Excuses pile up like snow drifts: It’s cloudy.
It’s a bad hair day.
The road might be slick.
A green Christmas is kinda sorta OK.
But in December if you wait for perfect weather, a bluebird day, a sparkler, you might be waiting until spring.
So I grab the snowshoes, jump in the Prius and drive to Spout Springs Ski Area, which is closed again this winter.
I arrive under leaden skies.
Hopping out of the car, I strap on snowshoes, put a Cosmic Crisp apple in my pocket and head up the mountain.
The temperature is around freezing.
Wind gusts box snow off the trees.
A storm is heading inland from the Pacific Ocean, but shouldn’t arrive until I am back home sitting on top of the heating vent entertaining Wonder, my wife, with tales of conquest.
Of course, the mountain in my tales will be twice as big, and twice as steep, as modest Spout Springs.
A few skiers have been here already, carving turns in three feet of Walla Walla pre-mix.
Yes, it’s heavy snow, with some melting.
I try to avoid their tracks and make my own. It’s common courtesy.
I pass the lodge and chalets and then find a trail cutting northwest toward the lifts.
Gradually, the mountain gets steeper and I think to myself, “This ain’t no bunny hill.”
The snowshoes have great traction, but the hill is steep and I, in my early 60s, am old enough that I lose my balance and fall forward.
It’s only about 2 feet from my face to the slope.
I push myself back upright and continue slogging upward, as on a sand dune, 2 feet up for every 1 foot slide down, past rows of flocked trees.
A Christmas miracle.
There are no northern lights to see here, but “western lights” glow on the horizon out in the Columbia Basin 4,000 feet of elevation below.
Otherwise, all is gray and grim with storm threatening.
I feel like Spiderman climbing a wall.
Finally, the slope eases and I arrive at the top of the lift.
I take a bite of apple and admire the panoramic view.
Miles and miles of flocking.
A Blue Mountain Christmas.
I don’t linger, though. The wind is moaning and threatening to howl.
Even though I am wearing four layers, and spent a decade defying death in the winters of Minnesota and Wisconsin, I can feel the cold.
“I’m getting soft,” I think to myself as I head down the hill.
Midway, when the hill gets its steepest, I meet a skier climbing to the top.
Her dog, which wants to climb the hill three times, for fun, runs to greet me, then, recognizing its duty, returns to its master and does a happy dance.
As I descend, I follow tracks made while ascending.
Much of the tracks have already filled with drifting snow.
The wind whips up, gusts, moans louder, and trees shed their burdens.
Daylight, such as it is, is fading on this short, early winter day.
I slog toward home, sinking with every step, feeling every hitch in my giddy-up.
I’m glad to have made my yearly goal and reached the summit.
I’m equally happy the mountain is a short drive away, and if I want a white Christmas, or a white January, no matter how green the Walla Walla Valley is, if I can pull myself away from the heating vent, there is no reason my wish can’t come true.