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Archive for December, 2009

Can we talk about how cold it is?

What’s that? It’s thirty below in Montana right now? Yeah, okay, but did you know it is freezing in Oregon? I’m serious, things are freezing here. It is below 32 degrees farenheit. Don’t even try to put a glass of water outside–unless you want it frozen.

It is so cold for Eugene that it’s all we, as a collective city, can talk about. Today, at the grocery, no fewer than four people made comments to me regarding the temperature. “Just trying to stay warm,” a woman in the bulk section chuckled, “that’s about all you can do today.” Someone else asked me if I was going to be somewhere warm today, or if I had to be out and about. Another employee stacking cans of beans, in response to my inquiry, replied, “Can’t be too bad. At least I’m staying warm.”

And, friends, I do not mean to criticize. I am certainly guilty of resorting to weather chat. Around 75% of my conversations over the last two days have gone something like this.

“It is so cold. Are you cold?”

“Oh, yeah, I am sooo cold.”

“I have never been this cold.”

“I am so cold I wish I had some hot chocolate.”

“I’m so cold I needed an extra layer this morning.”

“It was so cold this morning, I stood in the hot water for an extra five minutes.”

“I sat on the heater for half an hour.”

“It took me fifteen minutes to heat up my car.”

“I scraped my window with a credit card.”

“I’m so cold I can’t move my arms.”

“When I get home, I am going to turn up the heat to 70 and wrap myself in a blanket.”

“I’m going to make myself a pot of nice warm rice pudding.”

“Oh, don’t you just want to jump right into a pot of hot pudding and take a bath in it. Or maybe a hot chocolate bath.”

“It was so cold six years ago that I slaughtered forty turkeys and immersed myself in their still warm blood.”

. . .

I love Oregon. We can grow lichens like the chest hair spilling from the shirt collar of my fourth grade violin teacher. We can harvest leafy greens late into November. Nobody coughs up their coffee at a fifteenth consecutive day of rain, they just slip into their rain coatand stylish galoshes. We could endure rain until the end of time, but cold-weather-ready, we are not.

Oregon is not prepared because the winters just aren’t that bad. This is part of the reason I am happy to call it home. I know I am not well-backed when I say this, but if I had my way, there would be three days of snow a year. One in late November, just after Thanksgiving, one around the thirteenth of December, on a weekend where I could wake up late to little drifts on the window sills. And one on Christmas Eve, where it would start snowing just after dark and would sift all night magically past the street lights. On none of these days would I set foot behind the wheel of a car. As the snow melted on Christmas day, purple-streaked crocuses would poke up through its crystally remains, the daffodils would bloom by January 8th, and I would go strawberry picking on my birthday. However, despite my aversion to it, when the occasional larger than expected snow comes my way, thwarts plans, and limits travel, I have been known to jump on board.

Last year, about this time, Oregon received a few inches of snow and went into emergency mode. People drove haltingly and erratically as if in a traffic jam. Within 36 hours, having no equipment to clean them up, the roadways had melted and frozen into deep ravines of lumpy ice, which did not break under your tires, but jerked you in unexpected directions, making it nearly impossible to drive down a moderately trafficked street in a straight line. Within 48 hours, Les Schwab had been cleaned out of their tire chain supply. The freeway was more of a glistening white gamble than a reliable path from Point A to Point B. Sure, you might have chosen to drive in the right lane at 35 mph hugging the shoulder and declining to pass, or you might be following a wayward semi truck through a deserted cow pasture toward North Dakota. There was really no way to know. You could only hope the truck was carrying sustenance.

When this happened, my sister and her friend happened to be visiting. The trains were stopped, some planes didn’t run, travel plans had to change. We were snowed in, and so we did crafts and watched movies and made creative meals out of things we found in the pantry. Such times are legendary. There is nothing like a nature imposed obstacle to make you feel justified to treat yourself to idle hours of cozy things.

Everyone has a weather story. If you mention a lot of snow to anyone who has wintered in Montana over the past fifteen years, there is a good chance they will recall the snowstorm of 1996, their eyes wide like Large Marge as they recount the snowstorm that covered their windows and buried their yards . . . “the worst snowstorm I ever seen.” I was not present for this snowstorm, but I have heard many times of its wrath and its glory, probably about the number of times it has snowed more than a few inches in Montana since I moved there. People were so snowed in, they took days to shovel out of their walkways and built snow forts the size of rocket ships.

I guess the snow in Oregon is getting to be old news. Apparently, it has snowed more in Eugene in the four years that I have been here than anyone my age ever remembers it snowing before. This cold that we’re seeing this week, however? Whoo-eee, it is a monster of a different caliber. We’ll be talking about it for years. At least I will, because our pipes have been frozen for two days. Fourteen whole degrees above zero and our pipes are frozen. How wimpy is that?

Actually, it’s not horribly inconvenient. It’s kind of like camping. We do our business at work, and limit the liquids at home. We carry around shampoo and towels, available to whip out at the first hint of streaming, hot water. Still, it’s not nearly as awesome as being snowed in, except that it allows us to put off cleaning out the refrigerator from Thanksgiving, with the excuse that, once we emptied the containers into the compost, we wouldn’t be able to wash them. Actually, if the water would just come back on, I would probably toughen up and just clean out the refrigerator. That’s a boring story, isn’t it.

So, I will not be serving any tea at my house–nor washing dishes–until the weather warms up enough to melt our pipes, but if you’d like to join me for a shower at the YMCA, the water pressure there is not half bad, and after some experience, I can give you pointers on the most agreeable nozzles. Further, there might be nothing like a shower dance to summon the rain back to this fair city.

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