Stegner House April 5th and 6th

The previous day had been very dry, and in the town, some garden maintenance had begun. At four-thirty in the morning, I was awakened. By what? In the dark, lifting the shades, there it was, a blizzard driving the snow sideways, the dry yellow grass of spring covered and the trees thrashing wildly. Behind me, a printer began beeping, signaling the power faltering. Then everything but the wind went silent. Old thoughts of the implications became confused in my half-sleeping mind. I knew some things might need to be done before I could sleep again, but what?

Thoughts of lying in bed as a child where the winter winds turning the windows into whistles, peering out, and seeing the snow dance under the lights emerged. In the dark I listened to the radio read out the weather one small town after another. Then looking around, I wondered what might freeze in the car and break. Then it occurred to me it is not below zero even though it is snowing.

Lying back in bed unable to fall asleep again, I got up to get breakfast, but no coffee today just cold cereal. I turned the tap to rinse the dishes, no pressure; I filled a drinking cup, then the tap was dry. No water, no electricity, no heat, no internet, I checked my cell, which still had a charge, and found all the highways closed for at least two hours in any direction. Then realized I likely did not have enough gas left in the tank and the pumps would not be working either. What a strange reaction. I knew clearly everything will pass soon, best to stay put. I and those around me in the snow-locked houses were all interdependent until the blizzard subsided. This brought to mind Stegner’s characters in Wolf Willow on a cattle drive caught on the bench in such a storm, struggled down into this valley to find shelter.

A mile more, Ray said. But the river led them a long time around an exposed loop. He had all he could do to force himself into the blast of snow and wind that faded and luffed only to howl in their faces again more bitterly than ever. When Spurlock, stumbling like a sleepwalker, hung back or sagged, trying to sit down, Rusty felt Panguingue’s strength and heard Panguingue’s stout cursing. His own face was so stiff that he felt he could not have spoken, even to curse, if he tried; he lost all feeling in his lips and chin. His inhuman hook dragged at Spurlocks’s waist rope, he threw his shoulders forward, and he put foot after foot, not merely imbecilic now with cold and exhaustion but nearly mindless, watching not the feet ahead, for there were none now, with three of them abreast and Buck trailing behind… Wallace Stegner, Wolf Willow

The cold of the house brought me out of this remembrance; I put on boots and a coat to retrieve the sleeping bags from the car. Later in the afternoon, awakening on the couch in the sleeping bag, nothing had changed. Later we found warmth with generous neighbours, who had hot coffee, a generator, and warm food. The conversation ranged from family histories to past and present struggles in these freak spring blizzards; the danger to the calves born on the bench; whether the ground was thawed enough for the much-needed moisture to soak into the soil and not run over the frozen ground and into the valley; the wait for the snowplows to get through; why the new water plant pump had failed; and recollections of the hillside cistern’s ability to ride out the power failures. We are far too dependent on these increasingly centralized systems, having decommissioned the old ways that worked.

I am in a modernized house surrounded by the safety of other homes. Cars are running on the streets, and just now the snowplow rockets through the main road. The electricity clicks on, and then noises about the house as the electronics and clocks come back to life. It is time to sleep again, and I collapse into bed.

In the morning, I go to refill my tank. I bundle up and go out into the driving snow. It is very wet just below the snow, the temperature well above freezing even though the falling snow is dry. Turning onto the main street the end of the third block disappears into the swirls. I pull into the pumps, step out and smell fresh chicken frying; I lift the lever and grab the handle of the pump. The clicking of the liters and the smell of the kitchen mix with the swirling snow. Things are awakening again. Inside she says as I tap to pay, “I thought I would take a risk and start up the oven to do some cooking, given the blackout yesterday I was not sure.” Aside from the chicken, there were fresh donuts, and other baked goods. I thought to ask about the highway. “Well, there’s a semi jackknifed on the highway going East, and they haven’t yet plowed it to the West, best to stay put” she says.

We write, to make sense of it all. Wallace Stegner