The Old Man and the Ski

Waxing Poetic in Central Park

I thought of the early British explorers—particularly the disastrous Franklin expedition of 1845. The years when scores of men died miserably on the ice, and legions returned home with phlegmy coughs. They were victims of their own arrogance, using horses instead of dogs because that was the English way, using wool instead of furs because that, too, was the English way. Now, my only bagel was gone and my morning coffee was a distant memory. It was time to return to the world of men. I found tree runs at 96th Street, cranking out four or even five turns through the light powder, then striding and poling down the runout at full throttle, past the children on sleds, past the wrought-iron fence of a playground filled with drifts, thrilling to the speed as snow broke like waves over my boots.

I had been to the heart of the wilderness but now I thought only of home. I exited the park somewhere far uptown and walked toward Lexington Avenue. A man was shoveling snow, and I stopped to ask where to find a subway stop. The shoveler, a Russian immigrant, gave me directions and sent me off with a friendly wave. The encounter made me recall Fridtjof Nansen, the great Norwegian explorer. Nansen abandoned his ship and spent two years on the ice before finding solid earth in Russia's Franz Josef Land in 1895. We both had left our lives to fate and in the end had found solace among the Russians.

I reached the subway stop and boarded the southbound No. 6 train, clutching my skis. I returned home in time for lunch.

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