I don’t know about you, but I’m a winter person. I daydream about snow through summer, sneak off to the mountains in autumn to get that sense of oncoming winter, and once the snow arrives, I’m there. My New Year’s Eve is the end of the ski season. Having New Years in the middle of endless summer heat never made sense to me, but the end of the season, when thousands start to head off the mountains and quiet returns, really marks the end of the year for me.
Like other snow addicts I anxiously check the season outlook. Those big falls in May and early June gave me hope for a good season in 2020, in spite of the fact that we just had two great winters and three in a row was going to be pushing our luck.
Then came lockdown 1 and 2, the closure of the VIC resorts, and a pretty ‘uninspiring’ winter.
I was lucky enough to spend almost a month of winter in the mountains. Normally once we have base I head to the alpine – the resort, the sidecountry, or the backcountry. But this winter, with sketchy or minimal snowpack, and the resort and national park closures, I stuck closer to home base, Dinner Plain. And so my experience of winter was really different this year.
I love snow gum forests as much as the next mountain fan. Such charismatic trees, each one different and such diversity of form in a single sub species. This winter, instead of following the high ridges and skiing open terrain I walked in the snow gum forests. A lot. Those places that you know and pass through in the ‘green season’ – Tabletop, JB Plain, Dead Timber Hill, Paw Paw Plain, that long wonderful high ridge that runs from the high point of Hotham into the Cobungra valley, old trade route of the GunaiKurnai people.
What I gained this winter was a reconnection to the Little. To the subtle change as snow cycled to drizzle, and cloud passed through leaving bluebird days, and those glorious days of powder. The sheer diversity of the snow gm forests, dependent on aspect, soil, fire history. You can see where fires have weaved through these forests, torching some areas and sparing others. The view from Dead Timber hill up to the higher mountains, and the wonderful snow gum meadows below Canning Straight. Mornings of ice and frost and that wonderful sound of fresh dry snow underfoot. The understorey, the fire killed trees from 2006/7 and 2013 now falling over, the mad regrowth of saplings in the freshly burnt areas. Bird call, and the ubiquitous presence of the ravens and currawongs.
The high country represents a tiny proportion of our continent. Compared with other mountain ranges, it is utterly unique. It’s good to have your eyes drawn down from the broad sweep of the alpine to the subtle, complex and beautiful reality of the small.