Blizzards and Tunnels

As I stood in the cavern that had been created just that day, I did not realize just how dumb it was to be standing there or how awesome it truly was.

I have been watching the snow come down all day here is Poulsbo and I have to say that it is depressing.  Its depressing because as much as come down that stupid white stuff won’t accumulate.  I remember living in Brookings, SD when I was in college when Calvin and Hobbes was so popular in the mid 1990’s.  My friends and I built a snowman outside of our dorm that had a hole the size of a cannonball through its abdomen, and a cannonball sized snowball behind it (I would like to think that Calvin would be proud).  That snow man was made in November and it was still standing in March when it finally started to thaw.

That, by the way, was also the winter that I experienced the coldest day of my life at -40 with a -70 windchill.  Walking around the campus was otherworldly because you could not stay out for more than a minute totally covered up.   The ground sounded like walking on Styrofoam because the snow was so cold and dry.  The new snow that had fallen was so light and fluffy that it was like walking through down feathers.  I can’t remember why exactly I had transferred from Brookings to Spearfish the next year, but this might have had something to do with it.

Living here in the Pacific Northwest you come to miss the four distinct seasons and large amounts of snow.  Growing up in Wyoming it was not the cold that stood out but the wind.  The snow always seemed to come down sideways and there was always bare ground because the wind would drift everything up.  Then the next day you would get a Chinook wind and a sunny day and it would all blow or burn off.  That brings me back to my opening sentence and the hill in my neighbors yard.

We were hit with a huge blizzard sometime in the mid 1980’s that brought in enough snow to shut down the school for a couple days.  In Wyoming it would take over a foot of snow, maybe more, to shut down school.  In the Pacific Northwest it takes about 2 inches, and in some cases not even that.  I don’t begrudge PNW for that, you don’t budget significantly for something that may or may not happen every year.  This blizzard brought more like 2 feet of snow and it came down sideways in a matter of hours not days.  So when we woke up the next morning to a blindingly sunny day and no school we headed over to the Butler’s place, which was our sledding hill when I was a kid.  J.J. and I did not get along that well, but we had to stay friends so that I could use his hill.

The snow was so deep on his hill that we abandoned sledding altogether because we just sunk into the snow.  We made a few attempts and creating some chutes down the hill to run our sleds down, but the day was really about tunnels.  I remember at least 5 of us out there; my brother Brett, J.J., Jeff, Jesse, and myself.  Most of us occupied out time by picking a place in the massive drift that had stacked itself on the south side of the hill, but not Jeff.  Jeff had bigger plans.

I remember a couple of years ago as an adult trying to make tunnels in the snow and thinking that I was either terribly out of shape or snow had gotten harder than it used to be.  We started in the morning, each of us picking a place of origin and building a series of interconnected tunnels on the top of the hill.  Jeff had went to the bottom of the hill, where the snow was deepest, and started to build a snow cavern.  After I went home for lunch, I came back and decided to see what Jeff had been up to all morning, and I was in awe.  This cavern had to be at least 6 feet tall by about 8 feet across.  Today I would brush the ceiling with my head, but back then I could hardly touch it by sticking my hand in the air.

Once everyone had seen this wonder in the snow we all decided that it was time to get our tunnels connected to this snow chamber.  I cannot show you pictures because they don’t exist, but I can tell you that by the end of the day we had turned the snow on that hill into a human sized anthill.  We were there all day, I probably burned more calories than I ever had in my life, and I didn’t ask myself once whether any of it was a good idea, nor did I wonder what my target heart rate was.  So as I stood in that cavern it also did not occur to me that if this thing collapsed I might have a problem on my hands.

So here’s to the boys that I celebrated the blizzard with, because it was a celebration.  Snow was not seen by us as something that got in our way, it was seen as a challenge and a new world to discover.  I hope my kids get to experience something like that, I can’t imagine how I would react seeing them disappear into a 10 foot tall drift to see them come out on the other side 30 feet away.

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