Friday, December 19, 2008

the storm

Everyone at work was talking about it. The office was tense with the news that a storm was coming in. A big storm. The first real blow of the season. Reports were ranging all the way up to 14 inches tonight, and more on Sunday. One of my coworkers even mentioned "snow thunder" which made me laugh and dismiss him as spouting crazy talk. Who ever heard of snow thunder? I lived all over the country and never heard thunder once during a single blizzard, and Idaho sure as hell gave me my share of blizzards. They were windy. They were dangerous. But they weren't thunderous. Crazy talk, that.

Being a Friday, a snow storm, and the day of our office Christmas party - the day was pretty much shot all to hell. It was one of those days where you get as much done as you possibly can, but you're limited by peoples' natures, and most of all, limited by my own. I was as anxious as a girl with a dogsled could be. I wanted to be home at the farm. I wanted to be behind a team of dogs. By noon the flurries started to fall and by 1PM it was a white out. Here it comes... I paced around the pod like a wolf tied to a lamb pen.

From inside the big office windows I did the holiday stuff. The secret santa gifts, the cheese plates, you all know the drill. I talk about work flippantly, but actually, I am really starting to feel comfortable there. I feel confident in what I do, and I like my projects and the people I fell into. Some of them are hilarious, and some may even turn into great friends down the road.

It's just harder to get into people's lives in New England. In Tennessee or Idaho, people were a lot more open. They invited you over, met you for drinks, asked you about your weekends. It took a few weeks to build relationships with people that weren't based on the 9-5 life we shared, but here in vermont I have to guess what most of my coworkers lives are like. Sure, there are a few I know better and them me - but most don't know anything about me other than I have a deer head at my desk, drink a lot of coffee, drive a horror of a station wagon, and wear a lot of plaid.

Anyway, point is, I generally like work. But today I fumbled around the office party sporadically and awkwardly (I never know how to act at those things...or what the social norms are when people huddle into little cabals around punch bowls. Give me a working dog or the reins of a horse - and you'll see a confident women. Give me a martini glass - and you'll see a schmuck with some booze.) I left around 3:30. I had to leave while the going was safe. Sandgate roads aren't forgiving friends. I didn't want to be out driving a car in the dark during the wail.

I drove home slow, stopping at the Wayside for the essentials. That's the Wayside Country Store up there in the photo. I took it just as the snow was starting to pick up. Wayside is my home base. I am there nearly every day for coffee, groceries, anything really. It's the kind of place you can buy dinner, rent a movie, grab a bottle of wine, a hunting licence, car parts, spark plugs, ice cream, sweaters, and a greeting card at. I adore it more than Doug and Nancy (the owner) will ever know. I picked up coffee creamer and some votive candles in case we lost power. I already had plenty of wood and water stored for the storm. Outside was getting worse.

When I pulled into the farm it was almost 4:30. Daylight was becoming a memory. I was thrilled to be home. I left nearly everything in the car and went inside instantly to see the dogs. Jazz and Annie could smell the snow in the air and were wild with it. Their pupils huge, high on it all. I had them in harness johnny on the spot. I lashed a lantern to the dogsled, slipped on my rabbit fur hat, and yelled out "HIKE HIKE!" and we loped off into the night and down over the icy bridge covering the stream that surrounds the farm.

There is something about running dogs that I will never be able to explain correctly to you, or anyone, but it is beautiful. I think the closest thing I can do is compare it to jumping from something high into water you assume is safe. You let go of any real control, trust it will work out, and just let the experience devour you till you're under it all and gasping. With my feet on the runners, the only light the glow of the lantern, and the only sounds the slamming of paw pads on powder and my drumming breath - I am ten feet deep.

