If I Could Go Back My Wedding Day, I’d Whisper This Into My Own Ear

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Today is our ten-year anniversary. Taken as a whole, a decade seems to have blinked by. But taken in pieces, it has been a long, strange, wild ride. I almost lost John after just our first year of marriage. We fought back from his cancer and liver transplant together. We have climbed mountains together, rafted rivers, trekked through the Himalayas, sailed and surfed and skied and loved each other through worldly adventures and daily rituals.

July 16, 2005

July 16, 2005

When I look back at the woman I was ten years ago today, when I vowed to love and cherish my husband, I was a different person. I was younger, of course, full of optimism and the kind of blind faith that makes us want to cleave ourselves to another person for all of eternity, but I was also pretty naïve. While I thought on my wedding day that I was wise and mature and knew exactly what I wanted out of life, I also wasn’t fully formed yet. Back then I hadn’t been tested like I have now. I hadn’t yet watched my husband lying emaciated in a hospital bed wondering if he would ever wake up. I hadn’t yet held his hand while his mother took her last breath. I hadn’t yet cried in his arms in grief after losing my dad.

Call it an accumulation of experiences—the kind of self-awareness that comes from witnessing ourselves manage crises and joys, trials and triumphs. But when I look back at that bride, I want to treat her kindly, to pat her hand and tell her that while it might not be easy, it will be worth it.

If I could go back and whisper into the ear of that former self, I know what I would say. I would tell that blissful bride to accept each moment, to stop trying to orchestrate her life and simply be present for it. I would remind her to enjoy every moment with this man she was committing herself to. I would tell her that while life can’t be lived easily, it can be lived fully. I would tell her not to take everything so personally.

It is easy to look back at our former selves and access our growth. It is much harder to look ahead and imagine how we will be ten years from now. If I’m being honest with myself, I have to admit that the next ten years probably won’t be as rosy as I’d like to think. Life always has a way of messing with your best intentions. But there’s one thing I do know. Whatever lies ahead for us we will face it together.

After ten years of marriage, I know that I’m lucky to have John as my husband. He challenges me to be the best version of myself (admittedly, this isn’t something I’m keen to appreciate all that often, but still). He’s strong when I’m weak. He’s even-keeled when I drop my basket. He pushes on towards camp when I want to set down my pack and lie, exhausted, on the hard ground.

Today I celebrate what we’ve accomplished and shared so far. Here’s to the next ten years.

Where the Snow Lives: Niseko Japan

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Day 0.5

Niseko is where the snow lives.

When we arrived in the middle of the night on Monday, it was snowing hard. The banks along the street outside The Hooting Owl Lodge reached nearly to the power lines. The windows in our room were encased in snow. The next morning, it was still snowing. Several inches had accumulated in our footprints from the night before.

In the morning, Kenji, one of the caretakers at the lodge, asked me how long we were staying.

“We leave Friday,” I said.

He blinked. “Then where do you go?”

“Back to Seattle,” I smiled and craned my neck out the window to watch it snow as I sipped my coffee.

I knew Kenji was struggling. Japanese people are extremely polite (not to mention punctual, honest and in use of the best adjectives–happy! cute! skiing! fun times!). He probably didn’t want to offend me with a declaration of how crazy he thought it was to travel two whole days for two days of skiing.

But it wasn’t crazy; it was awesome.

Day 1

Japanese Powder Trees

With wind closing the upper mountain, we explored the “Japanese powder trees” of Grand Hirafu, gliding through the most forgiving tree skiing I’ve ever encountered. Cue the videographer; this skiing was just as good as what you see in the movies. No. It was better.

After a morning of braiding lines through the trees, we found a noodle house and ate the best ramen miso soup I’ve ever eaten. Prior to this trip, ramen was the domain of college students, made from hot water, dehydrated vegetables and foil packets. Not anymore

At the end of the day, I asked Kenji’s wife, Jen, if we should check out one of the local onsens. She just smiled and nodded. A visit to an onsen, a Japanese hot springs, is a must. You can hardly cross the street in Niseko without stumbling across an onsen, the closest of which, the Green Leaf Onsen, just so happened to be the best.  Regardless of culture, soaking tired muscles in hot water is a universal need.

