Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Arctic Blast '08 OR How My Ancestors Would Have Loved My Gear

As I write this we have been snowed in for eight days. The home heater quit working four days ago. The power is still on (knock wood) and the wifi is still active, so we're roughing it cold, but connected. Blue Yule is playing on the Ipod and I'm about to order my WeMoon calendar online for next year. I love the theme of "crossroads" that they've chosen for 2009. I can relate. I feel like I'm at a crossroads this year; no longer the urbane Northern Californian I once was and not yet the Oregon mountain gal I'd like to be.

My Canadian Xena

My nearest neighbor is just that kind of gal. She hiked down through the snow to us last night, bringing gifts. She walked a mile down from her place, walking by starlight, and carrying homemade treats for us and a squeaky toy for Madam. My neighbor is from Toronto, bless her, and she takes this weather well in stride. If this were a story, she would be the Canadian Xena to my Califan Gabriel. Metaphorically speaking, I've trailed after her these last two years, carrying my scrolls and my cooking pans, trying to learn how one lives out here the wild. She's a good teacher and I feel lucky to know her. She got laid off from her job a week ago. She's taking that in stride, too.

Cold Camping Indoors

Eight to twelve more inches of snow are due to hit our mountain in the next twenty-four hours and our bit of Oregon looks to break all the snow records, which go back to the mid-1800's. Right now, we have over two feet of snow in our long drive and we're going exactly nowhere (1). We have kept warm by running electric heaters in the kitchen and master bedroom and wearing layers of winter clothes. (2) I am typing this while wearing lots of layers, top and bottom, as well as my snow pants, fingerless gloves and my cherished black Ushanka. (3) Our new kitten is taking a nap, tucked up inside my fleece jacket. When she wakes up, I can feel her purring against my chest.

We each go out every day to shovel snow off of our decks and off the roof. I'm rather proud of myself just now - living in snow is new to me - but I can't quite claim to be as hardy as my Scotch/German forebearers since I'm doing this in state-of-the-art snow boots. Imagine what they would have given to have just some of our gear.

A Bit of Perspective Never Hurts

Yesterday I called my friend who lives in St. Paul Minnesota (ten degrees below with a wind chill of thirty) and my other friend in Boston (don't ask). Right now, a good friend in San Francisco is complaining via email about all the rain. Ah, well; perspective, as they say, is everything. Californians, as I have cause to know, drive like damn fools in the rain, which is what worries my friend. Many Cascadians drive badly in the snow, so maybe we're lucky to be stuck up here and not out on I-5 on the way to grandma's house....

Max the Manx

Every day, I clear a space in the dog yard for Madam to do her business, and then I shovel a path for the feral cat so he can make it from his little all weather igloo, which sits sheltered and out of the wind down on our lower deck with some straw and blankets inside, and over to his food bowl which sits under our outdoor stairs. (4) He is a sweet cat; a little golden manx we've call Max. We inherited him when we bought the house. When he sees me he gives me a kitten chirp, then blinks and then hisses, which I translate as "Please", "Thank you" and "Back off". One neighbor who has been here much longer then us says that he must be at least eight years old by now. He's come through this cold snap well, thus far. I have trapped other feral cats on this property before now but I have yet to snag his canny old self, and until I do - and he gets a cushy retirement as a barn cat on a local lowland farm - Max gets two meals a day.

The bird feeders are full and very, very busy. The deer, rabbits and raccoons leave tracks in the snowy meadow every night as they look for food so I leave nuts out for them, as well. I haven't seen Mamma bobcat yet this season, but I know she is out and about and I wish her well. Please, Mamma, don't eat Max.

Chocolate and Tequila

The phone lines work (and we have cell phones, as well) so we call the friends and family we can't meet this year and give them our holiday wishes. Supplies of chocolate and tequila are at sustainable levels. (5) I leave a bit of both out to honor those same ancestors. (A little help here, good people, would be welcome).

