Author Archives: Stephen Jaye

About Stephen Jaye

My name is Stephen Jaye, I currently live in Denver, CO, but have lived in New York, Chicago, Indiana, and Wisconsin. I love the weather, I love getting out, being active, and I love exploring places. In this blog are my travel writings.

Camping Memorial Day Weekend at 9600 feet (2600 m)

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The week leading up to Memorial Day Weekend life in Denver had already entered “summer mode”. Tuesday and Wednesday were the first official 90 degree days. People had begun to enter summer mode, moving their outdoor activities to either first thing in the morning or around sunset.

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Many went up to the mountains. On an unpaved road, three hours from Denver, a little outside the town of Redcliff in Eagle County Colorado, it felt like there was more traffic than there had been on some of Denver’s residential streets lately.

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To find a quality place to camp, that was not already occupied by someone who had arrived earlier, we ended up having to cary all of our supplies up a fairly steep cliff.

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Climbing that far up in elevation, we began to encounter some snow.

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It was the first time I ever set up camp anywhere near a pile of snow this big. Having been in summer mode, it felt odd to suddenly be around piles of snow that were multiple feet deep in some places. However, it was not without its advantages.

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The effort to lug all of our stuff uphill from the car also ended up proving advantageous. Despite being quite far from any town, campsites near the road/creek were not too quiet or secluded.

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We got the experience most people want out of dispersed camping by carrying all our stuff to the top of the hill. The tops of the nearby mountains could be seen much more easily up here. It was also slightly warmer, as colder air funneled into the valley.

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Overall, putting in a little extra effort lead to a better experience!

May can be a somewhat awkward time in the mountains. Above a certain elevation, there is still snow kind of everywhere. We took a day trip up to the Homestake Reservoir.

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However, with the ground kind of half snow covered and half bare, getting anywhere was kind of awkward.

It was here I had another first, a trek that blurred the lines between hiking and snowshoeing.

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With sections of trail bare and others still covered by feet of snow, we were constantly taking our snowshoes off and putting them back on again. The inconvenience and slippery sections of wet snow deterred others from completing this hike.

Once again, putting in the extra effort and overcoming a little inconvenience proved to be worthwhile. We ended up being able to eat a quiet lunch all by ourselves in front of a small but extremely picturesque alpine lake.

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The image in front of me, of a lone weather sensor, with the mid-May still mostly snow covered mountains of the Western Sawatch Range behind it ended up being one of the best ascetic natural experiences I have ever had!

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A lot of people will hike up here in July, August and September, after all the residual snow has gone, and stand in this very spot. However, they will not get this experience.

The following night, not having to set up camp, being able to goof off a little before a storm came in, was quite relaxing.

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When we first drove up the road, looking for dispersed camping, only to find that every site we saw for the first 8.5 miles was already claimed, it was tempting to give up and go home.

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On our partially snow packed hike to a lake barely even big enough to make it onto one of those detailed National Geographic pullout maps, we were advised to turn around less than a mile in. In both cases, persevering through unforeseen obstacles produced amazing experiences. Like the campground we stayed at and the pure beauty of eating lunch in front a quiet alpine lake, life will reward those who are not deterred by unforeseen obstacles in all forms. The key is to not give up!

The following morning, we’d wake up to even crazier weather; rain then even a few periods of significant snow!

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While Denver was entering Summer, the top of the Sawatch Mountains were barely leaving winter. It reminds me of when I encounter people who happened to be around the same age, with similar backgrounds, but are in different seasons of life.

It can be a challenge to wrap the mind around 90 degree Denver and nearby mountains where it is still snowing. In the same vein, it can be challenging to wrap the mind around a person with tons of responsibilities, a mature and realistic attitude and acceptance of life’s limitations being the same age as another who seems to have endless youthful energy and enthusiasm. Yet, like summer in Denver and Winter in Eagle County, they can both exist, both be beautiful, and give the world some much needed variety. The key is to not make assumptions about where anyone “should be” in their lives, and avoid the assumption that one path is inherently wrong.

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A Day Observing Natural Phenomenon

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It was never the most ideal setup for a storm chase. The convective environment was not too strong and the storms were poorly organized. It ended up being a fairly major day for severe thunderstorms with strong winds in the Southern Plains, as well as Upstate New York and parts of New England.

However, traveling about 90 miles to observe what did happen in Northeast Colorado would only cost me half a day. It was also my first chance to hit the open road since COVID-19.

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It turns out, a panoramic view of several different storms is beautiful and inspiring even if it isn’t damaging property!