That night Jen directed us to a small seafood restaurant that turned out to have “horse” on the menu. No matter. We weren’t there for the meat. Instead, we ate fresh sushi and more noodle soup and smiled and nodded to the waitress. It’s a good thing she understood hand signals and pointing.

Day 2

We woke to 20cm of snow as light and windless as down. Kenji dropped us off at the Niseko Gondola, and by look of the powder-drenched few who’d gotten the first cabin already returning to the non-existent queue, we knew today would be “the day”.

The sign says it all

We arrived at the top of the gondy in time for the single Wonderland Chair. We skied a run from the top of the volcano which I’m pretty sure was called “Snorkel” because you needed one in order to breathe. It was that deep. After lapping a few there, we headed toward Niseko’s Best Powder. In Japan, they aren’t afraid to advertise their best snow. We sessioned the trees to the right of the “Avalanche controlled area” and smiled through the snow in our teeth.

The day after any upper mountain is closed is almost always special, and Day 2 of our trip, the last day of our trip, was no different. In fact, it rated up there in one of the best days of skiing I’ve ever had. The powder was light, the trees were thoughtfully placed and the sun came out just long enough for each run.

It was like a dream.

Dreamy

On the gondola ride, each member of our group was sure they’d found the best snow, comparing and one-upping one another with reports of the consistency of snow, quality of light and depth of the face shots each received. We were all sure we’d found the best snow on the mountain, certain the others had missed out on “the goods”.

The ski day ended at the onsen, where we peeled our ski boots off and soaked our bodies in the outdoor hot springs. That night we ate at Kenji’s favorite sushi restaurant, Hana Yoshi, far off the beaten tourist track.

Once again, the use of hand signals and pointing did wonders for our ordering skills. We watched the sushi chef in awe. He was a true master

Day 3

We woke at 3am to start our return journey. Glancing at the forecast for Crystal Mountain this morning, I realized we might be bringing some of the snow back with us. If you’ve ever wondered if you should just up and go to Japan–or anywhere else for that matter–to check out the skiing, just do it.

You never know. You might just ski the best run of your life.

15 Minutes at a Time

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Sunrise on Powder Bowl

Last week at the Blink Party, a man asked me a question at the end of my presentation. He wanted to know if now that my husband is well and we are back to our life at Crystal, do we still live in 15 minute increments.

A fine question.

Since my 15-minute strategy helped me get through a difficult ordeal, the real question is whether the same outlook can offer value when life doesn’t hang in the balance. And I think it can.

Living just 15 minutes at a time isn’t simply a method for getting through a hard time by breaking time down into smaller increments. It also helps you savor the good stuff. Even when life is full of what’s supposed to be the easy part, it can still be hard to slow down. The good stuff can easily be lost in the busy-ness of the to-do list and the frazzle of everyday life.

Sunset on Mt. Rainier

I believe that the universe gives us experiences in order for us to learn. But if we don’t glean anything from those lessons, we just might have to repeat them. I’ve never been one for remedial learning, and I do not want to go through what John and I did four years ago. Living life in smaller increments helps me remember to cherish what could fall through the cracks.

Besides that, a life in the mountains forces me to slow down and appreciate my surroundings. Whether the wind is lashing against the ridges or the sun is setting Mt. Rainier on fire, the view is too stunning to be ignored.

Perhaps that is why I’m still here, why the city makes me a little crazy after a while. I long for the pristine certainty of the mountains. Or maybe I just can’t stand running errands, and the mountains aren’t a place for that.

So yes, I still live life 15 minutes at a time. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Live For Today: Hope to see you all tonight in Seattle

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Join me tonight along with skier and mountaineer Greg Hill and artist Jim Jickling on the Seattle Waterfront for two lively presentations and artist gallery opening at Blink. The winter theme of the evening is Live for Today, focusing on how to attain your goals, stay focused and be motivated. I am very excited about this event, and hope to see many of you there. Information Below:

Appetizers, beer & wine will be served. Please RSVP.