I drove the sled two miles into the storm along West Sandgate Road. Down towards Lincoln Lane where we bolted past neighbors, snow plows, and a pair of ponies munching hay in the dark by an old barbwire fence. Yes, the weather was bad, but when you are mushing you pay no mind. You are somewhere else. I held on with both hands, taking in the woods around me. Looking down the valley into the farms and far-away lit houses with smoke wafting out of chimneys. My boots grazed over the ice as I slowed down here, or turned the sled there. I glided like a phantom.

I was only twelve miles from the office on the map, but as far as I was concerned I was much farther. A thousand miles. A hundred years. Time lays down for those who let it.

When the dogs and I came back into the driveway, the sheep were bleating to be fed. I came down from the run, and threw myself into farm work. I let Jazz and Annie in the cabin to drink and cool down while I went back into the storm to haul out feed and water. For half an hour I trudged and prepared the animals for the howl. I covered hutches and the coop with insulated blankets. I made sure the sheep had a feast of hay and their shed was lined with fresh straw. I brought the rabbit's bottles in to defrost by the fire I planned to light soon as I could get inside again. When I wanted to go inside. I was singin radio war in the snowstorm. A song I play on the fiddle till I forget what it all means. It's an Iron and Wine tune, listen to it sometime. It's nice.

I am so in love with all of this.

I was tired and happy. With a few miles of mushing under my boots, and the animals all bunkered down, I was ready to go inside, content that everything and everyone on the farm was safe. I went in the cabin and the heat hit me like a punch in the jaw. It was only about 55 degrees in there but after mushing and batting down the hatches, I wasn't ready for it. I put some coffee on the stove to ease my shock, since coffee solves everything. I then lit a fire, and laid out my gloves, boots, socks, hat, and vest on the hot stones in front to dry. The wind whipped the screen door open. It was really pounding us out there.

I made some soup, fed the dogs, and opened my mail. I had a small package from a music shop. New rosin and fiddle strings, a blessing in a snowstorm. Hill dark rosin is my patron saint. I buy it whenever I get the chance. It makes an okay fiddle sound ten degrees better. Tonight I wanted to wail on it. I also had a Christmas card from Heather and Mike down in Knoxville.

I sighed whenever I see the 37917 area code. East Tennessee is the only ghost I'm haunted by anymore. If it snowed there, or had a bitter fall that my heart needs to function right - I'd be in the southern mountains right now. If you are reading this from Knoxville, please raise a glass to me next time you're in Market Square.

So now the dogs are asleep, just as tired as I am. The fire is crackling, and the snow is still coming down strong. I'm not going anywhere, son. I am in for the night. I have a date with St. Anne's reel, a song I have been meaning to learn for months now. I think tonight we're going to seal the deal. Quick and dirty style. It's how I want the day to end.

It has been a good one. All of it. The office to the fireplace, perfect.

Oh, and by the way, turns out my friend wasn't bullshitting at all. Snow thunder is a real thing. I heard about it on the radio while I was making dinner. An announcer on NPR warned about the oddity possibly happening tonight. Actual thunder in the Vermont December, well I'll be. As the weatherman talked about it, I shook my head smiling. I was wrong of course, as I often am.

Snow Thunder. Christ.


Blogger Jaspenelle Jovian said...

Supposable they had snow thunder over in Pudget Sound yesterday, none here in Spokane though, just 20 inches of fresh snow (in 24 hours) in the city (29 where I am.) The city is completely shut down, I love it. All I could think of on my walk this morning was sled dogs though!

Your day sounded so beautiful!

December 19, 2008 at 10:23 PM  
Blogger bellananda said...

we caught the southern edge of that great midwestern snow/sleet/ice storm, and while i was walking home from the bus stop last evening it started thundering and lightning-ing. i started walking as fast as possible, positive that i'd get drenched in a horrific downpour, but no precipitation came. it was totally surreal -- whoever heard of apocalyptic lightning and great, earth-shaking rumbles and rolls of thunder in mid-december! the doggies were quite perturbed, to say the least. ;)

December 19, 2008 at 11:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Loved reading about dogs in the snow. What a great way to get around. Maybe I'll try with my dog.
Here in BC I've heard snow thunder, too.

