Snow Snuffles & Snuggles

The alarm went off at 5:50 in the morning. That moment of transition between sleep and wakefulness is a short, sharp one on certain days, and a dull, lingering one on others. That day, it was a swift rising.

The alarm tinkled with a naughty smile – “Snow snuffles and snuggles”, it said with a snowman and a snowflake thrown in for good measure.

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The husband was not awake yet. Would he have liked this alarm? I wondered as I hit a snooze, and gathered the flowing blankets around me for a quick snuggle in the warmth before padding out into the cold to start the day.

The alarm that day was meant to set the mood and it sure did. We had gone over for a quick ski trip in the mountains nearby, and while we all looked forward to a day in the snow, it was also a day that the weather app forecasted as having heavy snow in the upper reaches and rain in the lower reaches of the mountains.

Driving in the snow is not for everyone. The last time we were stuck in the middle of a snow storm , we found ourselves, car and all, whistling and gliding through the snow looking like reindeer chasing after blackberries and magic mushrooms. (Read here: In Boysenberry Jelly & Mistletoe Jam)

Obviously, I was worried.

Which meant, I sat straight backed, with my woodpecker nose lengthening in the rear view mirror as I drew agitated gasps. I was also doing an impressive amount of passenger-seat driving and botching up directions thoroughly ( we found ourselves losing our way at least twice and doing a u-turn with the snowflakes hurling at us with light-hearted gaiety). My frowning only seemed to make the snowflakes more frivolous and they seemed to dance and jig their way from the skies looking joyous and relaxed, while I twitched and tutted inside, restless for us to reach our destination.

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Snow

All of that worry evaporated the moment the car was parked and we found ourselves out on the slopes however. My face split into a slow wide smile, and I raised my face to welcome the little flakes on my skin. I was wearing a black scarf, and the snowflakes against the scarf made for a wonderful sight. Never had I see them this closely, and I was mesmerized. Each of them had a beautiful symmetry and a unique shape. Some of them clung together giving them the shape of pinecones. Others landed gently on my scarf giving me the gift of observing their individual shapes.

I have heard it said that no two snowflakes are the same. Every time in the snow I wonder how they possibly could have studied that. When millions are hurling down, what is the sample size that can make us reasonably assume that no two snowflakes are the same? It turns out the myth of the snowflake probably originated in 1885 in a remote farm in Virginia. A farmer, William Bentley, spent his winters photographing the snowflakes placed under a microscope. He spent years trying to photograph over 5000 flakes ( an extremely hard task given how quickly the snowflakes sublime.)

Wilson Bentley – The Farmer Who Gave Us Snowflake Images For The First Time (Wikipedia link)

Wilson Bentley's Snowflake Images
Wilson Bentley’s Snowflake Images

I had no idea I could enjoy seeing the snowflakes so much: Tiny versions of perfection, and joy. And I had with me perfect companions on this adventurous day – Children. Children, who had not yet lost their sense of wondrous joy, and they helped me enjoy these little models of perception and perfection almost with as much joy as their own, and to that I am grateful.

I recently read Rachel Carson’s, A Sense of Wonder, in which she says:
“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder … he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”
—Rachel Carson

I hope I was that adult to these children, but the truth is that they were the ones who led to my inner child so surely and unerringly with their enthusiasm and joy. I learnt from them not to mind the discomforts of a blue nose or a shivering hand when I had at my disposal the enormous present of appreciating a snowflake’s beauty.

The Wind, The Snow & The Rain – Part 1

Saying goodbye to Inyo canyon area is hard. One, it is a long drive back and heading back early is a must. Two, it is very hard to pluck oneself away and just leave. After innumerable selfies that could have been taken in our backyard, we started off towards home.  (The bulbous noses obstruct the grand mountain at the back. )

As we started driving, it was a clear day with blue skies, a few cumulus clouds specked the skies lazily.  The winds were gusty as flashed to us by the rustic freeway signs. The slight shudder of the car as it navigated the bends in the mountainous roads was indicative of the conditions outside. (As shown in the ripples in the lake below)

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All in all, it seemed like a marvelous end to wonderful trip with ghost towns, ancient forests and star gazing. We were pleased with ourselves too for another reason. There was a storm warning for 4 p.m. that evening in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and we were slated to cross by 2 p.m. – ha! Looking at the bright blue skies, one wondered whether the geological department had gotten things wrong. Could a snow storm really be on its way? Maybe in a day or two, not today.