Agenda

  • 4:00pm Artist Reception: Canadian Painter, Jim Jickling
  • 5:30pm Kim Kircher Presentation & Book signing
  • 6:30pm Greg Hill Presentation

Presenter

Kim Kircher: Crystal Mountain, WA

Author of The Next Fifteen Minutes: Strength From the Top of the Mountain

Kim Kircher, photo by John Kircher
Photo credits: Chris Morin & John Kircher

THE NEXT FIFTEEN MINUTES (Behler Publications, October 2011) offers a rare glimpse into the strange and fascinating world of a ski area professional, where steep terrain and deep snow, the twin fuels that run the business, teach patrollers how to get through the worst trials just fifteen minutes at a time. Kim seized the EMT training that helped her avoid panic when a fallen skier had to be delicately lifted from a tree to manage the life-and-death situation facing her husband.

Ski patroller, author, traveler, Kim Kircher is still learning how to get through life in small increments. Sometimes just fifteen minutes at a time. She has logged over six hundred hours of explosives control, earning not only her avalanche blaster’s card, but also a heli-blaster endorsement, allowing her to fly over the slopes in a helicopter and drop bombs from the open cockpit, while uttering the fabulously thrilling words “bombs away” into the mic.  An EMT, she has received both a National Ski Patrol Purple Merit Star for saving a life as well as a Green Merit Star for saving a life in arduous conditions.

Before working in the ski industry, she received her BA and teaching certificate from the University of Washington, and taught high school English for five years. Her articles have appeared in Women’s Adventure, Couloir Magazine and Off-Piste Magazine, among others.  She is a current member of the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association and the North American Ski Journalists Association.  Kim also writes about her job at Crystal Mountain Ski Area at www.blogcrystal.com.  Kim starred in a reality show about ski patrollers on the cable channel TRU-TV.

Her husband’s family owns and operates ten ski areas in the United States and Canada, including Crystal Mountain, where she has worked for twenty-one years. Kim’s book will be available for sale at the event by The Elliott Bay Book Company. Learn more at Kim’s site: www.KimKircher.com


Presenter

Greg Hill: Revelstoke, B.C. Canada

“2 Mill Hill”. Ski Touring & Mountaineer, Film maker

Greg Hill. Photo credit backcountry.com
Photo credits: T.Chandler, Backcountry.com, Brian Goldstone

With just two days left in 2010, Revelstoke-based ski mountaineer Greg Hill has completed his quest to climb and ski 2,000,000 vertical feet (609,600 metres) in a calendar year. Hill’s feat was the skiing equivalent of climbing Mount Everest every five days for an entire year. Or ascending the stairs of Toronto’s CN Tower four times per day, every day, for 365 consecutive days. It’s exhausting to even think about.

 

Greg Hill is a modern day explorer who skins his way into the unknown. He has skied in Alaska, New Zealand, Europe and all over North America but will mostly be found exploring his home range; the Columbia mountains. He lives in Revelstoke and has been pushing the backcountry boundaries ever since he moved there in 2000. With limitless mountains at his disposal Greg is always searching for a new line, or a new peak he has not skied before. In 2003 he traversed the Northern Monashees a 250km, 100,000 foot epic traverse. Energized by being the first to traverse this range, Greg managed to summit 21 peaks over the 21 days of the traverse. Over the years Greg has toured 20,30,40 and finally 50,000 feet in a day. Setting the standard for what can be done in the backcountry, and also earning him a world record in “most vertical climbed and skied in 24 hours.”

In 2004-05 Greg toured a million feet of backcountry skiing over the course of 145 days. In 2006-07 he toured 80 ten thousand foot days, totaling 990,000 feet for the season.
Since then Greg has changed his focus a bit and started to film and document his adventures, instead of selfishly shredding powder he is using his energy to film and capture the essence of what he and his friends get up to. He runs a blog on which he shares his adventures which can be followed on his website: greghill.ca.

In the summer of 2008 he compiled his best footage from the winter 2007-08 and created “The Unbearable Lightness of Skiing” which won best short movie in the New Zealand Mountain film festival and also made the Finals in the Banff International Mountain film festival and is also on their World Tour.

“So often the only stories we hear about backcountry skiing in the mainstream media are negative ones that deal with avalanches, rescues, and deaths. I think that by skiing two million vertical feet – much of it solo – I can show that with the proper knowledge and equipment, people can safely enjoy the mountains in the winter. I’m gratified that people from all over the world have posted comments on my blog and that even non-skiers are inspired by my goal setting and achievement.” – Greg Hill


Artist

Jim Jickling: Mill Bay, Canada

Acrylic, oil, watercolor and guache paintings will be on exhibit at the Blink Gallery until March 1, 2012.

