The snow crunches under my shoes and the poles squeak as I plant them one after the other. Each exhale produces a plume that drifts upward and disappears. The dog races madly through ribbons of light and shadow, occasionally stopping to sniff or leave his mark. In summer, the trails we travel are part of a public campground; in winter, the Forest Service grooms a series of loops for walking, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing. Some days we have company, but today the forest and the blanket of snow that sparkles under the morning sun form our personal paradise.
It’s been a hard winter here in the Eastern Sierra. After five years of drought, of dying trees and dry stream beds, massive amounts of snow and rain have fallen since the beginning of the year. No one wants to call it too much of a good thing after the drought years, but it would definitely be better if it came in more measured doses. Our snow shovels and snow blowers—and our backs—have gotten a real workout.
Writer, teacher, and activist Parker Palmer, who lives in Wisconsin, writes: “Winter here is a demanding season—and not everyone appreciates the discipline.” That’s true in the Eastern Sierra as well. In January we received more than 200 inches of snow, an all-time record, and we’re set to break the record for February as well. Dealing with that kind of snowfall day in and day out does indeed take discipline. If more than six inches of snow has fallen overnight, the schedule for the day changes immediately. Snow removal goes to the top of the to-do list, and everything else gets shuffled around accordingly. The bigger the storm, the bigger the job, and we’ve had some doozies this season.
Those of us who live here do so because we love the mountains, the outdoors in general, and yes, the snow. We’re outside almost every day, unless we’re experiencing blizzard conditions and it’s too dangerous. Sometimes it’s as simple as walking, snowshoeing, or cross country skiing a few miles, usually with a dog or three since that, too, is part of the lifestyle. There are several hundred miles of groomed snowmobile trails through amazing terrain. Sledding, ice skating, fat biking on the snow, downhill skiing—you name it, people are outside doing it.
I’ve learned to accept and even appreciate winter’s discipline. I make the most of bluebird days and hunker down, preparations in place, when yet another “atmospheric river” of moisture slams into us. Outsiders who come to play in the snow often chafe at that discipline. “How can the road be closed?” they ask. Even better: “My car will be fine without chains.” Mother Nature teaches tough lessons.
On our snowy outings among the trees, the lists, the anxieties large and small, even time itself slips away, and there is only the trail, the dog, and me. When we finally head back, we’re both better off: Harley has burned up some of his abundant energy, and I’ve found clarity and balance again.