Winter Warriors, by Avis Gray

Winter Warriors Filtered copy

Here in Grand Lake, Colorado, when the outdoor thermometer nearly shatters at 20 degrees below zero, the winds howl, and lights flicker back to dim candlepower, I become inspired…usually to write a seasonable book. My inspiration, of course, also comes from the floor-to-ceiling shelves overflowing with books all around me in the cozy world of Cascades Books, the last little bookstore at the end of the road in our tiny berg amidst the Colorado Rockies. I must be up to 7 non-Pulitzers in the last 10 years, but who’s counting?

But this year, oh Winter Warriors, instead of yet another treatise, I invite you to join me in these more immediate winter musings. My Millennial friends have told me this is what’s officially called a ‘Blog’. They look at my little bookstore with amusement, as a sort of old- time curiosity, I think. I smile at this, because in my heart if an unshakable faith in the value of a story, written on paper. I feel as if this particular blog can be closer to a letter penned from a window to the past, maybe from us hearty pioneer-folk, writing to friends from home, inviting them to both visit and to join. These letters are meant to share ideas, thoughts and observations, but perhaps most of all, kindle that spark of connection between the places time forgot, and places steaming toward the future. So be a Winter Warrior with us, as we connect the wires in this great time-traveling experiment, ‘keeping it real’ – a Millennial phrase, no doubt. Reality to us right now, all generations, makes Rocky Mountain snow and ice a magnificent play time for our bodies and minds and creative spirits.

grand lake elevation sign
Grand Lake Elevation 8,367′ Above Sea Level

We agree in our community of 495 uncommon mountain souls that “shivering” is probably limited to City Folks. Our fairer-weather friends have packed up their minimal carry-ons for tropical climes, while we remaining villagers have settled back into a simpler space — a tightly knit cast comprised of creative, patient, handy, and hardy folk. The snow-covered streets are decidedly quiet — Grand Lake keeps snow-plowing to a minimum, catering to those Winter Warriors who travel by snowmobile, snowshoe or ski. The snow-muffled silence and sparse literary traffic leaves all sorts of time here at the bookshop for musing and following last night’s dreams — wherever they happen to lead.

Last night’s dreams of Arctic blasts serenading with the coyotes at our cabin just outside the village, remind me of why I am still happily shoveling the now- obscured wooden boardwalk outside the store instead of lounging on a beach somewhere warm. The boardwalk is a unique vestige of the wild-western roots of our town by the headwaters of the Colorado River, and it does deserve a good brushing.

My “happy places” always seem to revolve around family and friends — which include visits with my son Ryan and his wonderful family in their own intemperate paradises, led by his wife Emilie and her nomadic job in the diplomatic world. Good luck for me! My “spring break” sojourns to visit them have included Iceland (think swirling Arctic winds of monumental proportions), New Zealand (in their winter season, when else?) and recently…Norway — with their ancient town of Roros supposedly being one of the coldest villages in the region (great, let’s go kick-sledding!). My new granddaughter, baby Maya’s biggest smiles seem to come when she’s being pulled in a specially-adapted baby snow sled puller by her personal human husky, her skiing father, Ryan (also incidentally grinning from ear to ear). They both have Grand Lake roots.

ryan and mayaRyan & Maya in the glory of the Norwegian winter sun

You’ll undoubtedly also read tales of my grandson here, Bowen, and his endless heart for adventures, not least of which include fishing through three-foot holes of Rocky Mountain ice, speed competitions on snowmobiles and snow-boarding with the fox and the tree-martens. Grandmothers worth their salt always join in — we all know that.

Although my daughter, Tallie, instead votes for dolphins and white sands, I’d be remiss not to someday share the story behind the Grand Lake Polar Bears, founded by Tallie and her friends one brittle New Year’s Eve. And a reprise the next New Year, and the next.

And a recently discovered reason to respect our winter offerings is a bit of a surprise. I have befriended a few folks who happily (and maybe surprisingly) make Grand County, Colorado their semi-permanent vacation home in the WINTER season, and then move on to Maine and other coastal areas in the summer. What a deliciously perverse switch of the norm. Welcome, Winter Warriors! We want to hear from you too when time away from setting mountain tracks in the deep snow allows.

Even Sierra, my happy border collie, loves the snow too. She bravely wags her way outside as often as she can in the winter months, alert to the noises and smells of our Winter Warrior animal friends, moose and fox and coyote, just out of sight and sound to our devolved human eyes and ears. I’m not sure what it is, but my offspring, along with my Grand Lake winter friends, have inherited an affinity, maybe even a real need for ice and snow and thermal underwear. It’s as if the contrast of these colder climes allows for some deeper appreciation of the easy summer sun.

