Still no heat–and then it snowed

snow-1417cThose who follow this blog will remember that last week I was struggling with a dead pellet stove and a conglomeration of space heaters that kept tripping the single electrical circuit that powers my kitchen and living room. The temperature had landed firmly in the 30s, and it was COLD. I had taken to wearing thermal underwear in the house, moved to the bedroom that was a couple degrees warmer and allowed the dog to join me for added warmth.

It stayed cold all week. On Wednesday, the third time weathercasters predicted we might have snow, it finally happened. I could see the white light coming through the windows before I crawled out of bed. Snow everywhere. Pretty. Powdery. Magical. But underneath that snow lay ice. Hard, slippery, can’t walk-on-it, can’t-drive-on-it ice. Everything canceled. Schools, meetings, my dentist appointment. We were stuck in the house with puny heat, except for a slip-sliding walk. Annie and I learned that pavement is bad, grass is good, and mud is messy but it holds onto your shoes.

The snow stuck around until Saturday. It was too cold to melt. But the roads cleared up. I got out on Thursday for a haircut and much-needed groceries. Free at last! I know, it was one day, and nothing compared to the folks stuck for weeks with snow up to their roofs, but I was running out of food.

Friday, the electrical outlet into which I had plugged the biggest space heater and my tiny Christmas tree ceased working, taking the porch light out with it. We have some interesting wiring around here. I played with the circuit breaker switches. No go. Plugged and unplugged, wiggled and shoved. Called my electrician dad, who said get it fixed immediately; you could have a short that might start a fire. Crap. Freezing and fighting electrical problems. At least a fire would be warm.

Broke and disheartened, I called my neighbor. “Do you know anything about electricity?” He replied, “I know if you stick your finger in the socket, you get a shock.” Funny. I explained my problem. He limped over on his healing broken ankle and was soon crouched on my floor pulling out my dead plug. A wire had gotten disconnected. Stuff is all corroded in there, he said. He fixed it. The lights went on. Glad to help, he said. Thank God for small towns and friendly neighbors.

While the neighbor worked on my plug, I took down my Christmas decorations. Not in the mood anymore.

All day Friday, the temperature seemed to go down instead of up. On our brief walk, the cold wind tore at my skin and made me want to cry. But Saturday it started to get warmer. And then the rain came. It got warmer still. I took off a layer of clothing. The patter of rain on the skylights sounded like music.

It rained hard. It rained cold. It rained sideways. I got soaked in five minutes in the yard. My gutters overflowed. New leaks sprang up in the laundry and garage. But this is all normal for January on the Oregon coast. It’s still frozen east of here, so I feel blessed. This morning at 9 a.m., it’s 42.8 degrees, and the only things frozen at my house are the ice cubes, peas and veggie burgers in my freezer.

No, the pellet stove is not fixed yet. I’m hoping it will happen today. But I’m warm enough.

NOTE: This was supposed to be just a caption for my snow photos. My brother wonders why people up here talk so much about the weather. We can’t help ourselves. It’s a new show every day.  I know this winter is crazy everywhere. Right now it’s flooding in California, land of perpetual drought. How is your weather? Tell us what’s happening at your house.

One Big Snow Cone

White. Everything is white with snow that fell during the night. Unable to drink from her frozen water bowl, Annie vacuums up the snow. Her world is one giant snow cone. As I crunch along in my slippers, I look up and see blue sky with white etchings, the top of the Sitka spruce tipped with sunlight, the leafless branches of the red alders flocked with snow.

It has been a crazy-weather weekend. Just last Friday, I sat outside in the sun reading a book while Annie chewed on a branch fallen from the last wind storm. Saturday we had light rain, but the snow predictions seemed unrealistic. Sunday, I awoke to the sound of Annie barking at the hail banging on the skylights. But that soon stopped. In church, as we stood to go to Communion, I glanced out the window and saw snow falling. So beautiful and so worrisome. We all had to drive home. But by the time Mass ended, the snow was gone, everything merely wet.

The restless dog and I went walking, she just in her collar, I so bundled up I could barely move. Tiny flecks of hail fell around us, no big deal. It wasn’t until we turned back onto our street that the serious hail came,  half-inch balls of ice pounding on our heads, gathering on my coat and Annie’s fur. “Hurry!” I urged, but the dog kept trying to dive under bushes instead of heading for the sure security of the house. When the hail stopped a few minutes later, the earth seemed to sigh as the pounding ceased.

Around 4:00, the snow finally came, thick, fluffy, some of the flakes looking like shreds of paper floating down onto deck, lawn and concrete. Staring at it made me dizzy, but I couldn’t look away. Annie stood beside me at the window, amazed. Beneath the arborvitae out front, two dark-feathered birds flittered around, pecking for bugs, undaunted.

For the rest of the night, the snow came and went, but this morning, everything was covered in smooth white, untracked until Annie started eating it. Our ratty patio furniture looked perfect, its nicks and rust-stains hidden in a coat of snow. Sunlight sparkled off the white surface, making everything glow. Ah, snow. Online, I read reports of cars sliding around, danger on the roads, homeless people gathering in a shelter at the fairgrounds, but here at home, all is safe and special today.

