February has me alternating between low and high–at least in elevation. Looking back at my journal pages over the last month, time outside alternates between the unravelling of winter’s transformation at low elevations and opportunities to play in winter’s depth at high elevations.
Along the Tranquille River just above its confluence with the Thompson River/Lake Kamloops delta, February is the unrevealing. The layers of snow peel back–a microscale re-enactment of the last Pleistocene deglaciation. Rivulets of water rampage with muddy water sluicing off snow banks and then eddy into pools allowing the silts to drift to the bottom. This unearthing proceeds in fits and starts–influenced by the shape of the land and its shade. Within the river bed, ice extends, broken here and there by dark water rushing downhill. Out on the flats, Tortula moss gleams green under the sage-blue umbrella of individual old sagebrush. Does less snow accumulate here in the winter, allowing Tortula‘s photosynthetic machinery to start chugging earlier? I’ve never totally understood the abundance of Tortula beneath large sagebrush before; today’s pattern of snowmelt offers up one more potential hypothesis to consider.
In the unearthing, brown crawls upward from the valley bottom, hounding the irregular line of remnant snow on valley slopes. The pond at Tranquille Wildlife Management Area is still frozen. I’m disappointed, missing the stately forms of swans on its smooth surface.
A conference takes me up into the lean Subalpine Fir-Engelmann Spruce forest surrounding Sun Peaks. I spend one glorious afternoon out alone gliding down the long slopes of the Holy Cow trail before diving into an intense two day meeting of teaching and learning scholars. On the ski down, there is the deep comfort of muscle rhythm with only a few stops to notice the little things–the sap green underside to the developing alder catkins, the solitude of lunch alone on the side of McGillivray Lake.
The final morning I leave my hotel room before it is fully light to glide through deeply falling snow. I have a full day of meetings before me and I have only enough time to warm my muscles and quicken my heart before it is time turn around. But it is in that one moment of stillness at the height of my morning ski that I realize the hidden weight of winter’s silence.
As I stand there, breathing hard, resisting the call of work, the world is alive with movement. Snowflakes fall, drift, lurch earthward. The muffled loss of winter’s sound echoes deepest when the normal noise associated with motion remains absent. Only in deep winter can objects fall from the sky in an endless stream without accompanying thwacks and whacks and thuds.
Winter’s silence is expectation denied.