A Few Thoughts on Spring and Winter

Spring managed to surprise me this year. Again. I walked to the river yesterday and discovered fresh-grown catkins hanging from an errant Sitka alder that has taken root in the stream bank. I have no idea what that alder is doing there, for most of my experience with said plant has been traversing patches of it above 4,000 feet. Where it belongs.

Each spring, I take a picture of the last of the snow where it has shed from the shop roof or the north side of the house. The latest date I can find in this series is May 9, 2011. We will beat that by at least a month this year. Winter was somewhat kind. There were no big snows after the one in early January. Rain? Yes. And a good dose of extra cold, as well. But rain and cold don’t pile up and cause worry about the strength of trusses. I didn’t have to shovel the shop this year.

I was wrong about the last day. April was the coldest in a long time, so the snow lasted for a while.

I skied a lot, though, the most since I learned to ski three-plus decades ago. It’s doubtful that I will ever exceed that, because I skied almost every day from January to mid-April in 1991. I was a bit younger then. And winter was more wintery.

In spite of the volume I enjoyed, skiing was less than epic. There were a few really good days of fun in the trees, and some fine groomer days, but powder in its purest form didn’t often form. That takes cold and timely precipitation, which we suffered a lack of. Our base layer was well-laid — frozen to the slopes, in fact — but the overlay was often sludgy or bulletproof.

This is not the fault of the ski area. Our climate is trending warmer. We may not believe that, or want to believe that, but the science says we are getting hotter by the decade. Since the year that I learned to ski, the average temperature of the planet has gone up about 1 degree C, or 2.2 degrees F. No big deal, you think. Well, let’s think again. If that trend continues — it’s pretty much of a straight line average increase since 1960 — by 2100, the planet will be about 4 degrees C warmer, almost 9 degrees F. That means every day. And that means less snow, which means less skiing, which means less fun for skiers. I’ll probably be well gone by then, but given that scenario, I would rather shovel the shop roof.

There is a whole bunch of information and misinformation about global warming out there in internet land. Some of it is egregiously self-serving. Some of it is intentionally misleading. But a lot of it is valid and kinda scary. The question is what to believe and what to do about it. You will have to make up your own mind about the former, but there are some pretty good answers to the latter that make sense for the planet in other ways, as well.

We might quit buying and driving 12 mpg monster trucks. We wouldn’t have to pay so much for gasoline, while simultaneously reducing green-house gasses. We might ride our bikes or walk — yes, I said “walk!” — to the store that’s four blocks away. We might quit cutting every tree in every new development (as seems to be done as a matter of course these days), and allow the planet’s lungs — we call them forests — to continue saving us from planetary suffocation. We might learn to live with less of what we want and be happy that we have what we need. We might learn how the planet works to keep us all alive (I’m including cockroaches, coyotes, calliope fish and children), so we would be more thoughtful about what we do to the planet.

Those are just a few suggestions. I myself would really like to be surprised by spring again — every year for the rest of my life. But that means there has to be a winter.

Sandy Compton’s books can be found at Sandpoint bookstores, the Ledger office in Thompson Falls and online at bluecreekpress.com/books or (if you’re in a big hurry) amazon.com.