Tom Clyde: The first taste of winter
November 13, 2015
I had been anticipating winter’s arrival eagerly. Every year there is a period when all the summer work is done, the ranch is put to bed for the winter, and there isn’t a lot to do but wait for it. Sometimes I end up starting a home improvement project. I usually don’t get it finished, and it then hangs over my head all winter long. So this year I resisted taking anything new on. There was nothing do but get ready for winter.
I mucked out the garage and got things rearranged for winter. I hooked the snow blower on the back of the tractor, and then had to move a bunch of stuff around so it would still fit in the garage. I’ve got a remote control switch that will let me turn on the engine block heater from inside the house. That way, I can eat breakfast while the block heats up, and the tractor will start right up when I go out to plow. It’s a radio-controlled deal, and sometimes it doesn’t respond, and I go out and discover that it didn’t pre-heat anything. So I rigged up a monitor light that I can see in the garage window, confirming that the heater is on or off. I’m ready for it now.
The bike gear is stowed away and the ski gear is out. The semi-annual closet inversion is a bit of a chore, but an important part of the seasonal changeover. The bike rack is off the car, the snow tires are on, and there was nothing left to do but wait for winter. The ski passes are bought, the frayed pants from last year have been replaced. New duct tape on the gloves — it’s all good to go. I thought I was ready.
And then it snowed. Somehow, I expected my initial reaction to be more positive. The dog thought the snow was great. He was out plowing furrows with his snout. We went for a walk, and I came home with my shoes wet, my toes frozen, and snow stuck to the bottom of my pants.
The first drive in it was interesting, with a layer of ice that made the winding drive along the river more exciting than it should be. The first couple of storms of the year always ice up more than they do when the ground is frozen later on. The snow was wet, and the second it got compressed, it turned to ice. Even with the snow tires on, I was sliding all over. A big truck coming the other direction, also sliding down the center of the road at about a 45 degree angle, splattered my car with heavy slush, and the wiper blades left the windshield smeared and streaky rather than clearing it. The new, high-tech wiper blades now cost what you used to pay for a set of tires. There are three on my car, and each one is a different size.
Oh, yeah, now I remember: Schlepping the garbage cans out to the corner where they pick them up; picking the garbage up after the snowplow knocks the cans half way to Tabiona; starting the chainsaw in the cold to cut up a tree that blew across the lane. You know, that winter. It’s one thing to look up at the mountain and see them making snow. It’s quite another to have it in the driveway. The first snow always comes as a bit of a slap in the face. I briefly considered heading south for the duration.
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I’m over it now. I’ve recalibrated, and winter is just fine. I took the dog out for a walk and there was a bald eagle in a tree across the river. Once I abandoned sneakers in favor of proper shoes, I could stay dry and upright on the snowy path. The snow wasn’t quite deep enough to get the cross-country skis out, but I thought about it. The bare branches of the bushes along the road are a bright red. I guess they are that color all year, but I never notice them until the leaves are gone and the snow is on the ground. Then they jump out like neon. The willow bark is a bright green. The afternoon sun on the snow-covered trees up on the mountain behind the barn was as pretty as it gets.
One of my regular ski groups has dusted off the email tree and photos of snow on the mountain, and quick videos of lifts turning, have started circulating. The long-range winter forecast is still murky as ever, with a lurking el Nino that promises a huge winter, or not.
Whatever it brings, I’m ready. Bring it on.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.