It is officially summer. I know this not by the calendar, nor the heat, but by the simple fact that I am writing this blog entry, at 3:41 am, as a result of getting woken from sleep by a dive bombing mosquito. They hadn't been bothering me at all till tonight, but this particular little guy is making up for it in one evening.
As I mentioned earlier, I've been skiing a lot. It's a little different this year, as I'm trying to get in a lot of my skis before work, and then on days off head somewhere bigger for turns. A nice result of the big snow year is that one of the very standard hills we venture to even in the winter – and that lies only between 10,000 and 11,000 feet, is still skiable. It's actually quite good. I went four days last week and it was smooth and silky corn. Alas though, the amount of smooth section is getting less by the day, replaced by sun cups, which are a result of melting and pooling on the snow surface. These are not so much fun to ski. The snowfield itself is also shrinking, oddly enough from the top where there are more rocks to heat up and melt. The days of before work skiing are dropping – maybe to the single digits, maybe the low teens, but the end is in sight.
Skiing this time of year is actually more of a morning hike than anything else. We can do the round trip in 1:30, and about 1:25 of that is spent hiking, with about 15 minutes of that actually skinning with skis on. In all honesty, it's a morning walk in the mountains. I'm fine with that. My skis this time of year are exceptionally light, as are my boots, so it's really not that much more than walking with a day pack on.
One of my favorite books is Call of the Wild by Jack London. There is a scene, near the end, where the main dog Buck is living a lush life with his owner who is an Alaskan gold miner. They really don't do much mining though. Most of the time is spent wandering through the Alaskan woods, heading deeper and deeper into the mountains, up the swelling creeks, through the wildflowers, enjoying a summer ramble.
My adventures with Elaine and Stella feel very similar to this. These two girls are the most amazing companion. We too explore the woods. We figure out efficient ways to cross raging spring creeks. We smell the pungent aroma of pine on a spring morning. We see strange ice formations near the melting drifts, and the first cornocopia of color with the blooming wild flowers. We hear the cracking cry of the marmot, the thundering lumber of the elk, the northwoods cat-call of the moose. The snow capped mountains loom over head and the morning crisp is warmed by the sun as we dance across the rock strewn, muddy trail.
When we reach the top, and we click on our skis – basically 50 minutes to an hour in – it is a short thrill. Or maybe not a thrill, because that is something different…adrenaline, danger…and this is neither of those. This is more a thing of freedom. You see, everytime we make these turns down the hill, down this smooth field of snow in a sea of heat, well, we can't help but laugh out loud. Why do I like skiing? It is as close to flying as I've ever come. Turning on snow, above timberline, with the world whizzing by.
A few weeks ago Elaine and I grabbed breakfast at a local establishment that is up on a hill overlooking the peaks to the west. We watched as a couple large birds – hawks perhaps – danced and circled above the valley, and then darted west with intent over the big mountains. I couldn't help but be jealous. But jealousy is a toxic emotion. So instead I try to emulate flying by going for a ski. It's why I've skied 154 days this winter, with more to come, starting in about two hours. This time of year, that means going for long walks in the woods for a brief thrill. But that thrill is not all it is, or really even the essence right now. Like Buck in Call of the wild – the ramble in the woods is the reality, the turns on snow are the gold. The latter is fleeting, important, yet not really the point.
Water is prevelant this time of year. Snowmelt. The normal rivers are downright scary and powerful, the normal creeks are rivers, and the dry tributaries are strong flowing creeks. The run-off is everpresent and toxic. Elaine and I realized a few days ago that my camera is indeed billed as waterproof, and even has a feature for taking underwater pictures. There is something non-intuitive about dipping a camera into streams and snapping pictures, but we took the chance on a recent ski and got some neat results. I hope you enjoy them, and I hope you get out into the woods – whatever your means…skis, bike or foot. It is a beautiful time out there.