Happy Groundhog Day
February 1, 2013
Let me be the first to wish you and yours a happy and prosperous Groundhog Day. The local ground hogs, which are, at best, distant cousins of the real thing, are still deep in hibernation. They did not see their shadow, or care. They know what February is like around here. No matter what happened with the official groundhog shadow, it’s still a long way to spring around here.
Shadow or not, my brain has suddenly turned to spring, despite the fact that I had the best week of skiing in two years this week. We got cheated out of the big dumps again, but 6 inches here and 6 inches there, with nobody skiing on it, finally begins to amount to something. I can handle more winter if it stays above zero and snows now and then.
During that weird week of 50-degree weather in January, the siren call of the tractors was irresistible. Even though it took about an hour to shovel the snowdrift away from the door of the barn, I did it, and managed to get all but one of the fleet to start. The Ferguson seems to have some goop clogging the carburetor. Even the 70-year-old John Deere fired up after I worked up a pretty good sweat hand-cranking the flywheel. It was a real joy to get them running and listen to the old engines run for a few minutes.
I’m easily amused, but it felt like spring. At least for a while, and then it felt like winter in Salt Lake as the barn filled with the exhaust fumes from cold, well-worn old engines running on full choke.
And then winter came back. This has been the strangest winter, with heavy snow down in the valley, but not much to get excited about up here where it matters. When all that snow melts down in the valley, it is below the reservoirs, and the water just runs to waste. Up here where it counts, for drinking, skiing and irrigating, it was a few inches here and a few there. It was enough to turn the skiing from tolerable but boring to really good powder skiing. If you didn’t get out, shame on you. Powder like that has been scarce this season, and you have to take it when you can. Jupiter Bowl doesn’t get much better than this.
But the idea of spring has germinated way too early this year. There are lawn mowers in the hardware store. In one day’s mail, I got catalogs of seeds, tractor parts and bike gear. I spent a pleasant evening in front of the roaring fire in the wood stove leafing through them.
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The seed catalog was full of plants that wouldn’t last a week in this climate. The seeds would wither and die the second the ZIP code was printed on the box. There’s obviously some mistake. The seed company seems to think that people actually plant things in March. Yeah, right. The blueberries, they claim, will ripen in July. Or freeze. They had several miraculous varieties of sweet corn that were supposed to mature in just 75 days. I have no idea what they did to it to accomplish that, but the corn is probably more juiced-up than Lance Armstrong. It sure looked good, but even 75-day corn won’t make it here without a greenhouse.
The bike catalogs were filled with pictures of people out riding in shorts in places that were not covered in snow. Moab has been colder than here for most of the winter. There’s nothing inviting about heading down there. But it’s Groundhog Day, and that will change quickly. A trip down south is becoming plausible.
I’m not sure if my anticipation of spring had much to do with the new excitement over the skiing, but they seem connected. The season seems like it’s just getting started, and is quickly slipping away at the same time. In the same 75 days that mutant variety of sweet corn is supposed to mature, the ski season will be over. And then it’s springtime in the mountains — which is nothing to look forward to. Better grab the skiing while it’s there to be grabbed. A full week of powder skiing is worth getting excited about, even if the wind chill is below zero.
My freezer is still stocked with raspberries from last fall. Raspberries on my cereal before heading out skiing are not a bad way to start the day. Good as it is, I’m having a hard time keeping focused on skiing. The other day, skiing through the X-file trees, my brain wandered off to diagnose the problem with the Ferguson’s carburetor. I’m pretty sure it’s the float valve, I concluded, just in time to notice somebody had put a tree right in front of me.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.