Thus far I’ve spent the weekend chasing deer. Snowbiking Friday afternoon the packed trough winding through the thick forest was covered in deer tracks, and as I did laps on the short loop kept spooking and respooking the same critters. They’ve been using the skier and biker packed trail to commute from aspen patch to aspen patch, eating bark.
Yesterday, headed up to the ski area, deer were everywhere in the lower reaches of the road. The forest there has been thinned for fire suppression near all the big condos, and faces south. Deer are smart, they know where to find the least deep snow, even if it exposes them to lots of car traffic.
Winters are hard on deer, the old saw is that they eat the cereal May through October, and spend the rest of the year eating the cardboard box.
This winter has been hard for deer and humans both. Abundant snow and wide, frequent temperature fluctuations have created some crusts out in the woods which must be hell to walk through. The lengths to which the deer are avoiding this is likely why there have been so many corpses along the highway in the last month. Last winter I took my big down parka on one trip, and had perhaps two or three days of slow, scary driving south to the office. This year we’ve had four extended cold snaps in the last two months, and over a dozen mornings where I wouldn’t have been able to get out the driveway without studded snow tires.
This past week has brought the harshest weather yet, and a reminder that even the most extensive trappings of civilization won’t prevent us from being vulnerable to the world outside when it does its worst. Friday and Saturday both the upper chairlift was closed due to wind chills down below negative 40F. Having the top of the mountain to yourself on a sunny Saturday afternoon is quite rare, even if it does require special preparations, and a hurried retreat back down to the trees.
Our cabin trip this weekend was canceled, due to hazardous driving conditions. We rerouted to a brunch with friends Saturday morning on the other side of town, which still involved snowdrift busting in our front-wheel drive car. I was very glad to be around others that day, as the inhumanity of the world at large had come crashing home 10 minutes before we left the house.
I think I was looking for socks when M said something about an avalanche having taken out houses in the Bitterroot. This seemed unlikely, so I went to have a look. The woman in that first photo looked familiar, but the side of me that wanted order pushed it away. Back in the other room I pulled my phone out of a coat pocket and saw the text: “He is talking and moving and doing great. A miracle for how long he was buried in the avalanche.” Denial can only go so far. Yes, that woman in the photo with her grief screaming out at you is the same person we drank beers, hunted berries, and shared a campfire with back in August. That boy who was buried for an hour while playing in the front yard was the same huge smile who sat on my leg and refused to let me leave after a visit last winter.
Regardless of what we choose to do with today or tomorrow, our lives are not always our own.
There is nothing in the world which terrifies me more than that. I was glad to leave the house, see people I care about, and be reminded that in many respects nothing had changed. I was just more aware of something I had known all along.
It seems that everyone involved will end up without any permanent, physical injury. We’ll all be different as a result, forever. My own fear, gratefulness, and resolve to use tomorrow well, will I think never be the same again.