Posts Tagged ‘winter’

Forgetting Winter

April 10th, 2019

Elusive Memories, Snowfall, Weather and Climate at home in the Sierra of Northern California

Mt. Hough From North Arm of Indian Valley, Northern Sierra, California, 2015 by David Leland Hyde. In this image, the snowline from the most recent storm can be seen clearly at about 5,000 feet in elevation. The top of Mt. Hough, the giant rock outcropping jutting out of the right middle, is just over 7,000 feet and the top of Arlington Ridge in the left middle of the whole mountain, is 7,232. (Click image to see large.)

Plumas County, where I am writing from, is the transition zone between the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountain Ranges. Here the Sierra is much lower in elevation overall, while we also have much more volcanic activity, defunct volcanoes, hot springs, geothermal vents and old lava flows weaving in among the Ponderosa Pine and Douglas Fir Forests growing out of Sierra granite terrain.

In our milder Northern Sierra Nevada, most mountain peaks are 6,000 to 8,000 feet in elevation, unlike the High Sierra farther south, where the peaks range from 11,000 to 14,000 feet. Our mountain valleys, where most of the people live in the Feather River Region, usually range between 3,000 and 5,000 in elevation. By the time you drive two hours south of here to Lake Tahoe, you are in the Sierra proper, which usually receives much more snow, mainly due to higher altitude.

Bear in mind that the base lake elevation of Tahoe is 6,225 feet. This means that most of the tops of our mountains reach only as high as the bases of most of the mountains in the Lake Tahoe Basin. Many of the winter snowstorms that dump the heaviest in the Tahoe area bring us nothing but rain. Some years most of the Sierra receives heavy snowfall, while we do not, and other years it is vice versa. Consequently, we do not follow the various long-range forecasts all that closely, as they do not always apply.

This year was different though. We heard from many sources about the coming long, heavy and cold winter. Most of my neighbors braced themselves by getting in extra wood and supplies, putting on snow tires and updating vehicle maintenance, though we all remained skeptical. The weather itself did not seem to care whether we were skeptical, or whether the predictions were dire, either one. Winter came on very gradually and much the same as it has arrived most of the last 15 years. Our contemporary pattern, no different this year, for at least 15 years has been a little rain in October with Halloween being unseasonably warm and essentially an extension of what we used to call Indian Summer.

Following the current pattern, this season we received a little more rain in November, several flurries of snow that were just enough to stick in the first week of December and finally about one foot in one storm shortly after. This brought on hopes of a White Christmas, as well as fears we might be buried by then. However, it warmed up and dried out again for most of the month until it clouded up and threatened either rain or snow just before the big holiday. It snowed just after the Winter Solstice, just a skiff, which we thought might last a bit to give us a White Christmas, but the only weather that lasted beyond the holidays was the cold, which after all showed up with enough mojo to provide ice skating on the local pond during the weeks on either side of New Year’s Day.

Toward the end of the first week of 2019, weather reports had people talking again. The big snows were coming. Most of us went right on ahead with what we were already doing in disbelief. Then about January 5th or so, it snowed a foot in one night. Ok, we had seen this lately here and there, but then it snowed about a foot the next night. Here we go, or not? The weather skipped a few days just for dramatic effect and then snowed a foot again and again and again, not necessarily every day, but frequently enough that everyone knew this was already a series of storms more like we used to have and possibly the beginning of an old-fashioned winter, as officially expected.

Since the winter of 2011, we have not had more than a foot of snow on the ground at one time. Before that 2002 was the last heavy winter where we had more than one foot at a time. Also, besides 2002 and 2011, I do not remember the last time snow stayed on the ground more than a week at a time. From the beginning of the New Millennium and probably earlier, onward to today, the snow melted quickly, even in mid-winter. Long, cold, snowy winters require different skills and different thinking than snows that always melt in a few days. They require different patterns of grocery shopping, woodbin filling and snow shoveling prevail.

