Monday, April 10, 2006

away in Vail

My brother, sister and nephew.

My nephew and my sister.

Me and my sister.

What a holiday! Such contrasting experiences! I was treated to a week of skiing in Vail, Colorado, with my sister, one of my nephews and one of my brothers. I returned home yesterday.

Being my first visit to Colorado, I was peering out the windows of planes, shuttle buses, and gondolas the whole time, trying to drink in the views. Of course, in the dark, on the trip from Denver up to Vail that first evening, it was hard to see anything but the blowing snow and the "icy road" warning signs in the mountains.

I am not a sophisticated traveler -- in case anybody ever had that mistaken impression of me! I get completely enraptured and thrilled by new landscapes. I'm hardly ever jaded, even by the routes I drive every day nearer home!

Even on the return journey in the wee hours of Saturday morning from Vail to Denver, with frost on the windows of the bus, while most of our ski group slept, I had my camera out hoping to snatch a quick photo of the country we passed: treed valleys, snow on the mountain peaks, rushing rivers, then lower down, colourful striated patterns in the cliff faces, strange rock formations, mine-tailings falling down a mountain side beneath the small dark mouth to a mine, trailer-parks perched between the highway and the wall of a mountain, houses atop dusty rocky soil on a scrap of flat land in narrow valleys.

Not able to capture a single photo, I did nevertheless enjoy glimpses of horses in a steep mountain pasture, a deer staring at the passing traffic, many prairie dogs standing at attention on top of the mounds of soil around their burrows and tumbling tumble-weed caught up in the snow-fences stretched alongside the highway. Looking back westward from Denver, through a shocking amount of smog, I could see the line of purple mountains with their snowy peaks running north and south, seemingly forever. Not much spring growth had started yet: some fresh acid-green on willow trees in town.

In Vail, spring bulbs were pushing upwards in the flower beds around the resorts and condos, but the blossoms had not opened out yet. The aspen trees on the upper slopes were bare, but lower down, dotted with their grey catkin-blooms. Dog-like prints of an occasional coyote meandered in the snow between the pine trees and bare aspens on the slopes. Robins down in Lionshead and Vail Village were a familiar sight, but magpies were a new amusement for me.

A little boy, not yet three, tortured his mother with his busy-ness on the gondola ride down-mountain one afternoon, licking the backs of the seats, restlessly squirming in and out of the space between the backs of the seats and the glass of the gondola, on mom's lap, off mom's lap... Not toilet-trained yet, his mom said they won't take him in ski-school.

Too bad. I sympathize with mom, remembering my own kids and granddaughter at the wonderful and terrible age of 2.

I ask the little boy: "Can you see the trucks down there?" (The highway becomes visible once the gondola is about 2/3 of the way down to Lionshead.)


"Can you see the skiers down there?"


"Can you see the flag down there?" (The stars and stripes, to be sure, are fluttering at the other end of the stone bridge over the river.)


"Is 'no' your favorite word?"

Mom: "Yes." Child: "No!"

Cold nights turned the slopes into scary icy stuff in the mornings. As the spring sun warmed the day, the lower slopes turned into sticky thick slush by noon. Late Wednesday and Thursday, snowstorms came through. Friday morning, 9 inches of amazing powder on the slopes finally made me into a convert to skiing! Visibility was not so good as the snow continued to blow around in the morning, but the sensation of gliding across that powder was almost like being weightless!

Having almost no prior skiing experience, I took lessons for the first three days. Still not without a lot of fear and also perhaps suffering a bit from altitude sickness, my legs turned to rubber more and more quickly on Thursday and Friday, cutting my skiing day shorter and shorter. Even getting into the hot-tub on Friday was no longer the soothing relief it had been after the first few days of skiing -- it just made me even more lightheaded.

It just has to be said that everywhere around Vail, the service was exceptional! It really didn't matter if it was the hungover homesick young man chatting with me on his way to work up at one of the restaurants in the morning, the young men manning the chairlifts, the guides or the ski instructors, they were all unfailingly helpful and kind. No matter how clumsy or fearful I was, everyone was encouraging. I even have a huge ugly bruize on my left hip from a very undignified fall at the bottom of a chair lift which still makes me laugh! To think of the attendant jumping to my aid and actually lifting me up off the ground onto my feet/skiis again! And, oh yes, I don't need to admit to anyone, do I, that I have a huge --and sadly, unrequited-- crush on both my ski instructors, Jan and Kelly?

On my return home yesterday afternoon, after lots of hugs and kisses for Misty and Molly, I set out on a long walk around our fields and woods. (Ann likes to walk down by the lake around Millionaire Row and had set out with Tasha before I got home, leaving my two dogs home -- Misty and Molly have to be leashed down there and behave very badly, making walking all three dogs there a nasty chore.)

It was amazing to hear the spring peepers in full froggy-chorus already down by the pond. We also scared up a pair of ducks, but I didn't get a proper look at them.

A pair of red-tailed hawks circled lazily overhead for a while near the pond today. I could hear some more ducks gossiping irritably in the watery edge of the pond that extends into the trees, but couldn't see them. Flocks of blackbirds keep up a noisy chatter in the trees around the house and barn. Robins still flutter off in small flocks, apparently not paired off yet to breed and nest.

On our walk today, Molly started barking at something in a cedar thicket. When I went to investigate, I found a dead porcupine, stiff, dead a while. Molly kept well back, a yard or more. Maybe at last, she has remembered to keep away from porcupines!


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