Jickling Art

Over the past six decades, Canadian artist, Jim Jickling has produced an extraordinary body of work, most of which has focused on his Victoria and Mill Bay home, his favorite sports and European travels. Water color, acrylic and gouache are his most common mediums, mostly abstract expressionism in style with bold color.

Jim started his career as a teacher in a small rural school on Lasquiti Island in 1957. Soon after his marriage in 1959 he and his wife Mary moved to North Vancouver B.C.  to teach at a number of schools on the North Shore. In 1970, the new family of 5 moved to Victoria where Jim accepted a position in the faculty of education at the University of Victoria. For 11 years until his retirement in 1988, Jim taught high school art and coached rugby at Cowichan Secondary School. Since his retirement, he has continued to paint at his Mill Bay home on Vancouver Island.

Jim received a BEd from the University of British Columbia in 1963 and an MFA from the Istituto de Allende, Mexico in 1965. Jim has exhibited in Seattle, Victoria, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Whistler. Jim’s paintings have been chosen for the art leasing program in the Gallery of Greater Victoria and the Vancouver Art Gallery. His paintings are held in many private collections.


Event Details

Space is limited, RSVP early

The event is open to the public and free of charge, however a donation at the event is encouraged to help cover food and drink costs. Thank you.

Please click the green button and RSVP at our Eventbrite page. Guests are welcome, please list each name on the RSVP page.

RSVP Now

Location: Blink, Waterfront Building. 1011 Western Ave. Suite 810, Seattle, WA 98104

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Live for Today: Winter Speaker Series and Gallery Opening

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Join me December 1st along with skier and mountaineer Greg Hill and artist Jim Jickling on the Seattle Waterfront for two lively presentations and artist gallery opening at Blink. The winter theme of the evening is Live for Today, focusing on how to attain your goals, stay focused and be motivated. I am very excited about this event, and hope to see many of you there. Information Below:

Appetizers, beer & wine will be served. Please RSVP.

Agenda

  • 4:00pm Artist Reception: Canadian Painter, Jim Jickling
  • 5:30pm Kim Kircher Presentation & Book signing
  • 6:30pm Greg Hill Presentation

Presenter

Kim Kircher: Crystal Mountain, WA

Author of The Next Fifteen Minutes: Strength From the Top of the Mountain

Kim Kircher, photo by John Kircher
Photo credits: Chris Morin & John Kircher

THE NEXT FIFTEEN MINUTES (Behler Publications, October 2011) offers a rare glimpse into the strange and fascinating world of a ski area professional, where steep terrain and deep snow, the twin fuels that run the business, teach patrollers how to get through the worst trials just fifteen minutes at a time. Kim seized the EMT training that helped her avoid panic when a fallen skier had to be delicately lifted from a tree to manage the life-and-death situation facing her husband.

Ski patroller, author, traveler, Kim Kircher is still learning how to get through life in small increments. Sometimes just fifteen minutes at a time. She has logged over six hundred hours of explosives control, earning not only her avalanche blaster’s card, but also a heli-blaster endorsement, allowing her to fly over the slopes in a helicopter and drop bombs from the open cockpit, while uttering the fabulously thrilling words “bombs away” into the mic.  An EMT, she has received both a National Ski Patrol Purple Merit Star for saving a life as well as a Green Merit Star for saving a life in arduous conditions.

Before working in the ski industry, she received her BA and teaching certificate from the University of Washington, and taught high school English for five years. Her articles have appeared in Women’s Adventure, Couloir Magazine and Off-Piste Magazine, among others.  She is a current member of the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association and the North American Ski Journalists Association.  Kim also writes about her job at Crystal Mountain Ski Area at www.blogcrystal.com.  Kim starred in a reality show about ski patrollers on the cable channel TRU-TV.

