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 Wheezy in doghouse
 

 Blizzard of '96

 

Hard to say just how much we have on the ground

 

 

Woolly worms had been right. Had forewarned an early, hard winter. Amount and location of black color on fuzzy creatures tells the tale. This bit of backwoods wisdom I remember from childhood.

Last fall, during one of our neighbor’s visits, we sat around talking about color of woolly worms and other weather predicting signs. He shared some he’d heard over the years. Position of squirrel nests in trees, thickness of tree bark, bird comings and goings, and sudden changes in livestock temperament were all discussed. Nature’s way of giving us advance notice. Truth be told, these signs are about as good a way as any to know what’s coming.

Expect to see snow in January around here. Just not quite this much - this early in the month. Snow’s been coming down heavy now for better part of three days. Wind’s been strong most of that time. Hard to say just how much we have on the ground with all the drifting. Close to 3 feet, if I had to venture a guess. Standing here looking out the kitchen window, watching night fall settle in - one thing’s for sure - I’m snowed in.

During the blizzard of ‘93, the whole family was here, I’m waiting this one out alone. My husband’s out of the country on assignment. My daughter’s at school upstate. My son went to stay with a relative who lives on a main road. My son lives here. He’s a deputy sheriff and has to be at work. He handles his new cruiser skillfully, but we both knew that no amount of skill would get him on or off the mountain if drifting snow covered the roads. Even after snowfall stops, state road crews won’t make it up this way anytime soon. Main roads need to be cleared first. In ‘93, was a week before they got around to our road.

Don’t mind being alone. Am safe, comfortable, and content. Stocked up on food, bottled water and firewood before the storm started. Power and phones have stayed on. Haven’t even had to rough it. Keep the fire blazing in the buckstove in the kitchen. Sight, sound, and smell of it are reassuring. Warmth from it fills the room, providing a safe haven from the raw, harsh elements outside.

Animals are all bedded down, like me waiting out the storm. Managed to walk to the barn about midday. Horses were fine - gave them extra grain and hay for good measure. Drifted snow made the trip up and back difficult to say the least. Stepping in snow at times over mid thigh deep made progress slow and very tiring. Value of snowshoes became very apparent - shame I don’t have any.

Doghouse completely disappeared. A lean-to type, set against a wall in the yard, is lost in drifted snow. Our three dogs managed to keep a tunnel open to the outside - coming out for food and water. Trips out are brief, quickly returning to the warmth of their shared home. Clean hay lines the inside. The drifted snow gives them added protection from the wind and cold. They are perfectly content to nestle in the hay and share body heat in their "igloo".

Cats, like the dogs, have a hay-lined home of their own. The "cathouse" sets against the house by the back stoop. Venturing out only for food or potty breaks, they too stay warm and dry. Fifteen or so cats cuddled together generate a lot of body heat.

My two hens sit all fluffed up, perched by the kitchen door on the wood rack. Their down coats shield them from the bitter cold. Out of the wind, they fare nicely.

"You sure you’re okay?" my son ask when he called earlier.

He was concerned about me being up here all alone. Had called several times - just checking to make sure all was well.

"If you need anything, I can get back up there", he continued. "National Guard’s been called out. They have the HUMVEEs out".

Assured him I was fine. Could have gone to stay with relatives too, but somebody needs to be here to feed and care for the animals.

Snow fell so fast and heavy, road crews couldn’t keep up. Main roads are still bad. My son had made it to work first day of the storm - was still there. Only 4WD vehicles were being allowed on the roads. He and his fellow deputies were staying over - taking only emergency calls in the limited number of 4WDs they had available to them.

Listened to the radio during the day to keep up on the latest news and storm reports. Heard about all the closings and activity cancellations. The busy, nonstop pace of our working and leisure lives had pretty much grinded to a halt. Malls, schools, churches, businesses, even health services closed their doors. Only absolutely essential services remained open. Sports events, club meetings, social gatherings - all put off till the weather improved. Mother Nature was forcing us all to pause...step back from our hurried lives...and observe...as she demonstrated her power. An awesome sight to behold.

