Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Shouldering through the shoulder season

Oh shoulder season, I want to love you. You hang around for so long, and you keep coming back. In November, you're ice, coating the trails with a treacherous rime. In May, you are sloppy with mud. In between you winter slices through, but winter is a careless flirt, coming and going, not something to count on. Summer too, ephemeral summer, easily broken by a cold north breeze.

In the shoulder season, we have to change it up. That's when you see people on the moraine, because the snow is often blown clean off the top. A few brave souls punch through the early season crust, but most trails are accessed by roads blown shut by snow and ice. Your choices narrow down.

Still, it's a beautiful season, if you open your mind to it. I hiked three miles up the West Fork Wallowa Trail before the effort of postholing became too arduous. The bushes lining the trail looked like white flowers and the river was nearly invisible under a coat of snow and ice.


I'm writing a lot more now, retreating into a shell. The hermit of Hurricane Creek, perhaps. I'm diving deep into my memoir, remembering things I had forgotten. Andy's fire boots, tossed up on the power line as he departed the park in disgust, quitting firefighting for good. Mike, lying under the swamp buggy with tools scattered around him, pretending to work but really napping: "I'm just lying under this buggy until someone tells me different." Roger and I hiking through the swamp, surveying burn units for endangered woodpeckers, birds we never found.

Last week, coincidently, a reporter called me to talk about the last twenty years of firefighting. She wanted to know more about my friend Roger, killed on Storm King Mountain in a firestorm almost twenty years ago. She told me about visiting the residents of the development that the firefighters were trying to save, and that, twenty years later, those people wept, remembering. Some things leave an imprint on your soul.

I've been writing, and running more than I do in summer, trading out backpacking, reluctantly. I pass one of the seasonal trail crew as I puff my way up a hill. "Just trying to get to the top of this hill," I say. I don't follow a training plan. I just run. Most of the time I have no idea how far or how fast I have gone. Years of  running logs later, I'm happy just to run.

The days click by during shoulder season, and I can't deny that I am dreaming of the PCT and the other trails that wait. I have to admit that I scour the internet looking for a winter (warm) backpacking destination. But perhaps it's better to broaden my interests. Snow biking? Skijoring? Soon ice skating will begin.

I've promised the editor I've hired a manuscript by the end of January. I work best under those kinds of constraints. One hundred good pages, one hundred fifty to revise. Diving deep in the past is a good endeavor for shoulder season, which is a time of reflection anyway. Want to find me? Look for a runner on the moraine. Or a writer in a little cabin up Hurricane Creek.

Do you have a shoulder season where you live? What do you do to enjoy instead of cursing it?

1 comment:

  1. Our shoulder season is windy and I have the worst allergies ever. I usually stay inside and curl up under a blanket.

    Matt and I toured the Redding fire base last week and it made me think of you. :) You're one tough lady.


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