A couple of quick announcements: First, if you read my posts on your computer, I have great news for you! Substack now allows you to preview footnotes by hovering over them; they will pop up in a small text box. (If you read my posts on your phone, you will still have to scroll to the bottom of the post to get to the footnotes.)
Second, I’m working on two longer posts, which will appear next week and the week after, and so I figured we could all use a bit of a break today. Enjoy this short post and see you next week!
In mid-February, across Europe, schools close for ski week, and parents take vacation time so everyone can head to the mountains. As a child of the midwestern flatlands, I used to cross-country ski and have even managed to get up on water skisa couple of times, but I never learned to ski downhill. So most years our family takes advantage of the off-season low hotel rates and lack of tourists to visit warmer climes in places like Italy, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, and the UK.
This year we’re staying put, and I have been enjoying hikes in the mountains among the skiers. I took the photo below from a favorite lunch spot in Mürren, a tiny, car-free village perched on the edge of a cliff a mile above sea level. In winter, people get around the village on skis and sleds, and, when they stop to lunch or shop, they just park their skis and backpacks higgledy-piggledly.
Anyway, as is my wont, I have picked up some life lessons from ski week, which I’d like to share with you.
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Life Lessons from Ski Week
Vacation, like love, is a doggone good thing.
Once in a while we need to take a break from work and school and explore a new place—or just relax at home. The benefits of vacation extend beyond the psychological. Travelers infuse the economy with cash and return to work restored and with a new perspective. Visiting new places and meeting new people broadens the mind and is a great way to enhance our kids’ education.Or, we can take the time to try something new in our own community, even if we just spend the week reading books or getting together with friends. I wish that adequate vacations and holidays were more acceptable in US culture. It would be a big improvement over the current pressure to grind our way through Elon Musk–style ninety-hour work weeks. Who knows? We might discover that when people have more rest and less stress, they are better workers and learners.
There is no shame in knowing your limits. The US is, to coin a term, a rah rah culture. We love to cheer each other on. “Go for it!” we say. “You can do it! Just give it a try—what’s the worst that can happen?” Most of the time I think this is really lovely. It is always nice to encourage others and to show we have faith in them.
But this gung-ho attitude can also make people feel so guilty about giving up that they persist along a path that isn’t wise. Sometimes it’s a literal path. Last year, my husband and I were hiking on a trail that crosses a piste. We encountered an older British lady who had come to Switzerland to ski with friends. She thought she could handle the intermediate trail they wanted to take. She couldn’t. Turns out that Switzerland and the UK have very different ideas about what counts as an intermediate trail. Fortunately, she made it down in one piece, but she was so shaken and upset that she couldn’t figure out how to find her way back to her hotel. We helped her and also assured her that she was smart to stop skiing once she realized she was in over her head. We need to normalize this attitude in other circumstances too. Encouragement is all well and good, but let’s also praise people for quitting a path, a venture, a program, or anything else, if they decide it isn’t working for them.
Climate change is a problem for us all. To paraphrase that joke about Chuck Norris, we might not be interested in climate change, but climate change is interested in us. (Maybe we should put Chuck Norris to work fighting climate change?) It is tempting to think that climate change just affects other people in remote places—floods in Pakistan, wildfires in Australia, heatwaves in India, droughts in Cape Town. If we live in a rich western country, away from the coasts, climate change can seem like something we can ignore. But climate change is coming for everyone.
I’m writing this post in mid-February. It ought to be wintry, snowy, and cold for at least another month. But instead spring is here, the crocuses are up, trees are budding, and we stroll around in our shirtsleeves.
This premature spring might be pleasant, but it is also harmful: Skiing normally contributes an estimated $5.5 billion to the Swiss economy. The shortened ski season and consequent loss to the economy hurt everyone, even people like me who don’t ski. Climate change has economic effects on all communities, even if those effects aren’t immediately obvious. We ought to invest now to forestall future economic catastrophes.
How about you, readers? What would you do with a bonus week of vacation in February? Please share your thoughts in the comments!
One of my favorite comedians is Wisconsin’s own Charlie Behrens, who speaks up for such midwestern virtues as helping your neighbor and drinking beer. Any midwesterner who has encountered real mountains will relate to this comedy routine, in which Charlie attempts to ski in Colorado and goes “ass over teakettle.” Tee hee!
A big improvement, right?
I am not a patch on my dad who, as a teenager, once water-skied down the Minnesota River in the middle of the winter.
You may be thinking that the UK doesn’t belong in this list, but I can assure you that, compared with February in Prague, where we were living at the time, the UK is positively balmy.
To be fair, my kids would say that they wish their travel educations didn’t include quite so many cathedrals. Ah well.
We have just had a 2 day holiday for Presidents Day and will get a week off in March for Spring Break, followed by 3 days in April for Easter. The advantage of working at a Catholic university!!!! I love it! In addition, in lieu of a pay raise, (😞) our university has moved to a 4 day work week. In a normal week we would work 5 7 hour days. Now we can work 32 hours over 4 days and are given the extra 3 hours paid off time. Many are taking a whole day, but I decided to spread mine over 2 days. I work 8-12 on a Tuesday and Thursday and after eating lunch and walking with my friends (a tradition we started pre pandemic) I head to my university choir rehearsal (with Laura Greenwald) for 1 1/2 hours then home to cook dinner in a leisurely manner. It actually works best for my office coverage and so far I am loving it. Singing really helps me relax!!! So I definitely endorse taking time off for whatever activity makes you happy!!! Enjoy your break too!
Down here in the volcanic tropics I could use some snow, I want to ski no matter what!
Why does everybody hate Russia? This is why, let´s go to Russia, no problem. Now is the best time.
A man rejected by the cosmos itself, cast down from a ray of light. The modern Icarus. Too innocent for the depths of Hell, too imperfect for Heaven’s grace, doomed to earthly purgatory, me.
Bean, Mr Bean, how do you do? I am beholding The Man That Has Never Been. Done it, seen it all, been there, spilling the beans ….