“Nothing can happen ’til you swing the bat.”  My son Ian drums up this quote from a Japanese anime TV series. We’re skiing side by side in groomed Nordic tracks through the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area on the north end of Missoula. Rattlesnake Creek flows from its wilderness headwaters. The stream sings its way through ice and pools behind a newly created beaver dam. The freshly cut cottonwood and willow limbs interlace all the way across the stream, at least 100 feet wide.

The beavers know this quote. Their “bat” is their teeth, I think. Ian and I muse over the miraculous industry of beavers, and their powerful ability to alter the course of the stream.  Five mallard ducks fly up from a deep pool behind the new dam.

I value my son’s wisdom at age 18 on a day like this when we’re alone in the wilds, observing nature and conversing about life. We’re sharing our hopes and dreams for 2016.

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A baseball analogy might seem strange for us. Neither Ian and I play the game, yet the feel of a bat gripped in my hand, eye on the incoming ball, and a firm swing still resonates. We’ve all done that at least casually, I think.

“What if I swing and miss?”  I ask Ian.

“Exactly.” he says. “That’s the point. You might hit the ball or you might miss, but either way, you’ve swung the bat.”

Yes, I think. Nature is this way. Birds are this way. Dynamic. Even in stillness, the kingfisher is at the ready.  I watch a male often now on a stretch of Clark Fork River in downtown Missoula. When perched on a wire or tree branch, he can remind me of a hunched philosopher musing upon the icy platters sailing below him in the black swift currents.

When I look at the kingfisher through binoculars, I see that his eyes focus on the fish I cannot see. He’s alert, peering down his sharp black bill. His tail flicks. Without taking that headfirst plunge, he won’t ever catch the fish. I’ve watched kingfishers miss their target. They’re pros at swinging and missing. Yet, when they connect with the fish in the bill, it’s a marvelous moment.

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Belted kingfisher flying from his perch (photo courtesy of Ken Miracle)

Ian and I continue talking about our  dreams for 2016 – particularly his zeal for learning physics, a challenging yet compelling subject.   I’ve shared with him this strong desire to return to my beloved northeast Oregon and live there as my base for gypsy journeys. I tell him of my hesitations and what it might mean for my significant relationships and ties to Missoula. I’m the perched kingfisher waiting for the moment.

He repeats the quote and we savor it together, like an especially tasty asiago bagel (our favorite kind). The flavor appeals. In fact, we stop to pull out the actual bagel from my pack, along with an orange. That’s when  Ian shares his passion for physics applied to this lovely ski through the  ponderosa and cottonwood forests along the creek.

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Ian teaches me about physics–skis and friction. He’s following his passion for the subject at University of New Mexico.

We’re experiencing static friction, he tells me, as we start up again, powering forward with our poles. Once gliding, then the frictional force acts between ski and snow in motion and that’s kinetic friction.

As we kick and glide, I focus more on frictional force. Which is happening in my life? Am I in the state for static friction when the force acts between two surfaces that are attempting to move but not moving? Or am I feeling the kinetic friction that acts between two surfaces in motion?

In this world, friction is a fact of life. Get used to it, I think. Embrace physics. No surface is perfectly smooth and when they move against each other, the tiny bumps interlock and oppose motion. Friction originates from opposition.

On our return, Ian flies down the hills with the ease of a soaring eagle. I push hard with poles and kick, wishing I’d added a layer of glide wax to  plastic fish scales that are key to the friction needed for going uphill on a waxless ski.  Hmmm. I need friction and I need glide, yet neither happens without instigating motion.

Maybe it all comes back to “swinging the bat.” Take that step. Move forward with the full knowledge that friction is part of life. Maybe all I need is a few tips from my son and from Babe Ruth who wrote:

How to hit home runs: I swing as hard as I can, and I try to swing right through the ball… The harder you grip the bat, the more you can swing it through the ball, and the farther the ball will go. I swing big, with everything I’ve got. I hit big or I miss big. I like to live as big as I can.”

Okay. Deep breath. Thanks Babe Ruth. Thanks my son Ian. Thanks to the kingfisher that hits big or misses big. Here’s to relishing the moment AND living big in 2016!

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Ian and Marina – fellow philosophers of an exceptional cross country ski day.