Her husband’s family owns and operates ten ski areas in the United States and Canada, including Crystal Mountain, where she has worked for twenty-one years. Kim’s book will be available for sale at the event by The Elliott Bay Book Company. Learn more at Kim’s site: www.KimKircher.com


Presenter

Greg Hill: Revelstoke, B.C. Canada

“2 Mill Hill”. Ski Touring & Mountaineer, Film maker

Greg Hill. Photo credit backcountry.com
Photo credits: T.Chandler, Backcountry.com, Brian Goldstone

With just two days left in 2010, Revelstoke-based ski mountaineer Greg Hill has completed his quest to climb and ski 2,000,000 vertical feet (609,600 metres) in a calendar year. Hill’s feat was the skiing equivalent of climbing Mount Everest every five days for an entire year. Or ascending the stairs of Toronto’s CN Tower four times per day, every day, for 365 consecutive days. It’s exhausting to even think about.

 

Greg Hill is a modern day explorer who skins his way into the unknown. He has skied in Alaska, New Zealand, Europe and all over North America but will mostly be found exploring his home range; the Columbia mountains. He lives in Revelstoke and has been pushing the backcountry boundaries ever since he moved there in 2000. With limitless mountains at his disposal Greg is always searching for a new line, or a new peak he has not skied before. In 2003 he traversed the Northern Monashees a 250km, 100,000 foot epic traverse. Energized by being the first to traverse this range, Greg managed to summit 21 peaks over the 21 days of the traverse. Over the years Greg has toured 20,30,40 and finally 50,000 feet in a day. Setting the standard for what can be done in the backcountry, and also earning him a world record in “most vertical climbed and skied in 24 hours.”

In 2004-05 Greg toured a million feet of backcountry skiing over the course of 145 days. In 2006-07 he toured 80 ten thousand foot days, totaling 990,000 feet for the season.
Since then Greg has changed his focus a bit and started to film and document his adventures, instead of selfishly shredding powder he is using his energy to film and capture the essence of what he and his friends get up to. He runs a blog on which he shares his adventures which can be followed on his website: greghill.ca.

In the summer of 2008 he compiled his best footage from the winter 2007-08 and created “The Unbearable Lightness of Skiing” which won best short movie in the New Zealand Mountain film festival and also made the Finals in the Banff International Mountain film festival and is also on their World Tour.

“So often the only stories we hear about backcountry skiing in the mainstream media are negative ones that deal with avalanches, rescues, and deaths. I think that by skiing two million vertical feet – much of it solo – I can show that with the proper knowledge and equipment, people can safely enjoy the mountains in the winter. I’m gratified that people from all over the world have posted comments on my blog and that even non-skiers are inspired by my goal setting and achievement.” – Greg Hill


Artist

Jim Jickling: Mill Bay, Canada

Acrylic, oil, watercolor and guache paintings will be on exhibit at the Blink Gallery until March 1, 2012.

Jickling Art

Over the past six decades, Canadian artist, Jim Jickling has produced an extraordinary body of work, most of which has focused on his Victoria and Mill Bay home, his favorite sports and European travels. Water color, acrylic and gouache are his most common mediums, mostly abstract expressionism in style with bold color.

Jim started his career as a teacher in a small rural school on Lasquiti Island in 1957. Soon after his marriage in 1959 he and his wife Mary moved to North Vancouver B.C.  to teach at a number of schools on the North Shore. In 1970, the new family of 5 moved to Victoria where Jim accepted a position in the faculty of education at the University of Victoria. For 11 years until his retirement in 1988, Jim taught high school art and coached rugby at Cowichan Secondary School. Since his retirement, he has continued to paint at his Mill Bay home on Vancouver Island.

Jim received a BEd from the University of British Columbia in 1963 and an MFA from the Istituto de Allende, Mexico in 1965. Jim has exhibited in Seattle, Victoria, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Whistler. Jim’s paintings have been chosen for the art leasing program in the Gallery of Greater Victoria and the Vancouver Art Gallery. His paintings are held in many private collections.


Event Details

Space is limited, RSVP early

The event is open to the public and free of charge, however a donation at the event is encouraged to help cover food and drink costs. Thank you.

Please click the green button and RSVP at our Eventbrite page. Guests are welcome, please list each name on the RSVP page.

RSVP Now

Location: Blink, Waterfront Building. 1011 Western Ave. Suite 810, Seattle, WA 98104

What Avalanches Can Tell Me About My Own Weakness

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How I Try to Pretend

Five Foot Crown in Bear Pits, March 2011

Weak layers in the snowpack are like fragile layers in our psyche. We can cover over them with slabs of bravado, carefully sintered together and work-hardened. We can pretend they don’t exist, or that subsequent snow has masked the flaw. As a diabetic and a rescuer, I prefer to bridge over my tendency towards low blood sugar reactions and pretend I’m in control.

