Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Morning After.

Thursday, 22 December, 2011 - 9:23 a.m.

Thirty inches of snow fell, overnight. I left a phone-message for my folks back in Nebraska when I made it down the mountain to work, and in a few hours they called back,

“Was that thirteen or thirty, did you say?”
“Three-zero. Thir-TY”

I always wanted this much snow as a kid, to tunnel into and hideaway; like the mice tunnels I saw in the fields, veining through thatched brome grass. Now, I don’t tunnel into it for reasons of time, not lack of want.

My kitchen window looks east, up a draw which I’ve been told by a self-proclaimed historian of the area was used in the 1800’s as a chute for ice blocks cut from a pond I’ve yet to find -- higher on the mountain than I’ve ever been as a result of private-property signs. But this morning as I ground coffee and looked out in the 5 o’clock darkness, my eyes guided by starlight and snow luminary, all I could see was white -- a solid picture window of it, drifts preventing even a view of evergreens -- and I could very well imagine blocks of ice being cut out there, right now. I felt dizzy and heavy -- the mountain's weight in glory pushing me back.

I grabbed hold the counter with my left hand, the one free of a coffee cup, and my eyes met with more of the same out the northern window by the sink. Landscape trussing outlining a flat space for car-parking has started buckling. Not too badly yet, but I saw its beginnings last spring after the thaw. Gravity, heartless as she is; a
few years and she’ll have her way, I thought. Percolation began, steam formed on the window, and I noticed some of the stems of a mint plant sitting in its sill had frozen off during the night. 

When I was going through the process of buying this place, the house inspector remarked that he’d never seen a mountain home with such a firm foundation. Unsurprisingly the earth here is rocky, and still shifting. Homes -- well the homes that last, at least -- have to be hardier than the bedrock. As I look out my windows and feel the mountain pressing against the cabin, throwing all its weight and pinning me to a wall like a fat-steer who knows he’s bigger and stronger, and all I can do is stand -- well, try to stand -- my ground.

I’m grateful for firm foundations. 

Monday, 26 December, 2011 - 8:11 p.m.

I write tonight after two days, sunup to sundown, spent hauling and chopping and stacking wood, mostly from a dead 70 ft. pine Jay cut down -- and the one before spent shoveling the said 30 inches of snow. The cabin has a gas furnace and a really nice one at that, or so says the inspector I had check it over last year before turning it on for the first time after 3 years’ vacancy. I can tell you, woodfires every night November-March or April (depending on the year), is a heck of a lot harder than thumbing the thermostat’s white plastic gauge a tad more to the right.

And I do not have a snowblower, believing the Appalachian Trail’s Grandma Gatewood when she said "Most people are pantywaists, exercise is good for you.” Every muscle aching makes you remember that yes, you can still feel. Hurting in this respect is good. Pain makes you feel alive, because life at it's innermost core, is nothing but -- and that, is a twisted kind of beautiful. 

I often think back to something my childhood best friend’s mom always used to say (as a panacea for shoe shopping -- all the Engelkemier women and all the Block women, have big feet),“Well they don't put a foundation under a privy, now do they!!!” No they don’t. And privys, are known to fall over... 

After the last storm, a coworker, surprised to see me at work said, 
“You got out!?”
“Yep...lots of shoveling.”
“By hand?”
“Wow...you’re a hardy soul.”

Really? Hand-shoveling is what now constitutes one as a "hardy soul"?


Woodstove heat and shoveling. These are the old ways of doing things, and yes, a bit outdated. Then again, so are most all my material possessions. I’ve never grown out of hand-me-downs. And perhaps one day, I’ll turn up my gas furnace and a John Deere engine will be ready and waiting to blow out my driveway. But I doubt it.

I have a firm foundation. I ain’t a privy.  


  1. I think you're getting an idea of why that place sat empty for awhile. Not a place for the pantywaists, that's for sure. The world needs tough people, good luck with this.

    Pine burns so fast though, you really need to find a good hardwood, dead standing.

    And don't forget to clean that flue next year.

    After my grandfather died my grandmother moved to a southern Illinois 15 acre farmette. No furnace, no electricity, chopped wood till the end. She had a grip like a vise.

    The dizziness comes from no sense of scale and distance from all the white. A cheap high.

    How many more months of snow?