Ate dinner in front of the TV, watching the evening news. Weatherman said the worst of the storm should be over by tomorrow. That’s good news. Next comes the job of digging out.

Sometime around 7pm the phone rang. "Have you seen anybody walking up the road over your way?"

Was my neighbor, who lives about a quarter mile up the hill. She was concerned. Explained that she had out-of-town friends with a baby visiting. Earlier she had talked to her daughter in town. Told her they were running out of supplies for the baby - food, diapers, etc. Friends hadn’t counted on getting stranded in a blizzard. The daughter decided to bring the needed items up - was sure she could get through. Had been a couple of hours since she had talked to her. No word from her since. Unable to reach her by phone. Feared her daughter may be trying to walk up from the main road.

That was a frightening thought. Walking up that mile and a half of deep, snow covered road was bad enough. But with winds whipping around out there, temperature would be dangerously low. Not a fit night for man or beast to be out.

Left the phone long enough to check the road for any signs of a person walking up it - beam from a flashlight or even the dark silhouette of a person against the white snow covered hillside - saw neither. Told my neighbor I would keep an eye out and call her if I had any news.

Couple of hours later, I saw the headlights of a vehicle coming. Still a ways off, just could see the flicker of lights through the trees - coming slowly this way. The lights disappeared behind a knoll - was a considerable time before they reappeared. Then the vehicle steadily proceed until it reached our upper driveway. There the road makes a switchback, climbs at a very steep incline to the next curve, then levels out for a bit. On about the eighth try, driver of the vehicle reached the top of the incline and rounded the curve. As I watched lights go out of sight, I breathed a sigh of relief. Figured my neighbor’s daughter was in that vehicle and was going to safely make it there after all.

 

Sometime in the next hour, I heard the vehicle return. To my surprise, it stopped at the end of my driveway. A young lady appeared at the top of the hill, coming toward the house. Carrying a large tote bag, she successfully made it down our front steps which were drifted over. I met her at the door, ushering her in out of the cold quickly. It was my neighbor’s daughter. Looking exhausted, she ask if I could keep the bag of supplies until morning. Two guardsmen were waiting in the HUMVEE to take her back down the mountain, so she just briefly explained the ordeal of the evening’s events. She called her Mom to let her know she was okay. We agreed that tomorrow, in daylight, we’d work out some way to get the supplies through. Then she was on her way again.

No doubt, she will long remember this evening. First vehicle she started up the mountain in got stuck up only a few yards from the main road. Had to be towed out to clear the roadway.

She then contacted the National Guard. They agreed to bring her up in a HUMVEE. Driver was willing, but totally unfamiliar with our road. She had to guide him the whole way. Visibility was poor, which added to the peril. Hidden ditches on the upper side and sheer drop-offs on the lower side, made for a stressful trip. Some of the curves are tricky when it’s slick. Way they’re banked, if you don’t take’em just right, you’re in trouble. He got in trouble in one such curve behind the knoll down from our place. Misjudged the curve, slid off the road and over the hill. Trees stopped the descent. Managing to get back on the road with the help of a winch, he continued on. Had it been me, would have called it quits right there. You have to give’im credit, he gave it his best shot. Shortly after he made it up our switchback, he found the road drifted over. Drifts too deep to go through and no way around. More than two hours from the main road, less than a quarter mile from their destination, they were forced to abandon the effort - turn around and retrace their path.

Next morning brought clear, blue skies. Worst was over. My son showed up mid morning. Someone from work brought him in a 4WD. Trail had been broken the night before.

After I related the evening’s events, he bundled up and walked the supplies over to our neighbor. Was his good deed for the day. Even with his long legs and youthful stride, took him a while to get there and back.

We read the official account of the HUMVEE incident in the paper. My son used our 4WD with chains all round to get to and from work until road crews made it up our way. Life slowly returned to it’s usual pace. The Blizzard of ‘96 faded into just a memory.

 

 

Last updated 23 February 2010

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