Monday’s Meander: Historic Ice Storm (and a Cheery Walk)

It has been four days of snow and ice until, blessedly, last night around 3 or 4 am it began to simply rain at 34 degrees fahrenheit. I don’t have statistics for this post, but it is considered an historic event, and Oregon isn’t the only state so impacted. I’ll learn more about damage, hear some difficult stories here. We lost power twice for varying time frames. It got very cold so fast–within 3 hours– in our townhome apartment. Last night was the worst, lying in bed and hearing greatly amplified pop, crackle, creak and snap and such explosive noises as weighted trees groaned then fell, and transformers ceased to work. Branches broke off, skidded across roofs and ice chunks rapidly followed, crashing onto buildings, balconies, patios, cars. I worried about the grove of pines on a small hill across from our place. We moved downstairs to the living room. But bangs and thuds continued just past our widows from the many pines and alders lining a steeper hill below us–many branches overhang homes.

Still, I wasn’t prepared for the amount of damage when we finally went outdoors this afternoon: countless trees had fallen, branches were strewn in odd places, a few cars had been bashed. And mine, included. Turns out I had a good reason to worry about the trees last night–but it wasn’t pines, afterall. It was a weakened alder tree way past my car that crashed, hit first one vehicle’s hood then my trunk.

Below, an end of our balcony overlooking thickets of trees that cover a steep descent–and this is before the thick ice layers.

I grew up in Michigan; snow was nothing much to be concerned about, even days of thick swirling snowfall. It go down to zero degrees often. But I haven’t lived in MI. for decades and snow in this Oregon Valley isn’t usual–and rarely with snow, ice pellets then sleety rain and more snow falling for days. This area is simply not prepared for events of this scope, nor for for so long. And we live on a steep side of an extinct volcano. So we were trapped with others who live in these SW hills. We did have candles and flashlights and lots of blankets–we had cheese and crackers and bread and peanut butter when all else failed!

Below: a corner of our power-less living room; other views just beyond LR windows. The branch to the left was displaced-due to icy weight-by about ten feet, but it didn’t break yet, surprisingly!

We had to empty the refrigerator and freezer of unsafe food but we can b uy more tomorrow. My car is driveable; the trunk can wait for repair (insurance will likely not cover it–it’s an act of God/weather disaster). It could be worse, yes. But it has been quite enough. We had frightening wildfires in the fall that kept us on edge, were locked indoors due to smoke and threat of fire. And my husband’s sudden job loss. And the virus which seems to be ever with us even as we hope for at least containment (no vaccinations for our age group yet).

It takes alot for me to get bone tired and out of emotional steam. I have a history of persevering despite many roadblocks, as many do. We are resilient creatures. But I write this with such weariness. I need sleep, and to take a pause mentally and spiritually. Life will keep happening, bitter and sweet. We weep, we gripe. We clean up and then go on. And this morning before our power came back again and even rainfall ceased, Marc heated water on the gas grill on the balcony to make tea. I was so grateful for that; my chai was so delicious with a bowl of cereal. I felt rejuvenated with that mug in hand.

Off we go.

Several folks were out chatting a couple blocks away with mug or beer in hand—like an impromptu storm party!

Most pictures posted were taken a day before the worst of it, so it was still not so hard to walk carefully. We admired iced bushes and trees and snow-softened landscape, enjoyed families out playing. Great exercise! I’m glad I have these to look at in the future, the Oregon snow and ice storm of 2021, even if it pales in some ways to the old Michigan blizzards.

I did not see the guy or gal who was to be shoveling…
Awestruck kids and mom–I like the bear ears on her hat.
Above, Marc captured me in a picture. More families at play–and typical heavy, low-hanging boughs.I found the grass lovely.

The pictures above are of my paisley Velvety Gloves (yes, they’re have a name…a story told before in posts), displaying more crystalline twigs and needles.

A glimpse of how steep our neighborhood is in many places.
Dog walkers coaxed most dogs along.
Marc is patiently waiting for me. The road seemed another walking option, as very few cars came by, and slowly.
Next time we pass by, perhaps the crocus and snowdrop blossoms will be bobbing in a gentler breeze again.

Wednesday’s Word/Nonfiction: Ephemeral Snow v. Midwest Snow

I felt last night that something interesting was brewing as the sun was setting. The radiant orange sky was adorned with a mock bas relief: towering clouds that spread like a fiery blanket over woods and then distant mountains. And the weather forecast also had me sniffing the air for any hint of snowfall. I usually stay on the fence about our changeable weather, and Willamette Valley weather folks are on the fence about snow showers actually showing up at any time. But I live higher than most Portlanders at 800 feet above sea level–it is colder here and lasts longer. Even my car’s temperature indicator pinged at me, indicating freezing temps. It was within grasp on the edge of the breeze, that sharp sweetness of a coming snow.

