiful young girl with no money, who hops on a train to go live with a mountain man she’s never met in the remote wilderness of Montana, her dreams pulling her along beckoning, soft and alluring?

Satisfied

I have only loved one dog in my life, a collie, named Zoonie. She was large, golden-haired, streaked with white with a long pointed nose and very human eyes. With a little coaxing, she would sit properly upright and offer her paw. If you added some loving words, she would give out a happy breath, or two, and lift her paw again. Her eyes glowed. You could roll around on Zoonie; she wouldn’t mind. If you were a cat being chased by another cat, or small dog, you could run right under her legs. She would stand there majestically and protect you. She was so steady, calm and contented, her spirit rippled into you until your own breathing became deep and satisfied.

This weekend, I met another dog whose spirit shone. This is a mutt, a large puppy, that Paul’s son, Scott, and girlfriend, Brynn, picked out at the pound and brought home to love and train. Her name is Layla. What she has in common with Zoonie is her happy disposition and her human eyes. However, being a puppy, she’s not calm–at least not unless she’s had two, or three consecutive walks. Then she’s ready to lie her whole body down flat, close her eyes and snooze.

Paul and I flew to Indianapolis where Scott picked us up and drove us to his apartment in Bloomington.

Paul climbed into the front passenger seat, and glanced around the car. “You’ve cleaned it,” he commented.

“Yup,” said Scott. I was in the back, so I couldn’t see if he smiled, but I’m pretty sure he did.

I did see Scott smile late Saturday night when he came into the study where Paul and I were at work throwing the couch cushions on the floor and wrapping sheets around them, because the blow-up mattress had a hole in it no one could find.

“You guys look like you’re camping,” he said.

Before going to bed we had dined like kings and queens because Brynn is a twenty-four year-old goddess in the kitchen. Working like a Trojan, she whipped up some of her mother’s recipes: a vegetable-curry soup, rolled flank steak with a prosciutto/breadcrumb filling, pasta with parsley and butter, cucumber and onion salad with yogurt dressing and blackberry pie. Scott assisted her in her culinary efforts. At the table, when we oohed and ahhed, Scott said, “Glad you’re enjoying it. I’ve enjoyed many good meals you’ve prepared.”

Back home now, looking back at the weekend, I have a satisfied feeling. Young people on their way to making their way in the world–and giving back while they’re doing it.