The Warmth of Winter

Posted by on 12.03.07 | No Comments
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I finally feel like I’m a real Coloradoan. I looked at
myself the other day, just before Thanksgiving when we hadn’t gotten much snow
yet, just cold enough to build a fire in the woodstove: I sat outside with
morning coffee watching the dogs play. Patches of snow remained from a shower
days earlier not melting, just subliming away, the dry cold bright air sucking
the moisture right out of it. The front and back doors were open, the window
cracked to let the music out, and a merry fire in the black, windowed stove
kept the house warm. Fresh fall air mixed between the doors with the sweet warm
air inside, music wafted out to where I sat on the patio, layered in silk
longjohns, socks, slip on boots, a sweater and a down vest. I suddenly felt like
one of those real Coloradoans I met when I first visited Colorado decades ago,
those hearty young athletic party animals I knew who left open the doors of
their tiny mountain houses in Grand Lake or Crested Butte to let the dogs or
the fresh air or the neighbors run in and out freely, all the while with a
happy fire in the woodstove.

It’s cold in here, I’d say, and they’d say, Yeah, but it’s
warmer than outside. They were layered in silk and nylon and wool with down
booties and vests and often a tasseled hat or just a cap on their hip young
heads. Well, I’m not necessarily hip and I’m no longer young in quite that way,
but I’ve finally simply found myself now in that situation that was both alien
and envious when I first encountered it. A lifestyle, perhaps, more than a
situation. Just this morning I was over at Suzi and Geoff’s house for coffee,
breakfast, a puppy play date, and a hot tub. The night before a bunch of us had
driven home in several cars from a concert in town 20 miles away through a blizzard.

The concert was fantastic. I don’t go out much, but when a
group this fabulous comes to town I don’t want to miss them, and the weather
seemed to have cleared by the time I picked up everyone to drive in for dinner.
We ate at Eleni’s Greek Restaurant, an intimate dining room, hot sweet potato
French fries with garlic aioli and an Aegean Platter for appetizers, genial
conversation among seven friends, visits from Eleni, warm out of the kitchen
and jovial despite her sorrows, and perfect timing to depart for the show down
the road. The theater was packed. Feast is a popular chamber music quartet with
an electronic twist. They dazzled us, took us on a world journey and a wild
ride, seduced us with samba, performed Enescu and Freddy Mercury with flawless
technical finesse and unbridled delight. The audience both laughed and sat
rapt, leapt to their feet more than once for a standing ovation. The men on
stage behind the cello and the drums were mild and dignified, the two women in
red sparkled. No one could take their eyes for long off of the former Miss Alaska
in her red sequined slip of a dress as she burned the bowstrings on her
virtuoso violin.

This group has ties to our town and plays there a couple of
times a year. Their reputation is growing around the west, and locally it was a
sold out standing room only show. Tyme and Kathryn Mientka brought a new
level of classical performance and teaching to the town some years ago, and now
they’ve spoiled us for anything less than world-class classical in our venues.
(Or our veins.) David Alderdice, the dreadlocked drummer, makes magic with his percussion
kit. And slender, alabaster Audrey Solomon simply shines with true star presence. Their
music defies description, other than to say it moves people to leap out of
their seats when it’s over and beg for more. It moves people. It makes us laugh
and catch our breath.

Out of the warm packed theater buzzing with goodwill we
streamed into a slanting icy snow that had already coated roads and cars with
sticky slush. I discussed our route home with my passengers: the highway we
decided would carry too much potential for risk from other drivers on the ice.
We took the back road. There we decided the slightly longer route with more
curves was preferable to the route with the short steep hill that led to the
other highway. The amiable banter among my friends was a great steadying
comfort to my nerves as I pursued the road home. Snow came in blinding sheets
truly horizontally most of the way. Visibility was almost desperate at times. I
could feel the Blizzack snow tires losing their grip now and then. I crept home
at 25 or 30 mph, blazing the trail through inches of unbroken snow and slush
for miles. A car behind us kept its distance, then turned off – our friends
Ruth and Jeff, so we knew they were safely home. I delivered two companions to
their house, and the road from there to Crawford was nearly clear – wet and
slushy but visible. I dropped another two off in town at their car, and turned
toward home. By the time I got to the edge of the canyon, two blocks through
town, snow was coming down hard again. Another car was ahead of me going down
the canyon, and for a short way I had their tracks to follow. Then the hail
opened up, with a lightning blast that whitened the entire sky and seemed to
come from nowhere. By the time I got to the curve in the bottom of the canyon
and could see the taillights that I hoped were Geoff and Suzi’s climbing the
other side, I could no longer see their tracks on the sheet of white pellets
covering the road.

The steep hill up the other side would have worried me had I
not known that just five minutes earlier it had been pretty clear. My little
Honda with the kickass snow tires made it easily and I caught up with the other
car in time to flash goodnight as it turn down my friends’ road. Visibility was
about 20 feet the rest of my drive home, just a couple of miles. In my own
driveway I released my seatbelt and heaved a sigh. I hate drives like that. I
make it a point to avoid them. I’d rather stay home than drive in that kind of
extreme for just about anything. But I was calm and happy. My friends in the
car had kept up a light conversation, about the music, about pets, about sunny
California, every now and then thanking me: I’m so glad you’re driving, one of
them said, You’re our hero, said another, and sotte voce one or another
checking in with How are you doing, Reets, you OK? Yes, thank you, I said, and
the surprising thing is that I was. If I’d been making that drive home solo I’d
have been fist-clenching anxious about it, close to panic, not knowing at its
worst if it would get even worse, if I’d have to pull off and wait, imagining
scenarios of sliding off the road, coming upon an ugly accident, all the worst
that could happen in a blizzard miles from home on a dark back road. The Not
Being Alone gave me tremendous calm, and their sincere confidence in me, in my
extreme-weather driving, bolstered my own. We all agreed to check in by phone
when I arrived home.

I let the pack of dogs out into the blizzard and picked up
the phone to let John and Ellie know I was home, then checked on Phillip and
Pamela who’d had farther to go than I. They were in and their dogs were covered
in snow as mine were within seconds of going out. Then I double checked with
Suzi and Geoff though I was pretty sure they’d turned ahead of me. I couldn’t
quite ID the car though, in the snow, just see that it was turning. We were all
home, my whole pack was safe for the night. I know myself. I know that in
previous winters a drive like that would have had me reaching for the bottle
the minute I walked in the door to take the chill off the stress. Last night
after tucking in my friends and wiping off the dogs I poured a glass of water
and lay down on the couch to breathe. I let the memory of that fabulous music
wash over and through me, and wrapped myself in the warmth of my community –
that larger group that swelled with joy at the concert, and the smaller group
of travelers through the blizzard who had all, together in our separate cars,
gotten us all through it safely.

I don’t know yet if everyone who was out that night in our
villages got home okay. If any of our friends slid out on the ice or crashed
into each other or into deer or elk, plunged over ditches or lost their lives.
I held thoughts for all the travelers away from that little paradise of music
and light into the storm. I know that this morning, when Suzi woke me up with
an invitation to watch the sun come up from the hot tub, I couldn’t say no. The
sense of being close, being watched over, being part of, carried me back out
into the snow. I drove through the dazzling clarity of the uncloudy day to the
pleasures of coffee, raspberry pancakes, bacon, recollections of the concert, and
a long leisurely soak noticing snow defining new ridges on familiar mountains.
After breakfast we sat on the porch sipping more coffee, warmth from the tub
and the food and the friendship sustaining our conversation on this cold and
perfect Colorado morning.

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