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Jack Zaleski, Published November 30 2013

Zaleski: Absorbing nature with every little stride

Chelsea, Vt. - When I started cross-country skiing in the early 1970s at Devils Lake, N.D., I never dreamed I’d be enjoying grandchildren on skis in the 21st century. But I am because of my daughter’s triplet girls, who will be 8 years old in January, and are as enthusiastic about Nordic skiing as I was 40 years ago. Not only do they love gliding across the trails and meadows here on this beautiful landscape but they also are surprisingly good at it. They try to outdo each other, but most of that is to show off for me and their grandmother.

To their Oak Grove/Concordia College mother’s credit, they are outdoor kids, like she was. She has limited their exposure to commercial television. They do not play video games. They are not obsessed with the destructive forces of social media. Instead, they go outdoors. They help tend their mom’s sheep. They garden in summer. They hike and explore the woods, swim in a within-walking-distance pond. In winter, they ski, skate and toboggan on the great slope near their rural home.

The skiing amazed me. Equipped with kid-size skis, they can scoot across the shallow early-season snow like pros. As I did all those years ago, the skiing really is cross-country – breaking trails and striding into places deep in the hardwood forest, off trail and on. It’s not about the right outfit, competition or perfect technique. It’s about seeing the early winter world from less than 4 feet up – close up and quiet. It’s about startling a pair of ruffed grouse – blasting from beneath a hemlock. Or following a deer trail. Or listening to a flock of garrulous turkeys move through the dense underbrush.

The girls are enthralled by it all, and I am fascinated by the care they take as they move into the home of grouse, deer, turkey and cottontail – pointing out to me at each stop the special places they’ve come to know.

Again, for them the skiing (and snowshoeing when the snow goes deep) is not about going somewhere to show off or be seen in the right ski pants. Rather, each ski into the woodlands is an adventure they share with each other. Each outing is a classroom.

Every story they bring back – the great owl that swooped by them, the porcupine in an old sugaring shack – widens their eyes and deepens their respect for the forest and its creatures.

I’m not sure if they yet understand how privileged they are to live where they live.

But I know how privileged I am to cross-country ski with Bennett Sage, McKenna Faith and Harper Dakota. We’re learning a lot from each other.

Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521