Monday, December 22, 2008

Over it.

Photo: Jim clears the driveway of fallen branches as we try to leave home in December.

Here is a post I wrote around Christmas time when we were snowed out of our house. We got between 2.5 - 3 feet of snow during this two week "snow event." Not only could we not get out, once we did, we could not get back in.


We're refugees at the moment. It has snowed every day for a week. Each day we'd get a little more snow, and a little more snow. Then the real storm hit. It dumped a ton of snow. Then the freezing rain moved in. It dumped a nice 1/2 inch layer of ice on top of the 18 inches of pre-existing snow. Then it snowed some more. O.K. Fine. Be that way.

Everything was icy. The trees, the deck, the driveway and the powerlines. What is this? I thought I was living in Oregon? This is more like the weather I experienced in Columbia, Missouri, during my college years. Alistair, our spirited dog, kept breaking through the surface of the ice with a big fracturing crunch. Then he was up to his shoulders in snow. He'd bound along, looking for the fun powdery stuff that was there the day before. I knew there was a good chance we might lose power. No power = no well water and no heat. I filled the bathtub with water. I pulled out pitchers and buckets and filled those, too. I've got a propane powered portable stove. I can cook. As it turns out, I didn't need to.

We lost power at 4:00 am. The cool house became a cold house. The well is powered by an electric pump. No water? We don't have a woodstove and our furnace is electric. No heat. The driveway is covered in a thick blanket of ice and snow. Our previous tracks are barely visible beneath the fresh layer of snow and ice that accumulated overnight. The driveway was barely manageable before the last dumping of snow. With this latest snowfall and ice storm, I was getting nervous and afraid we might get snowbound.

We decided we had to leave while we still could. We had no power and we could bring the dog and stay at Jim's uncle's place 12 miles away in McMinnville. We gathered some warm clothes, packed essential items and got out the brand new chains to put on our four wheel drive pickup truck. After struggling for 20 minutes in the cold, the chains were on and we were ready to head out the door. The cab of the truck was pretty full with all of our luggage as well as the dog. No room for our three kitties in their carriers. We fed the cats and decided to leave them and come back later. There was a chance that the power might return within the next 24 hours and they'd be fine. Our house is well insulated, it was a cool 60 degrees inside so they won't freeze. We got the dog, grabbed our newly purchased snow shovel, and some food that we didn't want to spoil, and locked up the house. Ever so slowly, I negotiated our driveway. The tires crushed through the ice. You could hear the breaking of the sheet of frozen water underneath the car. We had to stop at the last part of the driveway. Some big branches had broken off of some of the overhanging trees, blocking our path. Jim hopped out and took care of things and I met him at the bottom. Fairview Drive, our road sees a fair amount of traffic on a normal day. Not this day. A few tracks from other intrepid travelers broke up the white expanse of road. A plow had gone through and made a big wall of snow that we had to push through in order to reach the road.

Most of Oregon isn't prepared for snowfall like this. I was shocked to see that Fairview was plowed. It was still covered in snow, just slightly less than our driveway. There isn't much the county can do when it comes to heavy snowfall. Every town is left to fend for themselves. Most of the towns just give up and pray for warmer weather.

Photo: This is Oregon?? Dayton intersection of Hwy 99W and Hwy 18.

We drove down through Dundee towards Highway 99W. There were a few folks out walking around, surveying their now snowbound surroundings. They waved as we crawled down the hill. The truck made it down just fine. A tree had fallen across 9th Street, turning the street into single wide track. The highway was slushy, but manageable.

We drove slowly, following a milk truck that was delivering a fresh load of milk to the Farmer's Cooperative Creamery in McMinnville. Those cows have to be milked no matter what the weather. No rest for the creamery staff. Yet another reason why I don't want milking animals. Please just bring me your milk so that I might transform it into cheese.

Photo: Deep ruts and footprints in the snow.

My cheese! I have a bunch of fresh chevre in the freezer, currently thawing. Chevre freezes just fine. Lots of moisture in there and if you freeze it right, you won't get crystals. Don't ever freeze aged cheese, please. My aged cheeses are maturing nicely, and should ride out the cold weather just fine in the unopened fridge/cave.

We pulled into McMinnville, called Mac by the locals. The stores were open, the parking lots were full. There was a long line of cars out in front of the Les Schwaab Tire Store. They spilled into the street. Folks looking to buy chains or get studded tires. It was sleeting at this point. We pulled onto the sidestreets and drove slowly, navigating our way across the deep ruts of ice and snow and finally arrived at Wayne and Linda's house. Wayne had been busy, shoveling his sidewalk clearing a path to the street. We arrived unscathed and offloaded our stuff, including a crock pot full of turkey fricassee. I hate showing up empty-handed.

