I can hear no traffic from the freeway down the mountain from us. Either the snow has closed the passes up above us, making it impossible to get over them, or people are just staying home.
What I can hear is the chip-chip-chipping of a small bird in the tree in my side garden, and the sound of the wind whooshing through the evergreens, rhymically, like ocean waves. I can hear, through my open window, the sound of the fine, dry snowflakes when the wind blows them against the glass, a sound like tossed sand. Now and then a neighborhood dog barks. His voice is muffled. No echo.
It’s just beautiful.
In the living room, the fire in the woodstove crackles and pops over a three-inch bed of hot, glowing coals. The stove-fan blows the super-warm air into the room, making it cozy, but as this is our only form of heat in the winter, the further away from the stove you go, the cooler the air gets. So we pad around the house in sweatshirts and sweatpants and thick socks. I wear my wool slippers over mine. The cat and dog both have decided they like the space five feet in front of the stove best of all, and it’s there that they nap, off and on, all day.
The dog also enjoys being outside in the snow, since he has the kind of thick fur that’s meant for this chilly weather. I let him out a while ago. When he came back in, his back and head were coated with snow and he was absolutely joyful. He shook it all off, nonchalantly, on the middle of the kitchen floor before heading for his water bowl for a drink.
I’ve been thinking about what it is about snow that delights me so much. First, it’s a stark, even startling change from the norm. We’ve had warm, or hot, or warmish weather now for nearly a year, almost constant sunshine, and few clouds. To those who live through harsh winters and chilly springs and falls, I know it sounds nuts that I could get bored with sunshine. But I do. I believe that, instinctively, we need to experience the natural change of seasons. Without that change we get discombobulated. Complacent. We need to be able to look forward to something, to prepare for the future, even if it means stacking firewood against the imminence of winter.
Second, I just prefer the cold weather to the warm. I’ve been like that for as long as I can remember. I’d much rather put on warm sweaters and thick socks than shorts and sandals. Perhaps it’s the Finnish blood that runs so strongly in my veins. I’m out of my element in the relentlessly mild California weather. I get bored with it. My personal sense of balance, of being, needs cold weather and snow to reach equilibrium.
And finally, it’s the way snow silences our noisy civilization and remakes the world into something old. It takes me back in time, this silence, to a world not filled with the roar of traffic and the constant jabbering of the TV. I don’t watch much of that even on warm days, but Mr. Wren does. When the snow comes, though, he sleeps in late, burrowed under the down comforter, while I wake early and with joy to the gloriously white, muffled world. I love that I can be inside, warm and cozy, and look out at it. I love the deep, crystal quiet.
I’d probably feel much differently about the snow if I had to be out working in it. But for the moment, this moment, I don’t have to be. And, while it’s freezy cold and snowing right now, within a few days the temperature will rise again and the snow will melt away. Snow is always temporary at this elevation. So I’ll be back to longing for the next snowstorm very soon. With luck, we’ll have several more of them before the California spring comes, way too early.
The first year we lived here was an El Nino year. We moved house in November, 1997. The weather was cool but dry. Within a week, though, it changed. First there was rain, and then it started snowing. And it kept snowing, day after day, week after week, month after month. It even snowed in May.
To say we were unprepared is an understatement. We discovered in the first month that running the electric baseboard heaters would cost far more that we could reasonably afford. The old iron woodstove insert that had come with the house was woefully inadequate. I’d stuff it full of firewood and get it so hot the that the stovepipe that ran up the chimney would glow red, but the stove only warmed the air a few feet in front of it and no more. It was a long and very cold winter for us.
The following summer we got rid of the old stove and, using our tax return money, bought a new, far more efficient stove. I call it Damnthing, a name it earned through no fault of its own, but because it took us inept snowline newcomers a while to learn how to tell seasoned firewood from green and how to start the fire and keep it going. Trial and error. Now, 11 years later, I’m an old pro with the firewood and the stove. I still call him Damnthing, but very affectionately. He keeps us warm even in the chilliest weather as long as we treat him right.
With the economy the way it is, I figure that we’ll live right here, in this house, for at least several more years. I dream of moving back up to the Pacific Northwest (I lived in Washington State for many years, off and on, and loved it there). But I’ll just have to put that dream on the back burner for a while. In the meantime, it’s snowing. There are four inches on the ground now and it’s still coming down. I’m content.