After all, snow was something to get excited about–we had had none here this winter. The Cascade and Coast Mountain ranges get plenty but I have wishes far greater than reality. My twin granddaughters had already gotten to play in the superior mountain snow, even sled down with their parents and tasted a bunch. Two other (teenaged) grandkids are used to winter’s plentiful fluff in their city, at a higher elevation of much colder central Oregon. But here I was with face to the windows, opening the balcony doors–waiting, waiting.

It took until the next day but it came. Yes, I know, it is clearly nowhere close to being a white-out snow…but it was still a pleasant thrill. It was drifty and soft and bright–it was not, thank goodness, more rain.

That was about it, yet it felt so good, a relief to stand outside and have wispy, sometimes globby flakes land on my face, feel sharper wind as it pressed against more weighted pine branches; they swayed a bit to and fro as if in welcome. There were many grey-on-white foot prints. My hands cupped chilled softness to shape a snowball–it was good packing snow despite the limited amount. I stood on the balcony that overlooks many pines and absorbed a breath-giving freshness of air, the taste of it almost a wintery dessert. For a few minutes I leaned against the house, coatless, arms held close about myself. I wanted to feel the slightest elegant power of snowfall, take deep its lingering quietude.

I shared my hasty snaps of the snow with my five adult kids because they know of the variety of more relentless winter events, the voluptuous kinds that coat everything with its generous displays. They lived many years in the Great Lakes State as did their parents. We traded pictures of their snow levels and mine along with a few memories. It was an immediate reconnection to a different space emotionally. Anyone who lives with snow for months every winter knows how this is, how it shapes your internalized landscape of life.

Today my youngest, Alexandra–one who lives in the metro area–checked in on me. She had earlier sent photos of her 20 month old little girls frolicking in a lot of snow on Mt. Hood a week ago, tasting quite a bit as they played. She asked how I was doing, meaning: how is it going with weather/virus statistics/vaccine roll out pushed back farther for too many/political changes/restlessness, as I like freedom to move a lot/life with her dad being yet unemployed. I answered, “Fair to Midland”, a dumb old gag that originated who knows where. In fact, I grew up in Midland, Michigan (she with her four siblings lived in that city awhile, as well; they’d often visited my parents/their grandparents). So it slipped out, innocuous if truthful. Maybe it was triggered by the snow the night before..ah, yes, Michigan snow…So a “Midland” designation could be pretty good or it might be a slight bit better than fair. I was feeling more the second. Life in itself can be fatiguing.

However, I also had been considering experiences to write about for this nonfiction blog post today. Since we were chatting, I asked my daughter to throw out a random idea or phrase (she writes a lot, too).

She said, “Melting snow–or fingernail painting.”

“Not fingernail stuff, I’d get three lines out of that one today. But snow….snow sledding, snow people and snow houses, heavy pants and coats and wet mittens and snowballs fights, giant snow drifts….”

“Wait, are you writing about snow? It has to be snow melting.”

“Oh,” I said. “Okay then, snow melting right before spring with green shoots underneath, or the demise of snow in the greater world, or watery snow in ditches that become creek beds and mountain rivers rushing from snow melt. That crappy moment the sled won’t budge because the runners are gunked up with mud taking over the once-snowy spots. But–a bit sad?”

She quickly responded: “The snowperson feels her own face slowly disappear. Her eyes first, an escape from the stare of an angry sun. Her nose, a frozen lump receding, and with it scents of earth and wet. Too late to yell out, to petition the clouds to dispense more of the clay that builds her bones: snow…” She paused. “But, anyway, mud sledding sounds sort of fun.”

I was quite taken with her melting snow lady scene; it was an entire story in a few sentences. I was hoping for more. “Oh boy! Can I quote you on that?” Meaning: can I use this for today’s post or better yet, will you write it for me?

“Sure–but I’m kinda depressed so not the best storyline.”

“We all have been kinda depressed off and on. Fatigued, worn out by it all. Anyway, I love you.”

She gave me her love with hugs and got back to her now-virtual work duties. I got my hiking boots on–I had to get outdoors. Rain–for months now–or snow, daylight or dusk: moving beyond my front door and into the world and nature’s domain is a ritual I well keep. A routine, an opportunity for discovery and more good moments. It’s praying on two feet moving, with all senses attuned. And maybe I’d still find a bit of snow.

