Saturday, February 8, 2014

Winterval

Portlanders are calling it Snowmageddon and Snowpocalypse. And yes, it is quite a winter storm: snow that turned my usual 35-minute commute into two hours Thursday afternoon; wind that knocked limbs off trees; more snow that closed schools yesterday, and continues to disrupt business today; and now freezing rain on top of that. It will probably be tomorrow night before the Willamette Valley starts to thaw out.

And it will. Which is why the "mageddon" and "pocalypse" suffixes are just plain silly. Three and a half days of playing in the snow (which is what Amy and I did yesterday and today, both skiing and snowshoeing our neighborhood) do not the end of the world make.

I do have to admit that this weather is out of the ordinary. The last time I lost a full day of work to a snowstorm was December, 2008. Of course, then it was a full week, and the snow and cold continued for a second week, disrupting the Christmas holiday. I was trapped in Forest Grove for that storm, saddled with a car which (I learned to my chagrin) could not be equipped with chains--one of many reasons I no longer drive an Acura. The one bright spot on those lost weeks was skiing around town. But back to today:

My mother spent her first eighteen years in New Hampshire. In 1964, my family moved back there from California, which means that from the age of three until the end of second grade I experienced New England winters. I'm not calling them "real" winters on purpose, as you'll see later in this post. But yes, those winters during my formative years were exactly what winters stereotypically are for persons of northern European descent: cold and snowy. And yes, I did walk to and from school through waist-high snow banks, by myself, in the first and second grades.

In 1969, we moved to Idaho. The winters became both colder and less snowy due to Idaho's high desert climate. Building a snowman usually meant using up all the white stuff in the yard, leaving nothing for forts or snowball fights, but that was okay, because it was usually so cold outside we didn't really want to linger once the snowman was erected, anyway. My last day of school in Filer, Idaho, there was a freak snowstorm, and instead of the traditional squirtgun fight, there were slushball fights after school. There was a week in Emmett, Idaho, during which schools were closed because it was so far below zero it wasn't considered safe to leave the house.

Since 1975, I have called Oregon home, and here I have become accustomed to the sort of winters that cause Oregonians to think of six inches of snow as apocalyptic. Winters here are mild, rainy, with long intervals of gray clouds occasionally interrupted by brilliant blue skies. Temperatures are typically in the 40s, rising to the 50s and 60s for the February false spring, sinking back down in March until true spring arrives with gusto in April. With all those years in this climate, my definition of "real" winter is this: cool, wet, short.

I've lived in other places as an adult: eastern Oregon, Illinois, Texas, northern England. Each had its own real winter weather, with England being the most like Portland. My first winter in Illinois was the longest I've experienced, with snow first arriving in November, and some still on the ground in April, just weeks before graduation. In Dallas, the entire city shut down for two days because there was a slight possibility of snow--which never materialized. Driving home from LaGrande for Christmas, I experienced my first snow-related accident, losing control of my un-chained Celica and crashing into the concrete median on I-84.

My point here is that "real winter" is whatever winter weather most feels to you like home. Until I was in my 20s, I still needed snow to feel that, and those few times that snow fell while I was in high school, college, even graduate school, I always felt a rush of nostalgia. Once I had experienced Dallas, though, and particularly after moving to England, it was mild, damp weather, especially when coupled with the freshness of rain-washed pines, that most felt like home. Real winter weather to me is the kind that permits me to go on with my daily routine--and occasionally to drive an hour or two so I can clip my skis on and do some Nordic trails.

I'm not begrudging the mess this snow has created, though; in fact, it's been something of a gift, making up for the Sun River weekend we had to sacrifice to an upper respiratory infection. (There probably wasn't much snow at Mt. Bachelor that weekend, anyway.) And yes, it is a disruption, but really just a temporary one; by Tuesday, I expect we'll be back to normal, cool, wet, spring just around the corner. That's why I'm calling this snow storm a winterval, and I invite you to do the same, to put it in perspective. Unless, of course, this is real winter for you. Then you may call it whatever you like.

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