Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

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. Here 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 the 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. Most people in the Feather River Region live in the mountain valleys, usually ranging between 3,000 and 5,000 in elevation. By the time you drive two hours south to Lake Tahoe, you find the high elevation terrain traditionally associated with the Sierra, accompanied by much heavier snowfall.

Bear in mind that the surface level of Lake Tahoe stays around 6,225 feet. This means that most of the tops of our mountains are at about the same elevation as the base level of the peaks 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. A smaller number of 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 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 long enough to give us a White Christmas, but the only weather that lasted beyond the holidays was the cold, which after all finally 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, weather experts said. Most of us went ahead with what we were already doing in disbelief. Then about January 5th or so, it snowed a foot in one night. We had seen this before, 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, then again and again, not necessarily every day, but frequently enough for everyone to know this was already a series of storms more like we used to get. It was possibly the beginning of an old-fashioned winter, much as expected by long-range forecasters.

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.

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, as well as 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 12 foot 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 that was warm enough to get above freezing temperatures, then 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 by day. 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.

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 accumulation melted, it never mattered much, either because it would all either melt or it stayed just warm enough to keep the bottom layer from turning to ice. In the last few decades, much less ice has formed in general. Shoveling off the front walkway between the house and driveway has recently tended to keep ice from building up there. In the “old days,” that same walkway usually turned to ice even if shoveled off. Typically more snow would fall and turn to ice 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 usually 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 happened with my snow management 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 gradually 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 measurements and solid data.

My Mother’s Christmas

December 22nd, 2018

Feliz Navidad! Mele Kalikimaka!

My Mother’s Christmas

A Poem by David Leland Hyde
Written March 12, 2005

"Happy Holidays," Electric Snow Couple, Milford, Utah by David Leland Hyde 2009.

“Happy Holidays,” Electric Snow Couple,” Milford, Utah by David Leland Hyde 2009. (Click on Image to See Larger.)

On the ground in East Quincy, I found a palm-sized Christmas stocking labeled Mom.
I picked it up and began to spin back through my days.
I fell like piles of sand through an hourglass.
I heard the music of “Silver Bells, It’s Christmas time in the city,”
My mother sang and played the piano.
It was Christmas time in the country.
Her voice a melody of tinkling glass.
The turkey in the oven,
Pumpkin pie spice floated from the kitchen.
Sparkling eyes,
Eyes so wise, knowing why.

Her mother, my grandma, grew up on a ranch,
One of four sisters with all that work.
The stuffing, a recipe handed down.
My mother never slowed down,
“Work, we must work, work, work.”
Only on Christmas breaking the spell with Carols.
Always with me through the night:
Her singing, “It’s Christmas time in the city.”
At midnight, I sneak out to see if Santa has come yet.
In the morning I play with a stuffed tiger around the tree.
My dad sets up for a picture of the three of us.

The stocking has a snowflake on the toe that looks like a star.
It brings me my mother, guiding me.
When she was alive I took her for granted.
She smoothed my way and held life together.
Now she is a benevolent force floating in the stars.
Holding a larger home.
“Silver Bells, Silver Bells, It’s Christmas time in the city.”

Do you have any special childhood memories of Christmas or another holiday you celebrate?

(Originally posted December 24th, 2015.)

Mexico City And Oaxaca Travel Log

December 20th, 2010

Mexico City And Oaxaca 1990 Travel Log

Excerpts From Ardis Hyde’s 1990 Mexican Travel Log

Men Of Oaxaca Waiting For The Train, City Of Oaxaca, State Of Oaxaca, Mexico, 1990 by Philip Hyde. When I first discovered this photograph in Dad's files, it did not have a name or description but it was in the Oaxaca section. I called it "Men of Oaxaca." I didn't even know where it was in Oaxaca. However, I found it in the Travel Logs called, "Waiting For The Train, Oaxaca Train Station." This is what it is now called on the website. However, I have been referring to it on the blog as, "Men Of Oaxaca Waiting For The Train" so that people know it is the same photograph. Eventually I will drop "Men of Oaxaca" because we don't really know if they are from Oaxaca or not. They are just waiting in the train station.

(To see the photograph full-screen Click Here.)

Mexico City (Ciudad de Mexico) is the Federal District (Distrito Federal) capital, largest city in the Americas, and the third largest city in the world after Seoul and Tokyo. My mother Ardis Hyde abbreviated the Mexico City airport as “Mex DF”, short for Mexico Distrito Federal. My father landscape photographer Philip Hyde was 68 years old and my mother was 64 when they boarded a Continental flight from Reno to Houston via Denver on January 4,1990. My mother wrote:

Clear skies on takeoff from Denver. The Airbus to Houston left more than half an hour late. The wide body plane had seats seven and eight abreast at intervals. We had two seats, one by a window. We could see the front range of the Rockies, pure white with fresh snow. Despite a tail wind, we arrived late in Houston. It was very slow deplaning. We hurried through the huge terminal searching for our gate. We inquired of a courtesy car and the driver told us to hop aboard. We would never have made it without his help. It was a long way to the gate. We were the last to board and almost missed our flight. Clouds covered Mexico City solidly. On the ground in Mexico City, where we arrived on time, we groped around finding our way. We bought pesos and finally exited customs after filling out many forms but moving quickly past the officials. Dusk brought heavy traffic negotiated by taxi to the Ritz Hotel at Madera 30: $43.50 a night with senior discount. Room 510 was quiet and appointed well but not fancy. We were exhausted from the trip and went to bed early.

Future blog posts and eventual releases of new photographs will illustrate the activities of the following days in Mexico City. My mother wrote, “Philip was happily snapping 35 mm pictures” in the city center of street life, of El Sagrario, the old Cathedral, of the bustle and of the art in the city center. At the Palacio National, the Mexican seat of government since the Aztec Empire, many of the palace’s building materials originally belonged to Montezuma. My mother continued, “Philip made a fascinating study of the Diego Rivera Murals on the second floor, in the back courtyard and in the Hall of the Constitution.”

The Hydes attended the Epiphany, 12th Day of Christmas and Dia de Reyes, gift giving to children. They explored the Museo de la Ciudad de Mexico and many other museums. They tried staying in different hotels. They saw the “beautiful glass ceiling of the Gran Hotel,” and visited the Universidad to make photographs of the Diego Rivera murals on the library exterior. They took the autobus to the Teotihuacan Pyramids.

On January 15, the Hydes took a taxi to the train station bound for the City of Oaxaca in the State of Oaxaca:

At the train station we visited in line with two Americans Philip recognized from our hotel, as well as Earl and Shirley Binin, our friends from Connecticut, all boarding the same train to Oaxaca. The train to Oaxaca pulled out promptly at 7:00 pm. We had a neat ‘Alcoba,’ sleeper room and dinner included with our ticket. The diner car was neat and clean. After a visit in the diner car with the Binins we went off to our Alcoba to go to bed early. It was a bumpy ride all night. The train never went very fast. I was in the upper bunk and Philip took the lower. We slept OK. We woke up early and watched the daylight appear through the train windows. Outside we saw mountains, a river gorge and flowing streams through a forest of Kaypok trees. We had breakfast at 7:15 am as the train progressed out onto cultivated flatter terrain. We arrived in Oaxaca at 9:30 am. Philip made photographs in the Oaxaca train station. One was of three men waiting for the train. They were as weathered and tired-looking as the old worn wall of the train station behind them.

More to come…