Joan Wilder

In the midst of winter I found within me an invincible summer.

Joan Wilder

Joan Wilder
Crested Butte, Colorado,
November 22
Quote in my banner is by Albert Camus. Oil painting by Maggie Galloway.


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FEBRUARY 23, 2010 7:45AM

Buried Alive!

Rate: 31 Flag

We are buried alive!  

In less than eighteen hours over thirty inches of heavy snow have fallen onto Crested Butte from a very pregnant sky. When I opened the second story deck door this morning the snow lunged at my legs hugging them up to my knees.  It pressed against me like it wanted to come into the house. In fact, it's pressing against all of our first story windows like a hungry mob.  It feels predatory and creepy, like "The Blob" or The Fog" or "The Swarm" -- horror flick kind of stuff. 

More snow is being delivered all day and into the night.   

With so much snow there's no definition on our street -- can't tell our driveway or our road from the half story high mounds of previously plowed snow.  Everything blends together -- the trees, cars, houses -- all fat and fluffy in the flat light.  It's so flat if you try to step out into it you don't know how to brace yourself for how deep down you're going to sink.

And it's blinding -- so blinding you need to wear sunglasses just to eke out some faint, weak distinction of depth and distance.

Our jagged mountains are filled in like they were injected with Botox.  Their rugged crags, their contrast and definition, are full and fat and flat and, camouflaged, blend in with the constant, dizzying swirl of fat flakes falling and falling and falling, softly, silently, falling.

The fences have disappeared. 

The only sign of life on this eerie still morning was a puff of snow that came out from somewhere down the street.  Then came another puff and another -- a locomotive coughing to life somewhere under all this stuff.  

A red jacket emerged through the veil of white.  It was some guy trying to dig his car out.  At least I think it was a car he was working on.  Might have been his house.  In about twenty minutes I'll be like that guy huffing and puffing and spouting all that snow up into the air, making like a whale clearing its blowhole.

I don't feel like putting on my layers and Sorrels and raking the roof with an unwieldy fourteen-foot shovel to trigger avalanches of snow onto the decks already groaning with the weight of it, digging into the decks and carving walkways out of the house and exhuming our car. 

And the snow is just wet enough that shoveling it, one small scoop at a time, is like sliding a spoonful of ice cream into your mouth, smoothing some off with your lips and the rest, impolitely, staying on the spoon.  The snow, when it's lost its airness, clings to the shovel like ice cream.  It's double-dipper work.

What a drag when you're surveying this deep white sea and knowing you have to go out there and put your back into it hard to begin to part it only to watch it cave back into itself like a sand castle melting back into a wet beach after a wave.     

Even though we get our driveway plowed by some guy puffing weed who comes as reliably as some guy puffing weed and on a Powdah Day, the rest is hand dug.  And guess who gets to it do all by herself and not getting any younger after eighteen winters? 

Anyway, I need a young guy to come over and shovel all this stuff. The only problem is it's a Powdah Day!  All the residents who haven't had seven knee operations (like me) or are already on crutches or in arm slings, drop everything -- jobs, shoveling, even a wife in labor.  I mean every blessed thing to wade through buried streets and over buried cars with sticks and poles on their backs to the buses that take you up to the ski area if they've got any drivers still running them 'cause it's a Powdah Day! 

They trudge en masse as if to Mecca a couple miles up to The Mountain, just to press in lines against the ropes hours before the lifts open to the North Face in order to be the first to surf the vast virginal deeps of the extremes all day.

On a Powdah Day there is no tomorrow.  We ski with impunity.

We used to have a Swiss snow blower with a husky-varney-something name.  We lent it to my husband's son several years ago and never got it back.  He lost it somehow.  It disappeared into that black hole -- that nameless place where things go and never return like half a pair of socks in the dryer.  Yes, big things -- like snow blowers, snowmobiles, trucks, even people, disappear here in the mountains like little things do in the dryer.

I know I have to get out there and do the digging while the snow's still light with some air in it.  And add my puffs to the other puffs of snow blooming all over the neighborhood now.  Like steam rising in clouds above sewer covers in the city on a frigid day.  And do it quickly.  The moment the temperature goes up the airy snow will go flat as a tire and condense into cement snow, which is ten times harder to heft and heave. 

But I don't wanna.  I want to dive down under my deep down blanket and dream of warm sand and beaches and of all the sand castles I won't bother building. 

*  *  *

Just got back from being out there.  I'm sweaty and heavy with sodden layers and icicles hanging from my hair. 

The first thing I did when stepping off our front porch to make a path to the car was do a face plant into four-foot deep snow.  Every time I struggled to get up my arms and legs plunged down into the white nothingness.  It was as futile as struggling in quicksand.   The harder I tried to get up the deeper down I went.

