Category Archives: Weather

Extraordinary Generosity

I have never questioned the assertion that small-town Americans are among the most generous and community spirited people in the world. I’ve seen their kindness in everything from the unanimous warm welcome I received two years ago to the sheer number of hours people pour into making things comfortable for one another. Whether helping a family member at the weekend or serving on every board of trustees there is, the residents of this county are there for one another before the hat has chance to drop.

I wrote an article this morning that pushed my idea of Wyoming generosity to its limits, which was quite an achievement in itself. It has to do with the recent Oil Creek Fire that, unless you are a resident of the Midwest, you have almost certainly heard nothing about. The Oil Creek Fire consumed 62,000 acres, a swathe of land only slightly smaller than the entirety of inner London.

Inner London: estimated population, 3 million (from WikiTravel)

The fire is still burning, albeit under control, only a dozen or so miles away from where I sit and was fought by all manner of fire crews, many of them voluntary.

Incidentally, those firefighters must work in 100-degree weather, wearing heavy protective suits while warming their cockles further on the giant flames ahead of them. They are meanwhile performing the sort of heavy lifting I probably couldn’t manage for more than five minutes were I stood in an ice bath wearing a bikini. (Apologies for that dreadful mental image.)

One of our local firefighters at work; image courtesy of the rather wonderful Katie Allen of Crook County Fire & Emergency

My father-in-law has been one of those firefighters for as long as anyone can remember and to this day jumps to adrenaline-pumped attention each time the call goes out – a little more sneakily these days, because he’s supposed to have retired from the heatstroke.

It was a miracle of human ingenuity that a fire I would be tempted to label “impossibly huge” was brought under control so quickly. It was also testament to the sheer faith locals have in their firefighters that nobody in town seemed to have noticed it was burning. To newcomer me, it was an incredible and terrifying fluke of nature; to the community at large, it was the way of things.

As an example, the residents of a small town the fire threatened to completely consume were evacuated to a nearby city. They promptly wandered home again, serene in the conviction it would never be allowed to reach their doors. They were right.

The firefighters of New York City received the well-deserved status of heroes after the events of 9/11. What I hadn’t before considered is that the same level of heroism can be witnessed on a daily basis, all across America. These men and women don’t fight fires for a living; indeed, I’ve been told that sometimes a sandwich and a cup of coffee is the only reward they get. They do this to serve their communities, often by putting themselves in harm’s way.

Firefighter returning to the line

My favourite depiction of resilience: an unidentified local firefighter shown returning to the line.

Not everyone escaped unscathed from the Oil Creek Fire. This area is comprised largely of huge areas of privately owned ranch land, which meant that some local ranchers lost what must have been devastating portions of their livelihood.

Yesterday, a rancher sent $10,000 dollar cheques to both volunteer services that helped to fight the fire. He wanted to personally thank them for the hard work they did to preserve the wildlife and natural resources in the area and hoped his donation might help them in the future.

I see similarly heartwarming generosity regularly, but this donation stood out to me: the rancher in question lost hundreds of acres of land and a hundred heads of cattle; the firefighters were only able to save his house.

One can barely imagine what a loss it must have been to his family, and yet he felt compelled to make a gesture of thanks to the firefighters who worked tirelessly on his behalf. To me, that speaks of generosity on two levels: that of the man who felt appreciation when he so easily could have felt bitterness, and that of the men and women who stood in the path of a fire to protect their community. The kind of heroism and generosity you read about in the greatest of tales, in a tiny town in Wyoming.

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I’m Not Alone…

…our dog, too, is literally shit at snow.


An Appreciation of Snow

The title of this post is vaguely misleading. I am not, as you might assume, hopping up and down with excitement at the ridiculous amount of snow that’s been falling on us over the past two days. I am, rather, finally appreciating it for more than its uses as sculpting and sneak attack material. I am appreciating it as quite the frightening element.

The back yard, a few hours in.

Three days ago, we had almost no snow. The paths were clear, the roads were easy to drive and the sun was shining. Two days ago, the sky turned white and began to empty itself. It still hasn’t stopped – Hubby goes out to shovel the paths every so often, and they’ve disappeared again within the hour. I waded to the car through knee-deep snowdrifts, and that was in the shovelled zones.

Unlike in England, where the authorities gasp in horror at an inch of snow and shut the country down as standard overreaction, the people around me here seem unflustered and carry on regardless. Some are even so well-versed in Wyoming weather that they can tell me precisely how many storms will come before the thaw, and I have learned not to scoff at their predictions.

