A part of me is feeling wistful for summer. Missing the longer days and the burgeoning green life. Wishing for long days on the trail, in motion for miles and miles. Ears full of thrush and warbler song, eyes full of flowers. And don’t forget bugs…
Well, the truth is that it’s almost December. These mountains look pretty good with snow on them. And the brightness of the light is a gift after rain. Work is humdrum, mundane, close to the road. So it’s my quest to keep the sense of wonder alive, to look more closely for the wild. To find the moment that shines in my mind long after I’ve come home in the dark.
Thing to remember about working outside in the winter:
1. Everything takes longer. Snow and cold cause all processes to slow down. Allow extra time.
2. Dress in layers so you can regulate your temperature. Wool and synthetic wicking fibers are best.
3. Good windshield wipers and a full tank of washer fluid are worth their weight in gold. Snow tires as well.
4. Always pee when you have a good opportunity, or you may find yourself in hip-deep snow with an uncomfortably full bladder and no place to hide.
5. Do whatever it takes to keep snow from going in your boot tops or down your neck.
6. Be prepared for anything. Don’t forget your bandana (for the constantly dripping nose).
7. Have an assortment of hats to match your ranger uniform, and carefully consider which one to wear before you head out the door. Or take more than one–they don’t take up much space in the pack.
8. Abandoning the mission is always an option, especially when driving conditions are horrible and the avalanche danger is “considerable” or above.
9. No ranger left behind! Every crew member must be accounted for at the end of the day, or you go looking for them. They would come after you if you needed them to.
10. Restrain your astonished smirk when people tell you that you must have the best job in the world. Think up a snappy but gracious reply.
The magic happened today.
Previous snowfalls this season have been wet or unpleasant or insignificant. This morning I looked out the window at the pine trees as white flakes swirled down. It seemed magical, perhaps because I was in my warm house with a cat on my lap and didn’t have to go anywhere. The house and garden are buttoned up, and I’ve almost finished assembling my storm kit: camp stove and fuel, water, batteries, cash, gas in the tank. The oil lamps are always ready to be lit. The sweaters and hats have been in use for some time now. The winter boots are near at hand, and it’s almost time to get out the big green parka for snowmobiling.
I had a fine day baking two kinds of rolls for the Thanksgiving feast. There are flannel sheets on the bed. Birds are coming to the feeder. A stack of library books awaits. A candle is lit. Four weeks until the winter solstice.
It was not spring today at 6000 feet in elevation. The temperature was in the 20s, and fine powdery snow sifted down. At first I thought it was just blowing out of the trees, but it was new and fresh. It landed on my dark green parka, and I could see the spiky little points of crystals.
You know you’re alive when you’re cold. Toes ache inside boots, fingers are exquisitely stiff and sore inside two pairs of gloves, face is so cold it feels clumsy to talk. Life gets a lot better when you get back to the truck, load the snowmobiles on the trailer, pull off the helmet and head for home. Get out of the wind, crank the heat, pour a cup of tea from the thermos. You know you’re alive when you start to warm up.