I'm humbled when I think that my ancestors may have gone a whole winter, even years, without hearing from old friends and loved ones. It reminds me to cherish my connections, both in person and via this technology, which is still so new and yet so much a part of our lives.

Oh, No, They Didn't (?!)

The private snowplough we hired three days ago finally got here yesterday. They took one look at our icy road with it's steep ravine on one side, said "No way" and scurried back down the mountain. So it goes. If things get really rough I'm thinking we might borrow one of our neighbor's alpacas and hike out with the cats in carriers strapped on it's back....but we're not there yet.

White Christmas, my ass......

Random Acts of Kindness

May you keep warm and well fed this winter. And please keep a thought for those who have less than you do. Somewhere, someone is sleeping in a cardboard box right now. Someone else is stuck in a bus station, and in need of some a hot meals while they wait. If you have some food and blankets and transportation, why not share these with someone in need?

The blessings of the season to you and yours,


Some gear I love:

Yak tracks

Sorel Boots

Columbia Sportswear

Ruffwear for dogs

winter silks

fleece lined vests

fleece lined jeans

fleece anything...

really good gloves and hats and socks, especially alpaca socks.


(1) For a while there, it got folkloric. First our Subaru Outback with the 4 snow tires could not get out. Then the neighbors larger and more powerful Pathfinder couldn't make it out. Finally, the neighbor with the jeep had a hard time, and this while using chains on all four tires. The jeep is now parked at the top of our long, shared road. This road meets a main street (which is ploughed when the county remembers to do it) and three miles later it meets up with the main mountain road, which is ploughed, but often icy and treacherous.

Our shared road is a steep,with switch backs and a deep ravine on one side. It is about 1/2 mile long. At the top you meet a main street which the county ploughs when they remember it's there. Go another 2 miles (watch for the curves and that ravine) and you'll come to the main mountain road. The elevation here is close to 2,000 feet, and the roads all along this mountain are so steep and winding that icy days mean a good many careless drivers end up in ditches.

(2) I thought it was just my thin-blooded self feeling the cold but I find that even Madame, our hardy German Shepherd, is chill'n in here. A dog who usually loves to take walks in the snow is sleeping on her thick dog bed, comfy under her extra blanket. My Lady informs me that she does not wish to go outside unless nature calls. The cats, of course, are on pillows in front of the gas fireplace. Well, at least the darn thing is some use.

This house used to have a lovely wood burning stove that could easily heat all the lower rooms, but the retired couple who owned it before us - and who spent their winters in Mexico - removed it, and put in a fancy gas thing-y that goes out when the power goes out. We've been making the house more winter-ready every year and I will be adding a wood burning or pellet fireplace with a cook top next year, if I can find the funds.

If the power goes out, we move to Plan C, which is using the in-door safety heater that runs on small propane tanks, just like the ones we use in our camp stove. We can cook on said stove and keep our food fresh by keeping it in coolers placed in the snow, well away from raccoons.

(3) Faux fur, of course and sans the Russian military patch.

(4) The food bowl needs to be away from his little hut so that the raccoons aren't drawn to his hiding place. An aggressive raccoon can easily kill a cat.

(5) I don't drink at all, and my guy isn't a big drinker so he's fine, but I can go through a box of Moonstruck truffles like there was no tomorrow; time to ration it out or things could get ugly.

Happily, we have that camp stove we can use in a pinch for cooking and plenty of food in the larder. We must have at least 20 cans of what I call "Armageddon tuna"; food that can feed both cats and us at need. The dog won't starve, either, I've got enough of her food to feed a pack for a year.

Related Articles:

Mother Wit for Yule


Thus far, two towns and one county have declared a
State of Emergency and called in the National Guard to help them police the area and provide basic emergency services. They are using the tougher snowploughs lent to them by the Forest Service and military level Humvees, with chains on all four tires.

1 comment:

Hecate said...

Please hang in there!

Yax tracks are the best; I have a pair inside and a pair that I keep in the car.