Rob's Blog Archive

August 26, 2012

180 Degrees Out of Phase










If two arrows are rotating like two radar antennae, and are always pointed in the same direction, they are said to be in phase.  They are also described as having a phase of zero degrees between them.  If one is always at right angles to the other, they are said to be ninety degrees out of phase.  And if they are always pointed in the opposite direction, they are said to be 180 degrees out of phase. 

My favorite season is the winter.  Like so many other things, it seems that I am 180 degrees out of phase with the rest of humanity.

I am reading Rich Bass’ book, The Wild Marsh, Four Seasons at Home in Montana.   As I read, I easily empathize with his feelings except I feel the same way six months later, 180 degrees out of phase.  His March and April are filled with longing for sunshine and warmth and the sounds of summer.  I spend September and October anxiously waiting for the first snow.  And most years that first snow, typically sometime in October, is just a tease.  A real snowpack doesn’t build until at least mid November and more likely the first week in December.  Sunny April days tease Bass exactly the same way. 

Bass writes that he becomes depressed every May.  He’s not sure of the cause but postulates that it’s unfulfilled seasonal promises from April.  The last two weeks in November hit me the same way.  Nights are long and dreary and it’s very dark.  Freezing rain typifies the weather.  Add to this that I’m often running the dogs at night to avoid traffic from hunters. Miserable cold darkness permeates my world.

And then snows that stick arrive and a true snowpack starts to build.    With this, the mud is hidden and will stay hidden until March or April.  The white of the snow makes the world bright, even during long winter nights.  My December snowpack is Bass’ June, bursting with life.  And by the middle of December I am sledding, the reason I moved to Montana in the first place.  Bass has his garden and the life around him.   I have my trails and icy moonlit nights. 

My favorite months are January and February.  Slight differences aren’t enough to set one ahead of the other in my mind.   Both are cold---we always have subzero nights and many years we drop to the -30 F range.  It’s not Alaska, but it’s cold enough that I don’t feel any need to check out the Fairbanks weather report to somehow vicariously experience real cold.  Most years, the snowpack peaks mid-February.  By the end of February, there is at least a hint that it’s starting to melt.  If nothing else, fresh snow on roads no longer lasts for weeks----it’s gone within a day or two. 

Since moving to Seeley Lake, my last sled runs have always been in March.  Spring mud season means catching up on all the chores I put off during the winter while I was out running the dogs.  I have stared at the couloirs on the local peaks with an eye on skiing them, but that hasn’t happened yet. 

Spring runnoff peaks in May, something I do enjoy.  I’m as easily distracted by the white swells in local rivers as they surge over boulders as I am by perfect sunsets.  I know that if I had just one fewer high skill hobbies when I was in graduate school, I would have taken up whitewater kayaking.  

Prior to my moving to Montana, June, July, August, and September---even the first week in October---were climbing season. I’ve hiked up a few summits and had a day of skiing in Glacier National Park after Logan Pass opened, but I generally find myself spending June, July, and about half of August getting ready for the next mushing season.

And then, sometime in August, I start training my dogs.  Very much like February’s changes hinting at the end of winter for Bass, I know that shortening days and cooler temperatures foreshadow my time of year.  With this, my cycle begins again.

This year’s start of the cycle has been particularly good in this regard----my dogs will each have six runs and I’ll have a dozen during the last two weeks in August.  Still, as much as I enjoy the regimen of training, what makes me focus are my dreams of sledding.  With luck, I will follow the same trail Togo took and Balto finished on their way to Nome. 

The night sky may present the best metaphor for the difference between summer and winter and why I enjoy the latter more than the former.  The summer sky is dominated by the soft white of the 300 billion stars that make up the Milky Way.  It is the eight stars in Orion that dominate the winter sky.  He’ll be joining me soon.

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