Mountain Mumbles

The author’s dog, Jolene, supervises a mystery plant in the haphazardly constructed garden.

I’m used to seeing the mountains through two distinct lenses. From about the end of September through the beginning of May I see them as a skier. I care about coverage, about avalanche cycles, fresh snow, new lines, bootpacks and bowls. But then, at some point my ski boots smell too bad, it’s too sunny out and I long to ride my bike again. And then all my priorities flip 180 degrees.

I spent the autumn trying to figure out if we had enough coverage to wander up into the hills and try to ski something, but I now spend my spring praying that snow has melted enough to dry out some singletrack. It’s a perpetual state of frenzied desire. There’s only a few months in the middle of each season when I’m really comfortable and happy with conditions. Otherwise I’m just shaking my fist at the clouds, praying that it snows or that it doesn’t, depending on my whims.

That means that, as a mountain biker, for me the last few weeks of rain and snow bouncing back and forth with beautiful sunny days has been frustrating. Luckily though, I’ve gained another lens to view this spring with: a garden.

I’ve never been a gardener. I’ve never wanted to be a gardener. I’ve been happy all my life eating the fruits (and vegetables) of other peoples’ gardening, and pretending to know what they’re talking about when I end up in conversations with actual gardeners. Last fall I stuck some garlic in the overgrown garden bed in the yard, and then shoveled all the dog poop onto it all winter, before the whole thing got so gross that I tore it up and buried it all. No part of either of my thumbs is green, at all.

But this spring I did two things: I took a skid-steer to the backyard and tore it all up, and then I stuck two wooden garden beds out there. I stood on the porch, dusted off my hands, and surveyed my handiwork, a barren desert of rocks and dirt with two empty boxes in it. A job well done. Except that when it rains the dogs come in from their daily ablutions muddy and disgusting. So I planted grass seed, which didn’t grow for reasons that all of my gardening friends explained to me and I promptly forgot.

The garden beds were a different matter. We’ve been aimlessly composting for a year now, by which I mean, I made a compost bin and we stick all the stuff that seems like it should compost into it, and then yell at the dogs and shoo the raccoons away when they try to eat from it. So I held my nose and dug up a bunch of random stuff from the compost bin and stuck it in my new planters. It turns out, those compostable paper bowls don’t just magically turn into dirt after two weeks in the compost bin. So my garden beds had some random bowls sticking out of them. Again, according to my gardening friends, this is not the way to do this. I don’t remember why, but they told me and it made sense. But I didn’t really care, I mixed in some dirt, and then the next time I was at the grocery store, I looked at all the vegetables on my shopping list, and then bought seeds for all of them.

I should have kept the seed packets, and I should have written down what I planted where, but I didn’t. And I don’t really care. It turns out that when I’m skiing or mountain biking I have to put a lot of thought and effort into being prepared. Beacon checks and bike checks and spare parts and extra food and water dominate my mind. But with gardening, I’ve decided I’m just gonna stick stuff in the dirt and see what comes out. Because unlike skiing or mountain biking, if things go south, I’m not going to be stranded overnight in a blizzard. There’s just no situation I can think of where my bad gardening necessitates calling SAR. So I garden with abandon.

Now, about a month after haphazardly planting my garden, it’s making me more content with the weather. The mountain biker in me is over the rain. I want to ride dry trail, now! But my garden seems to like the rain, a lot. And when it rains I don’t have to remember to water it. Sure, this snow was a setback, but all my little plants still seem happy a few days later, so I’m not too worried.

Sure, there are setbacks. The dogs like rooting around in the garden for compost bits. A small child has been pulling up my baby garlics to show her mom how well they’re growing. I have no idea what 60% of the plants that are growing in my beds are; they’re either kale or some kind of flowerless dandelion. But it’s worth it. When it’s too wet to ride my bike I can go pull the stuff that I think is weeds out of the garden bed, and maybe by the time I’m itching to go skiing I’ll be able to saute an onion I grew myself. Or maybe those ones are carrots, I’m really not sure, but I’ll dig them all up at the end of bike season and see what I’ve been growing this whole time.

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

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