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. 

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js


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.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js


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.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js


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. 

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js


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.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js


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.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js


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. 


p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px ‘Helvetica Neue’; color: #454545} p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px ‘Helvetica Neue’; color: #454545; min-height: 14.0px}

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.

Tracks

Two dogs, one chair
When The Graduate visits, the dogs greet him like they were waiting specifically for him since he was last at the farm. Maybe it was a week and maybe it was a month, but they bark and leap and lick and wiggle. When he is getting ready to leave, they watch him pack, their brows furrowed, their ears drooping down the back of their necks, their bodies curled into impossible knots of worry, their long legs sticking out at strange angles as they both try to be on the same wingback chair. They know.
After a year and a half of living at the farm, the dogs know the property. They know where the fox lives, where the latest deer carcass is, where the best corners for marking their territory are. I usually walk them in the afternoon, when it’s warmest. We walk the perimeter, a just-under-three kilometer route, with a hill. I take leashes, just in case, but generally let my dogs run ahead so they can be dogs.
We got snow last week, and then a day of rain followed by some cold nights.  The snow is no longer fresh, and it has an inch-thick frozen crust. Anywhere we have walked, our old tracks are icy from the compression.
Some days, we go counterclockwise, up the hill and then down, and around and up again. Other days, we go clockwise, down the hill and across and up and then down a ways. If the timing is right, I pick clockwise hoping to catch the beginning of sunset at the top of the hill. Dogs don’t care about sunsets.
Cherry is 12 now, and quite white in the face but still willing and interested in running. The icy snow has made it painful for her starting out some days this week; she seems to tiptoe around, her four feet clenched into teeny tiny paw-fists, her steps short and her back roached. She once stopped to complain, and I told her that her feet would be numb soon enough, and I was right.  She galloped ahead of me once she forgot to be upset about her cold paws. We are only ever out for a half an hour, an hour at the most. I make them wear jackets below 40F, and two layers below 20F. I am aware that she could wear boots, but if I buy dog boots I have to make the dog accept wearing dog boots.  Snow is temporary.
So we tough it out, and Cherry copes, staying on top of the snow and leaving only the tightest little prints in the surface of the unbroken snow.
Captain gallops along, full-throttle, his feet spread out wide. Those paws are webbed, for swimming, and make excellent snowshoes, and he’s so relaxed and happy outdoors that he slaps along the cold snow like it’s the best thing to run on. He loves to run on grass, too, of course, and on pavement, as well. He runs uphill and down, through the woods and over the trails, down the marked paths and the unmarked, diving into the bushes and emerging covered in ticks in all seasons except this one. Sometimes I find thorns stuck in him. He is so happy to be running outside, he just doesn’t care.
I pick my path with care. I stick mostly to the path of the day before, putting my steps not into the footsteps of yesterday because they don’t fit, end to end, or front to back. I’m constantly trying not to fall, looking for the best route, but I trust what I did yesterday; I didn’t fall yesterday, I can walk that path today. I fit my feet in the spaces between my tracks from before. Cherry picks her way around. In the iciest patches she walks behind me, in my footprints. Captain’s footfalls leave holes and after a day are great frozen paw prints, sunk down in the snow, like a marker of his impact. His prints are much bigger than his paws ever appear to be. He runs ahead and around and has to be called back.
The snow should all be gone tomorrow. We are expecting a front with warmer temperatures and lots of rain. There will be mud. Perhaps more snow will come again in another week.

Today, I had a Facebook message from an old friend who’d emailed last week and not heard back. My oldest friends use my oldest email, and I never remember to check it. It is always so full of junk (here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here), I avoid it. If she hadn’t used Facebook, I might not have known for another month. It’s not that I’m hiding; I’m just retracing my steps.

