Dwelling In-Between

Sometimes in our lives we are entering, and sometimes we’re exiting. We pass through periods of growth and periods of disintegration. And then there are the in-between times, which can be more unsettling than when everything falls apart.

At least when the familiar unravels, we can see what’s causing our sadness or distress. In between is a wintery place, a subterranean season. Any life or growth happens underground, out of sight, beyond our conscious reach.

In those parts of the world gathering their first layers of snow right now, people know that winter will not bend to their wills. It can be endured, dealt with—even enjoyed—but no one plants crops in winter. No amount of snow removal equipment makes it safe to drive quickly.

I noticed the arrival of an in-between time recently because of the absences that came with it—absence of ambition, absence of plans or planning, even a lack of concern about those missing attitudes. This isn’t the first in-between time in my life, but it’s the first time I’m not gnawing at it like an animal with its leg caught in a trap. This acceptance is all at once unnerving and unexpectedly peaceful.

Winter can be that way, too. Nothing quiets the soul like a gentle snowfall, but sliding through an intersection on black ice brings an immediate sense of panic.

Perhaps both feelings are responses to recognizing a lack of control. Recognizing and trusting gets me a dose of peace; recognizing and thinking I need to change something lands me squarely on the black ice.

Our culture does not teach us to “trust in the slow work of God,” as the theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin recommends. It teaches us to make things happen, to pursue what we want.

But winter is not a time for forcing change. The Earth is taking care of the bulbs and roots that will become green shoots and clenched buds impatient to open. And so in our in-between times, the Ground of our Being is tending the new life we as yet know nothing about. All we have to do is wait and enjoy the snowfall.

I Like It Here

When I was growing up, the promotional video for my hometown of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, featured a bunch of guys sporting Magnum P.I. mustaches sitting in a hot tub singing, “Steamboat, Steamboat, I like it here.” Though the video has been updated several times since then, I still agree with the lyrics.

horse pulling a child on skis down a street in front of a crowd
Ski joring down Lincoln Avenue in Steamboat. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Boeke.

Steamboat recently celebrated its 100th Winter Carnival, and I attended along with my family and a number of friends from high school. Here are a few of the reasons why it was so much fun.

One: carnival buttons, which get you into all the weekend events and are often seen pinned to ski hats, still cost only $10. I bought mine off a woman on the bus who had an extra.

Two: the carnival is a liability nightmare. Put skis on small children, give them a rope to hold, tie the other end of the rope to a horse and tell the rider to go as fast as possible down a street covered in a couple feet of snow. Just for fun, add a jump in the middle. Or start with a 50 meter ski jump. Wait until dark. Add a flaming hoop and have people jump through it. Just for fun, let one of them pull a toboggan that is on fire.

Three: though the population of the town has more than doubled since I was a kid (to a whopping 12,000), everyone still puts on four layers of clothing and stands around in the snow for six hours cheering for the kids and the horses. Occasionally a kid lets go of the rope before she crosses the finish line and then has to ski half a block or so on her own. Everyone cheers the loudest for these kids, and every single kid who let go of the rope crossed the finish line even though she knew she wouldn’t win.

Four: nowhere else in the world will you see a rugby team, a refrigerator, and a running gas grill on skis. There was sauerkraut for the hotdogs.

Five: keeping the local ranchers at the center of the festivities as riders and parade participants somehow ties the different parts of the community together in a way that doesn’t happen in many places.

Six: the lighted man. Yes, he is shooting fireworks out of his backpack. Yes, it is the coolest thing ever.

Plan to buy your buttons for the 101st.