Not all of our stories will be about the cold. Relieved? There will be musings on books, of course, and ideas too. And soon, when the icicles at the eaves give way to Colorado’s famous solar extravaganza, our pens will surely wander to share the beauty and peaceful reprise of spring , summer, and fall, when the wilderness of the Rockies lures us into immense arms. Backtracking more than a bit, this brings me to a few points of regional comparisons, which just might deserve some mention — for several reasons.

I have just returned from the land of Nordic ice and snow (Norway) to homeland Grand Lake, a village now also of ice and snow. Good comparisons of the two exist. Norwegians have a very hearty life expectancy, a ‘Blue Zones’ model (and if you haven’t been there yet , Dan Buettner’s book “The Blue Zones of Happiness” is a must read for those interested in diving the mysteries of human happiness, contentment, and belonging.)

Similarly, Grand Lake , just several years ago was home to five healthy World War 11 Vets. They shoveled their many steps at home and dug out their old red jeeps and nameless vehicles without complaint. Stoic.

Norwegians are also on the list of stoic folks who live the longest and healthiest, most productive lives. Every time I visit, Ryan’s Oslo neighbors, both in their high nineties, reliably invite us to their home at around 2:00 to have sherry and share a platter of olives, figs, and apricots. They wake up early, watch the news, send emails, and work out on their dual treadmills before we arrive to share the olives and camaraderie. Other of Ry’s elderly neighbors vigorously use their own momentum on kick-sleds to bring home their organic groceries. I too tried their simple mode of transportation and was amazed by the ease of speed.

Norway is a a very wealthy country, so some comparisons to our village are not exactly fair. School is “free” from pre-K through grade school, and 40 public universities, and is ranked within the top three educational systems in the world. They do not require much homework, if any, because they want their youth to instead explore the world outside — the snow, the ice, and the woodlands — after school. The kids like that. Ryan (‘Mr. Gray’) reports that it allows them to be more attentive during class hours. They then work so well together in a non-competitive manner that even the princess of Norway, one of Ry’s students, happily share solid thoughts with her fellow non-regal classmates. They work, and inherit the value of working together.

Norway, like our village of Grand Lake is generally a happy place despite its seasonal long winter nights. The incredibly low rate of crime in Norway is often partially attributed to the contentment of its citizens. As an unknown Norse lawyer is quoted to have said: ‘Happy people don’t shoot their spouses.’

So, when I recently heard — and you probably did too-our recent invitation to Norwegians, who appear to be getting along fairly well on all counts, to join our ranks as American citizens….I’m not so certain they will take up our offer. But they too love snow and frigid temperatures, and are distant Winter Warrior friends….

Just recently Sierra and I ventured on a cross-country ski-romp up at the Harbison Ranch in Rocky Mtn. National Park. The old vestige is set in the Kawaneechee Valley, with the source of the Colorado running through its open meadows. Sierra set an ambitious pace, leaving me soggy and most relaxed to grab an early eve glass of wine, kick back, and read a totally incongruous book for the wintry day: “Havana, a Subtropical Delirium“, by

Mark Kurlansky — award-winning author of “Cod” and “Salt” (fascinating world histories of sea and land.) I was curious about this book. Cuba was the last tropical place Ryan and I visited together. And we did it legally because of Ry’s educational involvement with a non-profit. We were allowed to stay in off-limits 19th century hotel treasures and travel at will — as long as there was a chicken in the backseat.

Back to this Havana, the book. It somewhat haphazardly, but quite brilliantly gives us an inside view of the tattered but still elegant city’s “singular music, lit, love of baseball, drink and food, five centuries of outstanding but neglected architecture, political angst, but extraordinary blends of culture.” This seems a good reading choice after a day in the snow. The book also to my mind poses curious outcomes about the Cuban culture’s constant search in history for safety and protection — usually not achieved.

From the 1500’s on, fortresses and towers and walls were built in hopes of protecting Havana from raids and destruction. In 1674 a wall around the city was built to entirely wall off Havana from the rest of the island. It was 5 feet thick and thirty-three (33! ) feet high, with nine gates locked each night.

The Havana wall did not meet with much success — perhaps as many walls don’t. The pirates came and returned again, and conquered. Today and many years before, there is no longer a wall nor gates — it has been gradually been totally torn down. Thirty-three feet of solid stone apparently kept no-one out, nor did it prevent shabbiness from creeping in. My guess is that all of that money used to build it might have been better spent on excellent public schooling, treadmills and finding the secrets to happiness…but that’s just a guess.

Now, finally, your musings and bit of brilliance, as always, are most welcome!*

Good cheer. – Avis
Avis in Norway
your fearless blogger in her winter warrior garb!

*If you’d like to contribute to Cascades Books Mountain Journal, please give us a call at nine-seven-oh-627-8166…or better yet, stop in for a cup of tea and a conversation at 928 Grand Avenue, here in Grand Lake, Colorado!
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