Show Snovels and Other Trivia


Eugene, Oregon, rarely gets temperatures lower than the mid-twenties (-4 C.) or more than an inch or two of snow accumulation. As I write, my yard contains fourteen inches that fell in the last day and a half, and snow is still falling. The airport is closed, and Amtrak (America's long distance passenger train service) hit a tree forty miles from here, and its passengers were stranded in the train for 36-hours with too little food and heat. Few people own snow shovels, and I even saw one woman clearing her driveway with a round pointed garden shovel.

I didn't even know what a snow shovel looked like (verbal maladroit that I am, you could put a gun to my head, and the term would still come out show snovel) before moving to Minneapolis in October 1988, just in time for the season's first snow. I always enjoyed buying tools, and my fondness for shoveling certainly stood me in good stead, but I would have had to do it regardless in order to get the car out of the driveway and to avoid a fine for letting snow accumulate on my sidewalk. During my two winters there, the Twin Cities (the only thing that separates Minneapolis from St. Paul is the Mississippi River) never had a snow so heavy that it brought life to a standstill. 

Therefore, when I heard Minnesotans whining on the TV recently about the sub-zero cold, I thought they must have turned into sissies because I remembered zero degrees as being almost balmy on sunny, windless days. Sure enough, when I looked up the winter lows during my time in Minnesota, I discovered that in both '88 and '89, the mercury hit -24 F (-31 C.), which wasn't even regarded as noteworthy. In fact, my area of southern Minnesota was called the Banana Belt to distinguish it from the far colder northern Minnesota cities of Duluth and International Falls. Truly, global warming has spoiled Twin Cities' residents if they regard -5 (-21 C.) as cold, although I'm sure that the schnauzer we had back then would agree with them because when I dressed her in her fleece-lined red coat and took her for her daily walks, she would run up to the door of every house we passed in the hope that someone would let her in.

The southern Willamette Valley doesn't do well with heavy snow, and god forbid that we get an ice storm. I live near downtown and had naively imagined that our power would stay on regardless, but a few winters ago, it was out for six days during zero cold (-18 C.), and it was out for four days during another winter (zero being very unusual here). Because I use a BiPAP for severe sleep apnea, power outages are no joke for me, and my potted plants don't think any too well of them either. Fortunately, we have a gas fireplace insert that at least enables the plants to survive and for us to remain in our home (I power my BiPap with a twelve-volt battery).

As I write, many thousands of people are without power, but thankfully Peggy and I aren't among them. We're also fortunate in that we have no place that we have to go because while I think our four-wheel drive car would do fine, I don't want to get salt on it. When I moved to Minneapolis, I was as ignorant of salt as I was of snow shovels, so when I saw trucks scattering sand on the roadways I concluded that the sand was being used instead of salt, but I soon learned that the two are mixed.

Well, here I sit in my cozy home, writing and listening to Vivaldi in the company of my wife and four cats. Life could certainly be worse. I could have a schnauzer that I felt obligated to walk "for her own good" no matter how much she hated it. I still don't know if I did right by that dog, but she came through it okay, finally dying at age seventeen.