It’s been a while.
I’ve sat here at the desk a dozen times a week since the last post trying to vomit out a few lines of text but that’s exactly what it’s been – vomit. My mind has been distracted. More than my mind really, I just don’t know how to define it without sounding dramatic and absurd by using the word “soul.”
It’s been hard to focus. In recent months we’ve seen the power of earth, wind, fire and water all over the world. Homes, towns, and islands destroyed. Lives taken, interrupted and changed forever. Acts of violence and terror in Barcelona, London, Las Vegas and in the last week, New York and Texas. More lives taken, interrupted and changed forever. My heart breaks for those affected while I’m guiltily thankful for the safety of my family and those around me.
Social media has become a platform for proselytization serving as a battlefield for the polarized and creating a burying ground for debate and compromise. I’ve grown weary of life on-line and turn to it less and less. I’m not arrogant enough to think I have any salient point(s) to add to any element of the melee but I’m not ignorant of the toll it’s all taking on this world and all of us on it.
The truth is, most days, outside of paying the bills my primary concern is making sure I have enough good white bucktail and mono to get through the week followed by keeping track of tide charts and water temperature. I run a marathon all week, so I can escape to the water and the mud when Friday rolls around. I fish while I’m out there but that’s not what it’s about. It’s where I endure this life drawn to new places with the ebb and the flow of the tides losing myself in the silent noise of open spaces where I can sort my thoughts on my own terms. I think I’ll keep doing that.
I started writing this back in September. It was going to be about the last few weeks of the fall run. I fished more this season than I have in a lot of years and was determined to get in every cast possible until it was over. At the end of the summer I resigned myself to putting off yard work, projects around the house and anything else that didn’t include throwing flies at southbound striped bass until I was sure the fish were gone. The only things that would interrupt my plan were a couple of scheduled college visits with my daughter.
In early October we made a trip to New Hampshire to visit Plymouth State. As we sat in an auditorium with a hundred other potential students and their families waiting for the admissions program to start I found myself thinking back on the first days of pre-school, kindergarten and elementary school. I thought of the morning walks to the bus stop wondering what she would learn that day and then listening to Abby tell me about it when I picked her up from the after-school program. Those two moments were the best part of my day. They still are, except she’s driving herself back and forth to school now and I haven’t understood the math since she was in the fifth grade. Sitting there thinking about her going off to college next year I selfishly wished for five more minutes of pushing her on the swings at the playground, watching her traipse around tidal pools with the dogs looking for treasures and listening to her stories as we played with Polly Pockets. The years have gone by faster than I thought they would. I wondered if I had appreciated those things as they happened as much as I do now. Did I give her as much while she was growing up as she gave me? Did I do my best? If I had five more minutes…you know, dad stuff.
Five more minutes.
Those words ran through my mind all day as we walked around campus. As we were talking about Plymouth State possibly becoming part of Abby’s future on the drive home, I kept thinking about a part of my past.
There are many people who impact us but there are just a few who show us tools to shape our selves, to build the foundation of who we are, who’s lessons and guidance stay with us throughout our lives. One of these people in my life was my first ski coach. He had gone to Plymouth State and the irony of my daughter possibly attending the same college as the man who helped build my “foundation” was not lost on me.
In Greek mythology, Hercules was the strongest mortal ever born. Tim Lavallee was the second. He had been a force in high school and college as a slalom and giant slalom racer, Nordic racer and ski jumper; one of the few Ski Meister’s as four event athletes were known. When I was in the eighth grade he had coached the high school team to the Maine Class B State Championship. I knew a few kids on that team and had listened to them talk about Coach Lavallee. I knew I wanted to be part of that. My aunt had given my sister and I wooden cross-country skis for Christmas when I was in the seventh grade. We skied all over our farm and the fields around us taking the basics my aunt had shown us and learning through trial and error. I hadn’t been much of an athlete up to that point but something about cross-country skiing clicked with me. So, I went out for the team my freshman year.
We had snow droughts during most of my high school career. That year was particularly bad, so bad that our first few weeks of “on snow” training consisted of skiing back and forth on the top of a few inches of snow banks the plows had left around the school parking lots. We skied those snow banks for hours into the darkness and then would scrape up snow from wherever we could find it to patch the thin spots for the next day. I was struggling with my “technique” and timing and getting frustrated. And I was embarrassed. At the end of one particularly bad session I was taking off my skis as the rest of the team was heading inside when I heard the words that honestly changed my life.
“Hey, Ricey…give me five more minutes.”
For the next twenty minutes Coach Lavallee skied behind me and patiently talked me through the timing of my single-stick and kick-step-double-pole. Those twenty minutes changed everything. Afterward, in the light of LaVerdiere’s Drug Store and the Country Way Restaurant from across the street, he put his hands on my shoulders, looked me directly in the eyes and said,
“When things get hard, when you get frustrated…go back to basics…slow it down…don’t worry about what you think it looks like or what you think other people are thinking…slow it down…then get right back to it. Five more minutes…not just in skiing, but in school, in work, in life…five more minutes at a time and you’ll be better at whatever it is you’re doing, and you’ll be a better man for it.”
I memorized his words and took them to heart. For most of high school I would sweep and scrape together what snow we had in the backyard, flip on the back lights and ski circles on the back lawn at night, working on technique and imagining I was Bill Koch skiing in the Olympics. I never made it to the Games, but four years later I did ski into the Olympic Stadium at Lake Placid with my college team at Johnson State when we qualified for the Division I Championships after winning Division II’s. I got there because of my college coach, Peter Albright and my teammates, but it would not have happened without the foundation that Tim Lavallee helped me build five minutes at a time, a foundation that while cracked here and there, still stands today.
I’ve thought about Coach and his words a lot this fall as I’ve paddled, waded, fished and stared at the waters of the marsh. Last Saturday the fish were still there. I looked for five more minutes on Sunday but I didn't find them. I found something else.
Five more minutes.
It can make all the difference.
South River, MA
8 November 2017