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Maybe it was the relaxed pace life had taken over the past two months. Or maybe it was the amount of time we have all started spending in front of screens during this strange period. This storm chase felt less like a mission to get to the best storm possible. It took on kind of an artistic feel.

It is easy to imagine the lone barn in front of an approaching storm, or the seemingly abandoned tiny town of Last Chance, CO with storm clouds gathered all around it as a painting or large photo hanging on someone’s wall for decoration.

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I would later catch up with the one storm that did produce large hail, which I would had to quickly escape to avoid car damage.

After returning home, another storm would pass right over my house right around sunset.

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As a child, weather was the first thing I became deeply fascinated with. The cycles of the seasons and the way the atmosphere moves around transporting warmer, colder, wetter and drier air impacts everyone. On a day to day scale it can often decide what people are doing with their day. On a longer time scale, it impacts business, food supply and health.

My pursuit of meteorology as a career ended up being kind of a disappointment. What began as a desire to investigate and understand the atmosphere scientifically got lost in a sea of equations, coding, and later egos and corporate buzzwords. Observing the weather through a screen caused it to eventually lose its luster. Seeing powerful lightning up close and hearing the raw power of the thunder put me back in touch with why I love the weather so much.

That evening, after the storms passed through, I took a walk through City Park.

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The orange-y lights shining onto a wet sidewalk adjacent the a lakeshore made me feel as if I were in a different place. I imagined the lake, which is not too big in real life, was the shore of one of our Oceans or Great Lakes. I imagined the high rise apartments nearby to be vacation rentals and I imagined crowds of people once again flocking to the beach.

I couldn’t stop staring at how the lights of different colors were sparkling on the water, gradually shifting with the slow movement of the lake.

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I wonder why I had gone years not noticing things like the way the water makes the light twinkle. Are our lives that out of balance? Maybe recent obsessions with things like yoga, meditation, low carb diets and workout “boot camps” are just our attempts to get our lives back into balance, ways to push back against all these forces in our culture that have lead to unhealthy lives. 

I think about all the beautiful experiences we have with the natural world and wonder if we are obsessed with technology. Technology has undoubtedly made our lives better. Technology has made the whole concept of storm chasing possible. However, I am not convinced all technological developments have been beneficial. To me, there is far more beauty in the air and in the clouds. There’s beauty in the smiles we give one another, the relationships we form and the feelings we get from experiences. There is beauty in love and passion. There is even beauty in things often held in less regard, like causal sex (when consensual of course), some drug related experiences (when not taken to a destructive extreme) and anger when it is born out of the passion associated with fulfillment (when it doesn’t lead to violence of course). At least those things feel more meaningful than staring at screens all day to me now.

Unlike many other people who are old enough to remember a world before people could pull a device out of their pockets and look up whatever they want, I am not “wowed” by technology for technology’s sake. I’ve seen plenty of people impressed by the latest technology, often doing things like moving data around and producing charts.

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Charts like this one, as is the case with scientific investigation in general, mean nothing unless something is learned and something is done based on them.

Technology has the potential to help us work more efficiently, improve our health and even form communities. But, let’s not forget who is in the driver’s seat. Technology and computers are here to enhance our experiences with the world around us, not the other way around. Thank God we occasionally have these moments, where thunder claps louder than any of our devices or when wildlife interrupts our travels, to remind us.

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A New Appreciation for the First Half of May

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This year, many of us suddenly found ourselves living our lives at a far slower pace. This period of partial shut down, with more time to just think and observe what is around us has now extended for long enough for us to notice the changing of the seasons.

What began as winter was breathing its dying breaths, still capable of icing over the streets for multiple days at a time, has now continued into the period where spring gives way to summer. Days grew long and warm as evenings became pleasant.

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The slow change of the seasons, the day to day differences and the gradual changes in the colors and energy around us is something we were once deeply connected with. As children, and often also and young adults, we would feel that energy and anticipate the holidays and activities associated with each season with excitement. Somehow, many of us lost that connection in a sea of schedules, deadlines, expectation and chores. Maybe we are doing it to ourselves. After all, over the past century we have managed to make busyness a new symbol of status. Some even argue it is a religion.

Over the past decade, I did not show much appreciation for this time of year. Last year, I made two out of town trips in Late April/ Early May.

This year, travel has not been advised. I have limited myself to short trips, mostly by bicycle.

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There has been more time to simply gaze at the slow progression of Springtime. I found myself, once again, as if reliving a much purer simpler time, anticipating things like the slow growth of the seeds that I planted.

Everything around me is looking livelier and livelier by the day.