So I went on a trek in search of snow, up and down hills, pinpointing evidence of yesterday’s flurry of frozen rain. There was pitiful little. The air held a steely edge as I wove in and out of treed areas, the sky grey and weighted as pewter, damp breezes sliding over hair and face. The temperature had risen overnight to 43 degrees Fahrenheit; snow had about all melted. My thick sweater and LLBean jacket with a hood encouraged heat and sweat as I tramped winding walkways. But there was a whisper of it, tiny clues here and there that snow had landed and stayed long enough to entice, to make me remember the lavish and treacherous, the magical snows of my youth.

The creeks were burbling and rushing downhill, pleased with increased wet volume. But trees and earth looked a little forlorn, not dressed with leaves nor with snow, caught at an in-between stage. I know they wait patiently for all that comes, live on in anticipation of matters and happenings they know far better than do I, and so I bid them a good day and kept on.

But as for the snow of my childhood and youth that is not here today…That kind of snowfall provided an entry into a differently populated, newly designed world. Everything lost its edges, was rounded, gave off a bright sheen. The earth with its plant kingdom and humanly created structures were refashioned into ghostly or gaudy versions of themselves, depending on laydown of any light. Before the snowfall, all that was ordinary and reliable transformed into magical and mysterious.

How many routes were carved through heavy snow? Year after year. Around our two story yellow house, forging the deep path with my heavy boots– into the front, side and back yards, about the juniper (and sleeping forsythia) bushes, back to the big maple and circling the bloomless cherry tree, then turning finally toward Stark’s Nursery that went on forever behind our bushes and pines. Each venture was a new exploration. I felt brave and hearty as I trudged into the howling center of winter, dragging my wooden sled behind me, face to snow’s kisses. I’d gather small branches and pine cones to be settled on the sled for delivery elsewhere, or carry a pyramid of snowballs for surprise battle with my sister if she roused herself (or any other who dared challenge). Or, too, my doll–dear Lady Jane, a beautiful walking doll, my favorite–warmly protected and wrapped in Mother’s dress fabric remnants or an old woolen scarf. It was the elements and us.

I could have headed to a good sledding hill with my sister and brother, as often I did. I might have gone to City Forest to enjoy gargantuan toboggan ice runs constructed high up, the rides down a fast rattle and flash with a sprawling crash into packed hard snow. I might have skated more often than anything; it was a passion. Good ice (shiny smooth if possible, free of snow) or bad ice, it made no difference. (Figure skating required and provided other things–the best clean ice, hours of hard, happy work with thrilling small successes.) I occasionally went skiing with a friend whose family did that sort of thing–mine did not–and when I made it down “bunny hills” without falling, I fell in love with its speed and athletic delight.

But in childhood and into my teens I just had to go forth into that driving snow. Especially the first few snows. It swirled about and stung my cheeks, tweaked my nose, crusted lashes and eyebrows crystalline. I was never lonely; I was fully alive and free. There were cardinals, blue jays, other winter birds and squirrels scampering about. And the tree nursery was a wilderness of loveliness any direction I looked, snow a glittering veil, trees and bushe ands small creatures adorned in beauty. If I got thirsty I found and broke off an icicle to slurp as it melted in heat of my mouth. Some were long enough to be a sword, three feet long or more, sharp as a big needle point on the end. Just in case. Just because I was on an exploration and nothing must stop me.

There were fortresses, cabins or castles out there somewhere, weren’t there?– I would find them and make a fire, warm fingers and toes of Lady Jane in my palms, make a porridge of melted snow and pine needles and old moss. I was never afraid of darkness gathering, the shadows lengthening, then widening upon undulating stretches of creamy whiteness. Like satin bordered with lace, like a huge blankets speckled with earth.

Back around the house, a streetlight swung in the wind as more snow blew in, lifted and drifted. Light and dark chased one another as I began packing snow blocks one against another in tall drifts left by the snowplows. I could crawl inside if I scrunched myself into a tidy ball. The snow blew across the yard in waves so high that freezing flakes slipped over my boot tops and under the legs of my snow pants–then warmed and trickled down my ankles. But a snow house was in the making and unless my family called me in, I was out for the duration.

When all was completed and I finally wearied of the cold, the cold, wet garments would come off, then I’d warm up and dry off by the hot air register (the burning sensation making me aware how cold my hands had gotten). One was positioned right behind a big chair and I could hide there a bit, rest and be happy. Nose ran, cheeks flamed, eyes were wide and bright. Soon scents of dinner would overcome me, simple pork chops or roast beef, potatoes, brussel sprouts, beets with salad. I was home again. All was well in those fine moments.

