Lessons from the Storms

What a crazy time we’ve had here on the Oregon Coast. Over the last week, we’ve been blanketed with snow, pummeled by wind, and drowned with rain. We’ve had power failures, trees down, closed roads and flooding. Highway 101 just north of where I live has a big chunk out of it where the land slid out from underneath it. Every trip to Newport is fraught with the worry about whether we’ll be able to get back.

At one point, all the roads east were closed, along with the Yaquina Bridge where the wind threw a semi into a pickup truck. I wondered how that could possibly happen until I tried to drive home from church yesterday. I feared that any second, the wind would have its way with my car.

Meanwhile, the creeks have turned into rivers, and the rivers have turned into lakes. Today, on a rare storm-free day, people are returning to flooded houses to see what they have left. We definitely got paid back for all the clear days we had in December, and the storms aren’t over. Rain and wind are expected to return tomorrow. Everybody’s talking about the weather. Conversations often conclude with, “Well, that’s life on the Oregon coast.”

It can be a challenge living here, but we certainly appreciate our sunny days. Meanwhile, I’ve learned a few lessons from the crazy weather. Here are just a few:

1) If you don’t buy rainboots, you’ll always have wet feet. They don’t have to be cute, just waterproof.
2) Don’t let the gas tank or the refrigerator go empty, and stock up on toilet paper. You might not be able to drive to the store.
3) Water and electricity are not guaranteed.
4) Find that old camp stove and figure out how to work it.
5) Keep at least one old-style phone that works without electricity.
6) If the sun appears, run outside and pay homage.
7) If you won’t go outside in the rain, the dog won’t either.
8) The best coastal hairdo is a hat.
9) All plans are tentative.
10) Get a boat. 

What have you learned with this winter’s weather?

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. 

Snow? But It’s the Beach!

I have never seen so much snow falling in my life. We live on the Oregon coast, near the beach, at sea level. Before we moved here, we came up in February for the annual Seafood and Wine Festival. It was snowing then, but lightly, and everyone said, “Oh, that never happens.” Wrong. It seems to snow more each year. The above picture was taken Sunday morning, before the heavy snow came. The dogs had a great time sliding around and eating chunks of ice. Now everything is solid white, it’s about 25 degrees, and the dogs are huddled together on the big green chair in the living room.

Thank God I did my singing in Nye Beach on Saturday when it was merely cold. I woke up Sunday to the so-called “Winter Wonderland.” I have learned over the years that it’s only a wonderland for skiers and characters in fairy tales. Those of us who need to work in it, drive on it or who have broken heaters don’t enjoy it so much.

Yesterday I made it to church during a lull in the storm, zipped to Fred Meyer’s to buy a few last Christmas gifts and made it home just as the snow started to fall. I spent hours looking out the window, amazed. So much snow, so thick. So beautiful. But this California kid keeps thinking, All right, I got my photos. Enough already. There’s some blue in the sky, and it is absolutely gorgeous out my window, but we’re afraid to go anywhere because everything is turning to ice and expected to stay that way for several days.

Now I know you folks who live in real snow country are thinking, big deal, a couple inches for a few days, but we Silicon Valley expatriates are not wired for snow. I don’t have chains for the new car, and I forgot to wrap the pipes. Mostly I worried about the dogs turning into pupsicles in the laundry room where they sleep.

Up in Portland, where the weather is worse, our son Michael rode his bike to the store. He only crashed once, he said. Unfortunately, he was carrying his groceries and watched his milk trickle one way and his hot chocolate the other. Oh well. He’s young. He sent photos of snow angels.