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Embracing a Change In the Weather

By Bill Sherwonit / October 29, 1997



I have watched the snow fall all weekend, part of me enjoying its soft, white beauty, another part wishing it would go away and come back in another month or two. I'm not ready to embrace winter; mid-October is too early for a major snowstorm, even in Alaska. So I keep my distance. Except for short walks to get the newspaper and mail, I remain inside the house all of Saturday and much of Sunday. Yet my attention inevitably drifts outside, as the snow piles ever higher. At times it falls as large, fluffy flakes; at other times it's a fine, mist-like presence.

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Four inches cover the ground by mid-morning Saturday, 10 inches by nightfall, 16 inches by Sunday morning. Television weather people say the storm is caused by the meeting of two strong weather fronts: a mass of cold and dry Arctic air has collided over south-central Alaska with wet, warmer air from the Gulf of Alaska. I wonder how long they'll be mixing it up overhead, and recall that only one week earlier I'd been immersed in Indian summer.

Walking along Chugach State Park's Turnagain Arm Trail on a blue-sky afternoon, I'd entered a forest that glowed with golds and yellows. From forest-floor patches of devil's club to the highest reaches of cottonwoods and birches, the entire forest radiated warmth and brightness. The reds, oranges and purples of fireweed, wild prickly rose, and high-bush cranberry added to the fiery mix: rich October colors on an August-like day.

Carrying the sweet-sour pungency of autumn's decay, the air was warm enough for me to shed my jacket and comfortably walk in shirtsleeves; warm enough, too, for swarms of gnats and other insects to engage in wild, swirling dances along the trail and among the trees. It was quiet enough to hear leaves falling to the ground, the distant call of a chickadee, the footsteps of a mouse. Gradually my mind quieted as well, busy thoughts giving way to an awareness and appreciation of forest and warmth. I dawdled on my way back to the trailhead, willing to be late for dinner so that I might savor this serenity and somehow store it away for future recall.

NOW, as I watch my world turn white, that walk already seems like an ancient memory. I wait until late Sunday afternoon to clear the driveway. Bundled up, I shovel off the front porch and an area in front of the garage, then push the snowblower outside. The snow is 20 inches deep, making it nearly as high as the front of my blower. The snow that's been falling today is fluffy and dry, but at the bottom there's some heavy, wet stuff. Cutting through it is slow, strenuous work. This is not something I can rush; I'm forced to slow down, be patient.

As I settle into the job, something shifts. Just as I was connected to the forest a week earlier, I am now immersed in this winter storm. I am not fighting or denying the snow or wishing it were gone, but instead I'm working with it. Being with it. There's a slight breeze and snow swirls from the blower into my face. This, too, is OK. In 20-degree temperatures, engulfed by snow and the roar of my machine, I begin to enjoy the storm and appreciate the way it has so quickly and utterly transformed the landscape. And I feel thankful that today, at least, I don't have to drive anywhere.

After finishing the driveway, I shovel the steps and the back decks, while looking and listening for signs of our neighbors. The squirrel that comes for sunflower seeds and peanuts hasn't been around all day; he, too, must figure it's a good day to stay home. The heavy snow hasn't stopped chickadees and nuthatches from visiting my feeders. I welcome their songs, which always cheer me.

Out front, deep tracks in the snow show where two moose passed through our yard during the storm and I wonder how they will fare this winter.

The snowfall eases in early evening, then picks up again. By Monday morning, another six inches will cover the ground. Looking out the window, knowing that I'll have to clear the driveway again, I feel a desire, a need, for playful connection with this snow.

Late Sunday night I jump into an outdoor hot tub and, with my body heated by 100-degree-F. water, I turn my face to sky. As snowflakes fall on head and face, I celebrate the change of seasons. Smiling, I say hello to winter.