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You needn’t doubt the geol. fellows ever again. It was as we were driving through one of the mountain passes that it started to snow mildly. Now, I am sure people who live in the snowy reaches of the earth will pooh and bah at us, but the mood in the car turned to euphoria. Watching the snow flakes drift past is a heady experience, and nothing really prepares you for the magic of it. They say every snowflake is shaped differently, but how they managed to detect and study that, I would never know. Our instinct was to stick our hands out the window and whoop with every brush of snow.

Here is the rummy thing though: If you were to take the quarter of an hour sliver in which the situation changed, you would find the first 5 minutes completely different from the second five and the third five minutes radically different from the first five.

One minute we were ooh-la-la-ing through the mountain pass wondering about the shapes of snowflakes and singing songs, the husband slightly nodding off and taking a well deserved doze in the sunny passenger seat, while I drove like a heroine in the old Indian movies singing and whooping with an inherent happiness that made the singing bearable.

The next 5-minute slot found the blue skies being masked behind fast moving clouds and the winds whipped up a flurry of snowflakes, visibility was definitely waning, and I was telling the children about the Fury of Nature, while clutching the steering wheel and leaning ahead as if clutching the steering w. in a firmer grip would somehow ground the vehicle on the slippery roads.   

The last 5 minutes slot found me unstrung: the visibility had dropped significantly, and I was prodding the husband awake. Just keep driving he said in his taking-command-of-the-situ voice. Maybe my worked up face indicated that I was planning to get out the tea kettle and find some bricks to get a fire going in the snowy lands, I don’t know. So, I nodded, ever the obedient wife, and kept going. I was a bit unnerved too that no matter how hard I clutched the steering wheel, the vehicle was behaving like reindeer after a couple of magic mushrooms: slipping, sliding, and even trying to jump every once in a while.

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reindeer jumping and sliding

Image source: http://stylingstitches.com/jolly_christmas.htm

When the car tried to jump over a piece of ice, I jammed the brakes and found that the car went sliding beautifully onward, but refused to stop. Gulp. Hit brake. Stop. All my years of driving I had been doing that, but it did not work. Positively alarmed now, I was at a loss. What were we to do? I spotted a car ahead of me pull up in the slight ascent, and I gingerly did the same. I managed to let the thing in easily and let out a loud whistle – I now understand the pressure cooker psyche. PHHHHHEEEWWWEEE helps.

I stopped my hands from shaking and looked up to find a large vehicle stop on the opposite side of the road. A bunch of folks dressed in yellow tights and matching snow boots, jumped off. Half expecting to see Curious George, I saw them manually flip a sign on the side of highway to ‘Snow Chains Required’. I had not realized up until that point that that was how the rustic highway signs worked. Illuminating, but also, how do we get the snow chains on now? We had them, and I supposed they worked.

We headed out into the harsh world with the snowflakes doing a pretty dance around us and within seconds, our coats were full of snow, our toes seemed to be missing in action, the nose turned blue, and our hands were doing something when the brain was telling it to do something else. If this was not a pickle or a jam, I don’t know what is.

Continued in Part 2

How is the Hot Water?

Things started off normally enough on our recent trip to Bishop CA: I had strained my neck, slept badly, refused to let the husband drive and rest the shoulder, and was playing with snow on the frozen lake. Though I could easily have iced the area, I did not. The children were throwing snow up in the air, and so was I, yelping like an puppy being beaten every time, but enjoying the snow all the same.

The husband looked at me being an obstinate ass, and decided to take things in hand. “Maybe it is time we went and had something hot to eat.”, he said and smartly frisked all the red-nosed snow saddled simperers into a log cabin that boasted of hot soups and sandwiches.

Things that usually happen in a restaurant happened. We asked for water-no-ice, deftly spilled a glass and mopped the contents, apologized to the table, asked for more napkins and settled down to eat.

I find this a bit trying while dining at restaurants, but waiters and waitresses come up to you during the meal, usually when you have slobbered a bit of sauce on yourself, or stuffed your left cheek to goading point, and ask you how the food is. Now really! Can you not see we are busy tucking in? Must you ask how the food is?

Well… the truth be told, in this particular case, it was horrendous. The pasta was not cooked enough, the vegetables were soggy and the olives did not really go with the sliced jalapeños and certainly not on pasta. Also, it was a bit much using the same condiments on the nachos (s.jalapeños & olives) in the pasta, and passing it off as vegetables in the pasta.

But …..

(a) The poor thing smiled in a rather disarming manner, that I hadn’t the heart to lay the truth out for her.

(b) It was hot food in a cold place and I could well appreciate the logistics of running a restaurant in such a place.

