In Rocky Mountain National Park this week the signs of early spring were everywhere. The ranger at the entrance station excitedly told us he had seen bluebirds and woodpeckers and even a butterfly. My friend and I told him we had just passed a herd of deer, some of which were sitting in the shade of the pine trees, as if the March sun was already too warm.
On the trail to Dream Lake (above), despite the presence of 42 inches of snow (according to the ranger), people were hiking up the slush/snow-covered trail in shorts and T-shirts in this 50-something degree day. We ran into a photographer who had been taking photos of and on Haiyaha Lake and suddenly found his feet sinking in the lake. He had been taking pictures in the park for 25 years, and never had the high alpine lakes started melting this early. For the first time, he was seeing robins who stayed here through winter rather than migrating to warmer places.
On the trail, there was almost a spirit of revelry, hikers greeting each other with smiles. And how could you not be happy on such a day: the warmth, mingling with the coolness of the snow under the vastness of the shockingly blue sky.
Yet there’s a disturbing undercurrent, a feeling that things are not right, that we have altered the climate in ways that could prove unalterable. Over thousands of years, animals and plants adjusted to nature’s dependable seasons, but that calibration is being sundered now, as warming temperatures produce earlier flowering seasons and food that arrives at the wrong time.
To sit here on a March day in my cabin and have the windows open, so I can feel the breeze and the sun is wonderful. But I rather have the snow we usually get in March, which means the streams and reservoirs would be full in summer, the fish will have enough water in the streams to survive and there will be enough berries for the bears to eat in the fall.
The nature photographer we met on the trail to Dream Lake said he would give up 20 years of his life to make nature right again. I feel just as passionate, that I would be willing to put my life on the line to save the planet, to keep the glaciers and icecaps frozen, to save the polar bears from drowning in oceans where ice floes have melted. But my life is insignificant compared to the massive forces of progress and greed that ravage the environment in pursuit of cheap food, gas, and wood, among other things.
I want nature back: the snow that we used to get every March; the flowers and fruit tree blossoms that didn’t emerge until April; the time when we didn’t have forest fires in March. Is it too late?