Take me to the tornadoes • 20 March 2012

Thursday, it was Kansas in Michigan, and August in March. Thunderheads, 78 degrees, and tornados chasing us to the airport. When the flight was cancelled, I stood curbside at DTW Departures in a skirt, with a pink sky down to the east and a blue-green sky roiling out on the west. Lightning flashed, and two tornado-fingers extended down from the blue-green churn on the west.

The wind got hot and started throwing melty water-drops the size of dimes. That rain. It was luxurious, mediating between the solid of my body and the fire in the storm. Strong contrast is my idea of luxury, anyway.

We drove home while the proto-tornadoes kept reaching toward the ground, then contracting, then again reaching. Those suggestive little weather formations. The whole thing made me think of an apocalypse.

But lots of things me think of an apocalypse. At home, we caught up with the real action on Youtube. (This is what internet videos are good for: tornadoes detonating houses, cruise ships sinking, and sometimes kittens. Asana porn users: how about a “take me to the tornadoes” app?)

I got here, rural Montana, eventually. Yesterday, the sky was enormous out over Carbon County and Yellowstone County. The People Who Name Things do only care about coal and gold (and now oil), but god this land is perfect right on its face.

That perfection is mostly about the sky, which is ten times larger and deeper and more complex than sky anywhere else. Against it: black earth covered in corn stubble, cowpies and snow… and then, the rise of the Rockies creating this heavy blue fulcrum that measures everything in the landscape. 

This weekend, it was late spring in Montana, instead of the usual winter. Shirt sleeves and dry roads. There was baby cow comedy in the back pasture: the little ones move like rocking horses, see-sawing across land without bending ankles, knees or hips. If they manage to get heads and hindquarters wobbling in counter-rhythm, they garner a bit of forward mobility. Big lurch forward, small lurch back, and so on.

I expected that much awkwardness of myself on the mountain after fifteen years away, but it turns out skiing is another of the activities made better by mula bandha. Much better. After a run, we peeled off layers of Patagonia to get our bodies closer to the speed of the (crappy) ice-covered snow.

My brother, whose special relationship with death involves skiing vertical surfaces, says the is an existential reason he bothers with such a high-maintenance sport. It’s the way it gives you speed. You have to use the planet to get this speed.

You also have to expose yourself, in a few interesting ways. Snow conditions come and go: beneath those conditions are (1) gravity and (2) form. You increase your skill because that gets you closer to the mountain. You’re going for intimacy. First base is wind on the face; second is when the play of surfaces under the skis turns in to flow. After that, the lila pandava is an endless oscillation of lightness and heaviness in the body.

Relating with a mountain is much easier in time than it is in space, so if you really care about knowing the mountain (or getting known), you get skilled enough to move fast. Flirt with collapsing time, so you can be in a whole lot of space all at once. Disappear.

It’s like this, apparently. If you want to grasp a mountain, don’t try to reduce it to a graspable space. Instead, put so much skill your body that this skill itself deconstructs your old categories of understanding. That’s why they call it shredding. It’s not about being badass. 

You’ll know you’ve succeeded when the mountain becomes weirdly erotic. You share this kind of insider knowledge with anyone else who loves it at this level of virtuosity.

I bet none of this makes sense. Let me know if I’m wrong about that.

This morning, I got up at 5:30 to practice, and saw something soft on the dark fields behind the house. Snow. How funny. Asanas in the laundry room next to 52 boxes of my mom’s favorite cinnamon tea, two industrial-size cartons of Saltines, an entire bookcase of Campbell’s soup products, and every kind of canned legume you can name.

After practice, the snow was coming down thick; and it’s still doing that now, out on the runway at Logan airport. So much for spring and shirtsleeves. My fellow passengers are standing around here in Wranglers and ski coats, drinking coffee from styrofoam cups. They’re showing no anger or worry about the cancellation of our flight, or the crew’s further lack of a plan. These are not people who argue with the weather.


  • Karen
    Posted 20 March 2012 at 1:34 am | #

    Huh, apparently skiing is like climbing, mountain-knowing-wise. I didn’t realize that.

  • Posted 20 March 2012 at 2:41 am | #

    It makes sense. But only because shredding is one of my favourite things. Each year that I practice yoga my skiing gets better. I think it has something to do with being able to separate my torso and legs, but either way, communing with a mountain while flying down it with legs moving independantly of body which is at a 45 degree angle… they go together a bit. In both cases you have to trust the method more than you notice the madness in it all. In both cases, death is right there on the other side of that scary coin. It’s just that in one of them you do with wind in your face and the sun in the sky and exhilaration pushing you to that point of stillness, and in the other you’re surrounded by soup* and the motive force behind it all comes not from gravity but from fire.

    *Soup is another one of my favourite things.

  • Posted 20 March 2012 at 4:13 am | #

    Yeah, that makes sense.

    The sky in Colorado is also pretty freakin’ sweet at 10.3K up when it’s just you, the dog, the sun and your own and the partner’s brother’s family.

  • Posted 21 March 2012 at 3:14 pm | #

    Running down a mountainside produces much of the same effect, though the consequence is more likely to be a broken leg or broken pride than loss of life. It feels like the mountain is tossing you down its trunk.

    The mountains in New York are in bloom. Oddly, occasionally, a patch of icy snow and soupy ground reminds you that some other season might have happened. But short sleeves at elevation in March?

  • Posted 21 March 2012 at 7:33 pm | #

    Damn, Rebecca. Now that is some fire allright.

    I have not really gotten up close to the way that asana practice engages the fear of death. At least not in a way that lasts long enough to remember or put in words. The way you put this is quite exciting…

    Patrick, granted, that!

    Karen, I feel like you’re also way more in touch than me with this nearness of death.[(Rebecca, even the staircase to my rooftop on 13th cross does it for her :-)] Maybe the percent grade of a mountain’s incline (be the activity rock climbing or skiing) is a nontrivial variable…

    Sara, I started yesterday in a snowstorm, and returned yesterday around 2am to the purple flower invasion of my back yard in Michigan. The stupid-beautiful spring has begun, a full three weeks ahead of schedule. Today, the pear tree out front turned brilliant pink. The buds on the magnolias went from nothing to the size of my pinky. Everyone is ecstatic.

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