  2. I returned home from break one year in college, and my family took off for Helena to visit my Grandma. A few days later we pulled into our driveway at 1 am to see that the entire house was snowed in. The combination of snowfall and snow sliding off the roof had combined to form a solid (and thick) wall of white completely surrounding the house. We stood on the highway (too much snow to get into the driveway) and stared. My dad and I slogged our way to the shed and dug our way in using our hands only to find ONE snow shovel. Apparently the rest were out on "loan" to who knows who. My dad turns to me, says "glad you are home" and hands me the shovel. A minute later i'm staring at tail lights as he, my mom, and three sisters fled 15 miles to the nearest bar. Country life.

    hang in there!

  3. Sweet...Erin, you and I both have a firm foundation and we will not fall over! Yay, US!!

  4. Ah, the trials and tribulations of mountain living. I should have been there by now myself...and indeed, you are no pantywaist!

  5. Pain lets you know you're still alive. No pain, maybe you're dead?

    Essential to have firm foundations.

  6. Glad to know I'm not a privy :-) I knew the "cankles" were worth having.


  7. You certainly ain't a privy. As a fellow shoveler, I ache the same doubledigit snowfall ache at least once or twice a year...cursing to myself with each bend at the knees, but always reminiscing fondly after the fact. Makes one wonder where the line is drawn between pantyweight and masochist?

  8. Ken G – Thankfully, the recently cut pine wasn’t too far gone and is burning pretty slowly. Your grandmother sounds like a cool lady! Oh and as for snow….last year I got a dusting the day after Memorial Day. I’ve a long way to go!

    John – Wow! What a story! And funny you should mention it now….I’ve been noticing quite a few canyon houses whose drives are not shoveled/plowed, the occupants obviously being out of town for the holidays. What a welcome home. ;-) Country life indeed!

    River Damsel – Gives us a much better foundation for wading! Go us!!!

    Howard – With all the trials and tribulation, still there’s no place else I’d rather be. You know, there are quite a few canyon houses up for sale….just sayin’ ;)

    Phillip – Exactly. When you can’t feel anymore…well, that’s not a good sign.

    sgb – Right!? Fence Post Legs are totally worth it!

    Troutrageous – Ha! I wonder where that line is, quite often. And I have a sneaking suspicion I have crossed it. ;)

  9. Nice Grandam Gatewood ref. I read about her years back before attempting some of the AT, and stood in awe of what she did. I never had the intestinal fortitude, as a matter of fact I lugged so much crap with me I should have been part of the go heavy movement.

    As for the shoveling, it'll cure what ails ya. Something about hard work helps me find that connection with life/spirits/whatever. Maybe that's why I've been disconnected lately...ha. Keep choppin and shovelin.

  10. "I have a firm foundation. I ain’t a privy"

    Glad too hear it :)

    Thirty inches of snow would grind the UK to a halt until Easter!!

    Hope you had a good Christmas and wishing you a Happy New Year Erin

  11. Man, what does it say about me if I get sore after using my snow blower, pantywaist squared I guess?

  12. Great writing again. It makes me whistful for the proper snowfalls of more than fifty years ago, the chores of clearing the paths and making up the fires that, as a young boy, would earn me pocket money from those who loved me unconditionally for no other reasons than I had been born and existed...

    Regular Rod

  13. Erin and her cabin holding back the weight of a mountain and the slide of time.

    You are indeed a special lady.

  14. Oh my look at the snow. Perhaps you should put a blaze orange vest on Banjo, he could get lost in all of that snow.
    A wonderful photo of him.

  15. I wish we got snow like that where I live. 30" of snow is a lot to shovel by yourself and by hand nonetheless.

    Banjo is cool! Great pic.

    Nice post.

  16. Rhythm Rider – I read about her when I was reading up to do the exact same thing. I never did…although I’m content with that. I wake up in a forest every morning now. And I hear you, I can only do so much relaxing before I start getting very discontent and grumpy!

    Tom – Ah, I’m glad of it too. ;) It’s strange because my mountain roads are always plowed much better than the city ones (that don’t have as much snow). I guess one just gets used to it, eh? All the best to you in the coming year!

    Gary – Ha! Yes, I suppose so. ;)

    Regular Rod – Many thanks. Your comment is so eloquent…so beautiful. All the best to you in the coming year…

    Dave – Sigh…it’s tiring. ;) I hope you’re feeling better, my friend!

