"Why is snow so pretty?" my husband asked as we watched wet flakes add to the thin blanket already covering the ground.
"Because it covers up a multitude of sins," I thought to myself, but didn't express out loud. I'd awakened in a sullen mood, not exactly sure what was bugging me ... maybe just the dim light that greets you at 7 a.m. a week before winter solstice - a time when my spouse gleefully announces, every single year, "We're headed back to the sun," meaning the northern hemisphere is beginning to tip back toward our star, toward the summer solstice when days are long, the sky is light at 4:30 in the morning and long dusks make for pleasant evenings.
"The snow turns everything into art," I thought. Landscape becomes sculpture in its white simplicity. Lawns become open space as perfect as a Japanese sand garden. Flowerbeds appear well groomed, weeds hidden below their snowy overcoats.
Snow means no school for us wimpy West Coast folks, less travel, less traffic, a soft quiet. I'm fine with snow as long as I don't have to go anywhere by car. Raised in the coast range, I never learned how to drive in snow or really relax when someone else was driving for me. One winter I took the bus over Highway 26 to Portland during heavy snow. The road was almost devoid of traffic and the bus didn't slip or slide, not even once. That's my best experience of winter travel.
Otherwise, I've had too many hair-raising incidents, especially in Colorado. Once we spun out in our VW double-cab pick-up while commuting to work via Boulder Canyon; only a thick drift left by the snowplow protected us from serious damage. On another occasion, we spun out on the road to the Eldora ski area; my husband's quick thinking saved us - using the accelerator to spin the car 180 degrees so we headed toward the inside of the curve instead of going down the 100 foot plus embankment, sans guard rail. In Colorado, the joke was there were no guardrails on mountain passes because the highway department was tired of replacing them.
Reminded of those episodes, I prefer being housebound and prepared, stocking up on just about everything and ready for a power outage too. Upon rumors of harsh weather, I call my favorite weather forecast, available from the National Weather Service at 503-861-2722. It's faster, more detailed and relatively local compared with the Web site where the predictions tend to be more general, both in terms of weather conditions and geography. By listening to the cues, you can get a very accurate forecast for "the southern Washington and northern Oregon coasts, including Astoria," as the well-modulated voice on the recording says, followed by high and low temperatures, anticipated precipitation, wind direction and speed for the morning, afternoon and evening for each of the next few days.
My husband, who was raised back east, is more optimistic about snowy weather, saying one of his favorite outings as a youngster was to go for a long walk or even a cautious car trip in new snow, when most people were too fearful to venture out. His daughter, who's been living in New York City for more than a decade says the same thing: "The best time to be in New York (by this she means Manhattan) is just after a snowfall," when traffic is muffled, when the sidewalks are wall to wall white carpet - before the slush sets in.
On Sunday morning, snowflakes the size of quarters were falling. Steller's jays, towhees, and juncos flocked to our bird feeder. An inch of snow quickly accumulated on our deck rail. Our cat usually goes out all day after breakfast; when I opened the door for him, he gave one serious look at the winter scene, turned around and came back into the mudroom.
Under a blank sky, the landscape is all texture - a monochrome of pasture, spruce and alders finally bare after a long, warm autumn. A thin veil of blue is appearing toward the west. I know that's backwards: the sky is always blue, as my exasperating husband, the amateur astronomer says, and the sun is always out. There's just clouds in the way so we don't see what's really there. I guess that's the reality that I must believe in - that the sun is there, it will be back, the days will lengthen and brighten, and maybe even today there will be a walk in a winter wonderland.
Victoria Stoppiello is a freelance writer who much prefers the mild weather typical of the southern Washington and northern Oregon coasts.