Oct 31 2008

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October Snowstorm

Posted at 7:54 am under Blog Post

Snow lingers on the ground despite the weather forecaster’s promise of a return to autumn.  I look at the calendar on the wall.  It’s not even November yet.  This is an unusual turn of climatological events even by Vermont standards.  A dusting of the white stuff before Halloween, sure, but lingering snow this time of year?  C’mon now.

The night before last, I drove home through the darkness just after the cold rain switched to wet snow.  It was a white-knuckle drive that made me think about things to come.  But I went to bed confident that the snow would be gone by noon the next day.  And now, into the second day, I’m trying to make sense of it.  I’m trying to make sense of Mother Nature’s capricious ways.  It isn’t easy.

The law of averages provides some consolation.  Given enough time, snow will fall in September one year, and flowers will bloom in December another year.  It all evens out, right?  Of course it does, unless Mother Nature is up to something we don’t know about.  Yeah, trust the law of averages.  It’ll pass.

On October 4, 1987, I was taken by surprise.  I hiked into the mountains that day with enough gear to spend the night and every intention to do so.  There was something in the forecast about possible rain and a big drop in temperature but I shrugged it off.  Way too early in the season for anything serious.  I was trout fishing in my shirtsleeves at noon, wearing my rain jacket by mid-afternoon, and dealing with freezing rain at dusk.  I set up my tarp against a fallen tree then started a fire to stay warm.  That sorta worked.  When the freezing rain switched to sleet, I put on the dry clothes I’d brought with me and slipped beneath the tarp.  I duct-taped my ground cloth to an emergency blanket, creating a waterproof pouch around my sleeping bag.  Then I climbed into it.  I was nice and warm even as the thermometer I’d brought with me dipped below thirty.  The sleet turned to snow.

Just before daybreak, I awoke to snow – several inches of it covering my camp – and it was still coming down.  I used a stick to beat the ice loose from my rain jacket, then I put it on. The trees swayed precariously in a strong wind blowing from the west.  I broke camp in a hurry, foregoing breakfast.  Then I bushwhacked out of the mountains, three miles downhill, following a stream.  A mature birch cracked loudly in a gust of wind and I jumped out of the way just as it fell where I had been standing.  I kept an eye on the trees all around me as I slogged through the slippery wet snow, falling down repeatedly.  It was a long hike out.

I’ve never been so happy to leave the woods as I was that day, but my tribulation wasn’t over when I reached the road.  It was another two-mile march along the highway, face to the fierce wind, before I reached the nearest town.  There I called Judy and drank hot coffee while waiting for her in the delicious warmth of a convenience store.  I still had icicles in my beard when she picked me up.

Whatever happens today, I’ll be sure to stay warm.  I probably won’t go outdoors for anything more than a little errand running.  It’s way too early in the season for a winter hike.  But I’ll be thinking of that time when Mother Nature really zinged me.  By comparison, the inch or two of snow covering the ground right now is no big deal at all.

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