Note: I've changed names here because I don't want to invade anyone's privacy.
Around eleven-thirty this morning, driving north towards the shopping mall where I had a meeting at Borders, I saw several signs of change: a new street-light at Dead Man’s Gulch, an aspen sporting yellow leaves, and a dusting of snow even on Baldy, the lowest of the Bridger Mountains. The snow was gone by the time I drove south again after completing my errands at PetSmart and Target, for by then the sun had reached the western side of the mountains, the side visible from town, but I knew it still lingered in north-facing crevices.
About two weeks ago Mary Jo Snelling summitted Mt. Cowen, in the Absarokas. Today she flew to a rehabilitation center in Denver specializing in spine and brain injuries, to learn how to live as a paraplegic. Her business partner, my friend Pat, dove at once into the task of trying to preserve Mary Jo's business so that when she returns she’ll find it intact and thriving.
One week and a day ago, on Monday August 25th, the temperature here in Bozeman was 102° F, a new record. The low that night of 48° was about normal; we often have a high/low spread of thirty to forty degrees in the summer.
Next day the high was 73°, and the day after that, 68°. Known as the “August Singularity,” this sudden tip into cool weather around the 24th or 26th is often followed by a return to high summer temps (in this case three days in the 80s and 90s), but that first wobble reveals the unsteadiness of what had seemed the smooth sure circuit of summer warmth and weather: the spinning top has wobbled once, and will again.
A week or so ago Pat’s mother flew from Bozeman to California to visit another daughter and her family. On Friday she felt ill; on Saturday she was admitted to the hospital with acute renal failure. She was given a ten per-cent chance of survival. Yet so far this story appears to have a happy ending; she has rallied, and though no one knows what caused the problem, her chances by Sunday afternoon were estimated at eighty percent. But that’s the most recent information I have, and two days, in such a season of change, is a long time.
This year it’s not so much a wobble as a lurch; yesterday’s high of 53° was only eleven degrees above the minimum. Sometime early this morning thermometers around town fell below 40°; in the mountains it would have been colder still. People ten miles out of town to the north or south live in the foothills of the Bridgers or the Hyalites and get snow before we get it here in town. Their growing season is shorter; some don’t bother trying to raise tomatoes or squash.
My meeting was with Pat’s business advisor, to brainstorm ways to help Pat and so help Mary Jo. We met in a chain store with the snowy mountains above us and a road called Dead Man’s Gulch a quarter mile away.
The snow I saw this morning testifies to the influence of altitude on temperature. It’s not an academic issue here in the Rockies, it’s a fact of life. If we forget it, sometimes it becomes a factor in our deaths.
Usually I find it a hoot to live near a road called Dead Man’s Gulch; today I find myself wondering who he was and how he died.