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23 January, 2012

Weather Feral

Lights out, everybody home.

After months of lulling us into a false sense of security (or, for the neurotic, misplaced worry over lack of precipitation), the weather unloaded on Olympia this past week. It began with rumors of snow, and the masses watched TV or teemed to websites with little snowflake icons. Weather geeks spent more time looking at radar and satellite views, and tuned into Cliff Mass at every opportunity, because his fans like to hear him talk almost as much as he does. Me? I'm one of those outliers who just reads the Forecast Discussion from the Seattle National Weather Service office.

They called for 1-3" on Monday, and again on Tuesday, and Olympia came in at the top of that range, although it was melting from the bottom the whole time, and we didn't end up with a full 6 inches Tuesday night. As the next system came round, the NWS discussion began with a quote from Airplane, "I sure picked the wrong week to quit drinking." Various models kept predicting different amounts of snow, and differed on when it would turn to rain.

In the wee Wednesday hours, more focused on keeping the fire going than sleeping, I peeked outside and began to lose interest in the predictions and models. At first, it was a desire to replace speculation with data. The snowflakes were flat and shiny, frozen hard, and the dripping from the roofline had stopped, so clearly, it was getting colder. As day dawned, snow continued, piling up rapidly.

The last time I paid any attention, meteorologists were saying that the Olympia area might top out at 6 inches…right about the time we hit 6 inches. By mid-day, there was little sign of warming, or even of the predicted cease-snow. I'm not one of those people who scoffs at forecasters for sport (a dull, uninventive sport, indeed), but I do think that sometimes they need to ignore the model and take a walk outside.

Snowflakes got smaller, and eventually turned to pellets of ice. The warming trend never kicked in enough to give us rain, save a brief partial outbreak 24 hours late. Precipitation came in one frozen form or another for a while, and atop the snow grew a crust of ice. I decided not to shovel the driveway, reasoning that it would only result in an icy surface.

Besides, why drive? Olympia is not known for being able to handle major winter storms, and I had firewood and food. My winter fertilization had escalated beyond ignoring the weather pros to withdrawing from car culture.

And the process would continue. I got more attuned to small cues in the weather over the course of the storm. Wind direction and intensity read in the trees and chimney output, the ominous swarming of gulls seeking refuge from the bay, the sound and feel of the snow as I stalked through it.

At the same time, withdrawal from civilization became more pronounced. After an all-too-brief respite, I could hear traffic building on I-5 again, but I had no desire to join in. As consumption junkies and ailment addicts succumbed to "cabin fever" (which does actually exist, but takes weeks to incubate and only ends with a lovely spring or ugly cannibalism), people shoveled drives and ventured out to join the madding crowds buying potato chips and crappy beer as if survival depended on it.

Instead, my time went to winterizing the homestead, by which I mean playing in the snow with the kids, sculpting a giant bust of a baboon, and building a mini-luge track over the driveway. Because I'd become more attuned to the weather as it is--not how a computer say it may become--I knew exactly when to make the ape and sled run so that they'd become coated in ice.

At some point, the power went out. So I went out, and listened as firs cracked and alders popped. Ever 10 minutes or so, there was a big branch falling, the initial break followed by the glassy cascade of ice freed from twigs and falling to earth; this symphony may elude my aging ears next time around, so I gloried in its irregular crescendoes. I helped the apples shed some ice, and learned that blueberry twigs just break if you try to help them do the same.

Eventually, I headed in, shed a few wet layers, and tended fire. I barely run our electric heat if I can help it, but at this point the fire became more than a hobby. It kept the house warm, and for a couple of days it is how we cooked. I McGyvered a little grill, making some pie-like things and sausages, warmed a pot of soup and foil packet of potatoes, stewed a mess o beans, and even made espresso (NOTE: the plastic handle of those little Italian espresso makers will look OK, but then melt to your hand, the sneaky bastards.)

The house shrank into the den, four hominids by the window or the fire, depending on whether they valued light or heat more at the moment. Furniture and the TV disappeared under wet vestments, and the floor became a layer of bark fallen from firewood. Daylight ruled, stretched only a bit by candleflame. Trips beyond the dripline to get more wood, to forage for fun, but otherwise, a family sticking close to the hearth, not so different than the thousands of generations before our kind got electrified and uppity.

Feral is not all fun. Splitting and hauling wood, knocking ice off the food trees. I guess making a baboon sculpture and sled run is not exactly necessary, but it takes effort. My kids said, "Dad, you're steaming," and it is true that I did create my own tiny weather system. The day after the ice-fall, the Olympia climate replicated this on a larger scale, fog and wood-smoke enveloped everything.

Yet, the I-5 noise grew. People drove by. Eventually, a snowplow made it even to our side street. Civilization once again reared its ugly head (for those who could afford it), and there were rumors of free frozen food from the grocery store stricken with powerlessness, inciting a rush. Also, those stricken with cabin faux-fever rushing onto the roads.

Eventually, this included members of my own family, and somehow I ended up pressed to shovel the driveway (taking out the luge run, which was disintegrating but still heavy as hell), working up enough heat to reduce small thunderheads of steam over my balding pate. Then, because of the  car-driving acumen supposedly bestowed on me by my manly parts, I drove the family out into the slushy grid of asphalt that separates us from snow-baboons and other allegedly inferior apes.

And it was not pretty. Guys with overly active dangly bits driving like madmen. Everyone converging on the stores with electricity to buy…whatever. Cabin feverishness gone amok. I found myself in a grocery store (turns out that my foil stash was unequal to the task of fireplace cookery--so I guess there was some purpose), and was infuriated to learn that with a quarter million people lacking power, Safeway chose to use its precious current to play Phil Collins "music." Inforgivable.

I was glad to get back home, and play feral again. More fire. More observing the weather (quickening wind from the south with some thin spots in the cloud cover, a good sign for thawing, and mercifully short of the damaging high winds that the weather geek rumor web was predicting), which somehow stuck within a degree or three of freezing for days and nights on end, yet provided an interesting array of precipitations, fogs, and overcasts.

The adventure is over now, except for the telling. Work was abuzz this morning. While the novelty will fade, the legion is yet to be born. A few years of typically minor snowfall, and January 2012 will loom larger. That gnarly tree? 2012. The abundance of firewood? 2012. The half-assedness of future winter weather? Bow down before 2012, when the wild demigods of winter skewered the weak with mighty icicles, when the trees cracked under the unflinching ruthlessness of La Nina. Yes, in time this half-hairy ape will spin these few days into mythology, and the un-sullied minds of children and superstitious souls of the old will nod in agreement and supplication before the spirits of weather unfettered.

Happily feral

1 comment:

  1. cool Mo... (or should I say "freezing!") if it makes any difference, it's storming in Po'ipu right now. :) come join us in Nu'alolo Kai or Milolii this summer and I guarantee you'll warm-up! Miss you!
    much aloha to you and the family,
    victoria xoxo