Wednesday, March 23, 2005

March

In March, the light looks like morning until evening. Then the twilight lingers forever, as if the sun did not want to go to bed.

This is the season for multi-sport days. If you have the time and the conditions, you could ski, bike and paddle, in whatever order suits your fancy.

If you just want to ski, touring centers will probably groom for the diehards into April. Some may even do it on the sly later than that. And spring brings settled conditions to the many delightful places that fall under the confusing catch-all heading “back-country.”

If the snow consolidates enough, and then thaws just the right amount at a time, you can use skate skis in a lot of unlikely places. I wouldn’t tend to use them on steep, wooded slopes, but my local river has some very nice sections of flood plain for wild skating. You can really fly around a rolling, open hardwood forest, as well. You don’t need no stinkin’ trail. All you need is firm snow.

On wider boards, with beefier boots, more rugged terrain beckons. With a heavier setup like that you can charge through some deeper glop, but at some point you can usually find corn snow perfection for a little while.

Wear sun screen.

Skiers of all levels are still coming to the touring centers. Warm days bring out the people who want to slide but hate the cold. So people are even taking their first lessons as the season is winding down. The sun invites them outdoors. If skiing captivates them, they may follow it toward the colder months.

Sunny, warm days make me think of driving a convertible with the top down. It’s still a little chilly for that, but the hardwood forest puts the top down in the winter and puts it up in the summer. There’s more light in some places from now until the snow melts than at any other time of year. The snow reflects the light upward, and carries it into ravines and hideaways that will be shaded grottoes in summer.

At this moment, the snow outside my house looks like it should be lapping at the windowsills. The way the land rises, two feet of snow pack reaches eye level well before the end of my yard and the beginning of the woods. It’s horribly sticky stuff. The more it thaws and freezes, though, the more it will turn to rounded ball bearings.

The last slush holds up better than the first flakes. Even when the ground looks mostly bare, go connect the dots, skiing from patch to patch on ribbons of snow hanging on in shaded lines. Why walk when you can ski? It may seem trivial, but you might actually stumble on a sizable little stash. And there’s always the rest of the day to do something else.

The snow is just water, after all. During the storm March 9, the howling winds outside the Jackson Ski Touring lodge blew one part of the golf course into foot-high waves that looked exactly like small surf rolling down onto a beach. The phenomenon didn’t last. By the end of the storm, the wind had flattened out the waves.

I like to ski where the snow interacts with streams and rivers in this season when the streams and rivers are claiming the water that winter has held back in a frozen savings account. I also like to paddle where the water meets the snow and ice. Watch the water make its journey. Snow and ice coat the trees when a storm is fresh. Then the sun comes out and the water starts to move again.

On the flood plain across the road, before some people whose hobby is killing birds moved in and made it too dangerous to explore over there whether you have feathers or not, it used to be fun to imagine the end of the ice age. On foggy, dank days, I could stand on the bog, barely making out the forms of stunted spruce and tamarack in the gloom, and pretend that a rotting cliff of ice hundreds of feet high was melting away a few miles to the north. I could step out of my own puny schedule and be on geological time.

Of course the illusion does not hold up, and aren’t we glad? But it’s important to have it, to make what we do have all the sweeter. A little of this, a little of that. A buffet. Breakfast all day, in the morning of the year.

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