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Hard Winter

It’s going to be a hard winter. I know because I saw a Wooley Bear caterpillar with very narrow brown stripes and, according to Wikipedia, folklore has it that this portends a hard winter.

Actually, all our winters are hard. Winter is defined as the period between December and March 21sts, but we know that our two seasons are summer, July and August, and winter, all the rest.

There are certain prerequisites for talking about a hard winter. First off, you have to have a listener. As the valley population grows there is a bumper crop of listeners, the best of these being people moving in from The Coast facing their first winter. The ultimate listeners are Californians moving into the valley for their first winter and facing their last. They just don’t know it yet.

Were it not for a hard winter I might not be here. I first set foot in the Valley in 1967. It reminded me of my beloved Montana and a year later I was bugging the guy who owned this place, Bill Tucker, to just sell me a chunk of land on which I could park a trailer. His wife had a heart condition and he was an elderly retired government trapper. He did not plan to move.

But in 1970 during a March snowstorm at about three in the morning she was having chest pains. The snow was wet and heavy, his snow blower kept jamming and he had to get her to the hospital in Brewster. His car was in a garage next to the highway, which was then a curvy two lane road much like Goat Creek Road is today. He had to shovel over a hundred feet to the garage, then carry her to the car and drive to Brewster in the wet blizzard.

She was OK, but they had enough of Methow winters and he phoned me in Everett to ask if I was still interested in buying. Of course. He said it would be a five-acre piece and quoted a price and with my friend and partner, we came over and looked, and ultimately bought the place. I felt $6,000 was a lot to pay for five acres and a big barn, but it was my dream place. We closed the deal in 1971.

Old-timers, once I was ensconced, would tell me about the hard winters here, and doubted I would last. I countered with a February night in Havre, Montana, 1954, when it was 50 below zero there and at 69 below in West Yellowstone—setting the all time record low for the lower 48 states. With this bit of frigid one-upsmanship, I demonstrated my expertise on hard winters, and even if not that, my credibility was established as someone who could come up with a lot of numbers in a hurry.

There are three particularly hard winters I remember. The first was in the ‘80s, the only time I have ever seen no water flowing under the Weeman Bridge. I think it was November. Wells went dry in Weeman Flats, west of the bridge. The second may have been when we recorded minus 32 degrees, our water froze and we had to use the outhouse for its designed functions. That was an experience: the substance at the bottom was generating heat which produced stalactites on the bottom of the icy cold toilet seat. This is not an exaggeration.

The other time was shortly after our new neighbors built their home across the road. I sagely told them that the wind never blows here in the winter, squinching my eyes to the sky and scuffing my toe in the dirt, which you have to do to look like an old-timer.

Their first winter they had their quarter-mile driveway plowed. That night the temperature dropped well below zero, the wind came up and stayed up and in the morning where there had been a driveway between snow berms was a solid mass of hard packed snow. We had to get a loader to clear it. I guesstimated the wind chill at about 86 below zero that day, the wind was gale force and the temp was around twelve below.

A duck flew into our pond this morning, a mallard drake, Well, he thought he was flying into it, but he made an undignified forced landing on the ice and skidded to an embarrassing halt.

This brings me back to the caterpillar I began with. Wikipedia again, tells the story. These creatures do more than hibernate over the winter: they freeze solid until the spring thaw. They embody a hard winter.

When the first hard winter cold snap hits, I urge you not to get The Day After Tomorrow on Netflix. You may not sleep well.


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