Monday, February 23, 2009

Is Winter Back

Though there are many benefits to a good Montana summer such as smoke, extreme heat and fishing restrictions on local waters, I always look forward to winter. At least I used to. For years, after the long days of summer and a busy hunting season come fall, it seemed that winter was a time to slow things down, to hibernate and fill the crock pot with something right. Indeed, winter was a time of bitter cold and flying snow which, when coupled with short days and long nights meant time well spent by the fire with more than enough time for a book or few flies at the vise. It was the "off season". But then it dried up. Suddenly, and I can’t quite remember the year, it seemed that weather patterns changed. It wasn’t the way it used to be anymore. According the Weather Channel, to science and the Farmer’s Almanac there was always some good reason - El Nino, El Nina or global warming to name a few. Either way, it stopped snowing, and even raining much for that matter, creating the infamous drought that we’ve all grown familiar with. To put it mildly, the Bozeman winters have been terrible in recent years. Seems it’s been warmer than average most of the time, colder than average some of the time and rarely if ever did it snow in between. As a result, our winter based culture has found it self in a state of limbo doing it’s best to make the most of the conditions at hand. Frustration and ultimately a downright pessimistic view of our moisture levels and the future of life on the planet grew infectious amongst even the most open minded of sorts. And rightly so. Much of the health of our region relies on a solid mountain snowpack. Not only will such winter moisture provide the winter conditions we desire but come spring, when it melts, it feeds the rivers and reservoirs, seeps into the soil and is soaked up by the trees. When this is the case the result is simple - better conditions for the fish, more water to irrigate, fewer forest fires and higher spirits. Though the weather of the past month may serve as no indication of things to come, it’s been refreshing to get a least of glimpse of what winter can be. I’ve had to shovel far more often than in recent years and have consequently eaten more sausage and eggs because that’s what you do after a good shovel. I’ve kept a pot of coffee going during all waking hours and have spent at least a few minutes scratching my chin while looking at the wood pile and wondering if I have enough. It’s felt good to be outside, to see the snow fly and watch the wind blow snow instead of dust. To ski on fresh powder or crank on the auger. And it’s felt good to be inside. It seems right to be inside when winter is winter. Tying flies makes sense under such conditions as does watching a game or simply sitting by the fire looking at last year’s summer photos. And how nice is it to call the snow phone at Bridger, not to see if they got snow overnight, but simply to find out how much. In the unusual weather of the past few years, I’ve felt almost guilty practicing stereotypical winter rituals and consequently have found myself in an odd state of equilibrium. It just hasn’t felt right to sit around the house and make corn chowder, but caught between conditions that weren’t quite winter and not yet spring, I’m not sure what else I might do. Thirty-five degrees with tons of wind and no snow leaves one stranded once hunting season is done. Usually, I just made the soup anyway since I have a good recipe. I’m more relaxed now than I was just a year ago. Not because I feel that our moisture issues have been solved or that the drought is over but more simply because it feels, as it hasn’t for quite some time, like it’s really winter again. Even walking around town, it seems that the energy has changed as people walk bundled up and the light blinks atop the Baxter. Unlike other areas of the country where a hearty winter’s blast brings discomfort and panic, we thrive upon such conditions here in Bozeman. Aside from the obvious benefits of decent winter snow, it’s a big part of our identity as well and it’s good to have it back.