FINDING MY WAY BACK
I find myself walking alone for a moment, away from everyone else: as the minutes have passed, our disparate group has spread out along the valley's gentle slopes. My only companion is silence, rhythmically broken by the crunch of the snow beneath my poles and the swishing of the climbing skins travelling along the tracks laid by those who are faster and fitter than me. But the silence, too, sits lightly and benevolently, unlike certain heavy, hostile silences that sometimes weigh you down in the valleys of my home, to the far east.
My steps follow one another in the same rhythm. While my heartbeat increases, my breath becomes laboured and my legs start to ache. I had missed this for too long. - How many months is it since you last saw snow, Nic? How have you managed to let two winters go without it? For goodness sake, how can you not have noticed that you missed the snow? - My answers, like all my other thoughts, are swept away by the wind blowing along pristine, seemingly endless valleys. Everything but the movement of my legs and the thrust of my arms seems to me to be completely irrelevant at this moment, even if the sharp twinges I sometimes feel in my knee remind me that the truth isn't quite that simple. All the same, the snow covers everything with its mantle, spreading a blanket of happiness that also erases my mistakes. It's a bit like the embrace of the lover you've found again after a long time apart.
The sun, already high in its arc from one horizon to the other, makes it clear through the warmth of its rays that this winter, too, is drawing to an end. Even if, for me, it might be truer to say it never really started. Indeed, not so long ago, I was walking in flip-flops and swimming trunks along beaches overlooked by another sky, staring at waves from an ocean thousands of miles away from home. However, that so remote and other beauty doesn't seem to measure up to what I can see around me here on this clear, spring-infused day.
Rumbling echoes across the valley. Like any other self-respecting lover, the snow also demands respect and sometimes bares its claws. Despite this, not even a hint of concern clouds my mind. I know that there are people close by who know how to protect me. Today, the only thing I need to do is follow a track that is sinking into the fresh snow. Nothing can disturb the perfect essence of my moment here, surrounded by peaks whose names I don't even know.
On the seat, swept by gusts of icy air, I rediscover details that I thought were buried in the deep recesses of my memory. Cold hands trying to fix the skins on as quickly as possible. The taste of a sip of tea, drunk more in an effort to warm myself up a little rather than from any real thirst. The grips on my boots fastened at last-minute before beginning the descent. The emotion of the turns, initially timid and narrow, later wider and faster as my confidence with the skis increased and my much better-prepared companions gave me advice. Your legs burn, your energy is spent yet your desire is too strong and can support the body until its well-deserved rest.
Sitting in the middle of the valley hollowed out in ancient times by glaciers that have since disappeared, I realise how much serenity I take in from the snow, the effort of the climb and the euphoria of the descent. I realise that my mistakes and life choices have kept me away from all of this for a long time, for too long. Finally, perhaps more by good fortune than by any real skill, I have found my way back.