When, somehow, I managed to dog paddle horizontally onto my feet -- feet stuck deep in the snow like fence posts -- I got my bearings and, squinting, saw the town plow had plowed a six-foot berm into our driveway and over the back of our submerged car.

After ten minutes of digging my way eight feet out to the car, I grabbed the door handle, which thankfully was above the snow line, only to find it frozen shut.  After finally coaxing it open I still couldn't get into the car to warm it up and get out the snow scraper because the door was blocked by snow -- snow already heavy as wet sand.  Only yards from the front porch and I was whipped. 

Needless to say, I shoveled and raked and swept and dug that car out just in time to slam it into low gear and back it over a two foot berm and out of the driveway for the snow plow guy, who arrived at that very moment, to dig out our driveway.  And I tunneled paths and shoveled the deck and tried, without success, to rake the snow off the roof while the plow guy was here.  So the mess it would cause could be plowed by him before he finished.  Not much came down.  It was iced onto the roof and wouldn't budge.

I was done in.  I shook myself off outside the house before kicking off my boots and shedding frozen snow pants, jacket, gloves and hat onto the mud room floor -- where they landed standing up.  And I wheezed myself, legs trembling from the effort, upstairs to sink once again -- not into the snow this time but into the white warm down of my bed before I relax in our steam shower.

Oh dang!

You know when you try to get your dog to shake off the snow or rain or mud or whatever outside before she comes into the house and she simply won't?  Like mine?  And the minute she's inside she shakes the stuff off her like those hairy spinning rollers in a car wash and it sprays all over the place in one big huge hairy sneeze. 

Like our dog, the house just shuddered and shook off huge masses of roof ice and hard snow onto the pristine driveway and thundered down its valleys burying, once again, our deck and walkways with giant chunks of crud.  

Well, all's I can say is to hell with it.  I'm headed for Mecca.

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Winter is hard work and most of the time, I don't miss the shoveling and power outages. But there are those other times when I wish I could hide away for a while, safe within my home and the knowledge that the world has stopped for a while. No phone calls, no visitors, no intrusions -- just me and my family. That, I miss.
God, Donna. You are so fast! You are one of the people I refer to when I say "prolific." You are on a tear. Thanks for stopping by.
This is an excellent account. You really get across a sense of claustrophobia. You've got my admiration. I'm sure I could never cope. It's like you're on the front line against mother nature.
Great accounting. I felt the claustrophobia. Riveting.
You got it right when you said you were heading to Mecca...Boulder is often described this way. And unlike your greedy and quite frankly addictive Crested Butte whose residents crave and shake for their snowy fixes, Boulder is a little more like Camelot...where just the right amount of snow is gracing the ground but not impeding our daily lives and the icicles that are hanging from our tree branches will soon melt when the morning sun reminds them it's time to wake up and move on. I loved this piece Joan and all the ways you describe the mounds of snow. Your humor had me laughing out loud with images of you falling face down into the snow. I love your writing and it's been a rare treat these days. So happy to see this post this morning and I'm really glad you're heading down to civilization, leaving any further shoveling to your powdah puff guy and the sun.
I sure hope you're exaggerating at least a little bit! Wow!
AN EP !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! YES !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
What a post. You weave words and images like weaving a rug,..thick with love and power and amazing words and rhythmn.

rated rated rated rated
Mecca ain't so hot these days, I hear. Sounds like the reason I decided not to move to the Northwest (Kalispel). Though this time of year I spend some time in Chicago where the Democratic mayor acts like, looks like and talks like a Fascist.

Well, the last few years, anyone you would try to convince about global warming, would just laugh because since 2007 we have had vicious winters after decades of Spring like weather from November to March.

Hope your husband and child are well soon.
God Bless
Fernsy: You are very gracious. The sun came out and the town is shaking itself off and the streets are back after a good plowing and it's now like a maze where you can walk down the streets again but surrounded with high walls of plowed snow. A-mazing!

Mary: Yes. Come'n down to Camelot where everyone lives with life unimpeded by snow with staying power and I get to have lunch tomorrow with you, dearest Guenevere! All's I can say is, "it is what it is!" ;-)

Patricia: I hope I'm exaggerating too. But I'm not. After over 18 years up here I'm ready to move down about 4,000 feet to Boulder.

