Community Agriculture Alliance: Giving winter a 2nd chance

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I’ll be honest. I haven’t always been a big fan of winter.

I find colorful wildflowers to be much more interesting than an all-white landscape. But the snowshoe tours I lead for Yampatika have turned around my attitude. Let me take you down memory lane.

A couple of years ago, I had a tour on Emerald Mountain. As I always do, I woke up and checked the temperature. It was 42 degrees below zero. I was sure everyone would cancel. Who is crazy enough to go snowshoe for two hours in minus 42 degree weather?

Well, I had a full tour. We admired the beautiful crystals forming around our hoods and neck gaiters. The air was sparkling with “fairy dust” and everything was covered in glittering hoar frost. The squeak of snow under our snowshoes was a new experience for everyone.

A separate Yampatika snowshoe tour took me up Fish Creek with a mom, dad and their 4-year-old son. We wandered down to the river, where cotton candy “grew” on the rocks. While we were there, a playful mink cavorted in and out of the water through small holes in the ice. The little boy was as still as a statue as he watched, his eyes as big as pancakes.

The first moonlight snowshoe tour left in the pink of a gorgeous sunset. We were talking about night vision and animals we might see along the way when a coyote howled up the hill from us. I howled back and received a beautiful song in return. As we entered the meadow after leaving the Hobbit forest (love those gnarled Gambel oak!), the moon poked up over Buffalo Mountain. The land began to glow silver and glitter in the moonlight. We all played shadow games with the silver moonlight, hardly believing how bright it was.

Many years ago at one of my favorite places, we were crossing a large meadow when a guest saw something white moving in the snow. We watched, enthralled, as a curious weasel wound its way closer and closer to our spot. It ducked under the snow and popped up somewhere else, then ran along in funny inchworm bounds. Soon, it was only about five feet away from us and still very interested in who we were. It would sit up like a white statue, looking us over. The weasel finally ended up three feet away, close enough that I could reach out and touch it. I could see the black whiskers taking everything in, deciding there was nothing worthwhile, and off it bounded.

Every Yampatika snowshoe tour is different, and every participant takes away their own unique experience. I swell with pride when guests ask hundreds of questions, can’t wait to get home to tell their families about what they have learned or want even more at the end of a tour. My goal is to inspire their learning, to assist in their observations and to have them gain a better appreciation for this beautiful place we call paradise. Through appreciation and knowledge comes ownership, and through ownership comes action. So winter now is downright pleasant with all the wonderful experiences my Yampatika tours provide. Happy winter, and see you on the trail.

Karen Vail is the founding director of Yampatika and a lifelong learner. She is a naturalist at Yampatika. For more information, visit www.yampatika.org or call 970-871-9151.

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