The rest of the afternoon was spent trying to keep up with the freezing rain, snow, and sleet. We walked the dog around the neighborhood. I worried about our cats. Dinner was great. Glad I could share the turkey dinner. We called it an early evening, exhausted from a very trying day.

Today we woke up to another 4-6 inches of snow. Great! Just what we need! More snow! I helped Wayne get a path clear down his driveway so he could get his car out. It took a while to get the ice and snow off of the truck, but we managed. The roads around the house are not plowed so getting around can be tricky, even with chains and 4WD.

After breakfast we got back in the truck and drove back to Dundee to see if our power was restored and check on the cats. The drive was scary. The road was barely plowed and at times you could barely make out where the road actually was. Everything was white, there was no sand or slushy bits to make our trail. It was slow going. In Dundee there were several trees down but they were no longer blocking the road. You could see all of the trees with their limbs hanging heavy with their burden of ice. Some were draped across the power lines, just moments away from unleashing more problems.

We managed to reach our driveway. It was buried in snow. I could sort of see where we had driven before, but I could see that there was a lot more snow on it now than when we had left. Not good. I put the truck in 4WD-low and set forth to have a go at our driveway. The first part is a steep incline. Then it levels out and swings through the hazelnut orchard, past our single-wide trailer palace, the shop and then swings up another steep slope up to the house. I figured if we could get up the first part, the last part would be the trickiest but we just might get through. We put the truck in gear and headed up the driveway. And got stuck. The tires began to spin, so I backed up a few feet and tried it again. We made it farther up the driveway before we got stuck again. Back a few feet, and forward again. It took three tries but we made it up to the orchard. What a sorry sight! All of the handsome trees were sagging with the weight of ice and snow. Their branches were brushing the surface of the snow. The car got stuck again. The snow is so deep that our front bumper was acting like a plow, pushing the snow ahead of us. Eventually the pile would get to high and we'd get stuck. Jim would get out, step through the knee high snow and shovel the pile away. Then we'd proceed. We finally came to a halt after sliding sideways on the last turn of the driveway before we reached the house. Close enough. We walked the rest of the way up to the house. The snow was over our knees. Not fun. We got the house open. It was still. No power. The cats were thrilled to see us. We fed them and started grabbing stuff for our long stay at our home away from home. More warm socks, more sweaters, long underwear, clothes, pet food, and the cats. We got them into their carriers and hauled everything and everyone back to the waiting truck.

I then had to retrace our path, driving in reverse since I could not turn around. Not easy, but I managed to get us back down the driveway and onto the road. The drive back to McMinnville was slow, but we were happy that everyone was safe. This is going to be a very different Christmas.

Photo: Jim and Alistair take refuge at Wayne and Linda's in McMinnville, Oregon.

The power company didn't believe that our power was out. I got a call from a lineman. He was standing at the bottom of our driveway trying to figure out why we didn't have power. He saw lights on at our neighbors and could hear the pumping station making noise. Jim talk to him and said that everyone has generators. If you hear noise, that must be a generator because the pumping station is normally silent. The lineman decided to investigate instead of looking for the downed power line that was on the corner of Fox Lane and Fairview Drive. He drove up our driveway and got stuck three times. He called us to apologize for tearing up our gravel road, but he couldn't move. Since we couldn't get there to help, we call in some help. Our neighbor, Ray has a big pickup truck with high clearance. He's also without power, so he was happy to hear that there was a lineman nearby stuck in the snow. He pulled the guy out. Ray took the lineman to the broken power line and we all had power again. A miracle!


Too bad we had to wait five more days before we could get up the driveway. We finally hired someone to plow our drive. Sure enough, the lineman really did a number on our gravel. He didn't know how to drive in snow and just let the tires keep spinning until he dug a huge hole. I guess all of those years in Missouri taught me how to handle a car in wintery conditions. I still managed to slip and slide, but we never got totally stuck.

Now on our shopping list: wood stove and a generator.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Let it snow!

They say it doesn't happen much around here. Yet here it is. We're in the midst of a snow storm. Well, alright, maybe not a storm, but we've got some heavy snow showers and it is 27 degrees Fahrenheit and the temperature falling. The weather forecast is for more of the same and colder weather for the next week. Brrrr.

This is exciting stuff for those of us who grew up in California. It rarely snowed in San Francisco, maybe once every seven years. The snow never stayed around.

Here in the northwestern edge of the Willamette Valley, they get some good frost, and snow on the hills. Supposedly we see a dusting a couple of times a year. Well, this is our first year here, and we've got more than a dusting.

Enjoy the slide show.