A Cross-Country Skier Pens Plein Air Poetry at the End of the Glide | Poetry | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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A Cross-Country Skier Pens Plein Air Poetry at the End of the Glide


Published January 29, 2020 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated February 3, 2020 at 9:40 a.m.


I'm an avid cross-country skier — not a racer in spandex cranking laps on some perfectly groomed course, but a guy breaking his own random trail through meadows and forests, pausing to check on buried boulders and swerving animal tracks, noting the tones and textures and timbres of the season.

For me, the goal of skiing isn't skiing; that's just a means to an end. Though I do love the athletic effort and sporty glide, the actual goal, or end, is nature itself: intimate contact, a kind of elemental presence. As the name suggests, my style of cross-country skiing is all about the country.

Robert Bly, a Minnesota poet who definitely knows a thing or two about wintry landscapes, titled his first book (published in 1962) Silence in the Snowy Fields. I appreciate that title very much — the haiku-ish quality, the conjuring of a vast, gentle, moody terrain that is both external and internal, located in the place and in the poet alike.

Nevertheless, I believe that Bly got one part wrong: silence. His poems are made of language, of speaking, are they not? No matter how far we travel into the hushed emptiness of a snowy afternoon, a human voice accompanies us: blathering inanities, singing weird songs, cursing achy toes and fingertips, perhaps occasionally uttering something beautiful.

Over the past few winters, I've made it my habit to "transcribe" this voice, which is to say I've been jotting down my own little plein air poems. Every Sunday between December and March, I click into my trusty Rossignols, grip my old-school bamboo poles and head out solo, carrying in my backpack a beer, a puffy jacket, a notepad and a pencil. I wander aimlessly for a couple hours, plop down in a drift, pull on the puffy and crack the well-earned beverage. Woodpeckers drum. Clouds soften to pink with the sunset. Shivering, teeth chattering, I wait for stanzas to arrive, scribbling them quickly.

This ecopoetic practice is, again, a means to an end; it's a technique for tricking myself into slowness, attentiveness, appreciation of the scene's infinite detail. My pencil, I've come to realize, is a kind of ski — yet another tool for exploring the country. Below are a few samples from my ongoing project.

A selection of Sunday ski poems for Seven Days by Leath Tonino


when i sit here

i sit with a big view



distant trees

and i sit

with a small view



toes of my boots

and i sit with a view

between these two

that i don't know

how to describe

it looks

like nothing


i suppose

would be the closest word


jittery with cold

cursing in the quiet

of my mind

i watch winter light

that can't be named

close the day

and open the night


i suffer for you

i freeze for you

i call out to you

but of course

you ignore me

almost as if

i'm not here


someone skied way out here

where i like to ski

and built a snowman

he stands alone

in the white meadow

between the creek

and the mountain

facing west

i have never built

a snowman way out here

but it strikes me

that sunday after sunday

sunset after sunset

this is somehow

exactly what i have done

cold without noticing the cold

thinking the kind of thoughts

most people refuse to call thinking

there he stands

facing west

transfixed by the slow magic

day becoming night


i'm out here for the shapes

i'm out here for the colors

i'm out here for the warmth

i'm out here for the cold

i'm out here for the changes

the line i ski through change

then i sit

make myself a dot

it's not the line's end

but a new beginning

this sitting

i'm out here for this sitting

i'm out here for the outside

coming inside

turning me

inside out


snow blows

across snow

and i go deeper

into my puffy coat

squint against this

rushing place

numb fingers

numb toes

dusk finds me

sheltering in spruce

in the heart's

last heat

and i didn't even know

dusk was looking


out drinking on saturday

lots of people

loud music

wild dancing

the lights

the lights

and now this beautiful

quiet sunday

all snowy mountains

and passing thoughts

and changing light

won't-stay light

can't-stay light

thank-you light


hey guys


i'm sorry

i mean

i'm not sorry

but i feel

kind of foolish

to have sat here

for an hour

and not said hello

how you doing

you're looking

totally great

as always

or maybe even

better than usual

this snow

is something special

really something special

it's piling up

pretty good

on you

on me

on everything

it's what got me

all distracted

this past hour

but you know

how it is

you're spruce

you live out here


smoking my pipe on a cold winter afternoon

watching smoke curl away

feeling it rise

through bare branches

rise through

and disappear


this delicate touch

this soft reaching out

from my shivering

The original print version of this article was headlined "Plein Air Poetry | A cross-country skier finds words at the end of the glide"

Speaking of Skiing, cross-country Skiing



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