When Will It Happen?

We couldn’t stop talking about it.

We looked through frost-free windows at visible ground, walked ice-less sidewalks, drove cars without brushing away snow, and talked about the unseemliness of these actions.

When we met, we exchanged words like unseasonal, unbelievable, eerie, and bizarre.

We questioned long-time residents: “When was the last time you saw fall fade into winter with so little snow?”

Their answers lacked consensus.

Each morning, when I raised the blinds and looked out at a scene more typical of March, I gaped in disbelief: a baby surprised by every peek-a-boo. Confused plants didn’t know whether to die or live, the grass looked over-exposed, and dormant shrubs seemed stark without a layer of snow to soften them.

Around town, lonely roof rakes leaned at the ready below unburdened eaves, and children without jackets wandered at will on bicycles usually stored in a garage by now. At the hardware store, new snow blowers wearing red coats of paint looked embarrassed, as though shamed by their lack of customer appeal.

Joel and I compared this year’s weather with four years ago when our children and grandchildren visited. They skied, skated, fanned arms and legs for snow angels, leaped out of the hot tub to roll in snowdrifts, and flew down hills on anything that would slide.

They built two snowmen: a sophisticated fellow with expressive features from the older crowd and a startling, headless version from the little ones who managed to drop six heads trying to lift them into place.

This year, had they visited, we’d have worn out all the board games first and then one another’s patience.

As we moved toward Thanksgiving, I thought about our lack of snow; and a flood of questions popped into my head:

When will it happen? How long will it last? How deep will it be?

Will we remember how to behave when our world turns white?

Will enough snowpack accumulate to meet our needs? Will the Yampa River flow enlivened and refreshed next spring or move cautiously to hoard its sparse lifeblood?

Then it happened. On Thanksgiving morning we looked out at a white carpet spread over yards, streets, and houses. By Christmas, plowed ridges of snow lined streets and blocked sidewalks; parking lots held heaps of scraped snow shaped by snowplows. Vehicles crept cautiously on snow-packed streets, and hungry deer foraged for inaccessible food.

buck in snow

A common sight during Craig’s long winters

And — when not complaining about freezing temperatures or unavoidable fender-benders — we gave thanks for the abundant snow now gracing our mountains.

Yampa in winter

A partially frozen Yampa after our first snow

The Seasons Transform

Vibrant leaves group-danced to the ground; green fields gave way to earth tones; and shorter days rationed the sun. As nighttime temperatures flirted with freezing, those of us who live in Northwest Colorado awakened, pulled bedding around our shoulders, and wondered if we should turn on our furnaces.

Fall in the Colorado

Despite these early warnings, as September and October streamed by, we dared to dream that this year fall would achieve immortality. The autumn days continued to offer gold and dappled brown beneath polished skies and an undiminished sun that bathed us in midday warmth. Our footsteps crunched as we crossed still-green lawns, breathing air rich and earthy from decaying leaves, turned fields, and cattails in still water. The Yampa River, patterned with yellow aspen leaves and shadowed by migrating geese, wandered, slow and easy, at the edge of town. And on all sides, mountain peaks, barely misted by snow, kept watch as the burnished weeks drifted by.

Then it happened: winter descended with a swiftness that left us unprepared for the breathtaking transformation of the first heavy snowfall.

Beautiful winter landscape with snow covered trees at night

As I stepped outside into morning darkness to bask again in the essence of winter, flakes, heavy and dense, swirled around my head and fell, creating a muffling layer of snow that rendered my familiar world silent and unknown. Under the diminished streetlight, bathed by the floating fog and falling flakes of first light, seven deer — stilled and posed like snow-dusted statues — bent their heads, low and at length, to the ground: the only worshippers in a hushed cathedral built of blue spruce and white snow, they seemed to pray. Humbled, I watched.