Dearest Professor: Oh god, not another Democratic Fascist! I hate that! We're on the same page re global warming. We've actually had a rather dry winter for Crested Butte while the south's been getting all the snow. Funny (not) how global warming is rapidly bringing on the next Ice Age. And thanks for your good wishes for my family. My best to you and yours.
Po baby!!! I'am surprised you can even get out of town but glad you can escape this perpetual white out! Have experienced too much of this myself this winter in our Tahoe cabin and I am done with it! Love your descripts, Jo Jo, which are always so rich with flavors and textures. Beautifully written and well deserved EP! xo
Joan, you have such a talent with words! There is a soothing, melodic rhythm to this post that makes my whole body relax, even when I'm reading about the tough work of shoveling. You mix deep thought with humor (I'm still laughing about your face-down flop) and capture the essence of the world around you with such clarity and warmth.
Mr. Smith: Didn't mean to skip you of all people! Thanks for your constant, consistent, kudos. You polish my ego to a glowing shine with your words. Thanks for your kindness!
I'm packing right now and have to get going on my 6-7 hour trip to Boulder. Will be relaxing in a hotel, alone, by evening and dying to get back to you all and read you this evening! Happy trails!
Cathy: I agree. It's time for the next season to come. But for you, it will be Spring in the Bay Area. For me it will be mud season again. Deep, sucking you back into the earth some more, mud spring.

Karin: Your words are poetry to me. It's amazing to me you felt relaxed while I wrote about shoveling. I think your comments deserve EP's as well as your posts. I'm putting down the shovel and driving down the slippery slopes all day today to Boulder and will be alone in a hotel. Alone for the first time in years. Much work to do for my daughter. And I will be able to catch up with you and others I love here on OS. It's been a long two months since I've been corresponding and I miss you/it terribly. See you later -- so long as everyone else on the roads knows how to not brake on curves nor when going down the far side of an ice packed mountain pass.
PS - I love your new (think it's new?) banner and artwork. So YOU!
Thanks for noticing, Cath. Yeah. It's new. The painting is by Maggie Galloway formerly known to us in Lake Forest as Margie Protchowsky! All the way back to fifth grade with the Protchowsky girls and Gast girls being best buddies! Her work is brilliant, amazing!
aaah, the futility of shoveling shi ... wait, i meant snow. and the necessity, of course. best description of being stuck in it after a face plant i think i've ever read. enjoy your time in boulder. not that you deserve it or anything. ;

glad you're back.
Sometimes it all feels quite pointless, that shovelin'/blowin' thing... After my health issues, I shudder when the white stuff falls... We've been fortunate so far, 18" was our biggest... Makes for some great landscape, and in your case a ton o' laughter, or was that only for the OS faithful? March is always our big Tsnownami month, might steal your que! Great piece Joan... Thanx...RRR
I told you you'd make the cover! Big proud smile on my face right now! Now, when are you leaving for Boulder? Time's a wasting!
That is a well earned title. Great job, well done, and welcome back.
Wow! I don't miss it...there is some snow here, but nothing like in Colorado...great post...congrats on the cover, cover girl! xox
It was the Blizzard of '78, I believe, in which we experienced similar snowfall in Michigan. But this . . . this is clearly every year for ya'll. Dang! Your spirit shines through it all though, reflecting off the drifts . . . hearty stock, clearly. Now I'm thinking about various "mountain man" stories from pioneer days . . . wow. You're a modern-day pioneer. Okay, enough of my stream of consciousness rambling: Stay Warm!
Holy crap, I can't even imagine this...The warm comfy comforter yes, but the rest wow!
Winter is a drag. Your writing is gorgeous. _r
Wow, just wow ! Even in Montréal we haven't had snow like that this year. Lovely descriptions and images; enjoyed reading. Rated.
"Cover Girl!" I like that Robin!

Joan is mostly on the cover....humm..maybe it has something to do with amazing imagery....BOTOX??? Ha!!! You gotta LOVE it!!!
Why I left Michigan decades ago and never looked back.
Femme Forte: Wish I'd thought of it -- the shoveling "shi". You creative woman, you. Thanks for the welcome back. I'm glad to be and to be reading you. Hope I can stay a while. Loads of work to do. Screw it. I have loads of fun to do!

Patrick: If you can come up with Tsnownami month, you've already stolen it! Thanks for the laugh and your generous comments.

Thoth: God of gods, Thoth. Thanks for welcoming me back. And your usual always gracious comments. Loved your article and a story that confirms The Gods Must be Crazy! You are the Creator! Ra has been replaced by Thor!

Robin: Oh how I've missed you! A Cover Girl? Will have to talk to Tyra Banks about that.

Owl: Yeah, we are still pretty pioneering up here in Crested Butte. It is a very different world yet with so many things in common. But it's true. This is a very different life than the one when I was a single woman living in San Francisco in my twenties. Never thought I'd be chopping wood and swimming in snow. Life's amazing. I want to hear your Mountain Man stories. These will become collector's items for sure.

Lunchlady2: Holy crap indeed! You nailed it. Thank goodness for down comforters to sink into after being buried in the cold stuff.

Joan H. Thanks for thinking it so. I've been seeing your name around and I'm going to drop by and see you. Thanks for stopping here.

