Midwinter warm spells reveal the dirtier side of the season. All it takes is a few sunny afternoons to melt away the thin blanket of snow that keeps everything looking like a fairy tale set. Just a few degrees of temperature fluctuation and the once pristine snowbanks begin to reveal their true composition.

In my backyard I can judge how good the skiing’s going to be based on the dog poop. The dogs head out to the yard to take care of their business roughly every morning and evening. I clean up all the dog poop every day around midmorning. So if I wake up and head out to clean the yard and can’t find any, that means it snowed enough the night before to hide all the evidence. Or the dogs are seriously constipated. Either way, I’m going skiing.

But occasionally I’ll wake up and walk to the back window to be met by a nightmarish scene that forces me to make sure I’m not still dreaming. A midafternoon thaw that takes just an inch or two off of the yard’s overall snowpack is plenty to reveal every poop pile I’ve missed all winter. They pepper the once perfectly white backyard, stinky reminders that the dog needs to eat less human food.

The first time this happened I imagined that maybe every dog in town had snuck into the yard the night before to relieve itself. The amount of waste was incredible. I looked accusingly at my dog, Jolene.

“Did you do all of this when we let you out last night?”

She didn’t have a plausible response, but that’s typical for her. Then I remembered the incessant dripping the evening before. The frustrating sun on my computer screen all afternoon, the brief episode when I considered taking off my shirt and trying to tan a little while I worked. I apologized to my dog for overestimating the power of her digestive system and resolved to be more aggressive with the pooper scooper next time it warmed up.

Since then the visibility of canine fecal matter has proven to be a more reliable indicator of whether I want to go skiing than any online snow report. The only time it’s faulty is when someone else in the house decides to go rogue and clean up the yard. Then I’m left thinking it’s been snowing so fast the dog doo was covered before I even let her back in. That sort of misassumption leads to short and disappointing days at the ski hill.

A few consecutive mornings of dropping-spotted yard are discouraging for several reasons. Obviously, it means it hasn’t been snowing. But also, how many layers of snow and dog poop are out there?

This January I spent a week or so wrestling with that problem, shaking my fist at the sky and screaming “Why won’t it snow!?” and “Why does Jolene go to the bathroom so much!?” She had no answer, instead sniffing one of the piles inquisitively, pretending that she wasn’t intimately acquainted with its composition.

In midwinter you can tell it’s really gotten cold and inhospitable up high when the deer start leaving droppings in the yard. The neighbor’s chihuahua screams his protest at them from the window and Jo chews on an antler they left.

Inevitably, though, our midwinter warm spells snap. Snow returns, the incessant dripping from the roofline turns to icicles overnight and the backyard turns back into a blank canvas, just waiting for me to lose the dog’s Frisbee in it. The holiday crowds dissipate and all returns to how it should be in the mountains.

Of course, as the season goes on that yard matrix has to shift a little to adjust. At some point in March or April the grass will probably start showing through a little, and we’ll start getting rain down low as it snows up high.

We’ll look forward to sunny afternoons and slushy snow as onesies and straight skis appear from closets. Eventually I’ll have to move to other indicators, the overwhelming amount of dog droppings along the Mount Glory bootpack maybe, or the multitude of little blue bags along the powerline road. The yard will be bare of snow, slowly greening, and my ski boots will stink with that unmistakable spring funk. My mind will drift to bikes and long days in the sun, and every passing day will make it a little harder to motivate myself to go skiing.

Until then, though, life is good. This morning the yard was a perfect blanket of snow, untracked by dog or deer. And with any luck we’ll have a few more days of that this week. So ski pow until the dog poop shows — it’s all we can do in the winter.

Cy Whitling writes every other week on living and playing in the mountains. Contact him via columnists@jhnewsandguide.com.

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