    Brk Trt – When I was going up and down the mountain hauling wood, I couldn’t see him except when he “bounced.” A blaze vest might not be a bad idea!

    G Lech – Banjo IS cool! :-) Thanks a bunch for stopping by and you’re right….30 inches is a lot…more than I got last year, at least all in one night!

  17. Erin
    I too am holed up; this morning it seemed to take forever for the expresso machine to get up to temp, and, lord preserve us, I had to put on a long sleeve shirt to go outside to watch the dawn and the planes from LAX taking off in the distance. I walked (gasp!) the three blocks to the beach overlook and watched the pacific wake up.
    Yep, back in LA, have a house near the beach. I dare the snow to follow me from Butte.

  18. Mike - Oh I've spent a few Christmases in California...I'll take my snow. ;) Enjoy your beach house though! And I hope that espresso machine kicks in soon!

  19. Wait a minute, I own a snowblower...

  20. Last winter, at this time, began a marathon of sorts with one snow storm after another dumping at least 12-24" each time it snowed for over a month here on Long Island. I'm not one to complain being a "shoveler" and all but having a snow blower was nice last year. I always enjoyed the "silence" of a a new fallen snow while pausing between shovels but the blower allowed me more time with my two "snow angels" (2 & 5 years old). I will easily give up aches and pains to have more time with them in the white stuff.

  21. Kiwi - Snow angels for shovels. Not a bad trade of at all...not at all. :)

  22. "I can tell you, woodfires every night November-March or April (depending on the year), is a heck of a lot harder than thumbing the thermostat’s white plastic gauge a tad more to the right."

    ... and a heck of lot more satisfying. We have a perfectly good heating system here but I feel it a personal insult if I hear it kick in. Our solar mass and masonry wood burner warm not just the house, but also the soul.

    But then, we don't get thirty inches of snow here in the south. Just the same, thermostat? Pantywaist indeed.

    Thanks for another peek into your world, Erin. It's always enlightening.

  23. Mike - They are like the sunbeams of winter. Good for the soul, indeed. And always, worth the work. Thanks, as always...

  24. You make me smile. And, clearly, you are made for the mountains, a strong force pressing back against your mountain. Keep thriving! (I think I might be a pantywaist.)

  25. Nice picture in thoughts and musings Erin. Ah hem, Alaska memories again. I've seen 30" also and shoveled a culdesac with some tenant friends; my wife and I managed cabins. The land lord was gone and the plow with it. My other renters were not as willing and I was not in favor for some time after suggesting they shovel thier own way out. Keep up the good work in your alpine haven, or Heaven?


  26. As a teenage boy shoveling snow and chopping, moving,then stacking wood was at the top of my list of things I hated. They did however make me a much stronger person in many ways. Always great reading, you are bring winter to the desert.

  27. When people ask why I have so many snow shovels I tell them it's because I hate to see Mrs. Gordon shovelling by herself. We have plenty of digging out by hand every time it snows but, due to the size of the dooryard and length of the drive, I am not ashamed to admit I use a tractor with a bucket loader to move most of our snow. Your average pantywaist probably can't change out a fuel filter at 15 degrees f.

    A friend just bought a snow blower attachment for his tractor. It cuts a six foot swath and shoots the snow thirty feet to the side. I'm only letting him do my drive this winter to help him out a little bit with the payments, not because I don't enjoy a few hours on a tractor in freezing temperatures. There is still plenty of hand work, especially after the Town plows come by and bury the end of the drive.

  28. I like snow but that amount would be intimidating. I wonder what the fish do under that much snow.

  29. Jim – :) Yep, I think I’ve found “home.”

    Gregg – Well, I guess I can venture a guess at what living in Alaska would be like now. And Haven/Heaven? I think perhaps both.

    Tonto – Ah, when I was a kid I thought none of these “chores” fun at all. But, when it’s YOURS, everything changes. My father said it would...

    Quill – Mrs. Gordon is lucky to have you. And goodness, I think you’re safe…pantywaists don’t know how to drive tractors! If my driveway was any longer, I think I’d be driving a tractor too. And the plows! Dear god the plows! The end of my driveway this time around was plowed in almost as tall as me. Heavy. Wet. Blasted stuff.

