There have been a few occasions in the past three months when I’ve been nostalgic for last winter in the desert; when snow lasting more than a day was extraordinary and aside for six weeks of wet north facing slickrock we could do wherever, whenever. Since right after Thanksgiving there hasn’t been a day when the yard has not been buried, and the depth of the walls on either side of the front steps is an easy reminder of how frequently we’ve shoveled, how often temperatures have plunged far below zero, how many times just driving out of the alley and down the very steep street which transitions just to flat right at the main street has been a matter of doubt, not simply routine. It’s a modern, yuppie anachronism to make much of this. Our did end up, rather impractically and for historical reasons whose utility barely lasted a decade, on a north facing hill which helps the ice endure and the potholes multiply. But we don’t, due to more sinister parts of the past, live in the windiest and winteriest part of the state, where the last few storms have been a legitimate health hazard.
Having been in Montana for a decade, with only one winter away, I ought to have made more progress toward embracing the snow, but while I have learned to love skiing I have also learned to yearn for that first strong warm snap in March when the sunniest valley areas finally melt for good, and hiking and maybe even riding on actual dirt is again possible. I writer this, when yesterday we got half a foot of snow in a morning, and I was able to ski 1500 vertical feet directly to our back door, without hitting a rock.
So I’ve got some work to do on the personal front, in really taking to heart the limited access and slow surfaces and cold and general hostility. After all, winters like this one are not only the ideal of a northern winter, something I yearned for in childhood, they are also bond to be increasingly undependable as the planet continues changing in my lifetime. There may be few further winters when we can ski from home, certainly for over two months straight, and this one ought to be savored.
This is the sort of winter that sets one deeply at ease, at least in the moments when a hot coffee and thick sweater and sturdy walls have provided enough reassurance that distance and perspective is possible. Any storm which hits us here drops snow on mountains to the north, south, and center which come spring and summer will feed the rivers which in turn feed over a third of the United States. A thin winter here doesn’t just make for pretty flowers and smaller fires come July and August, it oils what makes much of our regional society work.
I have a long way to go.