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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!