When I was a boy, I remember us getting six feet of snow in one storm more than once. It happened in 1968 when I was three years old and one or two other times. Dad made photographs of me at age three in a red snowsuit sliding down piles of snow he had shoveled in the driveway that were taller than the flat roof of the house. Once in the late 1970s, it snowed four feet on April 1st. This event we forever after called the April Fool’s snow. I also remember the snow sticking for months in the dead of winter. Most years, the snows started in October and even sometimes in September. Many winters we had snow on the ground continuously all season. Once the snow had been on the ground a while, lasting right through temporary warm spells, it usually melted a little each day warm enough to get above freezing and refroze at night. The deeper the snow and the greater the range between nighttime lows and daytime highs, the bigger the icicles grew that hung from the eves, the deck railings, water drains and spouts and any other horizontal surface close enough to the house to thaw out temporarily. I remember Dad photographing the largest icicles that grew up to six or more feet long. Usually, the icicles never got a chance to grow that long though because he either followed along after his photographing with a shovel and knocked them down, or just knocked them down without photographing them.

Dad had a rule that I followed when I took over the snow shoveling duties: always shovel all the snow off the decks every day, if at all possible. If you do not do this and the snow piles up in subsequent storms, the bottom layer of snow, or whatever portions of it you did not shovel, turns to ice. Considering we have thousands of square feet of decks, clearing them after every snowfall is not necessarily an easy or even convenient task.

I left home to go away to boarding school at age 15 in 1980 and never came back for longer than a few weeks on vacations and holidays until 2002 when Mom passed on. After moving back home to be Dad’s primary caregiver in 2002, I became lazy about shoveling snow. The average winter temperatures were warmer and cold spells lasted for less time. After any storm of less than a few inches, I hardly shoveled, if at all. This was rarely a problem since the snow tended to melt long before more snow fell. If a storm did drop more snow before the previous storm’s accumulation melted off, it never mattered much either because both would either melt or at least stay warm enough that the bottom layer never converted completely to ice. In the last few decades, there has just been a lot less ice in general. Shoveling off the front walkway between the house and driveway once eliminated the possibility that much ice would build up there. In the “old days,” that same walkway usually turned to ice even if shoveled off because more snow would inevitably fall and turn to ice, sometimes before it could be shoveled.

With so many mild winters in a row, I forgot about these nuances of snow conditions and the differences between heavy snow years and light ones. This year in early January, I still doubted we would have much snow when the first series of storms hit. I shoveled a path around the inside edge of the decks next to the house, the usual first shoveling pass, but left over a foot of snow on most of the decks. I was busy and needed to get back to work rather than spending an entire day shoveling. I also neglected to use the shovel to cut the snow back off the edge of the roof in the front of the house, where melting snow usually dripped to form ice on the front walkway.

As more and more storms came through, I began to realize this was a more serious error than it had been even back in my youth. As snow does, it compacted down over time and soon I had about 18 inches of close to solid ice on my decks. The sheer weight of this could cause damage to the deck, but the longer it stayed, the harder it would be to remove and more snow kept arriving all the time. It took me about five days of shoveling over four hours a day to get all of the decks cleared. I also spent many hours chipping, scraping and chopping away at the ice on the front walkway.

I began to realize that what was happening to me and my snow management in regard to the severity of the winter in the microcosm was the same thing that had happened to mankind in relation to climate change in the macrocosm. Winter had changed from what it was 20 years ago and I had forgotten what it was like to have to remove the ice from the front walk, or how critical it was to get it off the decks right away. I had been lulled into shoveling complacence, had forgotten how we used to go about it and what the consequences were of neglect. I marveled how soon I had forgotten and felt happy to be chipping and pounding away at the ice again. All was well. Then I remembered that all is not well.

