Tom Clyde: Woodland’s ‘Donner scale’ shows an appetite for springtime
It’s been a rough winter. The skiing has been wonderful, but it’s been unusually gray, cold, and the snow has been persistent. The glaciers ominously overhanging my roof are more than a metaphor for the relentless winter. Days before the sun finally came out, my tiny neighborhood experienced a Donner Party moment, and things got a bit nasty.
To put it in perspective, you need to understand the Donner Party Scale of Neighborhoods. The rankings are based on the odds of your house being flattened by an avalanche, the distance to the liquor store, multiplied by the number of coyotes living under the front porch. On a 1 to 10 scale, Brighton Estates is a 10. Park Meadows, despite the mountain lions, is barely a 1. Toll Gate Canyon would be a 9, and the Colony and Summit Park would rank about 8. My neighborhood, though flat, is an 8, because it is so isolated. UDOT doesn’t plow the last 10 miles after dark, so even if the internal roads are passable, the highway is often not.
In a neighborhood with a 10 ranking, while there may not be actual (reported) cases of cannibalism, you can bet that your neighbors have sized you up and have an appropriate wine selected for the occasion, just in case. When the neighbors invite you over for potluck and suggest you bring the main dish, you might think twice. And don’t deny that you haven’t considered your options, too.
There are about 35 houses on our little water system, accessed by two roads that don’t connect. The road I live on is protected from drifting, and is pretty easy to keep open with a $40,000 tractor. There are 2 full-timers on it. The others drain the pipes and disappear until June. On the lower road, there are a few more full-timers, and the same mix of seasonal use and occasional occupancy. The lower road drifts like outer Siberia. Somebody else plows that one.
Given the mix of occupancy, they deliberately contract for the cheapest snow removal they can get. The plow guy does all his business accounts first, then goes to his regular job, and comes and gets them in the evening. That saves a fortune compared to what it would cost to get it plowed early, but getting out in the morning can be a project. Most people are properly equipped to deal with it.
We have a new full-timer this winter. The owner of the house is living out of state for a while. He rented the place to a woman from Los Angeles. God only knows what he told her about winter, or if she could even comprehend it without actually experiencing it. It’s not going well.
The house is on the lower road, so I’ve had only a few occasions to talk with her. Early in the season, she was snowshoeing everywhere, and seemed truly spellbound by the beauty of winter. In January, I noticed that her snowshoe tracks were less frequent. They vanished in February. I bumped into her about the first of March. It was a rare sunny day, and she was so happy to see the sun. “So spring is finally here,” she said ebulliently. “It’s not too far off,” I said. “About three more months.” She seemed deflated, but tried to put the best face on that news. “I bet spring is lovely,” she offered.
“You must be new here.” Everybody knows spring is hideous here. It’s uninhabitable until mid-June. The roads begin to firm up mid-May, but until then, there are ruts deep enough to hide a cow and mud that will swallow a minivan into the bowels of the earth. And it will keep snowing. That news was not well received.
Last week, while I was gone, there was a big wind storm. The roads drifted closed as fast as the plow guy could clear them. To live here without a 4×4 monster truck is flirting with disaster. She drives some tiny front wheel drive car with about 3 inches of ground clearance. It was all too much. She hit the breaking point, and got into it with the plow guy, as if cold, dark, snow, wind and misery were all his fault. An extreme case of cabin fever. As a general rule, you don’t offend the plow guy late in the season. The plow guy is God. He could quit and nobody else will pick it up this time of year, leaving you to the mercy of the wolves. This is the time of year when you bake brownies for the plow guy, and pray he will stick with it to the bitter end.
Nobody has resorted to cannibalism yet, but everybody is locking the doors at night, just in case. Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to patch things up with the plow guy. It turns out they are a pretty sensitive.
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.
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This ski season was great once it got going, writes Tom Clyde. Being outdoors on the slopes was “a powerful and necessary thing this year.”