Aspen’s Perfect Storm
July 23, 2012
I’ve never been so happy to see a storm roll in. This felt counterintuitive to me after spending a long winter on the grey, misty Oregon Coast. All winter, I’d wake up to another day of rainy mist swirling in off the coast, and groan about how I had to be deficient in Vitamin D by now.
When I arrived in Aspen, I welcomed the days of Colorado sunshine with layers of sunscreen and a big smile. As the weeks rolled by and I paid close attention to the flowers and plants along the tours I led, I began to notice the effect of this year’s unseasonable dryness. The fields of aspen sunflowers on Richmond Ridge wilted, then began to look crispy. The graceful blue columbine that I loved to show visitors on the Snowmass Nature Trail were done blooming by the end of June. The beaver dam along the same trail seemed irrelevant when the stream was bone dry.
A few weeks ago, however, things began to change. I clearly recall the first afternoon storm. The deep smell of rain rose from the earth, so strong I could almost taste it. Rain drummed on the ground for at least ten minutes, leaving a feel of renewed energy that was impossible to ignore. Everyone who worried about imminent fire danger breathed a giant sigh of relief.
Now, even through we’re still in the throes of an unprecedented drought, the more consistent afternoon rains have noticeably perked up the landscape. The flowers hold themselves with a bit more strength and brightness, and the dust has settled to a manageable level. The stream at Snowmass is flowing again, giving the beavers more of a reason to work on their elaborate dam, creating the riparian habitat that most wildlife in Colorado couldn’t live without.
Last week, I stood on Aspen Mountain and watched a dark wall of rain slowly envelop Mount Sopris, Pyramid Peak, and the Highlands Bowl. I answered question after question from visitors: “How long will the gondola be closed?” “Is the next tour still happening?” “How long will it rain for?” The honest answer to all these questions is, always, “I don’t know.” It’s exciting not knowing. The best we can do it to watch in awe as the storm rolls closer, greeting us first with fierce gusts of wind and sporadic chunks of hail. I couldn’t be happier than be to “stuck” on top of Aspen Mountain, watching the needed rain invigorate and awaken the landscape.