The long winter seems to have finally ended. (Except for the ongoing snowstorms and freezing temperatures so typical of “springtime in the Rockies.”) My wife and I have just returned from a cross-country ski around our local golf course, and the signs of spring are everywhere. Just since last weekend, we’ve noticed so many changes: in the light, in the clouds, in the quality of the snow cover, and in the number and type of creatures around us. We are lucky to spend lots of time in the outdoors, and to witness the many small miracles that occur around us in each season of the year.
My summers guiding for Barker-Ewing are marked by these repeating wonders: tree leaves bud, grow, turn color, and drop; antlers grow from velvet buds to hardened forked branches that are later shed; birds wing their way northward from the southern reaches of their ranges, arrive, mate, nest, raise their broods, and fly away south again; plants grow, bloom, mature, wither, and fade back into the ground from which they sprung. In this way, we river-dwellers track the days, weeks, months, seasons and years.
Like many Native American tribes, the Lakota tracked seasonal changes affecting their survival through “moons.” The Moon When Ducks Come Back. The Moon When Black Serviceberries are Ripe. The Moon When Trees Crack from the Cold. Wildlife biologists track and measure these same changes throughout the year, noting how they are reflected in animal behavior, population health and reproductive success.
And the Snake River in Grand Teton changes with the seasons, too. The flow starts low, gathers volume from snowmelt during the hot days of late spring and early summer, floods its banks, gradually diminishes through the summer, and finally trickles off to its lowest flow as winter comes.
The skiing was beautiful today, and I’m pretty sure it was the last ski of the season. The snow has crystalized into a shiny wet mass. It squishes underfoot and collapses almost to the ground. The direct sunlight has melted the surface crust and the ground is warming the snow from beneath. We saw our first Robin, heard the chorus of our first Red Wing Blackbirds. A movement that we sensed rather than saw made us look upwards just in time to see two Sand Hill Cranes pass a mere 20 feet over our heads and disappear beyond the budding Cottonwoods. We heard and then found two pairs of Red Tail Hawks sparring over territorial boundaries while overhead a Bald Eagle soared northward. The dull grey winter clouds were giving way to the heavy rain clouds of spring. The sun was peeking through, but we still hurried to beat a snowy squall.
And before I know it, another season on the Snake River will be here.