FusunA: Thanks. And all the way from Montreal! Bon jour!

JD Smith: I am not! Just a brief quote but it was like emotional Botox for me. I'm still in shock. Truly. And you know it.

Tom: But we ski here. We can rise above the deep blue snow and surf it and play with it. And we get sun here. Is there any sun in the winter in Michigan? I think I'll be joining you this year but will look back with memories that amaze me and I'll look back with relief and wondering how crazy were we to move here? Who did we imagine we were? Well, I think we've got the right stuff but you have no choice but to have it when you live here. There is a joy in living in an anachronistic world -- right smack dab here in the good ole US of A. Who am I kidding, Tom. Sometimes it really sucks. Good to see your face again!
Sounds like a terrible case of cabin fever. It's no wonder that at this time of year Southern Coloradans resort to that long standing tradition of eating their companions.
After 25 years in Michgan, and another 25 in Florida, I'm content to be a halfback in a place with 3 1/2 seasons. We're in the mountains but we can't ski - tho the far mountain peak have snow for much of the winter. Most winter days are crisp, some are chilly and a few are downright cold. Occasionally we have snow, but it seldom lasts more than a day or two. Winter? Not exactly.
What's snow? Why won't anybody tell me?
Snow Mecca indeed!

This reminded me of my decade in Anchorage. I love how you described the mountains when coated with snow - they seem so much more friendly and accessible when covered with the fluff of snow.

I love snow when I don't have to live in it or shovel it all winter long. I had my fill.

You are a beautiful writer my friend and I look forward to you getting some down time for yourself. I know how hard that is to do.
Mojavemadman: Shshshshhhhhh....This is supposed to be a well kept secret. Why do you think I included people with all the large things that disappear in the mountains? But did I mention "how" they disappear! Sheesh!

Tom: So Mayberry, Tennesse sounds like a good place to be, huh? Or does that mean you're living in a fictional place somewhere in North Carolina?

John: What's snow? Something to eat -- unless it's yellow. Trsut me.

Sparking: Thanks thanks thanks. A decade in Anchorage. Whew! Yeah, and when they're so soft and filled in is when they're at their most dangerous. I've lost teachers and friends to back country skiing avalanches. Thanks for appreciating what downtime means to me. My sister, MaryTKelly, surprised me on my first day here in Boulder and is spending the entire day with me in my room. We're talking and laughing our heads off. The hotel's rumbling with our energy. Gawd I love her!!!
JD sent me and I'm glad!
Big Fat Trauma Queen: Thanks for dropping by. I am now down in Boulder and my sister, MaryTKelly (who loves you!) came over with her blankie and jammies and we're having an all day slumber party -- talking and laughing our heads off! What joy!!
Great writing! So many excellent images (moist snow as ice cream and double dipping perhaps at the top). Hope you enjoyed Mecca at least.
At Home Pilgrim: Love your photo! Thanks for stopping by. And if Mecca is having an all night pajama party with my sister Marytkelly in my hotel room, then damn! I've been to Mecca!
Thats a lot. We had over 27 inches a few weeks ago, which is practically a record for SE PA, but probably not that uncommon for CO.
Post a pic or 2! Its amazing to me, these Colorado mountains. We have a house just the next valley to the east, and its dryer than Denver most of the time! The Arkansas Valley only dreams of the moisture your side gets so much of.
Fun read Joan.
Snoreville Ledenmocker: How did you ever manage 27 inches in Pennsylvania? Not at all uncommon for where we live. But every year it gets harder and harder to shovel it. The snow must be getting much heavier. Nothing to do with me getting older!

Tim4change: So happy you enjoyed the read. Yeah, any time you feel thirsty just read about all our snow. Yet, up here at 9,000 feet, we get dry dry dry. I slather myself with moisturizer from head to several times daily to keep moist and drink tons of water. But my skin soaks the stuff up in seconds. I do my hands probably dozens of times a day. High country version of Hamlet's "out damn spot" syndrome. Yeah, I should have put in a photo or two. It's amazing!
Well like I said, it was almost a record. 27 inches was the second highest on record.
Great post, just great! Dog paddling through the snow indeed. You folks ought to carry scuba gear in the winter. You are one fine writer.
I read somewhere the town where you live inspired parts of that Avatar movie. Is that so? I saw the movie and liked it but I don't remember any snow. It seemed like mostly jungles.
And what you say about the snow, "predatory and creepy... horror flick kind of stuff", "delivered all day and into the night", and "everything blends together -- the trees, cars, houses…in the flat light." And "fat flakes falling and falling and falling, softly, silently, falling.
Terrific stuff, I’d rank it with whatshisname’s snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling.
What can I say. Keep up the fine work.
John Banker: Whew! You just blew me away like the winds before an avalanche!!!