A Different Kind of Whitewater

S N O W

So Now Over Winter (just kidding, I love it…)

We got more snow last night.

I was awake at 3:30 am listening to the plow over in the Walmart parking lot. There are fences and tree borders between our condo and Wally World so we don’t see it, but we do hear most everything. That’s how I knew there was more snow.

I didn’t actually get up until 5 and since it was still super dark, and I think it’s a little ridiculous to shovel snow in the super dark, I waited another hour to go out. It was simple dark then, and my brother was out with his Bobcat, clearing the parking area for his employees to arrive.

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In case you are wondering, this is simple dark, and my footprints.

It was a whole different kind of shoveling today. The shovel no longer slid easily over the cement. I had to kick it every few inches because there was an immovable layer in there somewhere. If you’ve ever had a pan with food burned on it, that’s what it was like. It was also quite slippery – made it hazardous to get in a good kick when the leg I was standing on was slipping out from under me.

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This is all I do – walkways and a few feet in front of garage doors. My brother takes over from here, with the machine.

Frequent rest periods were the answer. Every time I would stop and look around I was amazed all over again at how beautiful the world is when covered with snow. And to be out in it is an experience so different from looking at it.

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Look how pretty.
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Outlined in white…
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Lights and darks,
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Snow…

My snowman looked a little stressed this morning, just sayin’…

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I didn’t make him bending over like that. He did it himself.

 

December “Up North”

For a month now, we’ve been waiting for snow. We had such a good start in November but since then the temperatures have been between the high teens and a bit less than 40. The early snow has gradually melted in all but the shadiest, most protected places. In some ways this mild streak of temperatures is nice but it puts a damper on those who are waiting to ski, snowmobile or just see more of the pretty white stuff.

We were very hopeful about the winter storm that was forecast for last night. And sure enough, when I looked out in the dark this morning, I could tell by the streetlights that we had new snow. We also had a good chance of more precipitation in some form, but it was 37 degrees – that meant it would likely be rain not snow.

My brother is responsible for snow removal in the small development that he manages. I help him when I can. He runs a small machine with a plow, called a skid steer, and I shovel close to the houses where he can’t easily go with the machine. There are 12 dwellings. It’s a good upper body workout, yes it is.

But I like to shovel snow most of the time. This snow was wet and heavy. There really should be different names for all the different kinds of snow, and there are a few, I guess. This snow was white and pretty on top but slush underneath. Slush is heavy, being mostly water trapped in collapsing snow particles. When I pushed the shovel through 3 to 4 inches of this stuff it would curl up in a roll until it was too heavy for me to make it move. If I’d been out to play instead of work, it would have made super, sticky snowballs.

And the more I thought about it (play), I decided I was not an “all work” girl. Making a giant snowball is a pretty nifty way of clearing a path, so I did that a couple of times and ended up with a snowman. By this time it was raining instead of snowing. I had a hard time getting Frosty’s eyes and nose to stay on his face for a picture but I persisted. Mom is not “all work” either. She suggested one of her hats would look good on him, so that’s why he got photographed twice – the second time with a somewhat more glorified nose.

A to Z Family Stories: W for Wisconsin Winters

W

I am under my usual three or four blankets, listening to the transistor radio I bought with money from my first real job. It is too early to be up, still pitch black and I can tell it’s cold. I am hoping to hear that school is canceled – for the whole day, which it will be if the temperature gets below -30 degrees F. Somehow, someone figured it would be okay for kids to stand out waiting for the bus if it was only -29 degrees. It’s not that the cold bothers me that much either, I just don’t want to go to school. Finally, the weather guy says it is -32 and starts listing the area schools and organizations that will not be asking people to come out. My school is among them. I am glad.

Cold. Long. Cold and long. And very cold for a long time, six months almost. On mornings like the one above, most smart people stayed home and concentrated on staying warm. Those who had to go to work would put their cars in a garage or have a contraption attached to their oil pan that could be plugged in to keep the oil warm enough to circulate. Antifreeze was a given. Tires would be frozen with a flat side. Those who hadn’t prepared might find their water pipes frozen. I remember having to remove ice from the cows watering cups in the barn, and often the large water tanks would have an electric heater attached. Weather like this was hard on the animals but if they were in the barn, their bodies supplied enough heat to keep them safe. Cold nights meant we got to take a quart canning jar filled with hot, hot water up to put at the foot of our bed under the covers.

