For an eternal summer that shall not fade...Does August depress you even though it's a beautiful month?
Two weeks ago today, as I was climbing my last peak before driving to and flying out of Jackson Hole, I found a heavy frost starting from as low as 8800'. Not much higher, some of late summer's wildflowers were so encased in ice that it was hard to imagine their wilted-looking selves surviving the day.
It was one of many signs in recent days that winter in the Northern Rockies is not far around the corner.
October may be my favorite month and fall may be my favorite season, but July is my favorite season in the high mountains. In Montana in July, summer seems endless; sunset is at 9:30, with good light until 10 and sometimes, on the clearest days around the solstice, even until 10:30, and sunrise is at 5. Wildflowers bloom in riots; streams roar; animals abound seemingly just for majesty's sake, not necessity's. It's not only summer that seems endless but life as well.
On one hand, August is such a fine month. The high passes become free of snow, easing access to the highest peaks. Stream crossings become easier. Mosquitoes are fewer.
But the days are suddenly shorter. Sunset is at 8:30, and a little earlier every day. There is the aforementioned frost, found not every morning but still many. Up high, the streams and the small ponds have a thin layer of ice over them, and it takes a few hours to melt off. Knowing what is soon to come, the animals are busier than ever feeding and storing. The days are still warm, but the nights are getting colder. At the limits of their range, the aspens are starting to show signs of turning. A few even have.
Soon, the high mountains will be sealed away for the winter, open only to the winds, the snow, the hardiest of the animals, and a few humans with a penchant for self-abuse. Yes, you ice climbers and skiers are salivating over the prospect of winter, but the rest of us will seek the desert, the warmer climes, or our dreams.
Now the end of August is but a day away. Meteorological summer is all but over. The end of calendar summer is not much further off.
The change of the seasons will have its benefits. With dropping temperatures and humidity levels, the local crag will be friendly places to climb again. In the Blue Ridge, leaves will drop from the trees and brush will recede, enabling easier bushwhacks to obscure summits and cliffs. There will be the warm, colorful days of autumn, and its crisp, dark nights. Winter will bring its clear skies and then spring, its explosion of wildflowers beginning in March. All will not be lost.
But it will not be the same, not by any measure.
Leaving my heart behind two weeks ago saddened me so deeply. As I left Montana in July, I did not feel that way. I cannot wait to reclaim it in next summer's sun and glory.