Thursday, November 12, 2009

None of the Above

I have previously referred to November and April in New Hampshire as The Fifth Season: None of the Above. Both can be raw, gray, dismal and unsuitable for the signature activities of any of the other, better-known seasons. Either might also lend part of itself to winter, but never high quality winter. In the worst of winters, the gray, unclassifiable season stretches into Novapril, a snowless, sunless void that swallows all memory that the world ever looked any other way.

This November, for the first time in nine long years, I don't have to shift my operations to a seasonal second shop in a town 50 miles to the north. I get to remain in our first (and now only) location, where a greater variety of work can come through the door on any day. In other words, people who ride all year may bring bikes to fix, and other devotees may order bikes for us to build. We also sharpen ice skates and can sharpen edges and wax bases on downhill skis and snowboards.

The Manager wants it to be cross-country ski season. That was his first love and the primary focus of the business. Like the true children of winter, he leans forward into the chilling wind like an eager retriever.

For a time I leaned that way as well. I moved here to be a mountain bum. I climbed rock and ice, hiking or skiing as the weather permitted or required. But I'd grown up in places as diverse as Maine and Florida, with several sojourns in Maryland. My adult love of winter was conditional. When winter proved itself a fickle and unreliable partner, we grew apart. I still like to take advantage of good conditions, but I will easily shift to other things when the many forms of cross country skiing let me down.

I understand that combining a love for Nordic skiing with a business that pays for their necessities and luxuries prevents my employers from being philosophical and versatile. In order to link their business to the many options for winter diversions they would have to have a place the size of LL Bean. They can be philosophical up to a point, but they invest thousands of dollars in inventory, whereas my inventory tends to be mental. I have my skills, which I bring to bear as needed. I have my tools, the value of which comes from what I can do with them, not a timely transfer of ownership to a customer. If I'm not busy doing one thing, I might be doing another or, quite likely, staring out a window, musing. It's called "writing."

At the shop I can't give way to the temptation to sit and think unless I'm thinking about something for the business. A small business is like a lifeboat. Even if you're not the owner, you'd better bail and row unless you see a nice island or a better boat in easy swimming distance. On calm seas I confess I've slacked off a little and worked on my tan. But now the job demands more attention. The economy is tough. The small business owner needs to balance his need for good personnel with his ability to pay them for their time. The responsible rower will want to give a fair return on that investment.

So I start to gear my mind for the business of winter. Meanwhile, riders continue to bring bikes and I continue to snatch what rides I can from the shortening blink of day and the demands of various responsibilities. When I get a moment I look at the side-lit landscape and travel through time.

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