In Michigan when the snow began to melt, I felt little by little a welling up of sadness. I was not a springtime girl despite being born in April. It was the passage of winter to spring that I least loved. The slipping away of winter’s wonderment seemed a slow counting of tender losses: the enrapt silence of snow fallen, and its soft sifting and clicking against plant life and human bodies; cars cruising through slush, houses made friendlier. The odd emptiness of the world when blizzard conditions occurred and snow fell down as a heavy curtain, insulating the world from itself. The mystery of reaching into snowy depths, stiff grasses like sharp reminders of secret hibernations and ground hard as granite and stones like bitter cold gems ready to crack open to reveal something more.

My body and mind cushioned against any slight or large harm, any misgivings or errors, or reach of words and deeds that might lead me to something that might hurt, or someone I could not interpret correctly. This I knew for sure: snow was a bestowing of nature’s blessing; it was a perfect performance of beauty and power, another gift from from God’s own hands. And I had a place in that embrace.

In time, I came to admire and respect all the seasons in equal measure, for different reasons. The fantastical designs of nature held me early in their thrall. As any child who has the chance to explore such worlds feels, if they are lucky, right away. There were moments I was certain I was given the keys to all I ever needed to know. That was, of course, not quite the case. I had to better learn how to step into the other realm–to move into and about the world of people and their doings. Into the life I had a responsibility to create each step of the way, even when with disastrous results, even when there came success beyond expectations. But oh, what a teacher I had as each winter came with its wildness and gentleness, to offer both respite and adventure. What good fortune it was. And shortly after the spring, the summer, the autumn. Michigan has, as I learned four entire seasons, and all are their own sort of thing. And each had signs and gateways into their secrets.

Oregon has its own surprises and gifts galore. Even if snow here does arrive like a dashing figure and then is too soon called elsewhere. It melts so fast yet I always greet it as a friend to a friend. I can go to the mountains to find much more. That may be a trek I take soon– to nudge out the 2020-21 blues and make way for more satisfying and energizing moments.

Below, a couple of poor pictures–my apologies– of old photos of my childhood home in winter. You might note those icicles and also the long handled shovel on the porch. I did my share of shovelling along with the others!

Monday’s Meander: Where to Go with Sorrow? To Snow and Candles

My nephew, Reid, died the first week of December. It was several years ago but once more he appears in the middle of my mind. His living and dying: both were hard, both perhaps longer than he wanted. I will never know. In truth, I understood him less than I imagined though I felt his burdens’ weight as I talked with him. He took refuge in my house awhile after one hospital stay; I took him to 12 step meetings. He was carried along by and troubled by life –powerful emotions, a puzzle of thoughts, and demons of addiction–until he was in his forties. He had a passion for life–music, skateboarding, movies, reading. Much more, and so many things unknown to me. I loved him as I knew how; we all loved him, yes. But despair can outweigh all the rest. Reid plunged from a bridge into the swift Willamette River, into silent darkness of a rainy night that was moving toward pale morning.

Really, I wanted to share, as usual, outdoorsy rambles, attractive pictures. But I find I cannot. Instead, I have found a few winter pictures, quite unlike the views outside my windows right now–green, damp, sunny to partly sunny with more rain on the wind. But they feel right: snow is quintessential December in my dreams. I burrow in this month between outings. And candlelight, oh, the flames tinting the greyness orange and yellow. It is a gentled magic, steady but mutable, rich and clarifying.

There is something about snow and candles that move me in unique ways. Still me. Then rouse me.

December’s onset brings Reid back to me a little. (It also, conversely, brings to me my mother’s December birth date: juxtaposition of death and birth dates is like seeing two birds of different colors and flight patterns move across the sky.). I can recall his smile when he was convivial, happy, at times–for a time. His eyes bright and dancing. And then, the obdurate pit of sorrow. There is our enduring complexity of family ties and lovingness. And this being alive-ness, and remaining alive, too, when others leave.

We have had or heard of too much death this year, I know. But, seemingly irrelevant to this post, I still want to offer snow. But to consider its shapeshifting beauty, its softness, its welcoming spirit, its austerity and daunting challenges that can offer victory. Like when I ice skate and fall and start off once more. That long slide on the toboggan, uproarious with laughter, into glittering white fluff, or a crunch of iciness. Oh, I long for it sometimes. It doesn’t snow much where I live in Oregon–though Mt. Hood dazzles me in the distance all winter long on my walks. But I grew up in snow, heaps of it, five foot drifts of it in the Michigan country. I made small houses of snow. So when it snows here I return to the shimmer and drift of winter’s wild glory. It eases a knot in me.

