I’m driving up the highway from North Carolina through the mountains of West Virginia to see my dad in Charleston. There’s a wedge of ice underneath my windshield wiper and I watch it slowly melt as the miles go by.
It takes a really long time.
I think about ice and mountains and all the ways we experience them.
I remember the past week flying down a snowy trail, hands gripping the back of my sled, heels floating above the snow ready to touch down and slow my speed if necessary. It’s exhilarating feeling the cold air, the spray of wet snow to the face, and looking up and seeing the huge mountains all around me. I’m in a snow globe and the shimmering sunlight touches me right down into my core.
Ice can be a kind of crystallized happiness.
There is a comfort to be found here in this Swiss countryside, as if I’m being held in a snug bowl, protected by the mountains’ magnificence, and I feel secure. And then as the afternoon sun fades and we pass beneath the shadows, the air turns bitter, we wouldn’t last long out here in these temps, it’s brutal.
The two-faced nature of ice – beauty and danger.
I remember the day before, how we had snowshoed near Stockhorn Mountain. I’d never snowshoed before and it was really fun tramping across the thick snow miraculously avoiding sinking down into the deep drifts. The crunch and crackle as each shoe pressed into the crusts of snow.
Ice conquered and defeated.
And then happening upon an igloo bar in the woods – yes you heard right. A small carved out mound of snow fashioned into a little pub where we were served mulled wine.
Ice domesticated and bent to our purposes.
And then I think back to earlier in the week when we took the train up to Alp Grum at over 2000 meters altitude. The train conductor let us all out to see the gorgeous view and to take pictures.
And there were the glaciers, still and stoic, like the character in the fairytale cast by a spell at just the moment of transcendence.
I remembered when I went up there a few years ago I thought they looked so remote, cold, massive and powerful. But now the huge channel of ice seemed more like a weeping wound, like it was crying almost.
And that struck me as so dramatic, imagining this pristine peak surprised by something horrific, even obscene.
And now on this trip to Appalachia, these mountains seems more like gentle and familiar friends. They are not really very spectacular, rather they appear brown and scarred by strip mining and neglect.
They feel sad to me, but in a different way, like something chronically depressed or abused, things that never expect much by way of change.
Switzerland and West Virginia, there aren’t too many corollaries at least that I can see. Except for the mountains, so ancient and enduring, they are the things that will remain long after I am gone.
And I stare out my windshield and see my own life reflected, like the snow and ice, I am a thing being gradually diminished by the years, and today, writing this, the thoughts of those mountains, they comfort me.