Further Adventures Following the Snow Storm

The snow was exciting and our house was warm once we made it in. Not long after, the power went out and we were plunged into darkness.  Snow makes things very quiet, and all we could hear was the sound of trees collapsing under the weight of wet,heavy snow.  It sounded like distant gun-fire.   
My husband, a computer scientist and electrical engineer by training, is a relentless trouble-shooter, and able to build fires in  less than optimal situations. It was necessary to liberate many armloads of firewood from our landlord’s supply, next door, but it was an emergency and only October after all.  Who is ready for winter weather in October?  We were short on batteries, candles, and drinking water, too. But the relentless trouble-shooter kept the fires stoked, and went out for candles and drinking water, and we had a day and a half of comfortable in-house camping.
Monday was when there was no longer enough water in the toilets to flush them, and the relentless trouble-shooter took the train in to the city for work.  School was cancelled for lack of power. Our schedule was full of appointments in the city on Tuesday and Thursday, and NYSE&G was showing on its web site that our power would be restored Friday.  At this point, we decided that a hotel in the city with flushing toilets, hot showers, central heat, and room service was better than a cold house.  The dogs were dropped at the doggy-day-care center where they spent regular times during the summer, and they trotted in as if they’d been there just last week.  The cat, I am sad to admit, was left with three heaping bowls of food, four bowls of water, and our best wishes.  We drove to the city and handed off the car to valet parking.  
Our first order of business was getting a haircut for the son of the relentless trouble-shooter, and mid-town has a barber on almost every block. A decent haircut was obtained, along with several whispered compliments on the handsomeness of the son of the relentless trouble-shooter.  This was embarrassing. Worse, there were people in costumes on the sidewalks of Manhattan, because, of course, it was actually Halloween. 
By Wednesday, NYSE&G had restored power to half of the town, including the school, and students were expected back. I stopped by the house to check on the cat, and while he was a little chilly, he was in good spirits and did not seem distressed. Outdoors, I could hear the drone of the neighbors’ generators.  Our power returned Thursday, although our internet service was not restored until late Friday. 
I have spoken to the landlord about stealing their firewood, and placed an order for our own supply. 

An Account of our Adventure in the Snow Storm, 29 October 2011

We left the barn about 12:30, stopping for lunch and gas. I remarked that the gas station was full at every pump, but it seemed like a Saturday-thing, not a storm-thing. I suggested we stop at a grocery store on the way home since they are few and far between out here. Later, I would catch a lot of grief for making this stop. When we emerged from the store it was snowing hard, and we drove home on unplowed highways. 
There were three different jack-knifed big-rigs on I-84, and a number of slow-downs for these obstacles and an equal number of rolled-over passenger cars. Many people were able to drive skillfully in the snow, but there were notable exceptions. A woman in a rear-wheel-drive Lexus sedan was all over the road, passing cars and aggressively maneuvering for a better position until she hit a snowy uphill patch. As we passed her, she had begun fruitlessly spinning her tires and sliding backwards. It was not going to be ending well for her. Another car I remember passing as it was losing control was one of those tiny Honda mini-SUVs; this driver had obviously chosen the “no-traction package.” 
Everywhere I have ever lived people complain about the local drivers. In St. Louis, there is a peculiar rolling stop drivers employ at stop-signs. In Vermont, there were the Mad-Max style jacked up pick-ups you steered clear of. In Utah, there were unnaturally slow drivers, and a courtesy left turn that drivers would wave you permission to take at the beginning of the light's rotation. In California, there were those who would speed up as soon as you signaled, preventing you from moving into their lane. In Seattle, everyone complains that “people can’t drive in the rain” or “people can’t drive in snow.” I have lived in New York almost four months, but in that time I have driven over nine thousand miles. Drivers in the city are aggressive, but I find them largely competent and fairly predictable. Outside of the city, there seems to be a general disregard for staying in one’s lane or obeying the posted speed limit. Overall, I would say that people are not so bad at driving. No one is quite as good as they think they are, and other people are not as bad as others complain. 
Once off the freeway we had more real excitement to negotiate. Trees were losing their snow-laden limbs in the direction of least resistance, typically onto the road. In some places the limbs had not even fallen yet, but were bowed nearly to the ground under the weight of the wet heavy snow. There were downed power lines, and the most dramatic accident: a car, nose down in a road-side ditch, with a right rear wheel two and a half feet above the pavement.
Finally home, we found our unplowed gravel driveway was impassable due to the grove of bamboo planted at the top. It was pressed to the ground under the weight of the snow. 





Thinking about the Weather

I walked the dogs yesterday, and was caught in a hail storm.
One dog found it distressing and wanted to drag us all straight home. The other dog seemed to think it was pretty exciting.
I don’t thing Seattle has suffered from as many severe winter storms this year as other parts of the U.S., although I was in Arizona last week and missed that one.  Getting caught in a storm does make me wonder what weather is going to look like five or ten or twenty years from now as the catastrophic effects of greenhouse gas emissions become a permanent part of our seasons. Tornadoes? Tsunamis? Torrential rain storms? Mud slides? Wild fires? Winds that tear our roofs off?
Will our homeowner’s insurance need special riders for coverage of specific weather events, or will we have to obtain separate insurance as we do for earthquakes?
After seventeen years in the Pacific Northwest, I have grown accustomed to getting wet and muddy on a regular basis. I have adequate rain gear for most conditions, but I’m wondering if I will start to need to carry a shovel.