When someone in a room with a dimmer switch that is gradually being turned down does not notice how much darker the room is than before, one of the main reasons they do not notice is inaccurate or wishfully driven memory. Here in the Northern Sierra, we are generally ok with winter being less harsh. It means less work and less hardship. It makes life in the winter easier. In a dimming room, we may be happy with the room darker. Memory is an elusive critter and what it consists of is often distorted by what we want or what we like. This means that one of the main reasons we do not notice the room is darker is that we do not remember how bright it was. We do not notice or remember that the first spring flowers, snowdrops, daffodils and lupine, have been blooming steadily earlier every decade. We tend to delight in signs of spring coming earlier, even though when we pause and reflect, we know something is systemically wrong with Mother Nature. We also do not notice or remember when we have no specific markers for comparison. The particular muscle memory I have of pounding away at ice with a shovel, when I performed the act again many years later, made me realize I did not even miss doing this task. I did not ever think, “Wow, I haven’t had to chip ice off the front walkway for 20 years.” The memory was gone and with it, the awareness of any of it ever having happened.

Without the marker or any other specific records or information, I could easily have forgotten how much winter has changed. My mother’s home logs and father’s weather records kept for over 40 years tell us that in the mid-1960s the snowdrops bloomed in the second week of April. Going through the logs, over the years the bloom dates gradually shifted until, by the time I moved back home here in 2002, the snowdrops came out at the beginning of March. The last couple of years it has moved to the end of February. Thanks to logbooks and records we can circumvent our own mistaken memories. Thanks to science, we do not have to rely on our own often mistaken faculties, but we can rely on solid facts.

Living The Good Life 3: The Change of Seasons

February 21st, 2013

Living the Good Life, Part Three

The Change Of Seasons

(Continued from the blog post, “Living The Good Life 2.”)

“When I hear people say they have not found the world, or life so interesting as to be in love with it, I am apt to think they have never seen with clear vision the world they think so meanly of, nor anything in it, not even a blade of grass.”  –W. H. Hudson

“I have moments, in these days of national gloom, financial depression, ‘hard times’, when I feel it my duty to be sad, or at least cynical—but cannot be—not in spring.”  –David Grayson, 1936, from The Countryman’s Year.

Looking Back

Oak Trunks, Maples, Fall Snow On Ardis Hyde's "Ornamentals" Garden, Northern Sierra, California, copyright 2012 by David Leland Hyde. Nikon D90. Featured in the upcoming David Leland Hyde Sierra Portfolio.

Oak Trunks, Maples, Fall Snow On Ardis Hyde’s “Ornamentals” Garden, Northern Sierra, California, copyright 2012 by David Leland Hyde. Nikon D90. Featured in the upcoming David Leland Hyde Sierra Portfolio.

Helen and Scott Nearing, authors of Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World, provided much of the basis for how Ardis and Philip Hyde lived at home. In the blog post, “Living the Good Life 1,” guest blogger Nancy Presser and I introduced Helen and Scott Nearing and looked at how they led the back to the land movement of the 1950s. We also looked at how my parents, Ardis and Philip Hyde, while not on the road or on the trail of a photography project, in their own quiet way adapted and invented their own version of “The Good Life.” In the blog post, “Living The Good Life 2,” we reviewed Ardis and Philip Hyde’s upbringing and how this brought them eventually to the country and to their own land. In the following third episode, I write about the seasons on that land and unravel how my parents ensured they would have freedom in life.

Ardis Hyde’s Bookshelves

Besides what she once called “our Bible,” Helen and Scott Nearing’s Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World, Ardis Hyde had many other books on gardening, living on the land and country living philosophy on her bookshelves. One of them of particular inspirational content was The Countryman’s Year by David Grayson.

In The Countryman’s Year, David Grayson, while placing his experiences and observations within “the magic circle of the seasons” described his own “Good Life”:

Many years ago I came to the hillside in the town of Amherst where I now live. I bought a few acres of land and built a house. I planted trees and cultivated my garden. I kept bees. I made good friends among my neighbors. Here I have known the best, I think, that comes to any man—times of sight that is also insight.

