Winter Weather

In the car on the way to dog agility class late Monday afternoon, Fellow was snuffling and chuffing, pressing his nose onto the car window in the way-back. I asked him what he was doing. He didn’t answer. I guess he wishes he could smell things as we pass by. I had heard some news about another storm rolling in, but it hadn’t started by the time we left for class and I didn’t give it much thought. What I did think about was windshield wipers on the inside of the car windows, for dog slobber and nose prints.

The light came on my dashboard saying I needed wiper fluid.

After class, we left as we always do, one owner at a time, minimizing the dangerous chaos of leashed dogs on the stairs, and each of us took turns finding out that the flight of stairs which had been dry when we arrived was now perfectly coated in a very fine layer of almost invisible ice. We dropped our leashes and let the dogs figure it out on their own. The heedless dogs innocently continued down a few steps, slipped, stumbled and fell down the rest of the way, landing surprised but unhurt.  Then we owners made our way down, sideways, clinging to the rail and trying to keep our footing. Of the people, only the instructor actually fell, slipping on the last step before the landing.

Freezing rain is a betrayal. It flies in the face of reason. Here we are, the supposed big-brained, ass-kicking hominid, with a solid grasp of the freezing temperature of water. Freezing rain is a slap in the face of my understanding of when it should snow and when it shouldn’t. It was more than cold enough to snow, and it was raining. I don’t mind driving in snow. I object strongly to driving in freeing rain.

It was 29F and the raindrops were fine, like drizzle, but not gentle like mist. Sprayed. Or blasted. It wasn’t so much as falling as enclosing the early evening in a thick cloak of trouble. Everywhere the pavement  was a slippery beyond slick.

Out on the freeway, everyone was keeping to themselves, going slower than usual, resisting the urge to take the empty left lane. My windshield wipers smeared the rain in two neat, persistent arcs. Keeping the roads salted and plowed is a responsibility local and state government takes seriously in New York, and the drive was reassuringly quiet and straightforward all the way home. Once there, I rolled the garbage cans out for pickup the next morning, and found in a single step that my own driveway was too slick to walk on.

The next day the sun came out and the temperature climbed steadily, hitting 48F in the afternoon. I went to town to try to get some windshield wiper fluid, but went home empty-handed because everyone had beaten me to it.

Captain enjoying a nap on a winter afternoon

We have so much snow on the ground from that big storm a few weeks ago, and two additional significant snowfalls since, that a weirdly warm day clears the pavement and changes the texture of the packed snow without melting it away. I went out in the back yard with the dogs after dark as everything commenced re-freezing. My snowshoeing path along the fence line was hard and uneven and difficult to walk on; the untrodden snow was passable, though soft and wet and noisy to traverse in boots.

Tuesday night

Overnight, the temperatures dropped and the snow froze again. Another storm was expected Thursday. Meanwhile, on Twitter, some of my Texas friends complained of their abnormally cold, snowy disaster. Others, without power or heat or water simply disappeared from the timeline.

Thursday morning the sky was gray but bright–a sky that warned of snow. Snow began to fall in Bedhead Hills about 10 am.

When you live someplace that regularly gets snow, you make arrangements in the fall for someone to come plow the snow off your driveway or acquire the tools for doing it yourself. You chat with friends about the dangers of icicles, the best kind of dog-safe snow-melt and snow shovels. You develop habits like keeping pasta and bacon and eggs and frozen peas on hand so you can make spaghetti carbonara the way you like it and without any notice. You know that your town salted the roads before the storm, and will have the roads cleared of snow as soon as they can. You try to have your furnace serviced once a year. You make plans but you don’t apologize when you have to cancel appointments because of the weather.

Multitasking Fellow watching the bird feeder and having a bone at the same time

I changed from my pajamas into long underwear and snowpants and put on my insulated boots. I wrestled both of the younger dogs into their parkas and tossed my snowshoes out onto the back steps. Fellow barked at me while I monkeyed with the straps.

I opened the gate and the dogs rushed out and down the hill into our woods. They followed the trail for a bit and then plunged into the brush, taking great leaps through the snow. When they disappeared, I called them back, and they came eagerly. I gave them each a small dog treat from my pocket, and sent them off again.

About a month ago, Eggi found a dead snake in the woods. Back then, winter was predicted to be wet but relatively warm, and therefore snowless. She showed me today that she found the snake again, under the snow. Dogs are not wrong: the woods are better than the highway; you can smell more.

Then, Eggi alerted me to the presence of a man, walking alone on the road at the edge of our property. I yelled at her to come, but it was hard to convince her to return to me, and harder still when Fellow chose to back her up and join in the barking. The man stopped walking, probably alarmed by the dogs or the volume and tone of my yelling, and then Fellow turned towards me. My shouts of praise and encouragement brought him all the way in. I gave him more of the dog treats in my pocket and made a big fuss over him. Then I called Eggi again and she gave up her scolding of the stranger.

Eggi and her nose

As the afternoon unfolds, the snow continues to fall. The dogs begin lobbying for an early dinner.

I walked to work

Sunday morning we woke up to snow. It had rained quite hard the night before, and a cold front came in during the night. If there had been snow in the forecast, I missed that news. Anyway, it was not the usual snow of a New York winter, but the heavy, wet, out of season stuff. 



What I saw: I was walking to work in the winter of 2008. We lived in Seattle then. I had a paying job and neighbors I knew. A different life. 

