What passes for Winter is coming to the Sierra Nevada Foothills. In Syracuse, back in New York, it’s late Fall, which is really just another name for early Winter. That means there’s already been a couple of decent snowfalls and lots of cold and wind-whipped dark and cloudy days. But here in Northern California, Autumn just means the temperatures at night may drop to a nippy forty or so degrees with an occasional rainy day. And while theoretically that may sound great, for an East Coast refugee, it’s murder. I miss Winter.
I miss seeing my breath in the air, I miss girls in boots and coats and scarves. I miss patches of ice and slippery leaves on the road. I miss saying things like, “Have you seen my heavy sweater”, or, “Let’s light the fire tonight.” I miss really appreciating the heat from the morning’s first cup of coffee. I miss stacking firewood and making sure the snow blower is tuned up and the lawnmower is put away. I miss hearing the weatherman talk about “Lake Effect Snow”, “Acrtic Blasts” and “Wind Chills”. There’s so much I miss.
Don’t get me wrong…Northern California is a really nice place to live. The people are welcoming and friendly, the scenery is great and the Yuba River is as pretty a place as I’ve ever seen. it’s just that after spending a significant portion of each of my fifty years in below freezing temperatures it’s become engrained in me; it’s a part of my makeup.
Back in the Adirondacks, I’ve walked out my door in the morning to thirty five below zero temperatures with sixty five below wind chills. I’ve worked in blizzards and Nor’easter’s in the Catskills. Where I come from Winter can last for six months; when it’s finally done, you know you’ve survived something. It’s an accomplishment. And you have to know what you’re doing.
Some years back, while I was still in the Adirondacks, my friend Andy came to visit from NYC with his latest girlfriend. She was real City…knew everything. Andy, on the other hand, trusted me enough to listen; the girl was just an idiot. Anyway, we took a walk to a nearby pond. The weather wasn’t too bad- clear and maybe six degrees. Being from England, Andy had never walked on a frozen pond before, so we strolled out. The ice was about two feet thick, so there was no danger. Well, at least until e girl spotted an interesting snow covered dome of piled sticks towards the far shore of the pond.
“What’s that?”, she asked, heading towards it.
“A beaver hut.”, I replied, “Don’t get too close to it.”
She kept walking and and asked jokingly, “Why? Are beaver dangerous?”.
“No, in fact they’re harmless. But stay away from it.”
“I just want to get a closer look.”, she insisted and kept going.
“I’m serious. the ice around it is too thi…” right then, she crashed through and ended up waist deep in the frigid water.
“Aw, fuck”, I said, and I meant it too.
Her immediate reaction was to turn and try to come back towards us, a look of agonized shock on her face.
“No!”, I screamed, “Don’t come this way, you’ll only go deeper! Head back towards the beaver hut, but go around it. Stay about six or eight feet away from it. We’ll get you from the shore side.”
Andy looked at me and asked in a low voice, “How bad is this?” We were hurrying along the solid ice back to shore as she clambered around the hut.
“It’s pretty bad, but probably not fatal, as long as she doesn’t get tangled up in the sticks under the water.Then we’re all gonna get wet”, I murmured in reply, “but we’re only about a mile and a half from the cabin and I stoked the woodstove before we left. We’ve just got to keep her moving and be prepared to carry her if she can’t. Give her your gloves and hat and I’ll give her my coat. Just don’t get too wet yourself.”
Happily, we got her back without frostbite or hypothermia, but if we were another mile or two farther away, it might have been different. She and Andy left the next day. He dumped her about a week later.
The point? Where I come from the weather can kill you if you don’t treat it with respect. I miss that too. Finally, I miss seeing the first glimpse of Orion in the night sky and realizing with a small shudder of dread that once again Winter’s coming.
In a few days I’m flying back to Syracuse to load a truck and drive it across country. I’m hoping that a few weeks in New York, then a trip across the Mid-West and Great Plains and finally the Rockies in December will help cure these Winter Blues of mine. If it doesn’t kill me first. Wish me luck.