Early Sierra snow

The first snow of the season is falling here at Wren’s Nest, 53 miles west of Lake Tahoe in the Northern California Sierra mountains. It’s a little odd because it seems like just a few days ago it was sunny and the temps were in the low 60s. Sky was blue, not many clouds, the trees were looking glorious in their autumn raiment and I was starting to wonder, a little gloomily, if we were going to be “blessed” with yet another warmish, sunny California Christmas.

See, I like Christmas to look and feel like Christmas. I want to see snow outside my windows. I want to bundle up, go outside and build snow-people and throw snowballs for the dog (he loves leaping into the air, catching them and snapping his jaws, spraying snow out both sides of his mouth. It’s hilarious).

This is how much I love winter and snow: I was talking to my neighbor, Allison, last night about maybe going snowshoeing this winter. She’s never snow-shoed – neither have I – but we both want to try it. Even though we’re in our 50s and both of us have arthritis. I’ve done alpine and cross-country skiing. I loved the latter, though I only got to go once. It was on a brilliant, ice-cold, blue-skied day in the Harz Mountains of Germany, the year before the Wall came down. My friends and I were on a high, deserted back road, nothing but mountains and trees and sky for as far as the eye could see. And once I got the hang of the long, skinny skis and could stay upright, I shooshed along, hearing nothing but the wind in the trees and my own breath. It was extraordinary.

So after I got up this morning, I had a nice, hot bowl of oatmeal with applesauce and cinnamon mixed in and a cup of steamy hot coffee. A few minutes later, I looked outside. The wind was gusting; dead leaves were flying around and there was frost on the hedgerow. Allison called; she asked if I’d come over and spot her on the ladder while she climbed up onto her roof. She wanted to cover the vent that brings fresh air into her garage, where her dogs shelter from the weather. It was way too cold in there. So I put on my scarf, hat, coat and gloves and went over. As she was doing the chore, we were both exclaiming over how truly cold it was.

This is California. Yes, we’re up at 3,200 feet, but except for the deepest part of the winter, the cold season is fairly mild. It was around 10 a.m. and the thermometer had only just passed 30 degrees Fahrenheit. For us, this is cold.

When she was done, it was time to get my chores done. The firewood ring next to the wood stove needed replenished, so almost son-in-law Matt and I got busy on that. While we were out by the woodpile, it started graupeling.

Graupel is, for those of you who don’t know, tiny pellets of snow, like soft hail. I experienced it for the first time when I lived in Germany. It’s a pretty normal form of winter precipitation here; it usually precedes a snow storm. Matt opined that it might be smart to move the cars up to street level (our house sits at the bottom of a steep, sloped driveway).

I feel celebratory when it snows. I just put our Christmas tree up yesterday, so the holidays have arrived at Wren’s Nest. With the poor economy, and me still out of work, it will be a meager Christmas present year, but that’s not important. What is, is that we’re together, we’ve got a warm fire, a full pantry and plenty of warm clothes and blankets. We’re cozy. And we’ll be fine.

I decided that given how cold it was, I’d make a nice hot, rich soup. My daughter loves my Hungarian “goulash” soup, made with chunks of lamb and thick with vegetables and potatoes, so that’s what I made. Mr Wren helped with the chopping; after dealing with the fire wood, my hands were yelling at me.

And now, it’s done. It’s dusk. It’s been graupeling and snowing off and on all afternoon; the weather forecast is for lots of snow and wind tonight and overnight, into tomorrow. They’re saying we could get from 6 to 18 inches of snow. That’s just amazing for this early in the season, and since we’ve been under drought conditions for three years now, it would be wonderful, especially if this early storm dumps three or four feet higher up in the mountains. As long as that doesn’t melt and it keeps snowing frequently, perhaps our drought will be broken this season. I do hope so.

All that’s left to do now is put Bing Crosby’s Christmas album on the stereo and then duck as my family groans and start throwing things at me.

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