Mar 22

In snow, we have young eyes

Category: Arizona

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Snow wipes away the age of the land and makes it fresh to see with new eyes, washes away the color of cynicism and world-weariness; with its untouched purity there is fresh awareness.

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For this place – Walker crater, in the neighborhood of the San Francisco Peaks in Arizona – there is a long history of creation and destruction sweeping  past, dancing and merging until the two realities have become indistinguishable.  In the still darkness of an ocean’s depth, chalky dust blanketed an infinite plain until the unfaithful seas fled to new adventures.  The dusty creaking crust of seabed was seared from below, swelling with liquid stone, creating snow’s footrest.  Throughout, a tireless flow of animals and plants roared overhead; now the volcanoes’ velvet coating has been shaved by the unforgiving razor of fire and the more savage appetite of – us.

When I was here in the summer, the destroyed forest dominated my sight; but the snow has been a balm to my perceptions.  The deep snow makes a soft leveling blanket that makes it easier to roam about (with snowshoes!).  Animal tracks, nearly invisible in the dry months, tell me that this place is not totally dead.  The mountainsides have been here a long time; maybe this is only an irritant to the forest.

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In the distance I can see the edge of the Grand Canyon.  In another direction I can see rocks of the painted desert glowing with the fire of the setting sun.  It was almost 70 today, but there’s still 3 feet of snow on the ground and now that the sun has set, the top crust grows stronger.  The world turns blue with cold and the sky takes a plunge into winter again.  In the distance I can see route 180 arrowing towards Grand Canyon Village; I can see a ranch in the plain below, but I can’t hear or smell any evidence of people beyond the occasional ski track accompanied by dog prints.

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Coming down this volcano is so much easier than going up!  I skate down the unrelieved pitch of the cone with giant, slipping strides, smearing the perfect texture of the snow’s surface with my giant paddled feet.  There is something amiss with the trees – are they really that short?  Every now and then I stab my hiking staff into the snow to check that it’s really 3 feet deep.  I feel like a water strider squirting about the eddies of a creek.   Winter has brought a strange ability to walk in midair.

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After reaching the base of the cone I stride over the stubbly remains of the burned forest. I did the same thing when there was no snow and it was hard going; the surface is complicated, covered with potato-sized volcanic stone, all manner of burned logs, and the occasional small cave-in that sucks in your legs and fills your boots with pebbles.  Now, with the snow’s blessing, I glide easily over the broken ground, feeling like I’m swimming a shallow sea over a coral reef. With perfect timing, I make it back to the car as the last shreds of light drain from the sky.

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