ASPEN - Though the peaks around Aspen have been occasionally dusted with snow off and on for probably more than a month now, I hadn't had cause to come into contact with the cold crunch of an autumn snow. Until last weekend.
I was oddly OK with it.
Friends tell me it was snowing in Aspen proper on Saturday morning, though the first wet flakes to hit the ground in town didn't amount to much, and I didn't see any evidence of winter's debut lining Main Street when I drove into town Sunday morning. The ski runs on Aspen Mountain, however, looked credibly white, starting about halfway up.
I trudged up still-shady Smuggler Mountain Road beneath gray, misty clouds that obscured the mountain peaks and added to the chill. There were few hikers, and the Smuggler cutoff road into the Hunter Creek Valley was quieter still. The sun had yet to burn off the gloom, and I found myself ditching a baseball cap for a knit one - the only spare clothing I had in my possession. I tucked my hands into the ends of my jacket sleeves.
The cutoff road and then the Iowa Shaft Trail were wet, but not muddy. Mushy, brown aspen leaves, withering grasses and a crunchy patchwork of snow covered the forest floor in the deep woods along the route. It was perfectly still - the way it is when fresh snow muffles the world on an early winter morning - except there wasn't nearly enough snow for that effect. I'd have been hard-pressed to form a snowball out of what had collected next to the trail, but the smell of decaying vegetation, the bite in the air and the thin white coating combined to immerse me gently in the change of seasons, even as blue sky began to peek through the clouds.
I never like to see autumn end, and the scant pockets of aspens still clinging resolutely to their gold leaves reminded me why, but I have to say, the hint of winter proved a pleasant taste of what's to come.