The Change of Seasons As A Rite of Passage

My mother Ardis reveled in the change of seasons. I learned from her and my father to joyfully anticipate the subtle indicators of change in nature. My mother kept a written log of our family experiences and events, which could easily also be organized around the four seasons. When living close to the land, the seasons are telltale mile markers to keep you awake and aware of your progress or lack thereof, and to remind you that your progress or lack thereof is only fleeting, eventually immaterial in the big scheme of all life. Your own work and life are kept in perspective and relevance to the life around you by the disappearing and returning of life with the time of year.

This Year The Seasons Are All Mixed Up

This year, 2012 into 2013, summer lingered long with Indian summer blue skies and white, puffy unicorn-rainbow-dreamy clouds flitting and skidding merrily around the heavens. Autumn or fall, as we always called it, took a long time to arrive and segued out of summer without much effort. It was hard to distinguish summer from fall and they both carried on much longer than usual. Some tree leaves such as those from the Maples and Aspens turned yellow, orange and red on schedule, while the Black Oaks were late and the Alders, Willows and Cottonwoods hardly changed yellow or orange, but way behind schedule mainly went straight to brown. Finally in November, fall acquired a little of its usual bite and the leaves, having taken a long time to shed their green for brighter colors on many species of trees, suddenly began to blow free in the gusts of wind and drift to the ground.

Just as the leaves started to fall, while the fall color show was still in full swing, suddenly winter blasted in from the Arctic and the Gulf of Alaska with over a foot of snow. We had been swimming in Indian Creek two weeks before the snow began to fly. I had been feverishly photographing the fall color because I had almost completely missed fall in 2011. As a result, my portfolio was a bit thin on fall color photographs. I made up for it fall of 2012. I had been photographing four to five hours a day for months. The arrival of snow brought, I thought, an anticipated break. However, I discovered that snow over the top of fall colors offered a whole new range of possibilities that screamed to be photographed thoroughly. I set to work on this, but found that snow while adding great glory to the cloak of fall, also stripped the cloak away and hastened the march into the barren days of dead winter.

Winter And Spring March On

Last year and the year before, winter seemed to drag on forever, but this year though it hit hard early and stung deep with unusual cold and ice, it seems now to be flying right by. After all, we are just a few weeks away from the first flowers, the snowdrops, which are regularly scheduled to appear within the first week of March. In the early 1960s my mother wrote that the snowdrops were appearing in early April, but for the last 10 years I have observed them arriving in early March. In The Countryman’s Year, David Grayson began his narrative “with the first shy touches of spring” on April 1, when the land is locked in “Endless winter, raw and cold.” New England loosens its grip on winter less easily than the Northern Sierra of California.

For my mother February meant fertilizing. March began preparation for the planting of vegetable starts. This year in February we were doing fall’s leaf raking because fall offered no time to rake the fallen leaves before the snow buried them. The first original snow stayed on the ground for three months until mid February because it froze in place and turned to pure ice while more snow piled on top.

The Nearings’ Philosophy On Seasons And Livelihood

The only mention of seasons by Helen and Scott Nearing in Living The Good Life is in regard to the maple syrup season:

People brought up on a money economy are taught to believe in the importance of getting and keeping money. Time and again folk told us, “You can’t afford to make syrup. You won’t make any money that way.” One year a neighbor, Harold Field, kept a careful record of the labor he put in during the syrup season and of the sale price of his product, and figured that he got only 67 cents an hour for his time. In view of these figures, the next year he did not tap out because sugaring paid less than wage labor. But, during that syrup season he found no chance to work for wages, so he didn’t even make the 67 cents an hour. Our attitude was quite different. We kept careful cost figures, but we never used them to determine whether we should or should not make syrup. We tapped our trees as each tap season came along. Our figures showed us what the syrup had cost. When the season was over and the syrup on hand, we wrote to various correspondents in California or Florida, told them what our syrup had cost, and exchanged our product for equal value of their citrus, walnuts, olive oil or raisins. As a result of these transactions, we laid in a supply of items at no cash outlay, which we could not ourselves produce. Our livelihood base was broadened as the result of our efforts in the sugar bush and the sap house.

