It is finally spring in Summit County and the signs and sounds of melting snow are everywhere. If you’ve spent time in the mountains you know it as mud season. And I know it as the season of post-holing at the most inopportune moments.
It doesn’t happen when I’m by myself, investigating new terrain on a long cross-country ski. And it doesn’t even happen when I go wandering on a long run to see what kind of bird is up in that lodge pole pine. It always seems to happen when I am traveling with students. That soft snow is great for snow balls and also for swallowing me up.
When I’m with students in the field I carry a very heavy pack. The bottom is filled with extra clothes for wet kids and an over-packed bag of first aid supplies. The next layer is things that I know I’ll need like warm layers and my lunch, plus some salty snacks for growing boys. On top of the pile I have all the things I need to teach – my whiteboard and countless laminated sheets with graphs, maps, and some pictures. Top it all off with a few liters of water and as many markers as I can fit in a small zip-lock and it’s easy to see why I sink like a stone.
Typically I’m traveling with the kids on snow shoes or skis, cruising over the snow in our light and fluffy sage field, and it seems effortless for me. Maybe because I spend my time watching others struggle — kids flopping everywhere, their first time on cross country skis. But when I stop in the middle of the field, because I get excited about fresh animal tracks or the perfect place to dig a snow pit, my feet go in deep. Usually we have just arrived in a place the kids would call the middle of nowhere. The students take off their skis to walk around in just their boots. Watching them start to explore, getting down on their hands and knees, starting to dig their first snow pit – this is when I get excited. I take off my skis, take a step, and down I go.
I’ve grown to like it. I like thinking of the small animals that have built tunnels in the snow all winter down by my toes. And how even though my feet go down, they are just reaching a crust and there is so much further to go. It’s good to remember that down there the sage is waiting for a little sunlight to start photosynthesizing again. It always takes me a little while and a little struggle to return to the top crust. But it’s just long enough to look around and see students finding new things that will melt away with the spring.