Vashon: At Home in a Snowglobe

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Snow comes and goes in the Pacific Northwest, but it usually prevails at higher elevations, and leaves the shores of Puget Sound unfettered by the constraints of its icy grip. With Vashon so close to Cascade-Mountain ski slopes, we islanders usually travel to see the snow, not the other way around. But last week was the 100-year exception; the snow went coastal and never left, breaking a February snowfall record set in 1923.

There is no disputing the beauty ushered in by a fresh snowfall, but with each accumulating inch, I, like most Vashonites, standby for the imminent power outage caused by the whims of tall timber, feeble footholds, precarious powerlines, and heavy snow.

Tenuous terracotta : Keeping my fountain running so it won’t freeze and crack

With our local meteorologists hyperventilating on network news about Snowmageddon 2019 or Snowpocalypse Now, Puget Sounders took notice. In fact, most grocery store shelves were emptied in a 24-hour period. Produce sections had one offering: parsnips. Dairy refrigerators were denuded of everything but a few tubs of pineapple cottage cheese and some curiously-flavored coffee creamers. But with a giant jar of Jif, six cans of tuna, one box of milk bones, and a bag of bagels (the last one), I qualified for and breezed through the 15-item-or-less line, while my poor island pals followed an outer-aisle labyrinth to the promised land of frenetic checkers. Truth be told, I feel I may have missed a good party by not standing in that long line.

When the first flake arrived, I was safe, warm, showered and down-comforter ready, though the chill of procrastination had me shivering over my wimpy stash of firewood and my reluctance to procure more. And why was that; well it required splitting more.

I was not prepared. (Ya think?)

Right on time, a freezing air flow from British Columbia’s Fraser River Valley embraced our coastal moisture, and the snow event was on. A steady snowfall silenced the island; everyone was in for the night. Like a heavenly pillow fight, feathery flakes danced their way down to earth, dressing all surfaces in winter white. Only a few souls ventured out to prove their snow-driving prowess, and many of the island’s hills and ditches welcomed their foolhardiness with expected outcomes.

Within five hours of the first flake, the entire island was without power, about 10,000 folks. I know the exact time because my CPAP machine stopped and I was awakened by the need to breathe. (Gets me every time.) My bedroom was cold already as I don’t heat the upstairs, and Buddy wasn’t budging, wrapped as tight as a bulldog blanket burrito.

I layered up from the one-day-I’ll-fold-these clothes pile. Now about 3 a.m., I stumbled downstairs to my first mistake: I had failed to reset my furnace thermostat from its nighttime temp of 50 degrees to a higher temperature in case the power went out. My first order of business was to build a fire in my ancient and rarely-used wood stove. An hour later, the fire was roaring and my living room was enjoying a whopping two-degree rise to 52 degrees Fahrenheit (and that is why it’s rarely used). Candles were lit. Buddy trundled downstairs, seeking company and warmth, and found both on the sofa.

In the car: Thank goodness for knitwear, seat warmers, and phone chargers

Perhaps my favorite thing about snow is not only its ability to change the landscape, but its wizardry to change the human heart. Add a few flakes, and we lose years and jaded outlooks, and take a shining to childlike wonder. I walked around the house looking through the wavy window panes of my snowglobe within a snowglobe. Upstairs, downstairs, east, west, north and south, I gazed at views transformed into fairytale vistas.

My backyard winter wonderland

When Buddy finally ventured out, the snow reached his jowls, while his body remained below the surface like a lumbering submarine. He plowed through the white stuff , then stopped to zig, then zag, roll and bark. His “business trip” had taken to a snow cave under the hedge. His triumphant return to hearth and home was marked by ample treats, hugs, a towel-off, and a resumption of his napping duty.

My superhero neighbor Dan helping me dig out.

For the most part, I was stranded, but at home in my island snowglobe. Power crews worked feverishly to restore electricity to the island, and within twelve hours my center quadrant was being spoiled once again with heat, hot coffee, drawn baths, and WiFi.

Earlier in the week, not going anywhere…

The snow covered neighbors under the same blanket, but awakened us to our interdependency. We visited. We told stories. We offered to help. We checked on each other and marveled at the rarity and beauty of such a storm. Many intrepid islanders were out in their monster trucks, chainsaw ready to clear a blocked road.

Can you hear the songbirds?

For five days, I stayed home. My lane was impassable and I was uninterested in trying to find a reason to travel farther than my chicken coop or orchard. My job became knocking snow off of my greenhouse, and fruit trees. In the end some of my efforts paid off, some did not. My fruit trees were spared dramatic breakage, but my greenhouse collapsed, fencing failed, trees fell and the chicken yard ain’t what she used to be. Our big snow did some big damage, but I’ll see what insurance has to say about all this in the days to come, and then ponder my next move.

For now, it’s dark outside, my feet are warmed by the snoring bulldog lug atop them, and a full moon is slipping behind a cloud. To-do lists and chores can wait a little longer, perhaps until my boots dry out, and the sun shows its face, oh, and when I’m through toggling through some lovely photos of Snowmageddon 2019!

38 COMMENTS

  1. I love how a winter storm encourages quiet contemplation -a chance to prioritize. Suddenly those imperious must-do lists are not as critical as I thought. Either that or I’m going a bit stir crazy here 😉

  2. it is all so beautiful! you officially have had more snow than we have all winter. i am so disappointed since i truly love winter. buddy might be scarred for life!

