Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Snow Job

About a week ago I started hearing from friends around the country who were reporting their first snow of the winter. While there have been a number of years at Sandhill where our first flurries appeared in October, that was not the case this year and it appeared that everyone was getting snow before we did.

I got emails reporting sightings from Virginia, Colorado, and even Louisiana of all places. Now, finally, it's northeast Missouri's turn, and it appears we will make up in quantity what we lacked in precociousness. We awoke to a dusting yesterday and today it's supposed to start in earnest, with four inches expected by nightfall, followed by an additional half foot in the night. That's a lot, and I have a mixed reaction to this forecast.

Mostly I have a positive association with snow and winter weather—unless I'm driving in it. It evokes cozy warmth by the wood stove with a cup of coffee and a good book; the exhilaration and gliding delight of cross country skiing; the all-over tingling sensation of rolling naked in downy crystals of cold as soft as fels naptha after a sauna; the sound-dampened hush of the barren woods; the unlimited potential of a slate wiped clean.

On the other side of the equation, I am dismayed at the prospect of the big dump because, in this instance, I do have to drive in it. Tomorrow night—after my weekly indulgence in duplicate bridge at the club in Kirksville—Ma'ikwe, Jibran, and I plan to journey straight through to Albuquerque for the start of a three-week vacation with friends and family. Ordinarily this drive takes about 18 hours. This time it might be more of an adventure, and I'm immediately reminded of the same trip the three of us undertook the last week of December two years ago, where we unexpectedly got the opportunity to spend New Year's in a motel room in Amarillo because I-40 was iced over the last 300 miles to Albuquerque. I'm fervently hoping not to replicate that experience.

On top of the precipitous forecast, temperatures Wed night are supposed to plunge into negative digits. How good can it get? Fortunately, the car we'll be taking is small and the heater works fine. My biggest concern is icy roads, but luckily, temperatures that cold are incompatible with snowy skies and it will have to clear off for the mercury to drop that low. By staying on major highways I'm reasonably certain that road conditions will be acceptable. Excepting outright blizzards and gale force winds, the most dreaded condition is freezing rain and that, at least, is not in the forecast.

I suppose the silver lining is that winter weather excitement might help keep Ma'ikwe and I awake through the all-night vigil, but I've found as I've gotten older that the adventurous aspect of marathon road trips palls, and I'd just as soon have a boring, clear road with temperatures a more seasonal 40 degrees.

While I gird my loins for the 900-mile road trip Wed night, I am simultaneously trying to buoy my spirits with the prospect of cross country skiing on fresh powder tomorrow afternoon. My dear friend Annie would refer to this as a chance to "burn some ash," which I believe is analogous to occasionally taking the car out for highway speed driving in order to burn off carbon deposits. Humans have been hard-wired for physical exertion and not good things happen when the extent of one's activity is stroking a keyboard and opening the mail. Because 18 hours in front of a steering wheel will not qualify as a
physical change of pace (the modest benefit of a manual transmission is canceled out by power steering), I am looking forward to the elevated heart rate associated with 30 minutes or so of cross country skiing.

The goddess only knows what lies in store for us on our return journey from Las Vegas to Rutledge Dec 28-29, where the most direct route takes us through the heart of the Rockies. I can hardly wait.