26 December 2009

Winter safety

My father taught me to respect winter. At any point during my childhood, we were prepared to spend up to a month snowed in together: between our large freezer, my mother's canning, and dozens of extra large cans of pork and beans, we were always prepared. Our winter-ready car never had below half a tank of gas, and always held blankets and newspapers, hats, mittens, and extra socks for every passenger, as well as food, water, rope and something to pee in. For as long as I can remember, I was told never to leave a car stuck in a blizzard, and if I needed to check the tailpipe (so as not to be asphixiated by exhaust kept in the car from drifting snow) I was to tie myself to the door handle before setting foot out of the vehicle.

I remember being very young when he told me stories of people slicing their horses open and crawling inside to survive (ala the Ton Ton incident with Han Solo), and I know my grandfather had more than once to tie a rope around his waist and the other end to the door handle of his store to walk the block and a half home.

My father was born in 1930, and was ten years old during the Armistace Day Blizzard. On balmy winter days, he would cite the 1940 storm to keep us from complacency.
(photo from the MN Historical Society)

He certainly knew people who had lived through the Children's Blizzard of 1888, and though he loved winter, and built us huge sledding hills and taught us how to make tunnels through the snow, he parented at least partly by fear, because it could save us.

The storm of the last few days, which will certainly be called the Christmas Blizzard (though will not be as infamous as the other 2 I've mentioned, hopefully), is the largest we've had since living in this house (I think) and we were pretty much prepared: I have a freezer full of food (albeit a regular, top-of-the-fridge kind of freezer), and we're just now running low on cookies. V has several new toys to entertain her, and we have Volume 3 of the Addam's Family television show to keep us busy.

So it was with great hesitation that I set out last night, around 7pm. There was no travel advised, and our street is one of the last plowed in town, so even if we wanted or needed to drive somewhere, there was no way the Mazda was going to clear 16" of snow. I layered my clothes, with long johns, wool socks, and thick jeans, and a t-shirt under my sweatshirt under my long wool coat. I pulled on my black and purple winter boots I bought back in college, and wore a thick beautiful scarf my friend Carla made me, and a hat, and wool mittens. I put my wallet in one pocket of my coat, the cell phone in the other, and I kissed my family.

That makes it sound more dramatic than it was: though travel out of town was nearly impossible, in town wasn't so bad. We could see across the street, easily, and though there was a good strong north wind, it wasn't impossible to walk against. Plus, my father's horror stories all took place well before cell phones, and though I hate it when people are stupid and drive around during a blizzard, I figured the police would be willing to pick me up if I somehow couldn't make it back home from my 20 block adventure. I opted to walk against the wind to begin with, so coming home would be easier.

On my walk, I came to appreciate snowblowers a great deal. The kind people who had cleared their sidewalks (I would say perhaps 75% of the sidewalks were cleared or nearly so) in the middle of a blizzard really made my trip easier. Where it wasn't cleared, or where the snowblower had come through before the plow, I waded through knee-deep snow until I got to the next cleared area. I understand the lure of snowshoes, now, too. It was snowing for a good portion of my walk: cold, wet, stinging snow.

But I pressed on.

All the way there, I heard, besides my father, two voices in my head: the Man in Jack London's To Build a Fire, and Hans Christian Andersen's Little Match Girl. This is what happens when an English major takes a walk in a blizzard.

The walk home was easier, though creepy, too, as I realized that my footsteps had largely been erased by the wind. The sidewalks were still mostly clear, and the wind at my back felt gentle compared to the wind in face.

Why did I make such a journey, you ask, when I had cookies and a freezer full of food and the Addams Family volume 3 in my warm home?

I was out of Coca-Cola. And some things are not negotiable.

1 comment:

Mink*e said...

Thanks for this beautiful post. Your father taught you well -weather is to be taken seriously. Have you read this?: http://www.amazon.com/Childrens-Blizzard-P-S-David-Laskin/dp/0060520760/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1261968840&sr=1-1

Glad you also got to enjoy the snow. We did as well, and shoveling outside at midnight, standing next to the Christmas lights on Christmas Eve in the beautiful quiet as Joel, Steve, Kathy and Mark played Acquire inside was one of my favorite things about Christmas. Solitude and conviviality all at once...