Andersen: Into the teeth of the storm
January 4, 2016
We could see it moving up the Fryingpan Valley, a line of blackness reminiscent of the "Edge of Night" soap opera where darkness engulfed the city skyline. Here the line of darkness was engulfing the valley, obliterating it behind a curtain of snow.
Tait and I were finishing lunch.
"Look at that wind!" he said. Beyond the triple panes, the gale lashed the limbs of our Russian olive. With the blast came sheets of blinding snow.
Soon, the ridge across the valley was blotted out. So were the Seven Castles, and so was our neighbor's home. What a sight! But why waste a hell-roaring storm when you can be out in it? That's when the phone rang.
"Paul, are you suffering the same blizzard we are in Carbondale?" asked our friend Jerry. "The wind is howling here!"
"Suffering?" I said. "No way. I love this!"
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Jerry laughed, knowing my Druidic devotion to the forces of nature. By now, snow rattled against the windows. Plumes stood up like spirits from the yard. After the call, I announced, "Hey, let's get out in this!" Tait grinned. "Right on, brother!"
Soon we were suited up in Sorels, snow pants, parkas, hats, gloves and goggles.
"Nice look, Dad," Tait chided. "Those goggles have got to be from the '80s."
Sure enough, I told him, they were swag from a Subaru World Cup downhill when I covered skiing for The Aspen Times.
"Yep, I've never bought a new pair of goggles," I bragged.
"Dad, you've never bought a new pair of anything!" Tait rejoined.
We forced open the door against the blustering wind and stepped into the maelstrom. Snow was blowing every direction, even straight up. The wind roared through the pinyons and junipers that flank our snow-flocked house.
Inside, the wood stove was crackling and, occasionally, the redolence of pinyon smoke caressed our olfactory senses. Here was a beautiful contrast: outside, where the wind and snow were primal, and inside, where it was comforting, warm and cozy.
I grabbed the splitting ax, and Tait took up the push scoop — tools for our primary winter occupations. Tait began pushing heaps of snow down the driveway while I lugged a large round of wood onto the splitting stump. Soon, we were both at work, Tait moving snow and I making firewood.
People freeze to death in storms when they stop making an effort, when they simply succumb and allow the cold to rob them of body heat. Tait and I were eagerly engaged in physical work, and soon we felt an internal glow tingling the skin, warming us from the inside. We began peeling off layers and laughing into the teeth of the storm. We were enlivened by it.
After a while, we switched roles, happily doing the chores that give us pleasure. Neither task is seen as work but rather the pleasant functions of mountain living within a celebration of physical labor and sweat equity.
We could buy a motorized log-splitter, and I could use the neighborhood plow truck, but that would be cheating. Not only would it violate our nonmotorized pledge and compromise our self-sufficiency, but it would rob us of the rewards of physical exertion within the Aeolian symphony of a ripping storm.
This blizzard was tangibly strong. It spoke in the voice of nature with the bitter shriek of winter numbing our ears and chilling our fingers. Here was visceral contact with the raw stuff of life, and it was right outside our door.
As dusk colored the sky a gray pallor, the storm eased. Soon the snow stopped. Only the wind worked its fingers through the trees, restlessly probing for clumps of snow to dislodge and dissipate into errant puffs.
It was time to start dinner, so Tait and I stomped off boots, dusted our shirts, shook out our hats and stepped into the soothing comfort of our home. A cold beer was ambrosia as we chopped veggies for a stir fry and checked the rising barometer. We were disappointed that the squall was over but grateful to have been touched by its dramatic thrall.
Paul Andersen's column appears on Mondays when he's not happily lost in a whiteout. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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