I was in Vermont over the weekend.
Towering mountain ranges. Rolling hills. Frozen lakes. Icy streams. Sub-zero temperatures. Snow, everywhere. Smoke, too. Lots of it. Billowing up and out, puffing like clouds from the chimneys of quaint old Victorian houses.
Vermont might actually be heaven on earth. Or at the very least the setting of a real-life movie that looks a lot like classic Christmas advertisements.
It's quite the place.
I went there for the same reason I presume most out-of-towners go there. I wanted to ski. I'd never skied, never even been on a pair of skis, and figured with New York being unseasonably warm this year, it was as good a time as any.
"Our guide didn't give a shit about photos. ... Riding, guiding, chatting -- just having a good fucking time. Not a bad life, I would say.
What I came to find out was this: skiing is really difficult. I spent one day at Okemo Mountain taking a 2 hour lesson. The entire time, I was on a small hill. I could run up this hill, literally, in 6 seconds; on skis, it took me five minutes. I thought I was a coordinated human being. It turns out, I have two left feet.
So, I never made it onto the slopes. And truthfully, I probably never will. The boots, the clothing, the fuss -- skiing, it's all a little too much for me. I'll stick with basketball.
But my second day there, I did something more fun. I went on a snowmobile tour. Outside it was, to be frank, cold as shit. I believe minus 15 degrees, or something like that. And yet I did not feel cold, really.
On the snowmobile, we rode up and down the mountains, through winding trails that criss-crossed up and over people's property. These houses were so remote, there was no way to even get to them without snowmobiles. In car or on foot, you wouldn't make it. But people lived there, braving the extreme cold and the fact that there wasn't any Seamless or Uber or that they couldn't even get a cell phone signal, and I thought that was cool.
Midway through the snowmobile tour, we stopped at a little cabin. Outside, a campfire burned; inside, a fireplace provided heat for anyone who needed to thaw out.
Behind the campfire, there was a wooden beam, nailed across some trees. On the wooden beam, there were things hung up. Animals. A couple of foxes, deer, two giant black bears -- dead, of course.
One of the other tour-guides -- a bit of a mountain man -- had killed one bear; his younger daughter killed the other. I asked my tour guide, an asian kid who appeared to be in his mid-twenties, what they did with the meat.
"They ate it," he said, flatly. "If it ain't bleedin', it ain't worth eatin', if you ask me."
"Never had bear meat," I said. "Venison, though. I love venison. I sometimes get it in New York. There's a place down the block -- venison, bison, they got all that shit."
"You know, anything that's trendy," my wife said.
He seemed a little confused, almost surprised; which, in turn, didn't surprise me. I assumed this guy didn't sit around watching Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown and commenting on all the latest food blogs. Imagine that!
Nevertheless, we had to keep it moving. So I snapped a few photos with my phone, then asked him to take one of us. He looked at the phone quixotically, as if every phone on earth doesn't take a picture the same exact way -- by pressing the button in the middle -- and paused.
"I just got this a year ago," he said. Then, he took a small black device out of his pocket. He had a beeper. In the year 2016 A.D. "I don't do technology," he said. That much was clear.
He took the photo and the photo wasn't good. He asked if it was okay and I said it was okay. "Yeah, it's great," I said. I didn't care. I was there then and reckoned that going through the trouble of getting a perfect photo might ruin what was already a perfect moment.
"Seriously, what did it matter if I captured that moment? Fuck that fucking photo, and every fucking cell phone photo, ever."
Seriously, what did it matter if I captured that moment? Fuck that fucking photo, and every fucking cell phone photo, ever.
Our guide didn't give a shit about photos. He didn't even have a phone. He said he'd been out giving tours in sub-zero temperatures since 9 a.m. He'd woken up hung-over, but what else was new. He appeared to be really enjoying himself. Riding, guiding, chatting -- just having a good fucking time. He'd most likely have a few beers after this. Shit, he'd most likely do that again tomorrow. Not a bad life, I would say.
It was closing in on 4 now, and the sun was hanging low in the sky. Flickers of pink and red, embers of a fiery sunset, visible through the pines.
We got back on the snowmobiles and began riding through the mountains again. It was colder now, and had my skin been exposed (I wore a helmet and three layers of clothing), it would have frozen in minutes.
And yet I squeezed harder on the handlebars, giving the machine more gas. Faster and faster, I went. The wind picked up, the ice and the snow sped by violently beneath. The snowmobile rumbled under my weight, something of a tamed animal, doing as I said, yet still surprisingly unpredictable.
I felt, in that moment, very alive. Briefly, I became aware that I really was.