By Andrew Hennigh, @desolationphoto
The seasonal life. It’s been 13 years for me of bouncing between desert rivers and snowy mountain towns. The seasonal life is not good for quelling financial woes. The seasonal life does not necessarily facilitate healthy relationships. The seasonal life isn’t easy, it breeds anxiety. With a little luck the job you had last season will still be there next season, and the people you grew attached to will still be there and still be full of the same gusto that they had the season before. The seasonal life is full of immense amounts of awe inspiring beauty. The seasonal life breeds the most meaningful relationships any two people could have. The seasonal life perpetuates independence in an otherwise dependent society. There’s no way to imagine not eagerly awaiting the ski season every October and the boating season every March… The seasonal life is the only life for me.
I wrote that while I sat on my BLM Ranger boat on a solo river patrol of the San Juan River a few years back. It has now been 16 years of the seasonal lifestyle and a lot has happened but not much has changed. For 16 years now my life has been recycled every six months: every six months I am uprooted, every six months I relearn old routines. Winter brings early, cold mornings full of uncertainty of what the day will bring. Winter creates relationships with people who will be the only people on Earth who understand what in the Hell it is you’re doing with your life. I’ll be asking those people, some of whom have barely graduated college, to go out onto the mountain and into the storm carrying backpacks full of explosives. I’ll be asking those people to go into avalanche terrain and to decide if that terrain is safe for people who are unaware of what it takes to make a mountain “safe,” people who are unaware of what uncertainty really means.
It’s a funny thing though because the thrill of that wicked environment that is the mountains in winter breeds a longing for the long, warm, relaxing days of summer in the desert. I see it every year, by the beginning of March it is undeniable: the desire for sand between the toes, views of red rock deserts, and the sound of last winter’s snow running through canyon walls takes hold of every ski patroller’s mind well ahead of the spring equinox’s beckoning of the next season. While there are certainly four seasons where I live, I have always lived my seasonal life by winter and summer; spring and fall are just the harbingers of those.
Summer time: early mornings are by design, the heat of the day in the Utah desert requires appropriate timing. Make coffee by headlight, on the river at first daylight, lunchtime is a good time for a siesta in whatever shade is available. It is hard to explain what happens in the early evening along the desert rivers, but essentially everyone and everything comes to life, including the river ranger. Float the river for several more hours taking stock of the flora and fauna that cherish the cooler temps that nighttime along the river brings. A lot of these river patrols I spend my time on the river alone and I think about financial woes, the unhealthy relationships, and the anxiety of never knowing what the next season will bring. Then I think about those people who I have spent so many winters with, the people who are my closest friends, who are my mentors, and the people who I might have passed some wisdom onto. Then I look at the awe inspirnig beauty of Desolation Canyon, and the San Juan River, and the red rock deserts of Utah, the jagged Wasatch, and the wise old Uinta Mountains. I think of the absolute and undeniable freedom that I have in my life, despite what life may bring. I think about winters and summers that have passed and I imagine winters and summers to come. I wonder how long I’ll be able to make this lifesytle work but then I remember that I don’t have any other options, I’m hooked on the seasonal lifestyle.
This winter season is only just halfway over and I can’t help thinking about the summer season to come. One of the biggest challenges of living the seasonal lifestyle is living in the now. There will be lots of good ski days to come this season which will ultimately lead to lots of good river days this summer; river days where I will sit on my boat wondering how in the Hell it is that someone can work the same job year round.