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What I did beforehand: got up, got dressed, got the dogs squared away, got my kids up, did some get-ready-for-school yelling, made my lunch, complained that it wasn’t a snow day, decided whether the walk to school in the slushy snow was going to ruin my boots. The snow hadn’t stuck to the pavement.

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What I wore: tights and boots and a wool skirt. The school had a strict dress code for students. I would have just as soon worn jeans every day, but jeans were only allowed on Fridays, except when there was mass. Mass days were dress-up days. I had a heavy bag full of grading and a sack lunch.

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Who went with me: I walked alone to school—alone with my resentment about the disconnect between my salary and the preparation and challenge of the job. 

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How I got hit in the face with a snowball: I saw him before he threw it. He was standing on his porch, getting his New York Times. 

Why I got hit in the face with a snowball: it doesn’t snow in Seattle very often, and I must have presented an irresistible target.

Things that were sad: it hurt.

Things that were funny (with apologies to Mel Brooks): snowballs that connect with other people are comedy. Snowballs that hit me in the face are tragedy.

Things that were not funny: I had no witty comeback, no arm to retaliate, and no time to do anything except keep walking to my job.

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Something I ate: sweetened iced-tea, a non-fat peach yogurt, a banana and a granola bar that I brought from home, but what I really wanted was a ham sandwich with a lot of mustard on Jewish rye bread, chips, a pickle, and a Coke. Every day when I ate my lunch, lunch-eating-me resented the hell out of lunch-making-me.

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What it is: a harmless prank, committed without forethought, calls for a commensurate reply. Before we moved I used to think about bringing this neighbor a supply of snow from the mountains, which is something you can do in the spring in Seattle, where the mountains are a little over an hour away. Another idea I had involved planting something unexpected in his garden. I never did anything. 


Who should see it: they do say revenge is best served cold, but this one will have to go up to the universe as another un-righted wrong. 


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Snow Days

The kids looked forward to them like they were more special than Christmas Day, and in all the years we lived in Seattle it seems like we never had more than one or two, but snow days are snow days, eagerly watched for the night before, groaned over when the night’s accumulation only yielded a late start at school. The snow day is not loved by adults, certainly not by anyone who must get to work and can’t just phone it in.
 Snow days for some adults are like fretful days spent at home when a child is sick and a sitter can’t be found. Snow days are when the office building is being fumigated for rats, or when there’s an acquisition rumor, or the boss quits abruptly, or the project is cancelled, but, in any case, all the meetings are rescheduled and no one is getting anything done. Snow days are the whole day taken off work for a teacher conference that lasted twenty unproductive minutes and won’t lead to the kid being one bit happier or more adjusted to the school.
Some people seem to know just what to do on a grown-up snow day. They hit the gym, or the spa, or do some sort of whiskey tasting or a day-long iPhone photography seminar. Or, they get new tires, or clean out the garage, or completely reorganize their sewing room, with enough time leftover to can a dozen jars of bourbon roasted-cranberry relish. Some people live like they’re waiting for a snow day, and they know just how they’ll spend it.
Before it began snowing in earnest (we were awaiting Juno), I took the dogs out for the counterclockwise tour of the property. There was thick ice under the current top layer of snow, and the top layer wasn’t quite deep enough for snowshoes, so I went out in snow boots and took a pole. The dogs went fast; they just don’t mind as much as I do the scrambling and slipping. I fell on my ass, once.
We came upon a dead fox that made me sad. Who kills a fox? A bobcat? Bear? Coyotes? Old age? Lover’s quarrel? Turf war? Was it poisoned by neighbors? Should I freeze it and take it to the vet for an autopsy? We’ve been watching a fox all year. We could see it hunting along the bushes. Crouching, pouncing. The cat liked to watch it. The dogs hated the fox, and barked their angriest intruder alerts when it trotted across the upper field in the late morning sunshine. Was this that fox?
By the morning the storm had come, and we’d been promised as much as two feet of snow. I awoke to the bright whiteness of daylight without sunshine. The snow was falling, hard, but the flakes were tiny, light, and seemed determined to stay in the air and never land. Outside the windows facing east and west the snow flew by, horizontally, soundless. It gave me the impression of motion, the way that snow would look from a speeding car. Except we were in the house, and the house wasn’t whizzing along at 26 mph. The dissonance, the mismatch of perceived motion to sensed stillness made me feel a little sick.
 

Following on snowshoes

Later that day, we timed our walk to catch the end of the day and the falling snow. The young dog took off at a run while I struggled with the straps. I enjoy everything about snowshoeing except putting them on; I’m beginning to think I should strap my snow boots into them and leave them strapped in. Out on the property, I have to walk behind my husband, and he is faster and fitter and has longer legs. The old dog will follow closely behind me in the snow if I’m alone, but with my husband here she fills the space between us.
Towards the end of my parents’ marriage they took a last trip to Europe. My mother came back with a week’s worth of Kodak Ektachrome slides mostly featuring my father from about 30 feet behind; she couldn’t keep up and he wouldn’t wait. In a few years, my father moved on to a new career, and a new wife and kid. My mother moved on to a new career, and a new husband and step-kids. While I follow my husband I wonder what he is moving on to. I stop him and ask him to slow down. He is happy to. The dog gallops off to join the other dog.
We passed the dead fox. It was a simple lump, covered completely in snow. The dogs quietly sniffed it again, and moved on.