Tom Clyde: The potguts have hibernated
Most mornings, I start my day by driving up onto the farm to make sure the irrigation water is doing what it’s supposed to do. Twelve years ago, we converted about a third of it to center pivot sprinklers, the things you fly over that make big green circles. They have been fairly trouble free, but I’ve never really trusted them, so they get a twice-daily check to make sure they aren’t driving down the highway.
A pair of sandhill cranes has greeted me almost every morning. In June, they were skittish, and took flight as soon as I drove up the hill. Now, they are used to me, and if they are near the hub where I control the system, they will stand 20 or 30 feet from me and watch. If I move quickly, they take flight, but most of the time, they make that weird crane noise, sort of gargling disapproval, and slowly walk away from me. Of course if I have a camera with me, they are a half-mile away at the other end of the field.
This morning there was a flock of grouse hidden in the deep grass around the pump house. When I approached, they all took off, scaring me half to death. Just when I thought they were all gone, another one came flapping up from behind me. I moved on to my next stop, and a coyote ran out of the hay field into the adjoining clump of oak brush. He sat on the edge of the oak and watched me, neither threatened nor threatening. Just curious, and maybe a little hungry.
The potguts have hibernated. They have a strange, but very precise schedule. They come out of hibernation on April 15, whether there is snow on the ground or not. They spend the summer doing whatever ground squirrels do, mostly getting really fat, and by mid-August, their bellies are dragging on the ground and they pack it in for the season. Aug. 15 is about as late as I’ll see one at my place. June and July the ground is covered with them. The last couple of years they have expanded their territory a little. They have always been thick in a dry, rocky field near the house, but I’ve seldom had them right in the yard. The last couple of summers, they have moved into the yard in the river bottom. The dogs haven’t been much of a deterrent.
But the potguts are done for the season. The leaves are turning. The aspen are still fully green, though it’s a different shade of green. Looking at the mountains, there would be no mistaking the color of the aspen leaves for June. Here and there a few bushes have turned red. The choke cherries seem to turn first, a bright red, and some other things are yellow.
The river has dried up so the irrigation is off for the year. I guess it doesn’t really matter, since nothing is growing this time of year anyway. With no humidity in the air, the nighttime temperature is down to 40 most nights. That’s enough for the hay to call it quits. A little water will keep it green, but it’s through growing.
It always takes me by surprise, this change of season, but it’s right on schedule. Over a lifetime, the cycles haven’t changed. The first frost is only a couple of weeks away.
It’s been a terribly dry summer. The winter snowpack was pretty much normal, though it quit snowing about the same time the ski resorts closed. It melted early and fortunately filled the reservoirs. With the exception of one pretty good rain in July, it’s been dry since the end of April. I watch the snow stake at Trial Lake online. The average total accumulated water from snow and rain should be about 35 inches this time of year. They are reporting 28 inches, or 80% of normal. That’s enough to matter.
The conversation suddenly includes ski season. When to buy passes, who got the biggest credit towards their Epic Pass, what to expect from Deer Valley. Nobody knows what the operation will look like. One theory is that it will only be locals skiing, with no out-of-state travelers. That could make a great season of socially distanced skiing (and a miserable season of business failures). But if there aren’t enough skiers to cover the cost of operating, or if they can’t find enough employees to get things staffed, maybe there will be parts of the mountain that don’t open, or aren’t open consistently. Food service will be radically different.
So there’s a discussion about buying backcountry gear and being prepared for a season of hiking if half the lifts, running at half capacity, build up doubled lines. And any of that depends on the weather pattern changing so there is some snow on the ground. We can brownbag lunch, mask-up in the lift lines, and try to avoid the cooties. There’s nothing we can do about the snow.
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.
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“Three months ago, I felt like the odds of having something approximating a normal ski season were pretty good. Now? Who knows.”