It somehow brings Reid to mind, too, hands stuffed in his packets, a half-smile, solemn eyes. Maybe it is the blood we have shared: cold plains of northern Midwest, the mountain and valley greens of Oregon.

The candles here are for Reid. But I light many for others, as well. And want them lit just for darkened days and nights, so they may be ignited with simplest joy more often, and for a prayer for peace shared among those of us who remain. Sit with that flame and remember: we have such capacity for hope and courage.

This year has been so much more arduous than what we expected. Millions in the world suffer from depression and though 2020 has brought us all to moments of great uncertainty and worry, too many feel pushed to the very brink. Suicides have increased greatly during the pandemic. If you feel suicidal or know anyone who shares suicidal thoughts, or mentions even a vague, possible plan to die, please seek help now. If you know someone who needs even kindly support, offer a listening ear, a helpful hand. There is nothing better than the community of humankind when moved to support and aid one another. Let’s be present for each other as much as we can–no charity is too small a thing–and listen to our own hearts as much as possible.

Monday’s Meanders/Photos: Dilly Dallying Snow in Green Places

White lace lays upon the usual vibrant greens in the Northwest and contrasts with signs of a slow but certain spring. I know this spattering of snow on the ground doesn’t impress, but that it is there at all is not so usual in the Willamette Valley. It snowed perhaps two inches or more 3 days ago but I grew up in Michigan…snow isn’t a major event to me. Since it has been warming to the 50s and higher, I didn’t expect it to last three days! My walks have been a bit slick and frigid–and then today it reached 60 degrees Fahrenheit. I still required a medium weight jacket, unzipped and flapping in a wind that often slices through the woods here at a whopping 800 feet.

Cascade Mountain Range

Since everything is shutting down around here, I treasure even more my long meditative–or not so meditative–walks. I found some pretty spots and a couple of comical ones.

A few families were out and about–not as many as I expected with schools closed. May all the kids stay safe, be fed, and make good use of this time despite the constraints and worries.

Ivy, ivy everywhere–looking more like usual

I was tickled to find that snow people–near pretty cherry blossoms– built a couple of days before were still standing, as if engaged in a sort of paused pantomime or mock battle, or perhaps an interrupted conversation. One snow fellow/gal was slumped on a stone bench, contemplating trials of spring–or, perhaps, simply snoozing. One never knows–they may do a few things after created by enthusiastic but we quick-to-discard-toys human beings… and then surrender to the sun.

Mt. Hood in the distance

Here’s hoping for good health for you and yours, and that you can find some peace during these troublesome days and nights. We will carry on the best we can manage and try to keep ourselves and others safe, I do pray. Seek fresh air; look for small wonders. It always helps.

Monday’s Meander/Dreaming of Snow

I haven’t been meandering afar since I had the Auto Accident on Thanksgiving Day. Caps are used here due to the effects seeming highlighted as if it was the event of the year. Which it was not–my daughter’s twins’ arrival with immediate and subsequent amazing baby-ness won that prize. I just didn’t know it’d take so long to get everything tied up around this car loss. Egads.

For every day errands I’ve been using my husband’s newer, sportier Mazda (my old Hyundai was, alas, quite pedestrian in comparison yet loved) while he was on a trip, thankfully. But no interesting jaunts have occurred–too busy talking to insurance adjusters often every day, and recovering from neck and shoulder pain…yes, I am addressing my irritation and seeking more gratitude. Because I can walk, I can talk; no one else was really hurt!

BUT I find good moments and today I’ve dug into photo archives and looked about. This is what I found from about the same date but in 2016: snow! More blanketed the area as weeks passed that winter, a real windfall of a snow year.

We’ve had far less precipitation than normal for early winter Portland metro area- finally it has begun to rain more. But since we now live at 800 feet versus about sea level, I expect the snow to arrive. The roads are hilly, sinuous and wooded out here so I’m not sure if I’ll welcome it as much as I think. Especially after the Auto Accident. Have to put on my suit of bravery when behind the wheel of my new car when I get it–and take it slow and easy. As an old Michigander, I know NOT to brake hard or fast in snowy and icy conditions. Still, please drive safely during the upcoming holidays, wherever you are.

These few random shots from the old neighborhood cheer me, and nudge me more toward Christmassy things. I am about ready to get on with the joyful parts, and I am keeping track of blessings, praying for stamina and guidance, giving lots of hugs–and getting quite a lovely bunch, too.