There’s a trailhead at the end of the street that feels like a portal to another world. You step off pavement and leave a neighborhood of houses and cars. You step onto dirt and enter a natural domain. The banging and hammering of a construction project fades to the whistling of wind. Towering trees sway back and forth, silent and steadfast. Theirs is a time scale beyond anything you or I could ever fathom.
Time plays tricks on us during these late days of fall. It’s an in-between.
A snowstorm in September was much too early. A heat wave in October was much too warm. Little flurries in November have us guessing, hoping, praying, wondering: Will it snow this year? Every morning that we wake up to a blue sky with sunshine feels like a reverse groundhog day: If we see our shadow, winter’s still a ways out.
Seasonal disarray forces us to practice patience and mindfulness. We savor fleeting daylight, which casts an amber hue. Night’s abrupt arrival interrupts our afternoon forays into the mountains. And yet, the pace of the day-to-day is slower, less busy. With fewer crowds and traffic, the off-season is a chance to indulge in time off, especially for people who work winter jobs in ski towns.
At Winter Wildlands Alliance, we are counting down the days until the Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year and the official start to the season. Fall is always a relentless march to winter, and this year was especially so with a conference for grassroots activists, a backcountry film festival launched, a developing partnership with NASA, an expansion of the SnowSchool curriculum to include a citizen science element. Advocacy is humming, with feet on the ground at agency meetings, open houses, and educational presentations about winter recreation, wildlife, and the environment. In the policy world, comments are being filed to defend wild places and human-powered winter recreation from California to Alaska. And our grassroots partners are tackling local issues, like ski traffic in the Wasatch and Tahoe and backcountry access in the East. Fall is the longest stretch between days on snow, the salve we need to restore our souls and remind us of our purpose.
Winter is our raison d’etre. It’s why we do what we do. And this year, the Winter Solstice is not only the beginning of a new season, it’s the brink of a new decade. It’s the start of another trip around the sun, the moment when time shifts and slowly, gradually becomes more abundant. It’s powder days and skin tracks and sledding season. It’s a reason to celebrate and shout: Let the season begin!
But we’re not there yet. Not quite.
For the next month, as time approaches the Winter Solstice, we’re making it a point to revel in the moments between seasons. It might be sunny and warm, or dark and cold, or raining or sleeting or hailing or snowing, and busy as can be with the holidays. To stay sane, we’ll be going outside, entering the portal of the natural world, walking on a dirt path underneath tall trees. In Japan, the practice of shinrin-yoku, “forest bath,” is prescribed as an antidote for illness, anxiety, and stress—something we all need this time of year. We hope you will be doing the same. Who knows, maybe tomorrow we’ll wake up to a blanket of snow.