“Um, Maggie. What is this poem about?” my teacher asked, peering at me over her glasses in utter confusion. It was fourth grade and we were in the middle of the state-wide Maine animal unit. I had written about the KOUT.
It began like this:
“Deep in the snow
lives the KOUT
If you’re skiing
He’ll grab your skis
And eat your knees…”
She must not be a skier, I mentally scoffed as I launched into a description of this animal that lives in holes, mostly under chairlifts. You need to be careful of it because sometimes its long arms would reach up and grab skiers and eat them.
As my classmates stared up at me in horror, it occurred to me that there was a small chance that this KOUT my dad had been telling up about for years, might not be real. I burst into tears and fled the classroom.
The K’OUT sign (which I now realize meant “keep out”) that was under the Shawnee Peak double lift during my childhood is now gone, but I delighted in the day I got to tell my five-year old about that nasty being that would eat naughty skiers.
“That’s not true,” he said to me through his neck warmer.
I guess he did not inherit my gullible tendencies. But what he did inherit is his utter passion for being on the slopes. I was very fortunate that I had a father who, despite his proclivity for inventing skier-eating beasts, made us ski every weekend. Even on the tired, grumpy, teenager mornings, he bribed my brother and me with donuts (otherwise forbidden) and got us up to Sunday River.
Skiing was important to me because it was when I got to see my dad and be with my brother without the heaviness of our parents’ divorce hanging over us. Nature has a way of pausing the drama and stress of daily life, and it was a respite for a girl who felt she needed to shoulder the burden of keeping the peace at home. It was a time to forget all the stuff that was waiting for us in the real world.
Up on the mountain, there weren’t screams over child support, overdue book reports, or fears about fitting in. The only thing we had to do was raise our skis high enough so the KOUT couldn’t grab us and drag us into his den. All of us would giggle into our mittens and try to be quiet so he would choose the family behind us. For surely, they were more delicious.
As soon as my son turned two, I was ready to create new memories. His father and I pulled him around on tiny skis in front of the Sugarloaf condo. Then at eight, he wanted to try alpine racing. For the past five years, he has spent his winters with the Carrabassett Valley Academy’s (CVA) weekend racing program.
To know my kiddo is to know he isn’t quick to share (even about what he loves), but he always wants to go skiing. He even watches videos of his CVA hero Sam “The Moose” Morse, who now skis with the US Ski Team, so that is enough to know he enjoys it. His father and I enjoy the fact he is out getting fresh air, exercise and meeting new people.
However, I found a school essay smooshed in his backpack that showed how much racing means to him. “At the top of the course, when I am in the starting gate and I hear the countdown I am so excited. It is just me and the gates down the mountain. It is icy and I am alone. Then I am flying. I can hear my parents yelling my name and that is what I need to go even faster. It is all I want to do.”
I cried when I read that. To know the passion this quiet kid feels meant so much. This sport, that teaches confidence, discipline, self-care and respect for the elements, has embedded into his soul. When he stares down a racecourse that shines with glare ice, his mind quiets and all his focus is on flying. How will he ever fear a math test or trying something new after facing that? I should have expected as much from the kid who scoffed at the KOUT.
Maggie Knowles writes about all things kid. She and her son live in Yarmouth, where she gardens, keeps bees and refuses to get rid of her stilettos.