There is a learning curve with snow. I discovered this fact recently when I awakened in my Philo cabin up on the ridge to a sparkling white winter wonderland dusted with snow. I got up as excited as a kid on Christmas morning and spent the next few hours documenting the wonders of the snowpack enveloping my yard. I took photographs and video, let my cat tentatively experience it on the back deck, saw our snow dogs relishing in this new and unusual substance. I felt like I was in love when I posted a montage reel with a piano lullaby soundtrack on my Instagram and Facebook of my place surrounded by beautiful, wonderful snow.
I even learned a couple of things as I walked around my property, such as the importance of wearing hiking boots instead of Vans tennis shoes in the snow because of cold wet seepage, and that you definitely need gloves if you are going to open metal gates in the snow, and I learned that snow is crunchy but also has mud attached to it if it’s not too thick.
It’s not surprising I’m ignorant about snow. Having grown up in LA and also having lived there much of my adult life, I am admittedly a sun worshipper. No one was happier than me this past month when the sun hit my back deck every morning and I enjoyed my coffee al fresco under those warm golden rays with my cat basking next to me after an exceptionally cold and difficult winter. But snow is very rare here, a unique experience, so I embraced it until it sadly melted after a few hours, returning my surrounding forest to it usual green hues. I realized that first day, I love it when it snows!
Until yesterday. I woke up yesterday morning and was surprised to look out the window and discovered the snow had returned. It came back! And instead of being white and fresh and glowy with a sunny sheen and blue sky backdrop like the day before, everything looked cold, stark, white, and flattened against gray drizzly clouds. It wasn’t the same vibe at all as the day before.
I was taken aback. I had to drive to Fort Bragg, and had been putting it off but now it was an emergency (BOTH cats were out of their respective canned food). None of the valley stores carry it, and I have glamkids (my grandkids call me Glamma) to visit, and my daughter and her husband to see too, so a trip to Fort Bragg is a productive endeavor regardless of my shopping list needs. I was concerned because I had over a mile of snowy unchartered dirt road to navigate to reach the paved road on Signal Ridge. I first checked with the Facebook group AV Watch to see if the 128 to the coast was even open, because I had been hearing of road closures, including the 128 by Yorkville and the 253 to Ukiah. I was told the coast route was open! I had to go. Feeling a tad put out, I readied myself for the drive, thinking a couple of times of the Fellowship of the Ring on their ill-fated snow-laden trek across Mount Caradhas on their way to Mount Doom (I’m a Tolkien geek, sorry, had to. And no offense to Fort Bragg).
I have never driven in snow, though I have driven cleared roads alongside it. My snow-covered truck was a bit apprehensive and made some sliding-around protests at first, but we became acclimated and off I went. There was a small tree down I couldn’t cut easily with my handsaw so I repositioned the branches and drove over it, then worked my way around three more tree limbs that were weighed with snow and resting in the driving path. It really was a Hobbit-type adventure to get to the gate. I was enthralled seeing big puma paw prints, deer hoofprints, and a smaller animal, likely a fox, that had left evidence of their existence in raw white patches on the road. No one can hide after snowfall.
Once to the gate, I was careful on the slippery roads until I got halfway down Philo-Greenwood, and then the snow on the sides of the road vanished and it was just another drive in the neighborhood. But as I continued on the 128, I noticed that bits of snow were melting and flying in chunks off my truck hood, roof, and from the truck bed. It made me wonder, is there snow etiquette? Is it rude to drive with snow on your roof? All the other cars coming up the 128 were “normal” damp Mendocino County cars, no snow. I felt like a country bumpkin as I drove along, chunky clots hurtling off my vehicle toward traffic. I consoled myself by thinking “It’s just water,” but then, truly, I’d be offended if someone threw a cup of water at my truck while I was driving by. I really didn’t know if I was in the wrong and thought of my friend Christina who lives in snowy Arrowhead, deciding I would call her and ask her if there is such a thing as Snow Etiquette, and what that might look like. I suspected I should have knocked the snow off not just my windshield but all the snowy parts of my truck. But I don’t know for sure. Once the snow melted soon after I passed the Comptche turn off, I continued my extraordinarily lovely drive through the Navarro redwoods with sunlight filtering through the trees, unbothered on my way to Fort Bragg.
I must admit that have a special connection with snow here. The very first time I ever visited the area to see what the family called “The Hippie Shack” in Comptche in the early 1990s, it snowed on New Year’s Eve. Just six months prior my then-husband Mike had told me that his folks owned a cabin in the redwoods. I pressured him to visit it, but was told it was very rugged, with an outhouse and just a big Franklin stove for heat, and no amenities. I was smitten with the idea. We drove up to see the place because his stepdad D’Arcy wanted to hire Mike to turn the one-room abode into a retirement home for himself and Mike’s mom, Joyce. Snow began to fall when we arrived in Comptche and found the hidden place. We had no firewood and couldn’t find any available for sale in local stores. I was afraid we would be that stupid LA couple on the news who was found dead after freezing to death (anything below 45 degrees is “freezing” to a Los Angelean). Not knowing anyone and not having internet or cell phones back then, we searched all around to purchase wood for the Franklin stove, which led us eventually to making some phone calls at the Comptche Store’s payphone to follow up on leads. Finally we found some firewood: all the way up in Yorkville. Mike drove there in our Toyota Tercel and filled the hatchback with as much wood as it would hold, so our chance of ending up on the news was lessened. At the still-chilly hippie shack, Mike lit a fire and we rang in the new year at 7 p.m. because it was already as dark as midnight. When we awakened, we were charmed to see a blanket of snow covering everything around us, capturing my imagination of this beautiful country lifestyle. We didn’t know at the time how rare that kind of snowstorm was in this part of Mendocino County. Six months later, we moved into that cabin and began our off-grid homesteading adventure, an adventure that started in winter with the precious gift of snow.
But now I realize my relationship with snow is fleeting (or should I say “sleeting”?!). I learned that fact about myself when I was not excited yesterday to see that white expanse out my window, and I was even offended at its brightness. I belong to a Facebook Messenger chat room that started with five friends discussing an upcoming potluck gumbo dinner in 2013. The dinner is long behind us but that chatroom still goes on to this day. We start our mornings staying hello and it’s a safe place where we can share diabolical memes that we would never post in public, or even admit to finding amusing. When I awoke that second morning, my wifi had gone out because my satellite dish was covered in snow, so I couldn’t see my friends’ memes, just their comments. What a ridiculous situation to be in, I remember thinking, that snow could block me from Facebook! I wrote to my friends Ben and Rich, the last two daily survivors of that Gumbo Group:
“I gotta get dressed and go knock snow off the satellite dish so I can see your memes.
Yesterday snow was romantic and beautiful.
Today it’s like an overnight guest who shows up on a Friday and ends up hanging out all weekend in their underwear while raiding your refrigerator.”
Of course I wouldn’t tell many people that, how uncouth?, but I realized, that is my truest impression of snow. Fun for a day. My heartfelt snow experience went, in art terms, from Mucha to Munch overnight, from romantic “Daydream” to “The Scream.” I guess you can take the girl out of LA, but you can’t take LA out of the girl. I’m patiently awaiting the next slew of sunny days to come bless my back deck so I can sit out there with my cat having coffee in those warming sunrays. Just call me the Lizard Queen. You know where to find me.
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