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Why I Was A Self-Appointed
Inspector Of Snowstorms

By Douglas Herman

The pond rises and falls, but whether regularly or not, and within what period, nobody knows, though, as usual, many pretend to know.” - Walden, Henry David Thoreau

Climate is exactly like teenagers: Always changing and always unpredictable. I’m old enough to remember when esteemed climatologists believed the world was entering a new ice age in the late Seventies and early Eighties. Then, only recently, these same esteemed scientists, were busy predicting California was entering a new period of long term drought, comparable to the Pre-Columbian drought here in the Southwestern states of America that effected the Anasazi migrations. With the drought suddenly lifting in California, we see flash flood watches everywhere there. Perhaps, to be more correct, we should say: Climatologists are exactly like teenagers: Always changing and always unpredictable.

In the interest of science and also as a tribute to one of America’s foremost naturalists, Thoreau, I decided to become a self-appointed inspector of snowstorms. I decided to drive north from Phoenix and personally inspect Mormon Lake in the Arizona high country. Frustrated by Google Earth, and the months (or years?) lapse in real time views, I decided to go there and see for myself whether the lake actually existed.

Twenty five years ago, I rode around the shallow lake on a motorcycle. My girlfriend and I camped in the forest a mile outside of the village. That night we hiked along the two lane blacktop to the local restaurant. A herd of elk ambled down to the water, illumined by the headlight of approaching cars. At the eatery that evening, I recalled seeing several large, trophy-size Northern Pike mounted on the walls. Being a fisherman, the sight of such large fish, caught in the nearby lake, interested me.

Then, six or eight years ago, I drove around the lake with Annie, a Norwegian woman, interested in western Americana. Sadly, the shallow lake had all but disappeared and only a grassy meadow remained.

But with the recent climate change, with rainfall threatening drought / flood - afflicted California, I wondered whether Mormon Lake had begun to fill again. Would the fishery return? Would snowstorms be worth inspecting?

Highway 87 north to Payson, during the winter weekdays, is a wonderful, sparsely traveled stretch of highway. Snowbirds prefer the Indian casinos, I suppose. My little old sedan, Goldie, a 1985 Toyota Tercel, gasped onward, towards the top of the Mogollon Rim, passing through Payson at 5,000 feet elevation. From a distance of 30 miles a traveler could see the snow-fringed edge, just beyond the little villages of Pine and Strawberry.

Once atop the rim, the road topped 7,400 feet and snow lingered. A month ago almost two feet of snow had fallen around Mormon Lake in a single snowstorm. I wondered whether any remained. I wondered if the snow melt would suffice to fill the broad lake.

Why should we care? Why should we be like Thoreau and take a closer look around at nature? Because we are ALL of us comprised of the bits and pieces of all the lakes and streams and rivers and oceans on the planet. Every dragonfly and mastodon, every mosquito and stegosaurus, every bird and mammal and plant that ever lived is flowing through us. Every human, saint and sinner, that ever lived and died, left the better part of themselves in an ethereal mist. We breathe in that mist every day. Every droplet and rivulet and snowflake that falls was once within some living thing. We’re just part of the continuing cycle of living water, liquid-centered bipeds, refreshed by “pure” spring water, the eyes in our head soothed by seeing pools of water, saddened by seeing dry lakebeds.

The fish I catch is me. I realized this years ago. They stare at me with widened eyes, like kinfolk about to die. Snared and soon to be eaten, the living water of life evaporating from them and me, to fall again and again and again, somewhere on the planet. In the Himalayas or the Sierras, or right here in Mormon Lake, Arizona, as snowfall.

The signpost at the village said: Mormon Lake: population 50 to 5,000. The population is seasonal, like the weather. I spoke to a young woman in the store. “I’ve lived here five years now,” she said, “and this is the fullest the lake has been.”

Outside the store I scanned the lake bed. Then I scanned the slopes. Not nearly enough snow there. A pair of gray squirrels scampered past the rear of the store. Still a lot of lake bed lay exposed, I thought. If I was a glass-is-half-full kind of guy, I would say the lake is well on its way. Only another two or three feet in height before it’s full again.

At an elevated overlook on the eastern shore of the lake, I could see 12,633 foot Humphreys Peak to the north, near Flagstaff. Snow flanked the slopes of the mountain but not in any great volume. I wondered; what if the climate changed to a wetter period? Scientists are often wrong, like the rest of us. If climate change ­ Global Warming ­ is indeed a long term trend, then why aren’t we seeing a steady sea level rise anywhere. But FEET rather than fractions of inches?

Snowpocalypse is about the bury New England - again. Who knew winter happened anymore, what with climatologists saying global warming was the new trend? A part of me ­ and probably a part of most humans ­ would love seeing this lake filled again. Would love seeing that lake within ourselves filled again, thrilled by the sparkling blue returning.

Douglas Alan Herman wrote The Guns of Dallas and directed the feature film Caution to The Wind, set in parts of Arizona.