Chocolate Milk

By Beacon Staff

Earlier this month I returned home from a trip to a warm place.

I kept track of the weather back home while I frolicked at a newspaper convention conveniently hosted in San Diego. Internet reports said it was cold and snowy in the Northern Rockies, so I wasn’t surprised to find snowdrifts piled two feet deep on my front walk when I returned.

I dug out the walk, then watched the temperature zoom up to the mid-40s the following day. By suppertime a lake had formed in the backyard and water was melting off the roof in torrents that were redirected by poor drainage into a basement window, and from there into the basement.

A wet-dry shop vac took care of the worst of it downstairs. Out back I did what I could to carve miniature drainage ditches across the lawn to get the water flowing away from the house. Unfortunately, the warm spell had come on so quickly it had melted the considerable snowpack, but not the frozen ground underneath. Hence the lake that gathered menacingly in the face of my rather feeble efforts to score drainage canals in the frozen tundra.

A few days later I posted photos on Facebook of my daughters sporting new waders. I was deluged with inquires from friends down south about impending fishing trips. My replay: every river between here in the Dakotas looks like chocolate milk. There won’t be any decent fishing in these parts for a while.

Well not every river, but most of them. With all the ice that had joined the party the Yellowstone near Columbus had more of a Kahlua-and-cream thing going on. The Clark Fork was off its game as well, though not totally blown out. Farther west, my planned skwala expedition on the Yakima River with Funkmaster Fred was canceled, and the banks of the Coeur d’Alene River were so overrun that it looked as though folks in Kellogg would soon be stranded on their roofs flagging down rescuers if the rain didn’t let up.

Finally it did, but this country is still a sloppy mess.

In the midst of all this a friend said he was headed out to float the Flathead. I haven’t heard how it went but the prospects for success seemed bleak. Of course the prospects for success are zero if you don’t go out at all.

I’m not sure if it’s February or March that claims the crown of lamest month of all. But I know it’s a tight race. February imposes one last month of real winter at a time when most of us — skiers and snowboarders excepted — have pretty much had our fill.

But at least February is honest. March toys with us in an evil, passive-aggressive sort of way. The other day it was bright and cloudless in the Flathead with a high in the 50s. There will be a few more days like this, making a significant dent in the dirty-snow mountains piled in every shopping center parking lot. The warmer temperature may inspire a few to break out shorts and flip flops. Some of us will even be daft enough to wear them. Then March will remind us of the kind of month it really is, piling one last dump on the bare toes of those sporting beachwear out of season.

At least we’ve probably soon seen the end of high, chocolate-milk like rivers, for now. Fifty degrees wipes out most of the snow on the valley floor.

Come mid-May, the white stuff on the mid-elevation slopes will begin to melt at a rate that overwhelms drainages and the real high water will begin. We’ll lose the rivers a second time, for a month or two. But this is to be expected. Rivers need to run through this cycle of renewal. Spring high flows are a kind of riverine colonic. Impurities are flushed from the system, woody debris is readjusted, and the watershed begins the summer season with a skip in its step thanks to the therapeutic cleansing.

Still, I expect March has a nasty storm or two in store before we can really start playing like its summer.