Iowa Writes

NICOLETTE WARD
Sweet Pea Valley


     When I plant the first footstep of the day in the brash sunlight outside my concrete walls, nature tries to select me.  After twenty years, a person grows used to being an ambulatory affront to all things Darwinian, but it's still mildly irritating to have that large genetic target guiding Mother Nature's wrath.  I can understand her frustration—really and truly I can.  Thousands of years of shaping with infinite subtlety her most amusing hobby, Conqueror Man, and with perfect impunity, I am born, rail-thin and narrow-hipped, anemic and angular, with the stuttering, tripping grace of a bundle of sticks in a dryer.  If I even entertain a thought about high grasses or especially bright sunlight, I break out into hives.  Stairs fall down me.  Naturally, then, my parents decided that it was a magnificent winter for me to learn to ski.
     It takes a special kind of bastard to look at the skyward profile of a chain of mountains and believe that they have earned the right to slide down it without grievous injury.  Steve was that special kind of bastard, and for five and one-half hours, plus an hour's break for lunch, he was paid to make me an athlete.
     "Has Collin ever played hockey?" he asked, watching the retreating pom-pom hat of my younger brother.  "I mean, just watch him, Natalie.  See the way he keeps his feet together when he slides?  Hockey players just get it, you know?"
     I did not know, as evidenced by my unsatisfactory performances on such runs as Sweet Pea Valley, an area so embarrassingly named that the mountain had to have felt more emasculated than I did.  I rationalized Steve's grim demeanor was a result of the fact he was the only ski instructor that was not a gleaming twenty-something Australian, but the mountain frequently begged to differ, tripping me as I stood perfectly stationary on level ground.

     When I plant the first footstep of the day in the brash sunlight outside my concrete walls, nature tries to select me.  After twenty years, a person grows used to being an ambulatory affront to all things Darwinian, but it's still mildly irritating to have that large genetic target guiding Mother Nature's wrath.  I can understand her frustration—really and truly I can.  Thousands of years of shaping with infinite subtlety her most amusing hobby, Conqueror Man, and with perfect impunity, I am born, rail-thin and narrow-hipped, anemic and angular, with the stuttering, tripping grace of a bundle of sticks in a dryer.  If I even entertain a thought about high grasses or especially bright sunlight, I break out into hives.  Stairs fall down me.  Naturally, then, my parents decided that it was a magnificent winter for me to learn to ski.
     It takes a special kind of bastard to look at the skyward profile of a chain of mountains and believe that they have earned the right to slide down it without grievous injury.  Steve was that special kind of bastard, and for five and one-half hours, plus an hour's break for lunch, he was paid to make me an athlete.
     "Has Collin ever played hockey?" he asked, watching the retreating pom-pom hat of my younger brother.  "I mean, just watch him, Natalie.  See the way he keeps his feet together when he slides?  Hockey players just get it, you know?"
     I did not know, as evidenced by my unsatisfactory performances on such runs as Sweet Pea Valley, an area so embarrassingly named that the mountain had to have felt more emasculated than I did.  I rationalized Steve's grim demeanor was a result of the fact he was the only ski instructor that was not a gleaming twenty-something Australian, but the mountain frequently begged to differ, tripping me as I stood perfectly stationary on level ground.
     "Collin, why don't you lead the way on this one?  Nicole, I'm gonna have you watch your brother.  You sure he's never...I don't know, ice skated or something?"
     My brother is two years younger than me and can comfortably pick me up, or tuck the crown of my head beneath his chin with room and room to spare when he feels I've become uppity.  The Mountain accepted him as one of its own, and as Collin carved wide graceful arches and darted sharply between trees, Steve watched him with the ecstatic awe of a blind man opening his healed eyes for the first time and seeing the Sistine Chapel ceiling.  I ate a Clif Bar and blew my nose.  Nature became uneasy, sensing little by little an intruder in the comfortable world of slick, bundled naturals.  As children young enough to wear snow hats with animal ears on them flew by me ("We learned that yesterday!"), the naked sky I was close enough to brush blankened to a clean, ugly white.
     That day saw a snowstorm that had not been anticipated by my family, the Internet, or any of Utah's three-hundred and twenty-four weather channels.  I cannot say for sure whether it was my fault.  Friendly snow became thick ice, wind screamed through the crag and trees, and Utah got what was breathlessly explained to me as the biggest snowfall of the season.  It isn't quite right to say that I panicked so much as I began immediately planning what my last whispered words would be as the medical helicopter carried my shattered body away from the rock face of some unseen cliff.  I shrieked, wobbly legged and visibly nauseous, down my first intermediate slopes that day, desperately trying to escape the wrath of some unseen God that had abandoned all subtlety and would kill my entire family along with me for my hubris.
     You may notice I did not die that day, and for that I am grateful.  For what purpose I was not thrown into a tree I cannot say, although I think that as I lay facedown in snow, finger jammed and hips swollen and bruising, whimpering, eyelashes freezing together... well, I suppose that's the kind of apology nature will accept.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


NICOLETTE WARD

Nicolette Ward is a junior journalism major, looking to pursue literary journalism. Essaying is her favorite form of writing, and she asserts that nonfiction trumps fiction any day. Nicolette asks that all writing imperfections to follow should be forgiven, as she claims to have been raised by wolves, and they are not good writers.

This page was first displayed
on July 18, 2011

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