DeFrates column: Love the mountains for what they are
When was the last time you used an umbrella?
I had to go back quite a ways to find my answer, and it definitely wasn’t here in the mountains. In fact, while writing this article, I realized that we do not own an umbrella at all. Raincoats, sure, we have one (or two) for every member of the family, yet not a single umbrella resides in our house. And if you’ve lived in the valley for any length of time, I would imagine that your answer is similar.
I’m going to make a bit of a leap here and suggest that the way we respond to inclement weather says a lot about our lifestyle and priorities.
Think about how an average day in mud season goes: 80 degrees and sunny before lunch, then sleet, rain or snow in the afternoon. We layer our clothing, check up-to-date radars, have backup plans — and always bring a raincoat. To get through the day, we are prepared to live with the natural world, not in spite of it. And, even with the mercurial nature of the season, it is a welcome time for locals to take a deep breath, a trip to the desert, and to watch our beloved mountains undergo yet another amazing seasonal transformation.
For many of us, it is this certainty of uncertainty that makes living here worthwhile. It is still a place not entirely tamed by man. We live in a raincoat culture where it is understood that nature will impact us every day in a significant way. We are never quite sure whether this impact will be a brief rain shower, unexpected blizzard or 40 mph sustained crosswinds, but we don’t expect to get all the beauty from the mountains and none of the challenges.
But for some, mud season is yet another frustrating time of inconvenience.
Complaints largely center on the unpredictable elements of mountain living, the need for snow tires in April, and the lack of guarantee that you and your outfit will make it from work to home without experiencing any number of coiffure-threatening circumstances.
And those are the tenets of the umbrella culture that are widely accepted in most of the rest of the country. Inconvenience and even mild discomfort are the enemy to be avoided at all costs.
Every time I travel back East to visit family, I am amazed that most people spend their days only thinking of the “outdoors” as the sometimes-inconvenient space between “indoors.” Nature is a place to be ignored as much as possible and traveled through with the utmost efficiency. An umbrella is the perfect accessory for this approach. It creates a barrier between you and inclement situations, and it doesn’t flatten your hair.
But when holding an umbrella, there is very little else you can do. And that’s the biggest difference. Umbrella culture does not expect to be able to accomplish anything when inconvenienced to this degree and is, again, only traveling from one climate controlled region to the next. Nature is seen as prohibitive to all the best-laid plans.
So what happens when a member of the umbrella culture moves to the mountains?
Sometimes it’s a perfect fit and they embrace the challenges and opportunities wholeheartedly, purchasing a great hardshell or a Carharrt jacket as soon as possible. They never really liked umbrellas, anyway.
Sometimes, however, the transition is less smooth and every hindrance of weather and topography becomes a personal affront. These people are the ones who complain about the pass closures, bemoan wildlife closures of “their” favorite trails and complain that they don’t get cell phone reception at the Crystal Mill in Marble. If they stay here past their first inconvenient year, they become the ones who want to pave Cottonwood Pass, divert even more water across the Continental Divide, and blame CDOT workers for their own lack of judgment on the snowy highways.
They are probably really good people who just shouldn’t live in the mountains. To live in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, you have to understand that these mountains aren’t here to make your life easy. That’s what Panera Bread preorders, climate control and concrete are for.
So live in the mountains if you want, but love them for what they are, and they are damn inconvenient.
Lindsay DeFrates of Carbondale writes a monthly column.