Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Snow: Day Two - The Aftermath

When I parked my truck across the highway from the inn last night, I made sure I backed it off the road by eight feet or so--far from the work of the snowplows. I woke to no new snow and a dazzling view of the twinkling lights of the valley below under clear skies. Perfect. I wouldn't have to do much shoveling to get the truck back on the road headed toward work--but just in case, I planned to leave the cabin at 5:30.

Having a routine is important; packing is critical. I have to remember to bring shoes to change into at work, dry socks, extra gloves, and so forth (and my lunch--and my keys). Finally, at 5:45, I was ready: I was wearing jeans tucked into tall rubber boots, with waterproof pants over the jeans, plus a sweater, a jacket, and another waterproof jacket with hood, my ear muffs, gloves and my headlamp. (What would I do without it??) The experience of walking through the snow with the headlamp is amazing and hard to describe. You've seen those scenes in stadiums--the Olympics is a good example--where thousands of cameras are flashing in the dark; that's what it's like. As you walk, the light hits the crystals in the snow, creating a dazzling show like light refracting in a million tiny diamonds. It's gorgeous.

The beauty took my mind off my frozen hand. I had to carry a shovel down, plus the squeegee to clear snow and ice from the windshield. I put both in one hand and stuck the other hand in my pocket, so at least only one hand was freezing at a time. It's not far, about a ten-minute walk, so it was fine, really. And when I reached the highway, I could see Sparkle, my trusty little Tacoma, looking just about ready for our slow ride down the mountain. Then I walked around to the far side of the truck. Just for fun, I'm sure, the snowplow boys had veered way off the highway, piling a nice huge berm against the tires on that side. Did I mention that temps were far below freezing last night? The chunks of snow were huge blocks of ice that I would have to break apart, then move aside in order to dig out the wheels. Ever see the movie Rainman? Remember when Tom Cruise is walking around the field kicking things, screaming SON OF A BITCH? Yeah, that was me. But only in my head; I didn't want to wake the neighbors.

There was a thick crust of ice on the windshield, so I wanted to start the truck and slowly warm it up in the cab so the ice would melt. But first, I had to get the door open, because it was frozen shut. It took me a few attempts, but I was finally able to pry it open and start the truck. I put my backpack inside on the seat, and I took off the headlamp. The sun hadn't risen, but the moon on the snow provided enough light for me to see where I was jamming the shovel.

After half an hour of shoveling, the ice on the windshield was still hard as rock--and I could no longer feel my fingers or toes. I sat in the warm cab for a few minutes, cursing the snowploy boys and laughing. After another fifteen minutes, I had the truck free of ice, and the windshield was warm enough to scrape a spot clear. Time to head out. Sparkle bucked and tossed a bit, but she finally broke free of the ice and clambored up out of her spot, rolling onto the highway. I put my flashers on while I drove at 10mph, pumping the brakes and making sure all machinery was functioning properly. Then, in low gear, I began to slowly roll down the mountain.

Along the switchbacks, I saw a young man in an F250 with emergency flashers on, so I pulled up to him and stopped, opening my door (since the window was still frozen) to ask if he was OK.

"Yeah," he shrugged. "I'm just waiting for my friends. They got stuck down the road so they're walking up." Nice guy. His friends were a quarter mile down the road, walking gingerly over the frozen pavement, slipping and sliding. I'm sure they were on their way to ski. I can smell those guys a mile away--always impatient, in a hurry, unprepared for the cold or the conditions. Hope they had a great day.

Finally to work, I walked up to my classroom still in snow gear, then did my quick-change routine as the heater began to warm up the room. (It was 46 degrees in there--not really welcoming.) After a good day with the kids, it was back up the hill--this time I parked about 30 feet up our little road, plunging through a foot of snow as I pulled into an open spot. Tomorrow morning, I'll walk down early but simply drive out--no digging.

One of my students asked me today, "If it's such a hassle, why do you live up there?" As I've said so many times, it's nearly impossible to describe the overwhelming beauty. This morning, as the sky began to lighten, I would look up from my shoveling from time to time to the summit of Mt Baldy. It was covered in snow tinted pink by the rising sun. This evening, as I locked the truck at 4:30 and began my walk up the road to the cabin, the sun had gone down over the western ridge, and the slopes on the opposite side of the canyon were aglow with the last honey-golden light before dusk. Tomorrow morning I will watch for diamonds in the snow, breathe in the clear, cold air, and feel blessed once again.


  1. My hat is off to you for the effort, but as you mentioned there are rewards. My head is cold gotta put my hat back on now..

  2. Please keep blogging about your snow experiences. We lowlanders (is that the word) love living vicariously, and you are a master at imagery. Libby

  3. Thanks for your comments, you two! OK, Libby, I'll continue--I can't help but write about all this!

  4. You paint such a lovely landscape. Where is this place?

  5. Char, thank you. Mt Baldy is in the San Gabriel mountain range in Southern California. There is a village nestled partway up the mountain, at about 4,000 ft. elevation. Further up the mountain there is a ski lift. I live in that neighborhood, at 6200 ft. From this chair where I sit now, I can see all the way down to the valley if it's clear--which it isn't, at this moment. I've just arrived home from work, parking my truck (for the second time this winter) down at the bottom of our unplowed road and walking up the last quarter mile. The snow is soft and pure, the air quiet with the calm between storms.