The trees,

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Our rivers and streams.

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Our cities and towns.

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Even the turkeys.

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The first half of May is when many of us experience our first truly warm days. It is a period of beginning. It is a period of anticipation. It is a period of planning what’s next. It’s the start of a new job, a new relationship, a new project, forming a new community or even a new life.

It is that time period where the future of any endeavor just lies ahead of us, wide open, still manifesting primarily within our wildest imaginations. There has not been the opportunity for disappointment yet. No mysteries have been revealed. No unexpected limitations have presented themselves. No unforeseen conflicts have emerged. Everything is, if only for a short period of time, the perfection that it can only be within our imaginations.

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Whenever anyone starts anything anew, it is always tempting to warn them of what could potentially go wrong. This is especially true for people we care about, and want to see prepared for life’s challenges.

Who knows what this year will bring. It has already brought us some serious surprises. Last year, many of the plants I had placed outside would be destroyed by a hailstorm towards the end of May.

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It would also destroy the optimism exemplified by the colors of the trees, grass and bushes.

However, observing the first half of May at a slower paces has shown me how beautiful that moment in time, before there is the opportunity to even consider what can go wrong, at the beginning of any experience, truly is. In order to live our best lives, we should savor these moments when they do arise. We should allow ourselves, and those we care about, to live these experiences as the ideal fantasy they are at their onset for as long as possible. There is nothing like looking in front of us and seeing nothing but open highway- metaphorically speaking.

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The Slow Return to Normal

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There I was, standing in the Cherry Creek reservoir, feet in the water, wearing a bicycle helmet and a mask. It was quite the interesting way to spend what was likely the first 80 degree day in parts of Denver (there are no observations downtown and the airport reached a high of 79), and the first day of Colorado’s slow return to normal.

That morning, Colorado’s statewide stay-at-home order transitioned to a safer-at-home order. For me, little had changed. The City of Denver still has a stay-at-home order which was extended nearly two weeks beyond the state’s. The businesses I frequent are all still closed, the guidelines still strongly suggest minimal travel. There is also evidence suggesting that the danger related to contracting and spreading the virus, in Colorado and in Denver, has yet to dissipate. Essentially, Monday’s slight change in policy, like a non-binding resolution or loose talk among friends about big things, felt mostly just symbolic.

Still, like many Americans, I am quite antsy to get back to doing a lot of the things that bring me joy; specifically travel and social activity. My mind is a bit all over the place as I try to reconcile the hopefulness of hearing news about states planning to reopen their economies with the very real threat that still exists. It feels like a classic heart vs. head issue, with many different dimensions and complications. My response is to start small.

Sunday, the last day of the full stay-at-home order, it was a short hike, at a place not too far away, called Steven’s Gulch, with only three other people.

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It’s not the kind of hike that leads to the most spectacular views.

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In fact, after a 500 foot ascent, there is a 1500 foot descent into the gulch, where the trail was quite muddy, and, in places, there was standing water to contend with.

The hike itself, wasn’t about reaching some summit. The largest climb was the 1000 foot climb back to the trailhead (which was surprisingly crowded for a not too well known trail on a day with clouds and rain chances).

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The hike was about being outside, being in nature, being in the woods.

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After weeks of spending far too much time at home, in front of screens, just being in a place that looks like this, putting one foot in front of the other for a few hours is an amazingly calming experience. Having lived without some modern luxuries for the past six weeks, it almost felt somewhat reminiscent of a backpacking trip.

Meanwhile back in Denver, the anxiety was still there and the tensions were still mounting.

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There are so many different factions of people feeling and saying different things about the virus and our response to it. There is so much fear, depression, loneliness and the post-traumatic stress. All data on the true extent and potency of COVID-19 is so unreliable. It has become nearly impossible to know who to believe.

One of the few bright spots of this whole pandemic is workplace flexibility in many sectors where working from home is an option. Without the commute, the need to get dressed up and be physically in an office for a certain time period, it becomes far easier to do things like go on an extended lunchtime bike ride.

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The ride to the Cherry Creek reservoir from anywhere near downtown Denver is about 13 miles, mostly on a trail. Throughout this pandemic, bike trails have been quite busy. Perhaps this is because the bars and restaurants are closed and more people are enjoying schedule flexibility related to their employment. The sun was bright that day, and there were many more people enjoying the day, on their sail boats or with their friends and family at the beach.

