From the Braver Institute
I prefer a time of year when the clothes I will wear tomorrow are a bit more predictable. Summer is such a time. Tomorrow (when it is summer) I will be wearing shorts. I know that even now. Winter on the other hand can be variable. Thirty degrees or five below zero calls for completely different types of clothing. And ten degrees warmer or colder than these two extremes can call for additional wardrobe adjustments.
The quantity of snow that falls overnight can dictate your footwear for the day. If there has been no new snow, you may be able to get away with wearing casual shoes, depending on what you are doing that day. Twenty inches of snow calls for boots.
Winter doesn’t technically arrive until after the middle of December, although around here when the snow starts falling is when people start saying that it is winter. Winter can come early up here.
There is something to be said for early snow, especially when it is wet, heavy snow. I remember such a Halloween night years ago. We had gotten so much snow in northern Upper Michigan that it made travel dangerous. The roads were almost impassable. It wasn’t really that there was so much snow, but that it was so warm out and the snow on the roads was so heavy. It packed so easily that the cars made ruts that would push and pull you all over the road to the point where vehicles would be forced out of control and into the ditch.
Naturally, my good friend Mark and I went out riding around in it. We weren’t going to let snow stop us from getting where we wanted to go. Of course his ’78 Honda Civic was no match for the snow that had accumulated out in the Sands Plains, which is where we wound up stuck in a mixture of sugar-sand and wet snow.
Years later would find Ezra Hammer and me exploring the woods after a heavy, early snow. This time I had my four-wheeldrive Ford Ranger pickup truck and we would not be getting stuck. The snow collected so heavily in the boughs of the spruce trees lining the road that they bent over in front of us and obscured the road. Being nighttime, all that could be seen in the headlights was a wall of white. So thick were the trees in front of us that you would have sworn no road existed. We called it snow hell. With the knowledge that unfrozen dirt, which afforded good traction, was just beneath the snow, we pressed on. As the hood of the Ranger touched each tree, the burden of snow trapped in its branches was released, and the tree would spring upright and out of the way, only to expose the next snow laden tree.
Now that I think about it, there was something very magical about those early snows, especially when I lived deep in the woods. One day the world outside would be a mixture of browns and grays— dead leaves and tree trunks, with a little green from the pines thrown in here and there to brighten things up—and the next morning the world would be covered in a thick blanket of white. It looked even more spectacular if the sky had cleared overnight and the sun was out.
Better still was when it was the weekend and I didn’t have to leave for work. I could just stay inside where it was warm. My cabin was small, with only one room, and it felt more like a hibernation cave. It felt good to sit at my table next to the woodstove and look out the window while I drank my coffee. The world looked like a whole new place.
When it was time to venture out, one of the first things you would notice is how much the heavy snow deadened sounds. Your voice would fall flat at your feet. In the woods—especially in the pines—it would have been hard to hear a gunshot unless you were the one doing the shooting.
Clearing the snow from my vehicle, it would slide off of the roof and the hood in what looked like waterfalls made of snow, since it had such a tendency to stick together. My long driveway, with its new, thick pavement of snow, was both wonderful and disappointing to drive down. It was wonderful because it looked like I was driving down a frozen snow-covered creek, and it was disappointing because the muddy ruts I left behind me spoiled that effect on my return trip.
More often than not, once out of my driveway, I was the first person to travel that stretch of Mangum Road. It was long and straight, and now completely white. Since this was the first snow, there were no banks along the road from the snowplow, and the snow stretched flat and seamless from the woods on the south side to the woods on the north side. It seemed a shame to destroy the perfection of this snow blanket with my tires, but someone was going to do it. It might as well be me.
Thinking about it all now makes me a little anxious for that first fall of real snow.
Maybe I am more of a fan of winter than I thought.
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