Just like in the snowpack, weakness lingers. In fact, given the right conditions, cold temperatures and a shallow snowpack, those frailties grow even weaker. Sometimes ignoring those unsightly parts of myself makes them scarier foes, and yet I can’t resist. Who wants to stare her own ugliness down? When I have a low blood sugar reaction I hate to ask for help. It’s a weakness I try to bury. And yet its a ridiculous strategy.

A Ridiculous Strategy

Anna D. tossing a shot onto the slope, Southback Crystal Mt.

This morning I woke at 4 am. Hot sweat pooled in my clavicle and I threw off the sheets. “I’m having a low blood sugar,” I told John as I careened down the hallway toward the kitchen. I stood there naked and sweating and tried to prick my finger and smear the drop of red blood onto the tiny strip. When my brain is starving, it seems to shut off the less important functions like eyesight. I stared at my glucometer and tried to see the number blinking on the screen. It was either 64 or 34, either way a low blood sugar. I lifted my hair off my shoulders and let the sweat cool my skin.

John handed me a glass of orange juice and told me to drink. It was sweet and delicious. Diabetics can’t normally drink juice; it contains far too much sugar. I miss drinking orange juice. I wondered for a moment if drinking juice made the threat of a seizure worth it. I ran my tongue along the slick above my lip, leaned over the counter and rested my face in my hands. I was very tired and starting to get cold.

John helped me back to bed, where I buried myself in the damp sheets. My blood sugar was returning to normal and I shivered. John kept waking up thinking my shaking was the start of a seizure. I told him not to worry; I’d be fine.

Buried Facets

What used to be a forest now lays on the ground just uphill from my house

Just a few feet from my window, century-old trees lay in a jumbled mess. Last season a huge avalanche slid nearly from the top of the mountain and stopped within feet of our apartment. The aftermath of that slide was humbling. Trees and rocks were uprooted, or snapped in half and sent a mile down the slope, to rest just uphill from where I now lay shivering and clutching the sheets against my weakness.

While pretty on the surface, once buried facetted crystal become a dangerous weak layer

When the slide let loose, having been triggered by explosives thrown from a helicopter, the slab failed on an old weak layer. Months before, a rain event followed by cold temperatures had left faceted crystals that later were buried by late-season snow. When the stress of the new snow overcame the strength of the snowpack, huge slides let loose all over the mountain, running on that layer of beautiful, diamond-like crystals that wouldn’t bond.

I couldn’t control my shivering. The wet sheets provided little warmth, and the clock blinked 4:35 am. Between the tree tops outside the window the sky grew lighter. These very trees acted as the last defense against the tons of snow and debris that had nearly buried the bed I now lay in and the window I looked through. Faceted crystals will not bond to anything, will not ask for help from nearby slabs. Buried surface hoar harbors air pockets that create a growing weakness, nibbling away at its surroundings until a layer of crystalline dominoes is poised and ready to fail. The symmetry was almost too much to bear.

With a Little Help From Our Friends

When I look over the past few years of our lives, so many things had to go right. John lived through an impossible diagnosis. The cancer didn’t spread. He got the transplant. We weren’t in our apartment when the avalanche came down. We didn’t get buried.

During a recent interview a radio personality asked me what I’d learned since writing my book. I answered quickly. I knew this one.

My happy place: skiing powder with my husband

I have learned to be grateful. If we didn’t have buried weakness, gratitude wouldn’t come quite as easily. If John hadn’t nearly died we wouldn’t be living so large right now. If I didn’t have diabetes, I might forget to be humble in the face of risk, both on and off the mountain.

Weakness reminds us of our humanity. If we were perfect we wouldn’t need each other. John’s ordeal sintered our marriage, bonding the very crystals of our being together into a cohesive slab.

I looked at the clock again, it was almost 5 am, time to wake up and check the weather forecast. John and I looked at it together this morning, mapping the timing of the storms lining up in the Pacific, strategizing about how to get the mountain open.

If the forecast pans out, we could be open by early next week. Our lives are about to shift again–this time towards the yearly start to our ski season. I look forward to skiing again, feeling gratitude and joy and weakness.