Thursday, January 31, 2008

If we could all just ski together

This morning, before the sun rose slow and cold, pulling itself up like someone who'd broken through the ice, it was 17 degrees below zero here in downtown Durango. That's cold for Durango, even in January. Even in January when Durango's in its "mountain town" mood-swing phase. As it is very much is this year, with more than three feet of snow in our yard, and snowbanks stories high in places along the roads and parking lots and driveways around town. And Purgatory? Most glorious.

And Purgatory is where my friend Scott is today. It's his birthday, so he took the day off. And he's a judge, an important and busy guy. This willingness to forgo a day of important work (at least when compared to, say, blogging), is admirable, I think. In fact, I think it's vital. By being willing to take a day to himself, and to go out there, where he lives, he is manifesting the values I, myself, would like to see many more -- or all -- public officials supporting, encouraging, and themselves practicing. And more corporate leaders. And politicians. And other important people. Even judges.

The values of the ski bum.

With Scott, those values are a given. Not even a hard choice. That's why we're friends. Still, those are the values I'd like to see everyone practice. Because, everyone, let's understand this: Play is the point. That's what the ski bum, even the professionally-employed one, knows.

(Hence, let's, A. Protect places for play, everything from neighborhood stands of trees and open lots, to backcountry and wilderness; and B. Teach our kids how to play, at least as much as we teach them to do math, do their homework, do the CSAPs, and do what it takes to get ahead. A modest proposal.)

The ski bum in everyone says, Let's just ... relax. We don't need so much stuff. We don't need to be so busy. We don't need to accomplish so much or fret so much or be so frantic. Let's remember: Play. Is. The Point.

And when people gather around playing, good things happen.

As legendary surfer Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz says, "If you can surf together, you can live together." He was talking about his attempt, along with surfing champ Kelly Slater, to bring together Palestinian and Israeli kids through surfing, with the vision that an injection of surf-bum culture can transform the larger, entrenched culture. But I think this also applies here in the Four Corners, and the unique variety of communities and cultures dispersed and interwoven here, as well -- particularly in the the various "bum" cultures that are interwoven in the fabric of most communities around here.

Herein I define "bums" as people who live in a place because it's where they want to be. In the Four Corners, then, that'd be ski bums and river rats and desert wanderers, of course, but also many ranchers and farmers, and free-lance entrepreneurs, and professionals who could make much more dough elsewhere. There's a variety, because many people live in Durango and elsewhere in the Four Corners because the Four Corners offers places to play. And they're willing to do what it takes to play here.

It's not always easy to scrape out a living to make it here and/or have the time to play near as much as one would like, but mountain town struggling can be its own kind of play, full of other people struggling along with you for the same reasons you are. But here's the secret: when you're where you want to be, then work, too, is play.

Even today.

I decline Scott's offer to join him and Dave in his birthday ski, because I have important work to do. Like blogging. But I don't mind because, work or not, it sucks not: I sit in my little garage office (The Wordshop), and peck away, while that blue-cold sun screams in the window and heaps of snow stand in the yard and the town rolls around through the canyon country of snowbanks and through the skin-biting cold of this particularly playful winter. In the midst of all that, all that set in this elegantly snow-shrouded and red-rock rimmed high-country valley set at the feet of crystal mountains.

And I know I'll be out in it soon, sometime soon.

Until then, I walk out into the back yard and take it in. I breath. I stand. I bow.

Then I go back to work. And I don't mind, because it's all of a piece in a place where we ski together. Where play is the point.

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