    Kev – I’ve been wondering that too lately. I wish I had a little camera scope or something to insert down through the banks and ice…like an endoscopy for a stream.

  30. You are a mountain of fortitude, and hardy to boot. All that snow and we are experiencing spring-like temperatures and short bouts of rain!
    Thanks for the peep in to your world, again!

  31. Really enjoyable. Several things going on. Blended naturally, almost conversationally. I agree with the hardy soul point. New England is lined with a plethora of stonewalls. Mostly moved by hand, or with teams. Some of them are mega. It's humbling. Great writing Erin.

  32. Witham - Thanks for stopping by...the winds here have picked up (80 mph gusts) and are blowing all the snow back over itself. Sigh. Weather is fickle, eh?

  33. Okay, now I feel like a complete wuss. I came downstairs this morning and it was unusually cold in the house - 53 degrees according to the thermometer in the kitchen. I went over to the thermostat and found that the batteries were dead. Yep, I replaced the batteries.

  34. Once again I am impressed.By your writing as always but also by your intelligence in seeing the true value in the home that you bought.Good that you now have a partner who grew up with a 500ft driveway that to this day is always hand shoveled. Great exercise and much quieter and enviromentally sound. And the crazy thing is that, with a good system it often doesn't take much longer than the snowblowing of the itty bitty driveway across the road!

  35. Herringbone - Thank you much for the good words, and I've always been in love with stone walls. Perhaps I'll build a mountain one.

    Mark - I am laughing. :)

    Hart - For the extra hands I am thankful. Indeed. And you're right....despite equal driveway lengths, we're always done before all the neighbors with snowblowers, AND we can still hear ourselves think at the end of it.

  36. A fine snow tunnel you could have made...that is certainly enough to keep anyone entertained for a few days! Even the pantywaists...

  37. I had to say it. I used to spend my spring break at The University of Alaska, Fairbanks, on a 3 or more day snowshoe trip with 1 or 2 friends to remote lakes for ice fishing, snowshoe and ptarmigan hunting and such. We pulled a modified/much strengthed tobagan with all our gear, slept in a cargo chute hootch, and just enjoyed the March sunshine. What do fish do under 30" of snow? Survive quite well thank you, be they native lakers or introduced rainbows. One trip a pal had to cut, with a spud, a huge 24"X30" hole for some silly reason. The dare was made by me, strip down and go under, the also 30" of ice. 2 of 3 did it, of course myself. Then we found the warm sun while standing on a showshoe, (wood, not metal now,) was pleasant while we dried off with our T shirts. I have pictures of course as well. It was surreal, pushing under the ice was a greenish but still bright world down there. That was a 3 day trip where only my unfrozen spruce bark beetle larve caught fish. Actually, the more snow, the less deep the ice would be. My 2 cents.


  38. Sanders - I am easily entertained. ;)

    Gregg - Ah, I've never doubted that they survive quite well. And I'm glad you survived your under-ice shenanigan! Wow!

  39. I really enjoyed reading this Erin; well-written and entertaining. You transported me off to somewhere else with your words and photos. We do get serious snow on occasion here in Pennsylvania, but I can imagine your location - the solitude and beauty, it can be inspiring. Thank you for your work!

  40. Don - Thank you so much for stopping by, and I'm very glad you liked what you found. I do think the altitude and solitude messes with one's mind...in a very good way. Thanks again!

  41. Good points made.

    "Hurting in this respect is good. Pain makes you feel alive, because life at it's innermost core, is nothing but -- and that, is a twisted kind of beautiful."

    "I don't like machines, but I am constrained to use them; and thus, the age perfects its clinch." - Wendell Berry

    Active defiance of those constraints is good, IMO.

  42. Belated christmas wishes, old sausage.
    Got a Kindle from pater for christmas. Downloaded two of my favourites, Moby Dick & Great Expectations. Forgive the possible dollop of syrup ( or should that be molasses?), but your essays join Herman & Charles quite nicely.
    Good luck for 2012

  43. Wendy - Thank you...and I wholeheartedly agree with your opinion.

    Alan - And a Merry Christmas extended to you as well! My mother got a Kindle for Christmas too. She's quite enamored. ;) And I'm quite impressed with it, really. Many thanks for reading, and the kind words on my essays....they're two of my favorites! Cheers....and good wished for you in 2012 as well!