Signs of a real winter: Some perfect, some not

By Jayson Jacoby January 11, 2013 08:33 am

The berms have returned.

These icy vertebrae of Baker City streets, along with their slushy cousins, the white monoliths that loom over certain intersections, are of course nuisances.

And potentially dangerous ones, capable of concealing any of several models of subcompact car.

Not to mention a person of average height.

So it goes without saying: Slow down out there. No errand is so pressing that it’s worth showing up to it with a Ford Fiesta dangling from your front bumper like an eviscerated yellowjacket.

Yet these frozen eminences represent something else for me, something welcome. They are tangible evidence that this winter, at least temporarily, is the genuine article.

Occasionally a winter passes around here when snow is so scarce that the city’s public works crews never need to scrape off the streets.

Last winter was notably niggardly in this respect.

Which is a boon for the city’s budget, to be sure.

And for fenders.

But I’m invariably disappointed when the season fails to get up to the sorts of inclement dickens of which it’s capable.

That goes for all seasons, actually.

I feel similarly bereaved when, for instance, summer spawns not a single decent lightning show, or autumn goes by without a series of those 20-degree mornings when the atmosphere is so crystalline that the Wallowas seem to have moved 10 miles nearer during the night.

(Which would be nice, making for a shorter drive to Eagle Cap Wilderness trailheads. But alas, plate tectonics operates at a pace that makes that archetypal slacker, the tortoise, seem like Usain Bolt. Or the international space station.)

To put it another way, I’m not satisfied with having four distinct seasons — I want four distinctly dramatic seasons.

My affinity for arctic weather is influenced largely by my growing up in the Willamette Valley, where winter rain is prevalent but snow is rare, and sub-zero temperatures almost unknown.

I never learned, in my coddled youth, to hate the snow shovel. We never owned one, so far as I can remember, so it would have been strange anyway for me to take a dislike to the implement. My dad, whose ability to acquire tools is formidable, certainly would have had a snow shovel had he been able to make even a flimsy case to my mom that one was necessary.

It’s too early, of course, to yet brand this winter. The January thaw could intrude, and Februarys tend toward the dry and climatically banal.

But the season’s timing was at least fortuitous.

A heavy snow began to fall on Christmas morning and it continued through much of the day, creating the sorts of scenes Currier and Ives cashed in on.

The cold settled in on the holiday, too. The temperature didn’t go above freezing for the next 15 days, the longest such stretch in more than seven years.

(There was a 16-day spell, Dec. 4-19, in 2005.)

The chill kept the Christmas snow from going stale, as it were, from turning into the unpleasant slush of the city, marred by dirt and boots and the droppings of dogs.

The more scientifically inclined prefer the yardstick but I’ve long measured snow by way of the two steps that lead to the lawn on the north side of my house.

When the snow reaches a respectable depth — probably around 7 inches — the individual steps are no longer recognizable as such.

That’s what it looked like out there after Monday’s storm — a smooth white expanse, as yet unsullied by feline paws or mule deer hooves.

Nothing so pristine can last long, of course. If the animals don’t get to it the infuriating warm front surely will.

But it was, in that moment, perfect.

Which you can’t really say about those berms.