(c) She wasn’t the chef. What could she possibly do? She’d probably tell the chef the food was sub-par, and the chef, if he or she were a temperamental one like Anatole, would behave like a dish pot and spout steam at her.

Simply no point. So, I turned a regal eye upon her (my neck remember?),  and said it was good, in my best hauteur. I hoped that would send a message enough. But it didn’t, so I asked for a cup of hot water instead. She recoiled. All waitresses do when I ask for hot water. They simply don’t know what to make of this simple request. She looked at me questioningly, but my neck helped me with my aura, I stiffened the upper lip with the neck, and smiled curtly not backing down.

She bobbed up with the hot water in due course, and asked us how the food was. I simply could not answer. I was fighting pasta battles of my own.

Maybe that was the problem. She was back with us again. Within minutes. It seemed like every time I managed to turn the upper torso, there she was at our elbows asking how the food was. I mean – really! I was trying to cook the pasta in my mouth with the hot water.

“The hot water is wonderful! Can I have another glass?” I said. Catty? Perhaps.

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Just as an experiment, I must say what I really think and see what happens. I can already see the husband squirm uncomfortably, and make secret plans to move to another table.

Does the cold make you Deaf?

I was blissfully lost in wonders, natural and man-made for the past week. A trip to nature, (to nature or with nature?), is intensely refreshing. As the car made its way upwards into the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges, I could see a large orb hanging from the sky casting a golden glow upon the stark outline of the rising mountains. I was wondering whether it was some sort of industrial light. But it turns out that large yellow orb hanging like an overturned lantern in the sky was the moon and the unusually bright, twinkling objects in the sky were the stars. Yet, the very same objects seem somehow diminished by urban lighting, when I gaze upon them at home.

I must say that I felt a keen kinship with nature there. Like Earth beckoned and embraced its children again. The car held up well against the steep inclines and the atmosphere inside was toasty and warm. We glanced at the dipping temperature gauge in the car every now and then, but continued to admire the night sky.

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It was when we reached Lone Pine, CA, and made for our hotel room that the cold hit us. It was teeth chattering. “Oh! I know I rue the relentless march of civilization and all that, but I quite welcome these advances”, I said through clenched teeth and fists as I switched on the room heater, and let the warm bursts of air swirl around the room.

The days were not much warmer. As we drove on the next day, there were vast expanses of nothing but mountains and desert plains. Stark and beautiful. There were times when the temperature gauge sat looking dismal at 14F.

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We wrapped ourselves in layers, only to find the cold finds a way to seep into the vulnerable spots somehow. We were playing on a frozen lake when we met the kind couple, who, I am afraid, thinks I am a demented owl.
“Where are you from?” they asked.
“We are from the Bay Area.” I said, to which they beamed back and said, “Oh! That’s nice. We are from there too. We have been coming up to these mountains for 41 years now.”
“I can imagine that.” I told them looking sincere, and I am sure they thought I was alright then. “This place is beautiful and I can imagine it becoming a place that we would want to visit now and again. Where are you from?” I asked them smiling in a way that hopefully belied the fact that my jaws could not move out of its smiling position once I got it there. The cold locked my jaws in.
“We are from Mountain Dew” said the lady.
“Oh where is that?”
This is when she looked like all logic had bottomed out of the conversation for she said, “Bay Area!” and looked at me as though surveying me for known defects.
“Oh! really? Okay, I don’t know the place. By the way, do you have a pair of scissors or a knife?”
“A knife?” I could see a slightly worried expression cross her face, but she was nice enough to go on, “Well…no. What for?” she said.

I showed her a pair of brand new gloves that were quite useless because it was all packaged so thoroughly. Really, what do these factories in China expect us to do with their brilliant packaging? Do they expect people with numb fingers, broken jaws and barely functioning faculties, to find a saw to get through the packaging in the snow?
“Oh no…we don’t have really have any on us, but here is something you can use for the little one. It was my grandson’s and he has grown out of it.”

I thanked her profusely with that bizarre grin on my face, and headed back to the car, wondering why they looked so down when I did not know where Mountain Dew was. After all, everybody cannot know every place.

It was after the teeth had stopped rattling like windowpanes in a thunderstorm,  after the jaw loosened up with the heat, and unlocked my bizarre smile, and well after feeling seeped into my fingers and toes, that I realized the lady had probably meant “Mountain View, CA.”, not Mountain Dew.

Do you think the cold makes one deaf? Well, if I run into her here, and if she doesn’t run away from me, I suppose I shall explain.