There is no way to tell how the history books will look back upon the Spring of 2020. Each and every person has their own unique way of coping with this major life event. Personally, I hold on to the hope that, in the long run, something good will come out of all of this. I’ve long held the belief that the expectation that people spend 40 to 50 daylight hours at their office is limiting, and something we are now capable of moving beyond due to new technology. With many people putting all this technology to use out of necessity, maybe our work culture will change for the better, opening up many daylight hours for experiences like this.

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The Question We Are All Asking

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As this pandemic wears on, and people begin to speculate whether or not we have reached our “peak”, with respect to cases and medical needs, the conversation is increasingly turning towards how we go about reopening our economy and returning to our “normal” lives.

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The Parking Lot to the Colorado Mills Mall, completely empty

As is the case with all decision like this, there are inevitably people pulling on both sides. There are those advocating caution, warning that rushing to restart our economy could lead to more deaths. There are also those concerned about the consequences of waiting too long to get the economy going again.

We have now mostly all adjusted to this new, temporary, more home focused way of life.

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However, I can tell that people are getting antsy. Maybe we are not getting antsy to return to things like commuting to work. Plenty of people who are now questioning more than ever whether going into an office every day is even necessary anymore given the technology we now have (disclaimer: my personal sample leans heavily towards Colorado Millennials so you may be experiencing different conversational themes). For things like social interaction, travel, gathering and certain types of experiences, there is certainly a yearning for that which we are now lamenting we had taken for granted nearly our entire lives.

Friday, I decided to spend the day riding my bike, stopping by various people’s houses doing some bike-by “distance hellos”. The response was overwhelmingly positive!

 

 

I set out at 9 A.M. expecting to return home sometime around 2 or 2:30 P.M. My total cycling distance was just over 40 miles, only around the Denver Metro Area as to not take part in unnecessary travel at this time. I ended up not getting home until after 6:00 P.M. There were five planned visits, each one lasting a decent amount of time, as everyone I set out to hang out with from a distance seemed more than happy to have visitors at this time. I also ended up having two other unplanned visits. One was with a total stranger, who I talked with for 10-15 minutes. She introduced herself from her backyard as I was pulling into a parking lot in Golden. The other, with a friend of mine who had seen my Instagram post about these distance hellos and wanted to be a part of it.

On one level, the question we are all asking is quite straightforward:

What is more important being or doing?

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If “being” is more important, saving as many lives as possible is the natural priority. If “doing” is more important, the conversation opens up to questions like whether or not it is worth it to sacrifice a few (thousand) lives to avoid other forms of economic and social destruction.

However, as we continue to experience that which seemed unfathomable as recently as six weeks ago…

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Google Maps showing no traffic in New York, Chicago, Denver and Los Angeles

The question of being vs. doing becomes more nuanced.

Is our “doing” essential to our “being”?

For a long time, our jobs/careers have been an integral part of our identities. When we place our jobs at the center of our identities, it is sometimes referred to as “Workism”.

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Placing work, or a career at the center of our identities implies that doing is essential to our being. This current crisis call workism into question, but it was already being questioned. However, even those looking to move beyond workism place significant importance on some other form of “doing”. I personally don’t enjoy days with no activity, and mass inactivity has negative consequences for our economic and psychological well-being. The term “idle hands are the tool of the devil” came from actual experience.

There is a lot of speculation about what the world will look like after COVID-19. The only thing that seems certain now is that there will be some sort of change that will be clear this year. How things turn out on a longer time scale will depend on how we address the questions of whether it is more important to be or to do, and how our doing impacts our being.

Flattening the Curve … and My Belly

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For about an hour I had totally forgotten the nightmare that is our current situation. I wasn’t thinking about all the lives at risk, everyone that is losing their jobs and livelihoods, the bars and restaurants all being closed, the businesses in jeopardy and the social isolation. It felt almost like a typical Saturday in the Colorado outdoors.

The trailhead parking lot was full and there were plenty of people sharing the snowshoeing experience.

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It was one of our famed 300 days of sunshine a year, with the March sunshine illuminating a snowy meadow with the mountains in the background.

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Snowshoeing got my heart rate up, and of course, the Huskies of the world were in their element!

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Having company for the adventure made it seem like a standard social weekend activity. There was even a seasonal phenomenon to spark my curiosity about weather and nature.

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It was the second day of Spring, and what we were witnessing was the origins of what some refer to as “mud season”. This term is used most in the mountains as well as in New England, in places where large snowpacks build up over the winter, and sometime between March and May, a prolonged awkward period of muddy melting occurs. It is awkward because it is ideal for neither wintertime activities nor standard hiking. On Saturday, we saw close to an even mix of people walking in snowshoes and people just wearing standard hiking boots. In snowshoes, we had to find a way around some of these areas near trees where muddy bare ground was beginning too appear.

