When I was a child, my favorite book was The Cross-Country Cat. No wonder: cross-country skiing held a mythic importance in my family. The snow-covered treks my parents would tell of their pre-children years were the stuff of lore to my brother and I, full of blizzards and coyotes and an unabashed love of the fresh air. We two were on skis as soon as we could run. It’s because of this, surely, that I cannot remember a winter growing up without hearing the slice of my stride atop crisp, perfect snow, without recalling a deep-woods quiet so absolute it soaked into my bones and left me light.
So it was a bit of a shock to lock into my skis on Saturday night and push off not into some rural forest, but into a steady parade of thousands of people zipping across the groomed trails in their skis and snowshoes, all in celebration of the Luminary Loppet.
Quiet, it was not. Isolated, it was not (the festival took place on Minneapolis’ Lake of the Isles, the city skyline shrouded by clouds in the background). But just as the woods are luminous in their solace, this night was radiant with its sense of community. People of every age, of every athletic ability, of every color scarf and hat, embraced a Minnesota February night and followed hundreds of artfully placed lanterns and lit-up ice columns around a city lake. It was wonderful, from the ice pyramids to the fire dancers to the guy dressed up as the Abominable Snowman handing out hot cocoa.
“What do you think loppet even means?” my husband asked, grinning at the costumes, the small children, my general contentment.
Later we would ask our more citified friends and find that it describes simply this: a cross-country ski race.
In that moment, though, I just grinned and dug my poles in.
“Last person to lopp across the lake is a rotten egg!”
I’m a country girl at heart, so it would be hard to persuade me away from a snow hike that offered untouched hills and the sounds of startled deer, but this event was full of allure: warm lights, echoing laughter, good friends.
This is Minnesota in winter. Part of it, anyway. And one of the many reasons so many of us stay.