1971: First Snow Fall

I couldn’t help it. The weather report last night was “guardedly” forecasting snow showers but I was rubbing my hands together with secret glee, hoping for a blizzard. I love the first snowfall of the year, even if it happens just in my mind.

The “first snowfall” syndrome didn’t manifest itself until the second year we lived in Alaska. I went into our first Alaskan winter clueless. Before we moved to the Great White North we lived in Little Shasta Valley in Northern California, “northern” as in abutting the Oregon border. We would occasionally get snow but not enough to make an impression so I never tumbled on to the fact that the snow wasn’t going away the afternoon of the day it fell. It turned white and stayed that way until March.

Ah, but fifth grade – 1963-64. I remember milling about the playground at Woodland Park Elementary in glorious downtown Spenard one afternoon in October. My friend David Sisney looked over and said “Hey – doesn’t it feel like it’s going to snow? It’s like it was last year – kind of feels wet in the air”…and sure enough he was right. Our first snowfall happened later than night.

Since then I have always used the ‘David Sisney” test for predicting snow. Most snowfalls are preceded by a damp, chilly feel to the air that I imagine reflects the proper temperature and humidity needed for snowflakes to form. There’s a smell too – kind of like damp cotton – that the air gets as well. It all makes for pretty heady stuff.  I don’t know if it is just those environmental cues, or the memories of happy snowfalls in times past that lift my spirits in such a manner.

Sometimes it has been a blessing. My first year at college did not start out well at all – to be precise it started with a fist-fight.  From October on it was OK but that first month – whew. Any new experience takes me about a month to adjust but living away from home for the first time and all was pretty bleak for me. Then one Saturday friends invited me to go help work on the church our local congregation was building; since I’d spent the summer working construction I went, thinking that if nothing else the familiar activities would be a welcome distraction for the morning. My spirits were also “helped” by the fact that the gentlemen inviting me to go work had a daughter I was becoming quite smitten with.

It was cloudy when we arrived, and while there had been no effort spared in getting the building roofed over before snow settled in we still had a way to go. It was just about lunch time when one of the foremen gathered a group of us together and explained how we were going to catch up. Most of the classrooms were covered but the multipurpose room (the “gym”) needed some preparatory work done fast before it could be covered enough to allow work inside – specifically wooden spacers had to be cut from 2”X12” planks and then nailed in place in between each one of the roof trusses in order to guarantee maximum strength and stability.

He asked if anyone had worked construction before and I raised my hand. He then asked me if I knew how to throw tools and I replied that I did ( there is actually an art to correctly throwing a tool on a job so that it reaches the other guy oriented so that he can grab it). He then told me that it wasn’t tools I would be throwing – I was to take the 2”X12” spacers as they were being cut and throw them up to the men working on top of the roof – they hadn’t the time to have someone carry them up via ladder.

Do the math: each truss spaced 16 inches from its neighbors would need at least 6 spacers. Multiply that by the dimensions of your average LDS multipurpose room and you will see that there was a lot of lumber to be thrown around by one eighteen year old young man. I got a little sick to my stomach thinking I was in over my head – and then the Sisney test kicked in. The air got that chilly humid feel and one by one flakes started to fall …and my heart just leapt.

I began throwing those blocks up to the workers above with pinpoint accuracy and as we worked along the length of the gym I didn’t feel a bit of fatigue until we were done. I don’t know if it was guilty pride for being part of an important project or the endorphins generated by the exercise – I felt great   it was a great day and the only things missing were the sour smell of cranberries “going south” on the bush and the metallic smell of wet wool mittens.

Nowadays it’s kind of tough to get much exercise what with the ravages of multiple autoimmune diseases immobilizing me – so that endorphin rush is a rare thing for me. In the time it took me to write this post the sky has cleared up and I doubt that we’ll get any snow today – but that’s OK. Even though it seems like the arthritis is advancing even faster now I’m trying to take a new door in life every day by trying to focus on the better things in life rather than feel sorry for myself.

Would I rather be out on my bike or building something? Yes, but realistically those activities are unlikely; However, I’ll take “happy” wherever I can find it, even if it means borrowing a cup from a snowy Saturday in 1971.

1 thought on “1971: First Snow Fall

  1. I love your descriptions of snow and snowfall here Dave… I can almost smell and feel it myself, just reading your words. That feeling/smell in the air before the snowfall is almost palpable, and I remember the first time I realized I could tell snow had fallen over night before I even opened my eyes — when you wake up and everything is silent. But more than silent, like all the sound in the world has been cushioned somehow, muffled…. When I read your first sentence about rubbing your hands with glee I had the most vivid memory of you, probably as a teen or tween, clapping your hands HARD then rubbing them together with the biggest smile on your face — not sure but I think it had something to do with an episode of Dr. Who? or Star Trek? coming on the tv 🙂

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