Watching and Welcoming Winter's Arrival
I LOOKED out the window and saw snow coming toward us from Greenhorn Mountain, falling with the wind down into Whitney Valley. My first thought was, "Are we ready for winter?" The answer was, "Probably not."There are many details that need to be taken care of, tools left out where they will be lost under snow until spring if we don't get them picked up, work to do on the house to ready it for northeastern Oregon's cold winters, more mulch onto the garden, firewood over in the timber that will be buried under snow if I don't get it out. But then, we never are and we probably never will be quite ready for winter. This snow might melt off, and we might have more open ground before the first snow comes that will stay all winter, to be added to, layer-upon-layer, through a long winter and into spring. The custom, according to my mother, is for the first heavy snow to come on Thanksgiving, and it often happens that way. Once, when driving over the mountain to Sumpter for Thanksgiving dinner, only 13 miles from here, I almost turned back, the snow was coming down so heavily. All members of the family protested. They wanted to go on to the festivities, the food, the people. I couldn't easily back out. I was the one who always insisted that we carry our survival sacks, containing extra clothes, sleeping bags, food, and wood for a fire, so that if we were stranded we had what we needed. I chained the wheels, the chains brok e, I repaired them, and yet we did get there, and it was a good Thanksgiving. On the way home, late that night, I was so engrossed in explaining a mathematical problem to my daughters, and it was snowing so hard that I missed our turnoff. It took a while to figure out that we were driving into the unfamiliar wilderness. Yet we made it home all right. Instead of standing by the window, entranced by the approaching storm and memories of other storms, I could scurry to take care of some of the last details of getting ready for winter. But I've been in hard winter country long enough to know that if this is the first snow that stays, it is too late. If the snow melts away, there is yet time. My lack of panic tells me that we are actually ready for winter. Tools that are buried under snow for four or five months are tools I won't need until spring. We have enough wood in the barn and in the front yard to see us through the winter, even enough to sell some, when the price is up, mid-winter. The wood over in the timber can stay there until next year. More important, even than firewood and tools, are the snow geese. Recently, we were walking down the graveled county road when about 100 snow gees e flew up from the old mill pond, circled higher into the sky, then flew a wide turn above most of the valley, before flying away over the mountains west of us. Snow geese are white, except for black wingtips. They are smaller than the Canada geese that come in early spring to the valley, that court, mate, and nest here, and leave when the young are fully fledged. We rarely see the quieter, more melodious-voiced snow geese here. They sometimes stop briefly, but to be so close to so many of them is rare, and we were thrilled. On another recent day, we also saw four whistling swans fly from the mill pond. Usually, we only see swans for a short time in the spring. It is not unusual to see and hear some of the Canada geese stop briefly in the valley late in the fall. This year, we have seen and heard more of them than usual. They fly in, circle the valley once or twice, calling, and go on their way. I've thought that those who fledged here in the early summer return to bid the valley goodbye as they head south for the winter. I've always included myself in their farewells, if not them to me, at least me to them, "Fare thee well, beautiful travelers. Return safely in the spring." So, yes. We are ready for winter. We have had a good spring, summer, and fall. We are supplied with what we need to begin the winter, and we have the resources, the skills, the knowledge, and the faith to continue to meet our needs as the winter deepens. To all our migratory friends who announced their departures, we have issued sincere farewells. To those who did not announce, we give our best wishes for a safe journey, nonetheless. We watch the storm advance, down the mountain, across the valley, and the first feeling of apprehension - are we ready? - turns to knowledge: Yes, we are. Welcome. Welcome, winter.