I went away for Passover with my kids and my wife and my wife’s family. We went to the mountains, to a really nice ski resort, and I took pictures of trees. I mean it. That isn’t, like, a metaphor for something — on my phone, you click GALLERY and all you have are pictures of furry green. Well, a bunch of stony white patches, too. We were in the mountains. There were a lot of rocks. You couldn’t take pictures of the trees without shooting a bunch of rocks.
I did spend time with my kids, too. At mealtimes, gathered round the buffet, each of us stuffing our faces with kinds of food that we’d never permit at home — the kids hoarding ludicrous Passover cakes stacked high in scarily unnatural colors, and me these rubbery salt-steeped cheeses, tiny cubes of them, I’d pop a dozen in my mouth without thinking, not remembering my actions until two hours later at the next meal when I felt full and sick.
Other than mealtimes, mostly it was just me and the baby. The older kids, even the four-year-old, were in ski school all day. My wife’s whole family skied. I didn’t ski and neither did the baby. She was teaching herself how to walk. It was the most fascinating, amazing thing to watch her fail. She held onto the table with her tiny fat fingers, took a step, forgot that she had to let go. She rose up on hind legs and threw herself forward with gleeful abandon. Each time it was the same: the firm, secure thump of her tushy spanking the ground.
We spent all our time together, but I never took photos. Not never, but rarely. I was too busy watching her. I was afraid to aim for the perfect moment, miss witnessing all the other perfect moments on the way. I brought her out to the woods in a sling, clinging to my chest. We were like a marsupial family, so Australian.
The rest of the family, I told you, was away skiing. It was a weird idea for a vacation. Stick the kids in ski school so you don’t see them all day, then stick on goggles and a four-inch-thick parka so you can barely see each other, then push yourself down the side of a mountain too fast to talk to anyone. Actually, no, it was a great idea: when you actually did see each other, you appreciated them more, it was a surprise for us every time, Oh, it’s you, it was like the first day of vacation each time you peeled off your knit hat and ski mask. You traded ski stories. You caught up.
I moved so slow that week. People tried to catch up with me and found I hadn’t gone anywhere, I had nothing to talk about. The thing about my own individual vacation was, there was no news. The baby laughed again, she shat again, she still calls everything that funny word see-sis that I really hope is not her trying to say Jesus. Midday came, and she would nap on my chest. I walked around and took pictures of trees. Trees are really nice, really simple: they move even slower than me. I wandered off a trail, got pretty lost, didn’t mind, tried to get even more lost, and walked back a few hours later. I recognized every step of my way through the forest. As soon as I hit the road, I couldn’t remember which way the hotel was — every billboard looked the same, every chalet condominium. But the woods bristled with personality. One tree was old and grouchy. One had its branches twisted into impossible positions like a hippie dancer.
This, I wanted to tell her. This is Creation the way it was meant to be created. This was G-d’s world, wilder and more chaotic than we give it credit for. Our city world, or even the mountain chalets where we stay to be close to nature, are a false promise of stability. Nature doesn’t have level floors or gas heating or protection from bears. Our world reeks with a false order that we try to impose on it.
I didn’t want to ski. I wanted to be wild, I wanted to feel real fear, I wanted the stripped-down miracle of Passover with nothing to eat but bitter herbs and a tooth-cracking cracker baked in haste. Instead we were in the lap of luxury, staying in bedrooms that belonged in architectural magazines. It was amazing, and I felt unworthy of it all, I felt like it was somebody else’s life. I loved it, but this too I was afraid of.
I took the baby on a ski lift. One of the gondolas they have, it’s a major tourist attraction, they call it Peak to Peak. You get in a steel booth, suspended only by an overhead wire, and you travel from the top of one mountain to the top of the other for a stretch of 1.88 miles without any support. It’s a slow, leisurely roller coaster, no big deal to the real skiers, but a few grandparents on our ride were grasping the sidebars in fear. For my own part, I never let go of my baby, though if we were to fall, there was literally nothing I would ever be able to do before we touched ground.
My baby was not impressed. She cooed appreciatively for a couple minutes at the view, the vast carpet of thousands of trees. Then she got bored and started kvetching. Then she started screaming.
“I know how you feel,” said a sympathetic grandmother, her own face turning the pale ghostly white of a new diaper.
I knew that wasn’t it. She was just bored. I started singing to her (one of my characteristic bad choices of lullaby). In minutes, she was back to happy. At the peak, we ran into someone from the hotel, an elderly guy, but someone who I prayed nearby. He was a really happy guy, good-natured, in his 70s or 80s. Today he was in a wild heavy-metal helmet and carrying a snowboard. I was impressed.
We hung out, talked, joked about the weather, headed back down the mountain together. Just before climbing into the departing gondola, I remembered — “As long as we’re up here,” I said, “I guess I’d better get a picture. Could you take one of me and my baby?”
He obliged. He backed up, aimed the camera, pointed and clicked. After a few times, he frowned at it. “You know, I wasn’t sure if I knew how to work one of these things, but I think I got the hang of it.” He handed it back to me. I didn’t check until we were back down at the level of normal Earth.
And you know what? In the end, the picture turned out pretty perfect. And my memories are still my memories to keep.