Hubby prepares to snowblow. And by "prepares", I mean "plays in the snow".

The night the snow began to fall, the lights went out, for miles around. There was neither ambient light nor moon and stars – the world went utterly black. I lay in bed next to a perfectly calm Hubby, for whom it was nothing more than “a bit of winter” and waited for my eyes to pick out shapes… they never did.

As I lay there, I thought about our predicament. We live half a mile from the nearest neighbour (unless you count the parents-in-law, of course, but, for purposes of this discussion, we shall not) and a couple of miles from town. Our house, without electricity, had become little more than a shell, without heating, light or means of communication. The snow was slowly building up against the door, and had already topped the deck. Our little home suddenly seemed a lot more flimsy, and the elements much more ominous.

In this part of the world, one takes extra layers of clothing with one, as well as scarves, socks and hats, and a zero-degree sleeping bag if possible, whenever one leaves the house. If the weather changes suddenly or the slippy slidey roads claim your vehicle, it’s entirely possible you’ll be waiting hours or days for rescue, if the blizzard is ongoing. This shit means business.

"I'll just have a bit of a sit down first."

I use the word “appreciation” rather than “fear”, though, because it’s hard to be too scared when you’re surrounded by capable people who know exactly what to do. I’m never allowed out without appropriate clothing, I’m not allowed to wander about in snowdrifts, no matter how inconvenient I suspect it is to be ferrying me about everywhere, there are always torches available for blackouts and the snowploughs are out in force within minutes of the end of a storm.

Less afraid, more aware of my lack of experience with snow that’s four feet deep. Mostly, I now appreciate that I need to learn to be as capable.


Anniversary Learnings

As of today, we have been married for six months – how quickly time has flown. So what have I learned in this time?

Photobucket

1) It is not as much fun shouting “HATCH” when you see an upward-opening car door as it is shouting “THATCH” when driving through the English countryside. It is, however, easier to drive through smaller settlements without going hoarse.

2) Not having to take buses, trains and the Underground everywhere is its own form of bliss.

3) Certain members of local society are unable to resist staring at me, presumably in case I grow an alien head and eat them when they turn their backs.

4) You can get extra scoops of ice cream if you have an English accent. You cannot, however, get anyone in Walmart to understand what it is you need. Swings and roundabouts.

5) It helps to have a translator available when talking to those unused to one’s accent. I have the good fortune to possess a husband who immediately jumps in with, “She means two weeks,” when I accidentally use the word ‘fortnight’. This has the added benefit of making me seem important and exotic.

6) Winter is not nearly so unpleasant when the sun shines onto the snow. Conversely, my umbrella now cries itself to sleep in the drawer, assuming I no longer love it.

7) My editorial training is deeply ingrained, making a mountain out of every US English-based writing molehill. All documents must be triple checked for the purpose of adding commas where I do not think there should be any.

8 ) Cereal aisles are still terrifyingly incomprehensible. Doughnut aisles are not.

9) I have work to do on my telephone etiquette. Thanks to my terribly English phone voice, my sister-in-law has literally no idea what I am saying to her. She is mortified by this, I am amused by my own ineptitude. Not only that, I don’t seem to be able to grasp the correct greeting/goodbye process and am often left wondering why I have not been allowed to go away yet.

10) PED XING means ‘Pedestrian Crossing’. Obviously.

11) It is not possible to get away with a fake fur coat from New Look and a thicker pair of socks during blizzards. It is, however, inadvisable to request help from one’s father-in-law, who will punish your lack of foresight by making you wear a giant babygrow.

12) For all that I miss my family and my friends (and Bisto gravy), it’s an honour to be able to call this place home.


The Great Drought

This world is a place of survival of the fittest. Or, in my case, survival of the person with the most bottled water and large soup pans. Yesterday afternoon, a water pipe cracked down in town and all running water ceased. We’re not entirely sure when it happened, because we only noticed when I turned the shower on and bugger all happened. Thus began my first apocalyptic adventure outside of the confines of a city.

4pm – An hour before our friends arrived to take us out for dinner, I wandered into the bathroom to get ready. I had, unwisely, delayed my shower so as to be fresh as a daisy for the occasion. It was not to be; instead, I was forced to wash and condition my hair and scrub myself down with the contents of 6 small bottles of water.

