I moved to Seattle about 3 1/2 years ago. From the moment I left California, I felt like a prisoner must feel when the doors of the prison have been thrown open after decades of incarceration. The first rest stop that I pulled into showed me once again that I had crossed into a new country. No longer were there chained fences keeping you from the lands beyond. Each of these areas was like a mini hiking area, gentle trails to wander and stretch your legs and admire the trees. Oh, and we must not forget the free coffee! Every rest stop from Oregon onward had a small trailer that served free coffee to all that visited. Mostly, it was manned by Military Vets, though sometimes, other organizations.
When I first came into sight of Seattle, I think it was instant love! It was a big city in every sense of the word. Tall glistening skyscrapers, houses and apartments along every turn and hillside. And yet, it wasn’t the same as any city I had ever seen. For though there were skyscrapers and tall buildings in abundance, it was not a complete concrete jungle. For along with the expanses of concrete, they made room for the trees.
Having spent over 3 decades trapped in the land of Summer/not Summer, or Southern California, I had little memory of what true seasons were when I first moved to Washington. I had experienced them in my life. But, I was a child then and a very young child when I had been migrated from Washington. Though I went through high school in Southern California and into my adulthood and the raising two children till maturity, the state nor the climate ever felt like home to me. The only times that I every felt truly at peace down there was on the rare occasion that I was able to wander the mountain terrain. That is, when it wasn’t shut down due to the annual fire season. I’m not sure if there is any old growth forests down there. On the times that I was able to take treks on the trails, I don’t believe I ever saw a truly old growth tree.
Seasons don’t really change there. Not in any sense that one can call a true season. There’s a slight shift in the air around Halloween and the temperatures begin to drop a bit. Cold is considered 60 degrees or lower. Rarely does it even hit the 40 degree mark. The trees are bared most by the Santa Ana wind conditions coming through and with near hurricane velocity, strip them in a matter of hours. These can be expected to be followed by a rise in temperature of up to 30 degrees. So, you can be at 50 degrees on one day and stripping to tank top and shorts to survive the 80+ degrees the following day. So, when I got up here, I was very much looking forward to my first real winter since I was a small child.
They tell you to be careful what you wish for, and my life has always tended to play itself out in extremes. I should have expected that in this, it wouldn’t be any different. The day that the first snow fell, I was just ecstatic! I stomped all over in it and stood outside with my arms outstretched, head tipped back and let the flakes cascade down all over my face. There is nothing quite like the first snow kisses of the year. And I have received many a strange look from people, even those here, when I speak of snow kisses. But, I know of no other way to describe the experience. The tiny ice flakes when they meet the skin of your face and sending this feathery cold touch upon it. Its almost too faint to feel, a touch that is almost not a touch. Like when someone reaches to touch you gently and comes within a hair’s breath away from actual contact. But, unlike the warm of the fingers, there is the whisper of the cold.
The first snow did not last long and was just enough to touch my heart with the wonder of it. But, then came the siege! The extremes once again did not let me down. My first winter here offered the harshest snowfall that had been seen here in 30 years! I was lucky in that my new job had one of the other employees play chauffeur to me during this week. And even with the large 4-wheel drive truck he had, we still found ourselves not risking the roads on a couple of the days. Which gave me the time to truly enjoy the wonder of watching my tree studded environment transform into a magical winter wonderland. I took a lot of pictures of the snow around my home. And they are quite pretty even though I didn’t have much of a camera at the time.
The trees were just magnificent with their blankets and pillows of snow upon their branches. One of the amazing things about this area is the variety of trees, many of which are evergreen so they stay green all year round. This grants you a starkly contrasting landscape of the snow casings of the branches of the barren trees mixed with the stretching tiered branches of the evergreens bowing under the weight of the snow building ever thicker upon them. And my apartment gave me the perfect vantage point to observe it. I am at the top of a hill a number of miles outside of the main city. My window looks down on the hills below and there are trees as far as the eye can see.
Even in the darkest of night, there is a glow to the horizon when it has snowed. It takes only the barest hint of light to illuminate the icy crystals. The air takes on a misty haze, as if it is frozen mid-air. The clouds are different as well. They’re whiter than the rain clouds and seem to be lighter. Suspended icy mists careening across the heavens.
I was told that the first year, I would probably have a hard time keeping warm, not being used to such temperatures. That was very much an understatement! I also learned that first year that a fireplace is not a very good source of heat in such weather. I suppose if you have a wood burning stove type, that might be different. But, you have to open a portal into your home to let the smoke out. Which means that it will also let the cold come in. And when the temperatures drop to the 20’s and teens, you want to keep it out as much as you can.
Though, I did learn another lesson during this first winter. The danger of driving during a snow flurry. They are amazing sights to look on through the windshield of your car. And if you are not careful, they can mesmerize you and draw you in to them. You look into this swirling spiral of snowflakes, ever changing and seeming to beckon you to come deeper. Its an enchanting temptation that you need to quickly learn to resist. Its much better to pull your car to the side of the road and watch for a while!
Many worried that such an extreme introduction to winter would have sent me scurrying back to the warm southern regions from whence I came. But, as great of an adjustment it was that first winter, it affirmed that I had made the right choice. I had finally found my way home and this was where I was meant to be.
I’m in the middle of my 4th winter here now. None has come close to the extreme of the first and last year had only a momentary tease of snow. We had a nice share again this year. Not as much as the forecaster predicted, but they are never ones that can be relied on to speak with accuracy. We did get enough to keep most of the city home for a couple of days. And it was just as glorious as that first year. I have learned that most here don’t like the snow. Unless they make an effort to find it in the mountains. But, it doesn’t fall here as it does in other parts of the country. We may have a couple of days of being housebound by it, but not much more than that. And it makes the air so very clean and season it with a crispness that cold alone cannot. Its a time of fun and curling up by the window with a cup of hot cocoa and a children’s movie marathon. Its bundling up in the heavy jacket and knit hat and gloves and going outside to play like a child. And its a joy to watch the home trapped neighbors surrender to nature’s short incarceration and abandon themselves to making the best of it and taking their sleds and snowboards to the nearest hill to careen down, then return to stud the walks with snowpeople to guard the night hours.