Monday, January 30, 2012
Two sides to the canyon
Wandering the lower reaches of our dual-minded canyon yesterday, tracking from the north-facing south side and the southern-exposed north side, I experienced some deep ecology.
On the south side, four inches of fresh powder covered the beaten and blasted crust remaining from the rest of the winter's snowfall. Still deep shadows on both sides of the canyon made for pockets of snow on the north slope. The thing that struck me, though, was the divergence of sound and life on either side.
With the dogs alternately stepping on my snowshoes and leaping far ahead in search of new smells, I listened to the still, quiet eternal shade of winter on the southern slopes. A few birds chirped and twittered in the pines and bare maples, and that was about it. Not much else stirred; there are places on that side of the canyon that don't get direct sun for two or three months of the cold season.
Ambling along, I noticed that there were black dots in the otherwise pristine, fresh snow. Beside a stretch of fishable water, that's a winter sign sought after by anglers everywhere; there had been a hatch of flying bugs at some point of the afternoon. Though it was four in the afternoon as I ambled up the trail, a few hours earlier, it had been warm enough to coax the wee bugs out of their pupae on the trunks of trees and into the air for a flurry of feeding and copulation before the air became too cold. Their bodies lay on the snow, mostly motionless, having succumbed to the call of life and eventual death, all in one short afternoon.
This starts happening more frequently here in February as the sun gains momentum and better angles, so in that this was the first time I'd seen it this year in January buoyed hope for the eventual spring. I shivered and noted that I hadn't been in the sun at all during the time I'd hiked up the south side, so I glanced up from the stilled flies and caught sight of the honey-yellow limestone scree slopes of the north side of the canyon, still bathed in sunlight at four thirty in the afternoon.
When on that side, there were more birds making much more racket; chirps, songs, caws, and calls were quite plentiful in the Juniper and Piñon. The temperature, because of the sun and lack of snow on the limestone-strewn slope, was at least eight degrees warmer and certainly above the freezing 28º on the other side. There were a few squirrels about, and the flies dead and down on the other side still buzzed lazily in the waning sunlight. The incline was steep and footing dicey at times, but on this ‘other side’ of the canyon, it seems a privilege and miracle to be in a different environment within sight of the other.
While Zöe couldn’t care any less to be scrambling about on the loosey slopes, Old Moshe was quite annoyed and embarrassed to be stumbling behind, so we headed back after only a few minutes of wandering the ‘desert’ of the spit canyon. I was struck by the contrasts of our little canyon’s personality during this time of year, and while one never knows what to expect from the climate from year to year, it’s good to be able to hope for just about anything.