Slip Sliding Away

I’ve lived in places with winter for the last 24 years and I’ve only gone down once

Chiropractors in Montana must be making a killing. Orthopedists too.

That’s the way it goes during a winter like this. All that snow shoveling leads to aching backs, while ice means falls, and falls mean damaged joints and broken bones.

So long as medical practitioners haven’t launched a clandestine cloud seeding program they’re allowed their windfall. I’m grateful for the relief they provide.

There’s been a blanket of snow at my place since December, and by New Years it was more than a foot deep. It’s still getting deeper. Once, such burdens of winter almost guaranteed one of the joys of summer: long, sustained high flows in Montana’s rivers. That’s how it seemed last winter too, but the benefit of heavy winter snowpack melts away quickly if things turn dry in the spring, especially if spring is followed by a blast-furnace summer.

We learned the hard way last year. The Legislature looked at all that snow and viewed it as fire protection in the bank. The body diverted state fire fighting funds to other programs, which turned problematic when the summer of 2017 produced one of Montana’s worst fire seasons ever.

A similar dynamic played out in Southern California, which I visited in December 2016 with intentions of investing more time in my futile quest to kill a mountain quail. I was going to hunt the lower elevations of the mountains that ring the coastal basin, but storms arrived in my wake. Once the weather cleared my favorite spots were buried in snow.

By the following December conditions in Southern California had changed dramatically. The fire season there lingers well into fall and things were so bad it cost the University of Montana men’s basketball team a chance to play UCLA in famous Pauley Pavilion on Dec. 6. The hills above Westwood were an inferno so the game was cancelled for safety’s sake.

Is this the new normal? We’ll see. It wasn’t that long ago folks were lamenting the passing of harsh winters past. Folks complained the season was getting too easy, what with all those balmy, snow-melting days in January. We may be over that now. The last two years have beaten the old-school winter nostalgia out of us, replacing it with the nasty reality of slick roads, cold that makes outdoor play dangerous, and vehicles along streets buried in plowed berms that have more staying power than Arctic sea ice.

I’ve shoveled my share of snow this winter, as my back can attest. So far I’ve been spared any falls, though there have been plenty of dang nears. Friends at work have been sporting snow cleats, the type that slip over your regular shoes, fixing steel coils under your soles for traction. They’ve nearly got me convinced.

I’ve lived in places with winter for the last 24 years and I’ve only gone down once, slipping on the skating rink that routinely formed between the house and garage of my old place on Third Avenue East in Kalispell. As my feet flew out from under me my brain went into overdrive. On the way down I had a detailed conversation with myself, noting the many inconveniences a trip to the emergency room would entail.

Miraculously, my noggin didn’t hit the ice with the force I’d anticipated and a couple ibuprofen sufficed, rather than a hospital visit. I was lucky, but everyone’s luck runs out eventually.

Still, there remains a bit of good news. The official start of spring is less than a month away. I hope to stay upright long enough to enjoy it.