Sad, but it had to be.
This past weekend, my family got out there. Monday was a holiday -- obvious to most, I know, but not to the faculty and students at Fort Lewis College, where there are no three-day weekends because holidays are horded away to make the Winter and Thanksgiving breaks longer -- so Sarah, Webb, and Anna and some other families headed up into the splendor of the San Juans in midwinter.
On Saturday, they skied in the five miles or so to the Alta Lakes Hut, set in a dramatic alpine basin in the backcountry behind Telluride Ski Area. Not far away, but far enough. There they spent two nights and three days backcountry skiing, sledding, playing cards in front of the fire, soaking in the sauna, etc. etc. All under either a dense Colorado Rocky Mountain snowfall by day or the brilliant black-light light of the nearly full moon at night. Yes, it was that perfect.
Or so I heard. See, as one of the aforementioned Fort Lewis College faculty, I had to work on Monday. And, besides, it being near midterms, I was besieged by a battalion of papers demanding to be graded, and taxes loomed, and other things begged to be caught up on ... So, much to my chagrin, I bowed out of this most alluring of winter getaways with friends and family. No matter how much it was needed.
And it was needed. February, I like to say, usually through clenched teeth, is the longest short month of the year. It's always that way, February's feeling caught in the netherworld between long winter and elusive spring. And of late I have felt myself swirling loopily in that February eddy. (At least here in the Southern Rockies, though, we know truly spring days, at least down here in the valley, are only a month away -- February in the mountains of northern Colorado when we lived up there meant spring was still a long chilly swim away from that February eddy.)
So I felt that need, too, to get out there for a while, away from work and town and house and office, to at least open a little window to let some fresh air into winter's stuffy room. But if I was going to do it, it had to be from somewhere within arm's reach of my backyard office -- the closest thing to a mountain hut I was going to experience last weekend.
So that is exactly what I did. I went mentally even though I stayed physically. I graded. I wrote. I edited. I corresponded. I chipped away at the ice on our walkways and checked off some chores around the house. I worked from early morning to near midnight both Saturday and Sunday. I even squeezed in a Saturday night business meeting -- although I will admit to its involving performance-enhancing drugs: an 18-pack of Tecate.
I jammed and never left home. But I still managed to get out in the wild places -- it was just that they happened to be little spaces around home.
I started the day with a cup of coffee in the hot tub. I slipped out of my office door regularly for stretching and practicing karate kata. In the middle of the day, when the temperature grunted up to the mid-40s (no Rocky Mountain snowfall on this side of the San Juans) I sat out on the deck off my office and graded papers in the sun, with sunglasses on and shirt off. At night, I went for several short strolls in the moonlight before getting back at it. And when I finally crawled off to bed, my bed was outside, on the little second-floor porch off Webb's room -- I slipped inside my down sleeping bag tucked inside a bivvy sack and on top of a thick paco pad, and I slept out under that same full moon as my backcountry family was at that very same time.
As much as I could, I got out into the backcountry right here in the front country. Because it's the getting out that is the real skill, and the real point. And you don't have to go far at all to do that.
And I'm glad I remembered that just when I needed it most.