March 1st–here in the lowland (1900 feet above sea level) the wind is blowing, a sure sign of spring along the east slope of the Cascades. The sun emerged this morning and shone brightly. While there is still plenty of snow on the ground, it is thawing and settling during the day and freezing at night. The solstice is twenty days away, and a person begins to feel hopeful that the season is changing.
Not so at 6500 feet above sea level, on top of a mountain that creates its own weather. Winter is still locked in place. Pushed upward by the terrain, the air gives up its moisture which freezes onto any surface. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “rime” as : an accumulation of granular ice tufts on the windward sides of exposed objects that is formed from supercooled fog and built out against the wind. Understanding the reason for the phenomenon takes nothing away from the wonder and fascination I feel whenever I travel through this cold fog and see the trees. “Magical,” I think to myself. Beneath the thick coating of rime the conifers are alive, just barely photosynthesizing above ground. Below ground their roots mingle with each other and other organisms busy with processes of high-elevation life in winter. Some conifers are well-adapted to living in cold harsh places, which to me is the greatest magic of all.
It will be late May or early June when spring comes to this place, when the snow finally melts, wildflowers bloom and insects throng the meadows. Summer in the subalpine zone is one of the rewards for lasting through the long cold winter. Sometimes people ask me why I stay here if I find winter so long and difficult. It’s hard to explain and there probably isn’t a reasonable reason.For one thing, when I get out on the snow and away from the human-built world my soul soaks up the deep silence of winter. It seems right that much of life is at rest. For another thing, spring always comes and it is an energizing season. I can’t imagine living in a place that doesn’t change radically with the turning of the earth. And lastly, it is because I so dearly love those subalpine places with the brief summers. It’s enough.