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Second Snow, First Skiing

Well I never thought I would live to report it, but today we had our second significant snowfall of the winter. This afternoon I was able to go cross country skiing in the streets of Portland. I covered our entire neighborhood. There was about 3" on the ground when I went, not quite enough to cover curbs but otherwise enough to ski freely in the street, sidewalks or grassy areas. There were quite a few other people out on XC skis, and in the park there were at least 100 people sliding down the hill on everything from plastic discs to cardboard boxes. I sat on a bench and watched for a while, laughing at the wrecks. Most people ignored me and the boys who wrecked the most spectacularly seemed embarrassed that I was laughing at them. I thought they did it to make a show.

It's something about the city. Living in the city, there are too many people. There is this sense that we can't afford to be friendly to each other. For one thing, you can't just be friendly to people on the street because a substantial portion of them are beggars or thieves. It is not wise to appear weak in any way, because then you become a target. Openness seems to be a form of weakness. I have watched the bums berate people at outdoor cafes for being ungenerous, and seen other patrons paying the bum off to get rid of him. Many of the street bums in Portland act really crazy, talking loudly to themselves, or gesturing. I think it is at least partly an act to keep people at bay.

One time a man in the laundromat was talking loudly to himself and I was disturbed, so I started talking to him, asking him if he was talking to me, and more. He was perfectly coherent and able to interact with me, when he wanted to. But this city, Portland, has so many crazy and desperate people wandering the streets and discount stores, that regular trusting folk remain closed. Simple honest good people are cold to strangers, because they do not want to deal with the barrage that you invite by being open. I thought the racism chilled things in Flagstaff, but here the impediment to a warm social life with neighbors is just urbanism. Too many people.

Today skiing I smiled and greeted everyone I saw on the streets. Some people actually smiled and responded, which they normally don't do. The snow makes an exception in the normal code of behavior. I suspect that the people who are out in the streets playing in the snow tonight are not from around here. We are people from places where there is snow. I am going to live where there is snow, regular snow, for the purity and joy of it. I want to ski to people's houses in winter to take care of their ill ones. I want to ski to where there is a view, and to where the animal trails cross.

While out in the city I had a strong sense of what I have left behind. Living in Northern Arizona I was in the heart of the largest ponderosa pine forest in the world. Every place I lived in Flagstaff, I was within a mile of the edge of the forest, boundless open pine groves, eroded basalt slopes, elk hideouts, small canyons and scrub oak on the edges, and when there's snow, coyote and rabbit tracks...the harsh beauty of the peaks...here I live in a large city, where it is quite a distance to the nearest wildlife refuge, and there are many other people who go there. Here I ski on sidewalks and spot just a few pet dogs on leashes, a squirrel or two in the daytime, a cat slinking in the night. Birds, yesterday they were singing loudly from one tree. Snow: once in a blue moon, here.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
beauregard45
Dec. 21st, 2008 04:40 am (UTC)
intentionalness...
I think the people that you met out on skiis share the notion of "intentionalness" with you. It takes effort and commitment to go out on skiis after a snow, but the returns are multiple.

I remember the "urbaness" of Portlandia. It turned me off too, but there are those folks, like you met in the snow. Vignettes yet to happen.

Glad to hear you are getting a bit of a break. As I remember, the snow doesn't get to town that often.

J.
neptunia67
Dec. 21st, 2008 05:24 am (UTC)
It is a lot easier to know what we left behind when we have to look back to see it.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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