Updated: Feb 22, 2020
I’ve been skiing in a garden planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression over 80 years ago. Through clusters of fir trees puffy with snow, the clear line of green marching in haphazard beauty down the mountain. Once this was mining country and the trees cut down almost to the top of the mountains at 10,000 feet. In the summer the basin is filled with flowers: Indian paintbrush, marsh marigold, gentian, moss campion. I haven’t been here then, but I’ve hiked in other high meadows where the same flowers grow at this altitude in June.
Now I ski through this sculpted forest in Utah, past cliffs with rocks marked with green lichen and the mix of evergreens: Engleman spruce, bristlecone pine--4,000 years old-- limber pine, lodgepole pine. I gather the tight little cones of the spruce, smelling sweet and sticky on my gloves.
One day, a porcupine climbed one of the spruce trees, pulling herself up the slim branches, all pointed and glistening, emerald and gold like the light. A kind of mythical animal with a tail that supported her from branch to branch until she sat peering down at me, poised on my skis.
I plot my line down the hill, sometimes skiing tight turns and other times curving my skies in big loops down the mountain. It’s a kind of cold, fragrant, silent garden. So I’m really flying through the winter garden, like in a dream where I have wings. Or in a poem drawn from word to word “Burning the Christmas Greens”:
By William Carlos Williams
Their time past, pulled down cracked and flung to the fire —go up in a roar
All recognition lost, burnt clean clean in the flame, the green dispersed, a living red, flame red, red as blood wakes on the ash—
and ebbs to a steady burning the rekindled bed become a landscape of flame
At the winter’s midnight we went to the trees, the coarse holly, the balsam and the hemlock for their green
At the thick of the dark the moment of the cold’s deepest plunge we brought branches cut from the green trees
to fill our need, and over doorways, about paper Christmas bells covered with tinfoil and fastened by red ribbons
we stuck the green prongs in the windows hung woven wreaths and above pictures the living green. On the
mantle we built a green forest and among those hemlock sprays put a herd of small white deer as if they
were walking there. All this! and it seemed gentle and good to us. Their time past, relief! The room bare. We
stuffed the dead grate with them upon the half burnt out log's smouldering eye, opening red and closing under them
and we stood there looking down. Green is a solace a promise of peace, a fort against the cold (though we
did not say so) a challenge above the snow's hard shell. Green (we might have said) that, where
small birds hide and dodge and lift their plaintive rallying cries, blocks for them and knocks down
the unseeing bullets of the storm. Green spruce boughs pulled down by a weight of snow—Transformed!
Violence leaped and appeared. Recreant! roared to life as the flame rose through and our eyes recoiled from it.
In the jagged flames green to red, instant and alive. Green! those sure abutments . . . Gone! lost to mind
and quick in the contracting tunnel of the grate appeared a world! Black mountains, black and red—as
yet uncolored—and ash white, an infant landscape of shimmering ash and flame and we, in that instant, lost,
breathless to be witnesses, as if we stood ourselves refreshed among the shining fauna of that fire.