Young: The winter of our disconnect
February 23, 2013
When one’s computer goes wacky, a solution is to find “reset,” click on it, and return to the spot on the calendar before the gizmo lost its faculties.
Snow makes no noise. However, a “click” can be heard in the High Country upon its arrival – “reset” for an ecosystem gone wacky.
Only recently have the hillsides west of me in Fort Collins, slopes black from flames in July, been whitened.
It was in keeping with an acutely warm fall and near-record temperatures nationally and globally. Usually on the Front Range the fire season has a beginning and end. But that’s not the case this year. Fire season without end?
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Fires raged near Wetmore into November, and in Rocky Mountain National Park into December.
It’s been a horrid drought in the foothills. Our reservoirs and ponds stare skyward, brown bags under their eyes. Fall colors came early – not in celebration, but of thirst.
I was in the San Luis Valley in midsummer. Thirteen thousand-foot Mount Blanca, which typically has snowfields most of the year, had long since renounced its name. Mount Moreno? Mount Tostada?
Hell, yes, the climate is changing.
That’s not me talking, and not some pesky climatologist whom the average American takes pains to ignore. No, this was the CEO of Exxon Mobile, Rex Tillerson. Yes, he said in June, climate change is real. What did he suggest we do about it? He said we should get used to it.
In a related story: Shell stopped drilling operations in the Chukchi Sea off the Alaska coast when a massive sheet of ice flowed in the drillers’ direction – sort of like the iceberg seeking out the Titanic.
Of course, the climate is changing. Ignore the facts if you will.
The pine beetles appreciate this. Sustained deep freezes in the High Country once controlled them. That was then.When the Rockies were ablaze this summer from Idaho to New Mexico, drought conditions were only one factor. The other was ponderosas and lodgepoles left dead by those tiny jaws.
When things get warm, Colorado is splendiferous. But the summer of 2012 was a bummer.
As a child and teen, I clung to that season like a lover. Last year many of us experienced an alienation of affection. Days when the Front Range was not obstructed by smoke were few. Longs Peak squinted out to the plains as if wishing to vacation in Cleveland. This was not right. This was reality. Was it the new normal?
I was never a fan of snow. It made cars slide and newspapers wet. It covered tennis courts and ballfields. Gradually I have changed my opinion. If it’s going to be cold, it might as well be white.
Now I embrace snow without reservation. And let’s hear it for cold.
Snow, snow, snow. Come not in inches but in feet, so many feet that skiers’ boots drag in the drifts below the lifts. Close Independence Pass until Independence Day.
Let us have so much winter that we are truly cabin-crazy by March. While we pace, let us think about our planet and what sustains us. No, it’s not fossil fuels. It’s the benevolence of seasons, of streams and air currents, of life itself.
May the next spring reset us to that spot where streams gush, where reservoirs swell, where nature works as intended and we understand how and why.
Or maybe we’ll just return to ignoring the natural world with impunity – ignoring it, that is, until all goes up in smoke.
Longtime newspaperman John Young is an instructor at Front Range Community College. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.