On Borrowed Time
Albion Basin lies at the top of a dead-end canyon, a mile or so above the town of Alta. The high peaks surrounding it are well above timber line, rugged and beautiful. During electrical storms lightning strikes these peaks repeatedly and the thunder reverberates back and forth, bouncing off the bare rocks of one to the others like water sloshing in a shallow dish. The effect is awesome, overwhelming, perhaps a bit frightening but truly sublime. Today the sky is blue and the Basin is full of people enjoying the bright August sunshine.
Spring has finally come to the basin. It is not only lush and verdant but ablaze with an innumerable host of flowers, like a green night sky utterly awash with stars of red, yellow, blue, and violet. This tardiness is partly a function of elevation. The basin lies nearly a mile above the valley floor on which Salt Lake City resides. For every thousand feet of elevation gained the temperature drops by roughly four degrees Fahrenheit. It is almost 95 degrees in town this early afternoon but it is in the mid-seventies in the basin. When the breeze blows it can feel unexpectedly cool.
But there is something else to also consider. Albion Basin receives, on average, five hundred inches of snow each year. It takes a long time for the frozen water to melt and the earth to warm sufficiently for life to blossom. The summers are very short up here. Mother Nature must work quickly. As the crowds throng around me, enjoying the day, I recall the facts of the place, learned from decades of observation. The first snow of the season will fall in the basin some time in the next four weeks. When late summer rains fall in the valley, it often snows up here. By the end of September there will be permanent snow on the ground, mostly in the shadows and the deeper cracks and fissures in the cliffs and talus slopes. Emboldened by the shorter days and cooler nights of October the snow will spread, out of the shadows. It will also begin to accumulate. Eight weeks from today the greens and the riot of color will be a memory, replaced by the browns of the dead and dying. And in twelve short weeks the earth will sleep again beneath a deep and ever deepening blanket of snow while skiers schuss above in celebration.
I watch a calliope hummingbird flit from one flower to the next with seeming nonchalance, although it feels an urgency I cannot see. We both of us know a change is coming to the basin, just as certain as the turning of the earth.