We first saw snow here in February 1996, when Fred and I drove up from California for the annual Newport Seafood and Wine Festival. Prepared for rain, we were surprised by the biting cold and had to go buy warmer clothing. Staying at the Ester Lee in Lincoln City, we awoke to snow on the window sills and on the beach. Does it snow here on the central Oregon coast, we wondered. We needed to know because we were already planning to move here. Oh no, people told us. This never happens. Snow on the beach? Nah.

Hah. Yes, it does. It’s the beach, but it’s also the Northwest. Nearly every year, it gets cold enough to snow, and if the rain comes at that time, it does snow right here on the beach and all around us. It’s icy, slippery, dangerous, and so pretty. Would we have moved here if we knew this? Probably. We wouldn’t have believed it. Just like Annie keeps putting her tongue on that frozen water, expecting to get a drink. 

Seeking the end of the road

I always wondered what lay at the end of Thiel Creek Road, also known as 98th Street, the road I take to my house in South Beach. I had heard rumors that you could drive all the way to the city of Toledo, Oregon on it. A couple times I started out on it, but in those days I had more of a city car. When the road turned to gravel and then got so narrow I feared I would soon run out of room, I chickened out. I also kind of feared to meet the villains from “Deliverance,” if you remember that movie.

But I have a sturdy four-wheel drive now, and since I have become a widow, I am more daring. In the face of recent events, every other challenge seems pretty small.

So, one grouchy day last week, after a mid-day post office run, I turned onto 98th Street from Highway 101 and thought: Why not drive that road all the way to the end? The weather was great, and I had no reason to hurry home.

The road comes to a V just past Cedar Street. The north portion goes uphill into the sun, and the south branch goes down into the trees. I took the latter, a damp and shady road.

To my amazement, as soon as I left the paved portion, a bear ran across the road in front of me. Although I have heard many tales of bear sightings, I had never actually seen one here. This black bear was on the small side, streaking across the road and disappearing into the bushes, not far from where my dog Annie and I walk several times a week. 

I stopped the car, my heart pounding. “I saw a bear! I saw a bear!” Thank God I was in my car and not on foot.

Well, that turned my bum day around. Excited by my bear sighting, I drove on.

The road was narrow and mostly gravel. I passed the deserted blue house where Annie and her siblings were born. Beyond that, the road narrowed and the trees closed in. Ferns filled the roadside among the spruce and Douglas firs.Thiel Creek gurgled through marshland. Milepost 1.

I passed another house, then a for-sale sign and a big clearing with a bulldozer parked on it. More houses were hidden among the trees, one with a white goat in the front yard, but much of the road was unoccupied. On the right (south), a vast green area opened up. The road rose higher. I could see another road heading south down below but it was blocked by a gate and one of many no-trespassing signs. Milepost 2.

Although the road was already so narrow I didn’t know what I’d do if another car came, a sign warned of a “one lane road” up ahead. Narrower, wetter, darker. Time to turn around, I thought, not wanting to chicken out again, but not wanting to get stuck either.

Suddenly the road took a big curve north and I ended up on someone’s property. Thiel Creek Road ended at the front door of a massive blue house. Definitely the end of the road. If it ever went to Toledo, it didn’t now.

The road was riddled with private property signs, but I had thought they meant the areas to the sides. On the way back, I saw a blue gate that I had missed the first time. Oops. I really was trespassing.
I turned around and bumbled along the gravel road toward home, happy in my adventure, seeing a bear and making it to the end of Thiel Creek Road.

Now I know.

Snow’s not so bad if you think like a kid




After whining about the snow here in South Beach, known for surfing not skiing, I received my stepson’s happy reaction to the white stuff in Portland by e-mail and decided to stop watching the disaster reporting on TV and embrace the weather. I put on my thermals and boots, stocking cap, gloves and heavy coat and went out with the dogs. I laughed as they pawed at the snow and ate chunks of it as if the yard were a giant snowcone. I savored the crunch of my boots on the snow, tested the top powdery layer, the brittle frozen center and the solid ice at the bottom and measured the depth with a ruler: approximately two inches. I snapped endless photos and threw snowballs for the dogs to chase. I let my inner child out to play.

The second morning dawned blue and pink, and we had sun on snow that had been whipped into peaks like frosting by the dogs’ running and wrestling. They played for hours, seemingly unaware that it was 25 degrees. The front-yard snow lay perfectly smooth, except for bird tracks, like tiny quotation marks. The driveway still showed the tire-tracks from our brave newspaper carrier and my footprints to the mailbox—which was frozen shut.

Alas, my giant blue hydrangea plant sits broken under the weight of frozen snow, but the junipers, rhodendrons and azaleas stand strong, and I’m hopeful for my rosemary and lavender.

I will be so glad to see grass and clear pavement again, but that’s not going to happen for a few more days. A blend of rain and snow is predicted for today and tomorrow, but the temperature may actually get up to 40. Meanwhile, there is something magical about all this amazing snow. I wonder what I could use to sled down the hill. Hmm.