The Nearings were interested in self-reliance and setting up their own “self-contained household unit,” independent from the money economy around them:

The Great Depression had brought millions of bread-winners face to face with the perils which lurked for those who, in a commodity economy based on wage-paid labor, purchase their livelihood in the open market. The wage and salary workers did not own their own jobs, nor did they have any part in deciding economic policy, nor in selecting those who carried policy into effect. The many unemployed in 1932 did not lose their jobs through any fault of their own, yet they found themselves workless, in an economy based on cash payment for the necessities, necessaries and decencies. Though their incomes had ceased, their outgo for food, shelter and clothing ate up their accumulated savings and threw them into debt. Since we were proposing to go on living in this profit-price economy, we had to accept its dread implications or find a workable alternative. We saw this alternative in a semi-subsistence livelihood.

Self-Reliance Versus Making Money

The Nearings raised their own food, bartered for what they did not produce, used wood for fuel, built their own buildings from materials gathered from their land, made their own tools as much as possible and kept down their use and acquisition of tools and gadgets made by “the assembly lines of big business.” If they had to have any of these, they rented them for short periods of time. They did not focus on making money, but produced enough cash crop each year for their livelihood and then beyond that turned their efforts “toward social activities, toward avocations such as reading, writing, music making, toward repairs or replacement of our equipment.” They kept all of their operations on a cash and carry basis, incurring no debts or mortgages. The Hydes applied much this same philosophy. They agreed with the Nearings stance on money:

Ideas of “making money” or “getting rich” have given people a perverted view of economic principles. The object of economic effort is not money, but livelihood. Money cannot feed, clothe or shelter. Money is a medium of exchange, a means of securing the items that make up livelihood.

Employing this outlook toward making money did not bring Philip Hyde fame in the traditional sense. He became known for defending wilderness, but he spent more of his time working on conservation campaigns than approaching photography galleries or arranging large exhibitions with major museums, unless they came to him. He and my mother lived life on their own terms, beholden to no one. They were not slaves to tight schedules for workshops, speaking engagements, touring exhibitions and book signings. A few of these events went a long way. Mom and Dad were then free to sit out on their deck and observe the birds arriving in the spring, or to enjoy the dropping of the air temperatures in the evening that signals the approach of fall.

What Is Freedom? Who Is Free?

Walt Whitman offered some guidance:

After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, love, and so on—have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear—what remains? Nature remains: to bring out from their torpid recesses the affinities of a man or woman with the open air—the sun by day and the stars of heaven by night.

While I’m here and not at my place in Colorado, I often look out at the same scene that my parents looked at most of their lives, living here in their paradise on earth. I realize that I have become too much a slave to the dollar, too much a cog in the machine. I see that the internet has in some ways given me freedom, but in others has made me much more dependent on the system and stolen my time. I would much rather read a good classic than yet another article on why I need to “maximize my social media presence.” At least I have the seasons and nature to remind me of what is real, to help me recall who I am and why I am here. Livelihood and economic issues make up an important component of change toward a more earth-friendly society. For a lively discussion on creating a sustainable world and related issues see the blog post, “Art, Earth And Ethics 1.”

Recommended Reading (Please Show Your Appreciation And Help Us Out By Ordering Through These Links)

Busting Loose From the Money Game: Mind-Blowing Strategies for Changing the Rules of a Game You Can’t Win by Robert Scheinfeld

Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chogyam Trungpa

The Crash Course: The Unsustainable Future Of Our Economy, Energy And Environment by Chris Martenson

The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems by Van Jones

Money: Understanding and Creating Alternatives to Legal Tender by Thomas H. Greco

The Wealth of Nature: Economics as if Survival Mattered by John Michael Greer

The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience by Rob Hopkins

Love Is the New Currency by Linda Commito

The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality by Richard Heinberg

The Growth Illu$ion: How Economic Growth Has Enriched the Few, Impoverished the Many and Endangered the Planet by Richard Douthwaite

(Continued in the blog post, “Living The Good Life 4.”)

Does nature help you remember who you are? How do you celebrate or observe the change of seasons?