Pikes Peak

Pikes Peak

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The four seasons of Colorado

As we creep up on the first anniversary of our great big adventure to the US, I've started to think about the weather extremes we have experienced. While at home in Canberra we do get to experience four distinct seasons, those seasons are very different to what we are experiencing here.

The first thing to note is that seasons don't align with specific months. At home, summer is always December - February. But here in the US of A the seasons are astronomically aligned. For example, summer this year is 20 June - 21 September. It just seems crazy for the seasons to suddenly change mid-month. But the locals think we're crazy for thinking that just because the month changes so does the season...

The second thing to remember is that geographically Denver is located at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. So we get to experience unique weather patterns due to the mix of the freezing extremes from up high, and the roasting extremes that creep across the eastern plains. It makes for some interesting weather patterns.

And the third thing to pay attention to is that Colorado experiences 300 days of sunshine a year. Yes, you can maintain a great tan line all year round!!

So way back in July when we arrived it was the middle of summer and we were experiencing hot days in the mid to high 30s. It was minus 8 the morning we left Canberra, so the warmer weather was welcome. But what we hadn't expected was the intensity of the sun! Our house sits at 6,000 ft above sea level, and as a result the sun seems more fierce, making it feel hotter than it was reported. (Sidebar: whose stupid idea was it to measure the temperature in the shade, out of the wind!!!)

I spent my mornings sitting on our back deck, sunning myself before it got too hot, and my afternoons lazing in pool at our community club house. Everything was green! Strict watering requirements ensured the world remained lush and vibrant - a very foreign concept to an Aussie who has been taught to take short showers and to not waste water! But I must admit it was a beautiful way to shift hemispheres.

But in the late afternoon, the storm clouds would roll in, obstructing the sunshine and the heavens would open with a wild sound and lighting show. One of my favourite times of day was after dinner when I would curl up on my couch (in my heavily air conditioned lounge room) and watch the rain batter the windows. I cannot describe the peace I felt during those moments. I love the rain!! The creek out the back would fill up each night and giggle and trickle every morning starting my daily routine again. Life was TOUGH!!!

Autumn, stupidly known as Fall in this part of the world, began on 23 September. Unsurprisingly things remained green due to regular watering so "Fall" seemed to be a misnomer. The sun continued to shine brightly though the air became a bit crisper, and they shut the pool :-( But they did blow out the sprinklers in mid-October so we got to stop watering the grass and things started to de-lush-ify (yes - I do have a way with words), beginning to make nature better match up with the season.

Outside the man made lands of suburbia, the forests and mountains turned vivid shades of red, orange and brown. "Leaf chasing" became a state sport with everyone I know running to the mountains to watch nature shed its greenery. And I must admit it was spectacular to watch. Canberra is lovely in Autumn; Northbourne Ave turns into a beautiful postcard of falling leaves and warm colours. But that beauty paled against seeing entire mountain ranges going through the same natural evolution. Being able to watch how it impacted a mountain, with the colours fading as you looked up, starting at green so dark and healthy down low, and shifting through a myriad of colours until the leaves fade out, falling off the trees nearing the sky.

After the intensity of summer, I was ready to wrap myself up in a blanket and read on the deck in the dwindling sunshine, to make some hearty meals - roasts, stews and soups - but before I could settle into the rhythm of my favourite season, the skies opened up again, dumping foot on foot of snow - way before the actual "start" of winter on 21 December. You might remember that the week Zac was born there was a foot snow and we experienced temptatures in the range of minus 20. Not even Mother Nature was prepared for such a downfall. Branches collapsed under the weight of the snow, and sap froze causing trees to snap. It was crazy!!

Several months of snow followed. It seemed every time the ice would almost melt off my street we would get another downfall. Despite the severe weather - an average daily temperature of minus 3 - the sun continued to shine. The mountains wore snowy white mantels and were often obscured in the clouds. From my kitchen window, holding a cup of hot Milo, it was lovely. It was like living in a postcard...

In Australia, there is a myth that snow has clean and peaceful connotations, that once the snow begins to fall the world begins a hibernation that involves sitting in front of a cheerful fireplace - after living a "white winter" I know this postcard to be a LIE!!! Snow is dirty and mushy, hiding layers of black ice that slip you up. You have to wear layers of clothing to walk the shortest distance between your car and the shop door, but when you get inside you need to strip off all your layers and lug them around (GRRRR). Your car gets covered in some sort of black anti-icing salt that is laid on the roads in an attempt to keep the main roads free of black ice. This black c@%p is near impossible to wash off your car windows yourself, so you need to go to a car wash to be able to see out of them. Of course Murphy's Law dictates that every time you do this it snows again!!(double GRRRR).

The world loses its luscious green coat in winter and when you occasionally see the grass it is brown, dead, with bare patches where the bunny population has devoured the roots. It's depressing, worse then seeing drought as at least with drought you know that it has taken several season to reach this point. In my mind it makes no sense for the grass to be dead in the heart of winter when in the heart of summer it is so green you need to wear sunglasses to look directly at it.

When Spring arrived earlier this week (20 March), me and every other Aussie in town was waiting with baited breath for some fair weather. And Denver delivered! Today is a lovely 26 degrees. I'm wearing a dress, and on my little walk around our mini-suburb I saw trees budding and not a trace of ice on the pond or on the paths. It was AWESOME!! But the flip side of this glorious weather is the crazy wind. I mean serious, hurricane like winds - 100km hour. It has shifted my outdoor furniture all over my deck, even blew the table top off. I know we get winds in Spring at home, but this is ridiculous!!

Unfortunately, our seasons of pollen have more in common that high winds. As you may have seen on the news, wildfires are ravishing the mountains. These high gusts have fanned the flames across several thousand hectares of forests and suburbia taking with it 30 homes and three people in three days. But I must say we seem to deal with these catastrophies better. Despite the fire not being at all contained, there are only 400 fighters being circulated on the front, and government is not at all involved in the coordination efforts (though both the Governor and the local Senator made comments that they hoped the state wouldn't be sued due to the destruction of property and people really should ensure they have adequate insurance to reclaim any destroyed property and/or goods...).

So, I've seen the scorching hot sun, the spectacular colour shift of autumn, feet on feet of snow (GRRR!!!), and the rebirth of spring. Four crazy seasons that have similarities to home, but are foreign enough for me to know that it is no longer a 2 hour drive to the coast (don't even get me started on how much I miss the water!!!). But it defiantly has its own unique beauty. And as we move further into the warmer months, I know I'll appreciate it more and more. Especially since there are kids around to kidnap and take to the water park ;-) I've already stocked up on sunscreen (that I had to wear all winter anyway), dusted off my sandels (that had a work out in the ice as well), and bought a new swimsuit better suited to my new Mummy status (and jelly body after a long winter of sitting on my bum). I'm EXCITED!

Now I'm just waiting for the pool to open. You have no idea how buzzed I am to have a pool party for my birthday!!!

Lots of love everyone - I'm off to have a glass of wine on my deck. Anyone in the area is welcome to join me :-)

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