Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tracks


By BETTY BELL

During a long string of winter seasons, on powder mornings I'd take the early train to Baldy, and as I rode the lift I'd give myself a pep talk: Stay in the fall line ... don't be stoppin'... don't be leavin' no railroad tracks. I'd be wearing my good-luck powder long-johns, socks unwashed long enough to fit as snugly as Brent Hansen's foot-beds, and I'd have taken extravagant care in wedding them to my boots. After the first run, early enough so that my graffiti hadn't been obliterated, I'd get on the lift, look over at it, and, sometimes, think —"not too shabby."

I no longer catch the early train to Baldy, but I still peruse tracks from my car seat, and when I'm tooling along looking for presentations I admit I'm sometimes a road hazard.

What I do when I spot a stunning track on a steep face or couloir where I've never seen a track before, my bum wriggles in the seat while I clone a few turns. It's a lucky thing I didn't jump the curb and land on the sidewalk the first time I saw a heart-stopping track down Della, the mountain west of Hailey that's a gawker's delight.

That track shivered my timbers, and if that's slang before your time it means it scared the 'ell out of me, that plumb line down the steepest, narrowest gully, and non-stop too. Likely, as the track flowed out behind him, surely its maker was damping-down at least a wisp of trepidation the whole thing might cut loose beneath him as it did that not too long ago beneath a sweet little band of deer gone to their reward as they were swept away in an avalanche on its way to the river.

The Della track-setter, no surprise, is a local, an old friend who makes the Della presentation whenever a beckoning hang to the snow turns into an urgent urge that makes the descent worth a calculated risk. I won't name him—he belongs to a professional band of brothers who'd rib him unmercifully if I did.

For the record, even vicariously I never do Della.

There are thousands of clutch-your-heart tracks not accessible for viewing from my old Toyota—otherly-planet tracks I couldn't even imagine if it weren't for Warren Miller et al. But I can still get a vicarious thrill when I watch the reels, and start bum wriggling too, but not because I want to clone them. Otherly-planet tracks aren't for this townie.

My abiding interest in tracks isn't only for those we make. A few days ago, on a sunny morning when a couple of inches of fluff had fallen in the night, I walked the Trail Creek road alongside exquisitely dazzling meadows. As always, I had suet for my magpie friends, friends that go back a number of magpie generations so that the elders always teach their pods, or whatever, to watch for the old upright with the little four-legged tag-along—she's good for protein handouts. So when my tag-along and I had gone past all of the other tag-alongs and their uprights, several mags flew in and used me as a pylon to let me know they were ready for their handouts. I tossed out bite-size pieces of suet on the trail behind me, and three or four mags swooped low, coming close to nudging one another trying to be first at the table.

I dispensed servings a bunch of times, and near the end, one mag left evidence of his presence—as he took flight he left a lacey one-two brush of wings in the snow alongside the trail, and a gorgeous offering it was, too gorgeous for my eyes alone, so with a finger I scribed a big "LOOKEE" and an arrow pointing to it. And I've mused about that track, imagined a couple of gallery-walkers coming upon it, ooohing and aaahing and wishing they could drop a frame around it and scoop it up and take it home and hang it in the great hall.

It has come to pass that when it snows at night and I get in my car in the morning and turn a corner where before me lies an entire block with nary a mark upon it, only briefly do I consider slaloming its length and laying lovely track from curb to curb. It's no longer the irresistible compulsion it once was, though I don't give myself Brownie points for plowing sedately straight ahead—I can't be sure I've gracefully matured and am not just advanced-age timid.




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