For Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) there is no place like home. And for the five Leahys, home is a 100-year-old farmhouse in Middlesex, Vt.:
This is where we come to find rest and relaxation, to slow the pace of our daily lives. It wasn't until my election to the Senate in 1974 that Marcelle and I realized how much we wanted and needed the old farm in Middlesex. Renovations have turned our summer home into a year-round haven to which we and our three children can retreat from Washington. The farm rests on the side of a small mountain with an unobstructed view of the valley and Vermont's Green Mountain Range.
Snow was falling when we awoke this morning, but it has stopped since. It sparkles in the sunlight, and we are drawn outside by the beauty nature so generously offers up as daily fare. Our agenda for this glorious week is consumed by skiing. Yesterday being our first ski day of the season, we decided not to ski on our own logging trails but to start at the Trapp Family Lodge Cross-Country Ski Center in Stowe. Lynn and Johannes von Trapp are long-time friends and epitomize the genial and helpful manner of Vermont's recreational hosts.
With their guidance, we selected our rental equipment and reviewed the trail map. Leaving the waxing of our skis to the pros, we were unencumbered and totally free to enjoy some of the 60 kilometers of well-groomed trails as we got our ''ski legs'' under us. A stop for lunch at the trailside cabin was another bonus on our first day out.
Today, we are on our own. Marcelle and I gather a lunch to be stored in a backpack along with extra socks. Alicia and Mark clear the breakfast table, and Kevin checks his camera in preparation for the day's adventures. Tying our windbreakers around our waists, we have but one chore left -- waxing our skis. Kevin's phone call to the Vermont Travel Division has confirmed the weather forecast, and we decide to use a hard blue running wax. Although waxing is part of the mystique of cross-country skiing and can be difficult, we simply give it our best try and carry extra wax and corks with us for touchups if the need arises.
Kevin is our eldest and tallest and leads the way with a long stride. Surely this is one sport that lends itself well to family participation. The variety of our ages and abilities adds to the fun. Kevin and Alicia are strong skiers and scout ahead looking for the best trails. Over their shoulders, they toss back words of encouragement.
Mark, our youngest, is perhaps our most robust and enthusiastic participant. Not satisfied with our pace, nor willing to take on the task of scout, Mark bursts forth with break-neck speed, leaves the trail to blaze a short path through the edge of the woods, and comes around behind us. Marcelle has long admired the graceful movement of telemarking, and today she makes several attempts to maneuver the turns in that manner. The Norwegians developed this turning form, and it brings to mind the fluid movement of ballet. The week is young, and we may yet have a chance to take a lesson in telemark. I practice (involuntarily!) graceful falls -- befitting the office!
The crisp morning air and Kevin's fast pace bring us to the lunch hour with enormous appetites. Alicia has found a clearing in the sunshine where we can spread our windbreakers on the snow. High-energy lunches are a must for cross-country skiers, and none of us is willing to be reminded of diets today. The lunch break brings quiet conversation and a shortlived snowball fight. I am keenly aware of the closeness we share as a family during these times, as well as a closeness to our forefathers who settled in Vermont and chose these mountains for their generations and ours.
Our afternoon excursion includes more difficult terrain on unbroken trails, and we find ourselves stopping more often to discuss the course and to catch our breath. There is something wonderful about being in the woods looking out through the trees -- almost as though we are in unison with the scenery rather than looking across at it. The late afternoon wind urges us homeward, and we are all glad to see the farm on the horizon.
Storing our skis in the shed and renewing the fire in the wood stove takes but minutes, and we are soon enjoying the toasty warmth of home. Supper is started, and the windows quickly steam up. Is it possible to be more content?
Over supper, discussion turns to the nearby downhill ski areas, for Alicia and Kevin are eager to try their hand at alpine skiing also. While Smugglers' Notch provides a great variety of trails with three interconnected mountains, we decide to stay closer to home by returning to Stowe tomorrow. But first, a good night's sleep.
All Vermont ski resorts have ski schools. Kevin and Alicia are convinced that lessons on ''short skis'' is the fastest and easiest method. We leave them securely in the hands of the instructors at the Stowe Ski School for an early afternoon lesson. Marcelle, Mark and I will enjoy the many shops along the Mountain Road and will stop off to visit friends. Downhill skiing is a world apart from cross-country, not only in technique and equipment and clothing, but also in competitive spirit and personal achievement. By the end of the afternoon, Kevin and Alicia will have challenged themselves and each other to perform. But, unlike the familial closeness we find on the cross-country trail, the alpine trails spur on the individual competitor. That is well and fine, but my allegiance will always be with the cross-country enthusiasts.