And the snow. Some years there was snow in November. Some years it never melted until spring and the banks along the roads were higher than the cars making intersections dangerous. We never had to hire someone to plow our driveway at the farm because Dad always had either a tractor with a bucket or a bulldozer to do the job. He would push the snow back as far as he could knowing the piles would get larger and larger as winter moved on. They were snow mountains to us kids and a never ending source of fun. Winter forts could take hours to build. We would cut blocks of snow or roll snow balls if the weather made the snow sticky. Our forts not only had walls, but they had tunnels as well. We would hollow out holes big enough for several of us to crawl inside.

Winter clothes, everyone had them. Mothers knit scarves and for the younger kids, mittens connected with a long string threaded through the sleeves of our coats. Mittens were always getting lost, and soggy wet. Babies had snowsuits and as they outgrew them the “hand me down” would go to the next younger one. Boots were worn over shoes and thick socks. Our house had an unheated hallway where all of this winter gear hung on a row of hooks – sometimes the wet things froze and were icy the next time we got into them. There was panic on mornings when we saw the school bus coming before we had everything on.

One of my favorite winter coats was beautiful tan wool with a soft raccoon fur collar. I remember it because one night our dog cornered a skunk by the house and it saturated everything we had with it’s odor, including our sense of smell. I wore it to school that morning and it wasn’t until everyone started asking where the skunk was that I figured out it was me. I had to call mom to take me home. The wool and the fur in the coat held that smell for a long time.

Keeping warm was and is still a science in progress. My earliest memories are of an oil burning stove in our living room. It sat on a protective mat of some kind (??) and had a stove pipe going up into a chimney. Mom or Dad would turn open a valve on the oil line and we would wait a minute until there was oil in the chamber, then light a match and drop it in. We spent a lot of time close to the stove. Windows that were away from the heat would get ice on the inside from humidity and our curtains would get frozen into the glass.

We also had a wood cook stove to warm the kitchen. The wood pile was most often outside under the snow. We would pile sticks of wood on our sleds and carry it up to dry next to the stove. It was not our favorite chore.

There is a lot more that could be said about Wisconsin winters and much of it is good and beautiful. I wish everyone could experience the felt safety and awe of watching a white-out blizzard from a warm, snug house. I wish I could adequately describe the way new snow glistens on the morning after, or the way light and shadows look completely different when the sun is low in the sky all day long. Snow really does crunch underfoot. The woods are really quiet when there are no leaves rustling and all the animals (almost all) are asleep. But it is cold, and extreme, and white, and beautiful in it’s own way for a very long time, and there are some who choose it for exactly those reasons (and some who tolerate it in spite of, just sayin’…)

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Catch Up

I put this first just to get your attention.  Read to the end for the story.
I put this first just to get your attention. Read to the end for the story.

Over a week at home since a wonderful trip up north and I still have not had time to write down the memories and reflect on them. It was our Thanksgiving trip and since I think we would all agree that it doesn’t make sense to limit being thankful to one day of the year, I’m thankful again today!  Thanks to Florida daughter Julie, who shared the trip with us and to all our hosts and fellow celebrants in Hayward.  I love you Mom and Dad, Denny and Mary Pat, Evan, Claire, Scruffy and Socks, Bob and Ozzie, Gary, Jamie, Eduardo, Jonathan and the Madison sisters Michelle, Judith and Susan. It might better be done with pictures so here goes…

 

Before the feast - one of our two tables with Mom's birthday flowers as the centerpiece.
Before the feast – one of our two tables with Mom’s birthday flowers as the centerpiece.
During the feast.  Way too much food, but this is one of the things we remember about Thanksgiving, right?
During the feast. Way too much food, but this is one of the things we remember about Thanksgiving, right?
After the feast.  My Dad doesn't cook.  Thankfully, he does take dish washing and clean up as his main responsibility.  Go Dad!
After the feast. My Dad doesn’t cook. Thankfully, he does take dish washing and clean up as his main responsibility. Go Dad!

And for the second year in a row, the snow fell heavily.  We spent time in the woods, skiing, snowshoeing, and driving the unplowed fire lanes in Brother Bob’s four wheel drive truck. You cannot imagine how beautiful it was unless you live in the north and see it for yourself. 

Brother Bob and Jullia and yes the backdrop is REAL and REALLY COLD.
Brother Bob and Jullia and yes the backdrop is REAL and REALLY COLD.

The skiing style is cross country, which is not to say that there aren’t hills, you just have no lift to pull you up them.  An international ski event, the American Birkebeiner, is held in the Hayward area on this beautiful, well maintained trail – 26 miles through forest and field.  We spent some time on a small section of it and warmed up afterward in the shelter, and then, of course, it was time for latte’s and hot chocolate at the Mooselip Cafe.  You saw the moose himself in the opening picture.

