The Sierra Nevada gets a lot of snow, but it seldom gets really cold.
This seems a contradiction, but by “really cold” I mean below zero Fahrenheit. Sure, the upper elevations dip under that marker, and there are some sinks, like around Donner Lake, where it can be truly frigid, but in winter most of the mountain range stays in the teens and 20s.
This is plenty cold if you’re outside without appropriate, chill-weather clothing, but for the properly equipped – skiers, for example – it’s just comfortable.
Furthermore, the snow level hovers around the 5,000-foot elevation. We’ll get an inch or two occasionally down in Sonora (about 1,700 feet) – the nearest “big” town, with a population under 5,000 – and at our home just below the 4,000-foot level, we’ll get from six inches to a foot a few times each winter. This can occur any time from December to June, depending on the vagaries of the jet stream, but generally we’re done with the fluffy stuff by April.
November may bring a picturesque dusting, seldom more. This year has been one of those “seldoms.”
Snow began falling the Saturday before Thanksgiving, dropping about six inches on our driveway, then another six inches, then a foot. And it was really cold – not below zero, to be sure, but finger-numbing cold, right through the ski gloves I used to grasp the snow shovel.
We knew our granddaughters would be thrilled to go sledding in our own backyard when they arrived for the annual Thanksgiving gathering. This was not to be.
The snow was heavy and wet, bending some four- to six-inch pine trees into graceful arches, right across our road. You could hear branches snapping in the forest and thumping into the drifts beneath. Odds were some trees and branches would fall on power lines. Sure enough, we lost electricity at 7:15 p.m. Saturday.
Without power, the gas furnace wouldn’t ignite, and even the inadequate little pellet stove in the living room couldn’t operate. It also needed electricity to function, and we grumbled at the builder’s lack of foresight in failing to install a proper wood burner.
We were still without power Tuesday, and despite heroic efforts by utility company workers, who labored around the clock to replace downed lines and snapped poles, there was no assurance we’d be back in the modern world any time soon.
So, we packed up and headed for the low country. We would have to visit the grandkids instead of vice versa. On the way out of town, we found something to be thankful for in addition to our family’s generally good health and all our material blessings.
We encountered the American spirit.
At the restaurant where we stopped for breakfast, the conversation was entirely about the weather and the damage it had wrought.
“The snow took a tree into the wires at my house,” said our waitress. “It took down a power pole, and the wires tore the siding off my house along with the electric meter. I can’t go home.”
She said cheerfully that she was spending nights with various friends. Others in the place were getting by with wood fires and candle light, cooking on outdoor barbecues. We encountered one young man whose car couldn’t negotiate the snow- and ice-covered roads. He had hiked out miles to reach a telephone to let his boss know he couldn’t make it to work.
All seemed to be reveling in their self-sufficiency. Things were difficult, but they would get through it with the help of friends and family and their own, inborn grit.
It was heartening and it was instructive, for the strength of character on display showed that – at least in our neighborhood – efforts to inculcate the culture of victimhood, entitlement and dependency had failed. These hardy souls would take care of themselves and their neighbors.
And this we added to the list of blessing for which we gave thanks on Thursday.