10pm – We returned home to a barren wasteland. A toilet that couldn’t be flushed, a toothbrush that must be used dry, pets’ water bowls that were getting rather low. The news was bleak: they were expecting repairs to take a full 48 hours.

11am this morning – Fortunately, Hubby’s parents are dab hands at getting through such situations and most generous in sharing their expertise with a useless daughter-in-law. I’d spent most of the morning melting snow in a pan over the hob, trying to fill the toilet tank , when father-in-law appeared with a huge barrel of water for exactly that purpose, two big bottles of water for cooking, teeth cleanings and other such necessities and a large pack of bottles for the drinking of. It was a relief to stop having to melt jugs of snow, the last batch having defrosted to reveal a tiny, solid lump of dog poo.

2pm – Hourly check of the taps rewarded us with a slow, plaintive trickle. It took a while, but I did everything I could think of involving water, just in case it disappeared again. I filled water bowls, washed up the ever-increasing pile of plates, filled a pan of water for dinnertime cooking and went about  my business.

5pm – The trickle had once again become a proper flow, albeit a little less enthusiastic than usual. I was even able to have a quick shower, so I no longer smell like I’ve gone off. All is once again well.

I’ve been through a few hours of water outages many times, but it’s not quite the same in the city (it was only ever a particular area that went without, and one’s social circle tends to be spread out. If I couldn’t shower before I left the house, I could always pop in to a friend’s place, or wait till I got to work and use the shower there). I vaguely remember quite a serious one when I was little, but all I really recall is sipping on a juice carton while feeling smug that nobody could make me have a bath that night.

I think I did quite well today, under the circumstances. Not that I can take much credit for it, to be completely honest; my contribution was limited to half a tank of toilet water and a small piece of dog poo.


Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow

The picture above shows the state of things outside our apartment after yesterday’s blizzard. I’ve only experienced one proper blizzard before, stuck on a ski lift somewhere in the Alps (during which I lost two pairs of my teacher’s snow goggles and, consequently, his favour for the rest of my school career) and thus was a bit bemused when I woke up to find a snowdrift three feet up the sliding door.

It doesn’t faze anyone here. By four o’clock the snow was thinning, there was blue in the sky, Hubby had dug a path to the car so we could nip to the grocery store and to the main house so we could visit Mum-in-law, a man had come with his plough to dig out the driveway and the roads were already being cleared. Today, though it’s snowed here and there (particularly here – there was a cloud over our town, and over our town only), you’d never know we’d had a blizzard were it not for the banks of snow pushed to the side of the roads.

It’s never so simple in England. At the mere mention of snowfall, the country enters panic mode, and for good reason. Our roads are not built for snow, our public transport grinds to an icy halt (during last year’s episode, Richmond station was closed while they tried to free a train frozen to the tracks using a blowtorch) and, worst of all, we have the kind of damp, sticky snow that immediately packs solid or turns slushy, and in both cases turns to ice. Once we succumb to the snowflakes, we’re out of commission as a nation until the sun comes back out.

It’s tempting to say that staying at home for an inch of slush is just making a fuss, but anyone who’s tried to navigate their way across London at 8am on a snow day knows it’s more treacherous than Scott’s visit to the Antarctic. National Rail has been known to shut up shop because of “the wrong kind of snow” (but then has also several times claimed it can’t run because there’s leaves on the line, so we mostly suspect they like a lie-in). For the most part, it’s not our fault: we didn’t build for extreme temperatures, because we don’t tend to get them. We cope with drizzle, on the other hand, with aplomb.

I didn’t take the snow here seriously enough until this blizzard hit. My aunt, who couldn’t bear the idea of me being cold, marched me to the shops to buy a proper winter coat while she was here, and thank heavens she did, because this weather isn’t mucking about.

The night before the blizzard, Hubby showed me an instructional video. Well, sort of: we happened to watch a National Geographic show about blizzards, in which one poor sod ended up trapped in his car for 15 days and another lost 9 of his fingers up a mountain. Getting stuck outside around here is almost guaranteed to lead to hypothermia and/or loss of bodily parts, particularly if you’re somewhere in the 30-mile spans between towns.

I now understand why so many lips tightened when I said I’d be fine going to the supermarket in a short dress and tights, why Hubby keeps a zero-degree sleeping bag in the back of the car and why my father-in-law insisted I have a proper pair of boots.

I shall henceforth be transporting most of my wardrobe with me on every trip to town and refusing to walk over to the main house unless given time to don five pairs of socks.