It is different this year. I suppose I say that every year.
The snow came early, following a most mild early autumn. Thus the water’s surface did not freeze. At the creek crossing we step on the bridge of snow and fall through. There is no ice to support our weight. The sunken in tracks of the moose before us set the stage. The ice that usually carries cannot hold up this year. It is not there. I find a crossing of snow pack over rocks and stop mid stream, bending down for a closer look. Beneath the snow, there is little ice. In places, none is visible, just the snow seemingly floating on the surface of the gently flowing black waters below. How cold the waters must be to not melt the snow above, I do not attempt to find out, and do all I can to stay dry while crossing.
I wonder if the ice will form later. According to the calendar, winter has not yet begun. On the mountain, of course, seasons are relative. Summer is short. Winter is longer. Mild as this one has been so far, I worry and yet I know by now that the seasons have a way of balancing. The mountain takes care of herself. Our trepidations are in vain.
In the meanwhile, the mountain exposes a new view for me. I will never be able to say I have seen it all. Each day reveals something new. How I would miss the subtle changes, minute variations that allow me this intimate link with the mountain, my home.
You wonder, don’t you, what I will do when I leave? I will begin anew and start to see and feel a new mountain. How exciting that will be!
Now I am here and making the most of it. There is plenty. Yesterday, I enjoyed a Sunday stroll, if you will, with the puppy, now nine months old. I can tell you this: it was no walk in the park. The conditions were just wrong. Crusted snow, often soft and sticky, and thin powder beneath unable to support the wide step of the snowshoe. Each foot print crunched in, pushed clear to the dirt below, and pulled out of the same hole often covered with the wet top layer which had to be knocked off with my poles. Each step. I was tired in no time. The puppy was not. Watching him gave me a regular dose of positive motivation, enough to keep on keeping on.
We were not alone. We shared the trail with the moose and coyote, neither of which left a track of any value for us to follow. For those of you who live in moose country, who live with the moose in your back yard, you may know how they mess up the trail in the snow. Their stride is just wider than mine, each hoof print is much smaller than my snowshoes, poking clear to the dirt beneath this snow. Once again, I found myself following in their tracks, not by choice but because they too are creatures of habit and insist upon following the trails you and I “see” in the summer. In the winter, though, the ground is a smooth surface of white, trails indistinguishable. The moose and I (and any other smaller wild beast that may be stuck up here with us for the season) still find comfort in following the same old route we do when we can see the beaten path. Why do we stay the trail? In this country, I dare say we all know that is usually the easier option in an otherwise tricky course.
At times, however, I found myself grateful for those uneven potholes of a track. The moose had remembered the trail better than I, and in places where I may have wandered off, the moose tracks kept me in line. As much as one can draw a straight line in these mountains, that is. Funny how we both find comfort in travelling the known route in this land so filled with unknowns.
No doubt you might wonder why I do what I do some times. Don’t worry. My boys wonder too. But they have also learned to expect, and perhaps you do to.
And so it was another day with the dog. Life is good. Youth is exhilarating. Not mine, of course, but that of my companion. The puppy does not tire. He waits on me. As we rise in elevation, the snow deepens, he follows in my tracks for a bit of relief, then becomes quickly and often distracted and scampers off through the snow on either side of the trail, both sides, bounding about with what looks to me like a smile on his face.
We found ourselves at the Slide. Stark and vast in winter with the top of the World before us and the devastation of Nature in our face. It is a harsh place, even in summer, yet so striking and humbling. In winter, the north aspect is shaded. The sun never touches where the face of the mountain fell nearly twenty years ago. There is little snow up there this year so far. It will come. Just before this rockslide is the avalanche zone where the snow let loose in the winter of 05. A heavy load, a good year. Tumbled trees, now with their needles long gone, are still visible in the shallow snow as a reminder.
At the Slide it seems forever the wind blows, adding to the harshness, reminding me I do not belong, that home is still two hours below, two hours of trudging through the snow. I do not want to be out in the dark. I am soaked with sweat from this trek already.
Once again, we do not remain long.
Descending, Gunnar is filled with a beautiful confidence. He knows now where we are going. Home. Back to the boys. He trots on ahead, then is there around every bend in the trail, looking back or sitting and scoping ahead while he allows me a chance to catch up. I never do. He makes it home before me and announces our survival to our awaiting family.