  3. Thank you for the beautiful snow pictures. As a New England resident I love the snow and the fact that it causes the world to stop for a tiny bit. Stay safe and warm.

  4. Beautifully written Tom! It was our magical island snow globe. What a blessing to experience something so powerful with your neighbors.
    Thank you!

  5. Tom, thank you for your warm and funny story telling. The pictures are wonderful and full of the magic of a snow globe. I do remember being snowed in on the island one Christmas, I think it was 2008. I did have heat, my landlords had gone to Italy to visit family. I was in my island home on Cove Road with my blind retired Guide Dog, Lorrie. My husband was going to take the train up from Oregon, but there was too much snow on the tracks. It was a memorable Christmas for all of us. As I write about it now, I am back on the island reliving that time. Thank you, my dear friend for the memories you so skillfully can bring back to me. Big hugs to you and Buddy.🤗

  6. Tom,
    I am not sure how I happened upon your blog several months ago, but I have been subscribing ever since. I believe it was over a pie!

    I live in Pennsylvania, so snow is not a novelty to me. Seeing it through your eyes and reading your eloquent description makes me appreciate it so much more.

    I hope your damage is not as great as it seems and that you are baking a delicious pie this morning!

    Thanks for your blog entries,
    Molly

  7. Nice Hat!
    I got an OK greenhouse for $600 from Harbor Freight, with one of their coupons…went up in 3 days.
    Snow’s fun, but Spring is coming right up!

    • Thanks Pat, my friend Sara knitted it for me. She’s amazingly talented and have a gift of sharing color. Thanks for the greenhouse tip, but I fear my greenhouse is a really big one, so I’ll keep you posted on its rebuilding or replacement.

  8. What a great story! First, you told it like it was, warts and all, with your own mistakes and no complaining. Next you talked about the wonderfulness of the community in such an event and then you showed some amusing photos and some beautiful ones. Thank you.

  9. Oh, Tom! I cherish how you record our island adventures. Such a good storyteller. One day in summer I will look back and read it again. Again and agin in the years to come. Thanks. Keep writing ❤️

    • Dana, thank you so much. If only we lived closer I could have skied over to your sweet home with my scrabble board. 😉 I would have like that snow-day memory.

  10. “Whose woods these are I think I know
    His house is in the village though
    He will not see me stopping here
    To watch his woods fill up with snow. . .”

    Burrito Buddy is THE BEST!!! Thanks, Tom!

  11. Hi Tom! I love your writing, your fun & beautiful photos, and your Buddy! Thanks for always entertaining & educating your readers.
    ~ Laurie in southern California

  12. I think this essay is in the spirit you shared re Snomaggedon on Vashon:
    first snow
    Sunday morning – the world is white as forgiveness and perfectly still. I grab the camera and run out to the pasture where the black cows are trying to figure out what happened to yesterday’s green. The new bull, a Belted Gallaway (black with a wide white belt around his middle) looks like a hind quarter following a front quarter around a snowman. They raise their heads to stare back at me, then start wandering toward the barnlot and fresh bales of hay. The chickens were thoroughly tramatized by the new landscape – for a few minutes anyway. They just stood at the chickenhouse door, apparently trying to figure out why anyone would go out there when there’s plenty to eat inside. By afternoon most will have stretched their wings and settled back on the roosts for an afternoon nap. Not a bad idea, I thought. When I got back to the house my 7 year old was rolling a snowman’s mid-section through the yard bare handed and red faced. “Where’s your gloves?” . . . “Where’s your stocking cap?’ . . . .”where’s your snowsuit?” . . . we went back in the house to warm up and start over. Winter’s not so bad I guess.

    Dave Bishop

  13. Tom, I read your blog from New Mexico and yes we are part of the United States. Here on the southern end we rarely get snow but can travel to see it up north. Your blog is a joy to read and I never miss it and often go back to make sure I didn’t miss some subtle humor or incredible description, not to forget a delicious recipe beautifully photographed. I will likely never have the opportunity to visit Vashon but your blog makes visiting vicariously a blessing. My best to Buddy, a true friend!

    • Thank you Alice, I really appreciate your kind words. New Mexico truly is the Land of Enchantment. As I kid I remember my family’s drive from the east coast to our new home in Tucson, and the first seriously large mountain I saw was in New Mexico, and I was transfixed. Here’s to your beautiful state, and Buddy returns your sentiment.

  14. Your plastic-bag-in boots brought me back to childhood days of sunbeam bread bags inside red, over-the-shoe boots in the snow! Good memories! My 12 foot pine tree was flattened and hasn’t bounced back; might leave it growing horizonally for a while!The 20 foot dogwood luckily is upright and pencil bushes responded to snow removal! It was a wonderful 6 days snowed in especially since I live on the best hill for sledding! Also got to meet lots of new neighbors!

    • Nodie, as I read this I smile because it says so much about you and your big heart. You are Island Sunshine! Here’s to warmer days and dahlias blooming!

  15. Lots going on, so it took me a while to get to this post – glad I did. Thank you, Tom (and Buddy). A delight to read, wonderful pictures to look at, and for me… you captured a moment. Lovely. Take care, I’m glad you were able to save fruit trees (Cynthia and I were out a number of times with sticks, gently knocking snow off of the Japanese maples, which made it through! Yay!) Adios for now.

    • Michael, glad your maples were spared. Mine fared relatively well with just some minimal breakage. After pruning some of the broken branches, a couple of the trees had the most interesting shapes, ones I could live with, without wenching. Take care, and here’s to spring!

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