Skis on Julie
Skis on Julie
Snowshoes on Mary Pat
Snowshoes on Mary Pat
Snow on trees
Snow on trees
Happy snow people...
Happy snow people…
Best place to come after skiing!
Best place to come after skiing!

Serious Snow

20131205_154355I hate to go on and on about weather events but this time spent in Wisconsin has been such a wonderful reminder of winter that it is worthy of remarks, lots of them.

First, I have to say how noticeable it is that it’s dark at 4:30 pm. And it’s still quite dark at 7:30 in the morning – the automatic yard lights are still on.

It snowed for two days. Travel advisories were issued. We decided not to have my daughter drive the three and a half hours to the airport on slippery, wet roads. We had to make other flight arrangements. There is a great deal of anxiety in trying to figure out what the weather is going to be like and how it will affect the plans you’ve made. It is much easier just to give up and enjoy being snowed in.

At one point during the second day it began to rain.  Ice formed on the roads and sidewalks that had been cleared. Tree branches that had been heavy with snow got even heavier with ice. Toward the end of the snowfall the temperature began to drop and the wind began to blow. Snow drifted over the icy surfaces, and more of it fell.  The snowplows were out as well as the salt trucks. After dinner, my brother plowed the roads and driveways in our subdivision. The children went out to shovel the walks. The snowmobile was brought out of storage and they all took turns packing trails for skiing on the neighborhood green-space (white-space?). It was dark and cold, but strangely exciting as well.20131204_22495320131204_225002

There was the strangest light in the sky – not from the moon, but from every light in town that was reflected back and forth between the cloud cover and the white landscape. The appearance was kind of “other worldly”.

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This morning it was about 8 degrees F. and the snow had stopped falling. However, the wind was still blowing it off the roofs and drifting it on the roads so it seemed as harsh as before.  Common sights around town – icicles hanging off the eaves, cars and trucks with white snow caps and  ice covered windows, slush and salt on the roads. And cold, cold, cold…  Away from town, all was white. Snow is whiter than you can imagine when it’s clean and fresh.

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Do you know how carefully you have to walk when outside in this kind of weather? Seriously, every step has to be tested because a fall can be more than just awkward. It can be dangerous. To go out, you have to consider what kind of boots to wear,and how many layers of coats/jackets to put on. You have to keep track of your gloves, a scarf and a hat or you will freeze.  And every time you go back in a building all these things have to be taken off and stored. Wet things have to dry. It is time consuming and tends to inhibit going outside. You watch a lot of TV, particularly the weather channel.

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All this amounts to a culture of sorts.  People who get used to this are proud of their ability to last through the winter, and they would probably admit that there is something about winter that they like. I like it too (but I only have to like it for two weeks. It lasts for… oh, six months? Yeah.)  I’m just sayin… glad to be here. Brrr…

Winter comes.

the cold season
the cold season

Hayward, Wisconsin is a place where it snows. The flakes were flying as we drove into town last Thursday for Thanksgiving.  The white blanket covered the ground and the fallen logs where we walked through the woods the next day.  Every gust of wind through the branches of the pines sent snow raining down all around us. At first, the cold was frightening but as I stayed out in it and worked up a sweat, I got used to it.  Now, four days past Thanksgiving, it is snowing again and this time it’s a storm big enough to deserve a name. Cleon.

Our trip into town proved the roads were icy with wet slush.  The sky is one solid, gray cloud that descends down to meet the horizon, cutting the visibility to about a quarter mile. Variations on muted gray, black and white with a little brown thrown in are the only colors nature has today. Things would seem dull if it weren’t for the colored lights and Christmas decorations up and down the streets. Hayward is a small town, a very small town, but it is the only real town in quite a large area of forests and lakes. And it is large enough to have a Walmart, which was a very busy place today.

I grew up here, in the country outside of Hayward.  I left and came back after I was married.  My children were born while I lived here and although I’ve been away again for more than twenty years it is still very homelike to me. My parents and my brother and his family still live in a development on the edge of town, on land that once belonged to my grandfather. We visited Hayward last June when it was all shades of green, brilliant blue skies, fields full of flowers, flowing rivers, and more than it’s share of the world’s mosquitoes. Now it is different.  It is white, very quiet, dark a good deal of the time, and there are no mosquitoes at all.

It is really quite magical to be able to stay in one place and have it change all around you. You would think you had been transported. I’m just sayin’ I am glad to be here for this first big snow of the year.

white on the road
white on the road
white in the woods
white in the woods