Back in Denver, though, life is far from normal. Neighborhoods that are typically quite active are quiet. The roads are empty in a manner I had previously only seen in disaster films.

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It is hard not to feel guilty at this point in time: almost as if I had been asking for this. For years I had be saying that we need some sort of disruption to remove the aspects of our culture that have caused recent upticks in loneliness, drug abuse, poor health, violence and disengagement. Now we have a disruption that promises to make us all feel even more lonely. Our social lives are now even more dependent on social media, video conferencing and other forms of technology; the very technology that I had previously speculated had worsened the problems of the 2010s.

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Right now many of us are searching for meaning. What was humanity meant to learn from this? Many of my extroverted friends tell me that being forced to stay home gave them a greater appreciation for simple social interactions such as just having a drink with a friend or having people over for dinner. Some of my more introverted friends are indicating that we are being told we need to slow down a bit. I hear from a lot of sources the idea that we are “out of balance”, with respect to lifestyles and nature.

Some responses are definitely people confirming their previously held beliefs and biases. The spread of the virus is evidence that most problems transcend our national borders, making them useless. Yet, it also demonstrates the need for stronger borders and tighter immigration controls. It’s gonna make us both rediscover our appreciation for face-to-face interaction while also making us question whether we need to meet in person for half the stuff we do. It’s telling us to get out in nature more but also making us use technology more.

I am guilty of this as well. After going on two mid-afternoon bike rides last week, I told people that the lesson from this work from home period is that we need to remove the assumption that people need to be available and at their desks for 40-50 daylight hours per week. This is a belief I have held for seven years now. I’d even be willing to trade three months of being stuck inside for the removal of this assumption from our work lives going forward. Now is the time, however, to observe things with an open mind, and develop new insights.

Speculating that there could be some good that comes of all this is an understandable manner in which many are coping with this horrible turn of events. After all, many accept that the “Black Plague” made the Renaissance possible. As we all sequester ourselves, brace for the worst and have our lives severely disrupted, we should also take back some power over our lives and prepare to build a better future. For me, it will be a waste if the only lesson I get from this is another confirmation of something I realized nearly a decade ago.

Winter Slowly Comes to an End

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We just shifted our clocks forward for Daylight Savings Time. For the first time this year the sun will set later than 7:00 P.M. Each footstep we make in the snow feels like a crunch through cycles of nighttime freezes and daytime thaws. I gaze to the East in the middle of the day. Despite partial cloudiness, the sky feels quite bright. The ground, partially uncovered by recent warmth, appears as a somewhat random assortment of the season that was and the season that is to come. Vertical development in the clouds off on the horizon provide a preview of what’s to come; the types of powerful storms that truly embody the power of nature during springtime.

This time of year is quite unique. After several months of cold and snow, snowpacks in the Central Rockies are often near their peaks.

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This year is no exception, as measured snowpacks are quite close to the long term average.

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At the ski resorts, the trails remain bright through the entire day, with the possible exception of some of the densest glades. In December and early January, shade starts to creep in sometime between 2 and 3 P.M.

We skied until 4 P.M. then sat out in the sun having drinks at the base.

The high elevation mountain towns showed a kind of bright, snow-filled winter glory in a manner that felt like the setting of a movie.

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Passing through towns like these, I could not help but imagine movie characters doing things like training for winter sports, falling in love, or singing Christmas carols. It even inspired me to wear a Christmas sweater over two months after the holiday.

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Winter’s end will be slow. It starts with days like this. However, many places in the high elevations of central Colorado can expect to see several feet more snow before summer comes. The transition of the seasons is not unlike many other transitions in life. It is neither abrupt nor continuous. Whether it is a recovering alcoholic having periodic relapses or a group of people adapting to some major societal shift, the new and the old fade in and out in sometimes tough to predict patterns.

Sometimes there is a sweet spot. Snowshoeing in nothing but a light jacket, or a sweater and a hoodie, was a joyful experience in nature that combines the best of winter with the best of spring. It’s what we all should be looking for. New York pizza came when we combined the best of Italy with the best of America. Some of the best musicians and artists combine the best of angst with the best of optimism. The scene in South Park Colorado, where the pattern of snow and grass seemed to simultaniously make logical sense and lack any coherency serves us all as a reminder that there is great beauty and opportunity in all the awkward in-between phases in life. Maybe, in this phase of life, I can find a way to combine the best of youth with the best of maturity.