Notes from the road
Week one -
I was the kid in Brownies whose knees pointed upwards when we sat cross-legged in a circle. I am now the person in yoga class who can’t sit with my legs stacked on top of the other, log cabin style. Mine looks more like an A-frame, a cabin with a singular peaked roof, knees pointing to the ceiling.
The hip joints are cradled by strips of muscles that fold like fingers around the pelvis. The tip of the tailbone, the coccyx, sits in the pelvis, a tiny rattlesnake with a tip. My coccyx veers right. I discovered this when I had an x-ray in my early twenties. “I see a little scoliosis," said the physician. “It might be a problem someday.” Tight hips make it worse.
The morning I flew to Vancouver a few weeks ago, I picked up a ski bag off the floor and felt a shift deep within my pelvis. Now I can’t pick up my skis off the snow. Or a shampoo bottle on the shower floor. A good twist from a physiotherapist - when they wrench my shoulders in one direction and my hips in another - will set it straight. But when that isn’t an option, I try hot pads and stretches or massages with tuning forks and deep pressure until I can plié low enough to tighten my ski boots. Eventually it goes away.
Sometimes I carry on when the situation calls for it. Like the other day there were a few clouds overhead, pulled across the blue sky like cotton wool. We were above the tree line where the air is thin and crisp. There’s a different kind of skier up there at the top. They have backpacks filled with skins and snacks. They wear whistles. They’re here for the day.
If you don’t want to drop into a bowl, if your back is sore, you can cruise down a smooth, meandering trail that cuts through it all called Burnt Stew. I imagine a local skier, maybe back in the 1970’s, put on a stew in the morning then stole away for a quick ski while it simmered. But the sky must have sparkled, the powder danced, and before they knew it the stew was forgotten. We’ve all forgotten things on the stove when life pulls us away. Sometimes it’s worth it, even when your back hurts.
While I was cruising down Burnt Stew, my husband James was across the country deep-frying fish in a Le Creuset pot large enough to hold four litres of oil. After dinner he slid the pot to the back of the stove to cool. His plan was to tip it into the woods the next day, where no one minds greasy fish oil.
He forgot about Dottie, our new Labrador with her insatiable appetite and young, stretchy hips. My veterinary friend says the hip anatomy of a dog is similar to humans. Except they can sploot. This is when dogs stretch their legs straight behind their torsos. Some call the position the flying squirrel, the frog dog or the furry turkey. It’s usually exercised on the floor, but when a pot of aromatic oil is at the back of the stove this move can be executed with two paws on the floor, two on the stove. The rest is speculation. There might have been some wiggling and paw shuffling, we’ll never know. But when James walked into the kitchen he found a broken cast iron pot on the stone floor sitting in a pool of oil.
Week two -
There’s a telephone on the wall to the left of the sink. I pick it up after skiing and dial cabin 226 where my friend Jill is staying. A guy answers in French and convinces me I have the wrong number. It’s her daughter’s 13 year old friend; I catch the giggle at the end. We are in another decade this week, frozen in a time when cabins had pine walls and kids answered the phone on the kitchen wall.
We’re renting one of the many colourful stand-alone wooden cabins at a ski hill along the Baie de Chaleur. The cabins are variations of each other - mustard, cranberry or teal blue cladding, doors on the left or the right, some with newer sofas than others, an orange or white plastic sieve in the cupboard. Every cabin is ski-in ski-out. I’m listening to the drone of the chairlift as I write.
Cooking in a little pine kitchen with a phone on the wall takes me to a specific place. I pick up the phone and I’m at our neighbour’s summer cottage in the early 1980’s. It was a new build with a gabled barn roof, hanging wicker chairs on the veranda and pine sofas covered in soft brown leather in the living room. I didn’t spend a lot of time in this cottage (the boys inside were the kind who chased girls with driftwood sticks). But their mother was a great cook and baker, so when she came round for neighbourly visits, I put down my Archie comic and paid attention.
Butterscotch chip muffins1 were her signature treat. I remember she popped in one morning with a basket of her muffins, their edges still crispy and warm. I later learned that it’s the brown sugar, lots of it, that makes them so crispy on the outside and soft and sweet in the middle. I’ve tried to cut back on the sugar over the years, swap out butterscotch chips for dark chocolate, one time even blueberries, but nothing beats the real recipe, the one made in that pine kitchen with a touch of avocado green, with a phone on the wall and those boys somewhere nearby.
It’s been a nomadic few weeks for me, traveling from one coast to the other with ski gear and kids then settling here in Quebec with our car and a cooler of coffee cream, eggs and bacon. I haven’t been writing regularly, or cooking as I would. My sister and her husband arrived at the rental with all the cheese a person could want, along with frozen bolognese, ragu and packages of rigatoni. Heaven. I wish I had at least contributed those muffins from that pine kitchen.
This streamlined life feels good. I like putting on long underwear every morning, maybe a scarf at the neck, and sipping coffee from the drip machine while watching skiers arrive for first tracks.
The phone rings. It’s my friend asking if we’re ready to ski. My son answers and they have a chat. Soon we’ll get in the car and head home, iPhones will come out, and life will slip back into 2023.
The recipe for those muffins is tucked somewhere in my cookbooks. I will find it!