December 20, 2008 at 6:28 AM  
Blogger Andrea said...

What a vivid and beautiful post...thank you so much for sharing. Dogs doing the work they were meant to's a sight that always takes my breath away. :)

December 20, 2008 at 6:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm down in Connecticut- and we definitely had snow thunder. The lightning strike was only about 5 miles from my place. I'd never experienced it either- pretty strange!!

December 20, 2008 at 4:00 PM  
Blogger Allen Moore said...

We had snowthunder a few nights ago over Puget Sound--a single, loud thunderclap. My wife and some of the neighbors heard it. There's a Wikipedia entry on the phenomenon.

By the way, there was a nice article about you in the Seattle PI (Dec 19).

December 20, 2008 at 5:53 PM  
Blogger Hunington said...

Thank you Jenna for your warm and moving blog. When I read about your new book and blog in the Seattle PI, I thought, here we go again, another pretentious Brie-eater gushing about their slumming experience down on the farm. But no, you really get it. You seem to savor the hard work and simple pleasure of your animals, farm and even your job -- good for you. I'm in a high-tech universe from 9-to-5, but every night I go back to my mini-farm in the middle of Redmond, pet my goats and horses, and tinker with my latest homebrew ( I guess you never can really take the Nebraska out of the Boy. Somewhere down deep, the soil calls to us all.

December 20, 2008 at 6:37 PM  
Blogger Thistledog said...

Killer post, Jenna, one of your best ever yet. Could really feel your passion and excitement, it was just like being there. Inspired me to update my own blog today - thanks!

I really like that you took the dogs out for the sled run right when you got home, before doing the chores... and describing their intoxication from the smell of snow, their excitement to get out there and pull... very cool.

December 21, 2008 at 7:51 AM  
Blogger Alexander said...

What a beautiful posting. I think this is the first time I've read a blog, not to mention commented on one. Heard about you in our local paper today, an announcement about your book. I hope to get up to Northshire for the signing. I'm a novelist, freelance journalist, and goat farmer living on a hundred acre farm that I'm just beginning to scratch the surface of working. I had a husky/border collie cross for 7 years. I wish he could have known the pleasures of a sled. Anyway hopefully we can be in touch someday. I'm wondering where Sandgate is. A piece of my spirit still lingers in Vermont (Marlboro & Merck Forest especially).

December 21, 2008 at 10:52 AM  
Blogger pleintexasgirl said...

Well Christ, I am having snow envy y'all. It is a balmy 73 degrees today. Which is why I am living vicariously through fellow blogs. I lived on a small farm in Ohio for 2 years and heard thunder cracking during a snowstorm. Scared me. I will never forget seeing a crazy glow over Xenia, Ohio, one night and hollering to my husband "Something terrible has happened, Xenia is on fire!!" It was my first experience with "Northern Lights". It was beautiful.

December 24, 2008 at 12:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your description of the mushing experience is spot-on! You've left a big smile on this Alaskan's face. I'll always cherish my first 3 Alaska winters, immersed in winter and dogs at Joe Redington's kennel in Knik...what an education. You very succinctly have summed up my memories from that time, racing along in the night behind a dog team. Ten feet under indeed!!! Thank you.

December 26, 2008 at 11:37 AM  
Blogger The Homestead Atlanta said...

Hey Ms. Jenna!
So, I'm using my downtime at work to slowly read through your blog (why I'm reading Dec. 08 during Oct 09), a habit I started while waiting for your book to arrive via amazon. Now I get Jenna-Joy at the office and at home. Yippie!

Anyway, I've been wanting to write you - mostly cause we share a similar dream and might give one another a run for her money in the Sam Beam fan club. So, expect some long and rambly email asking for advice sooner rather than later. But I HAD to comment to this post because you had a total Lao Tzu moment that knocked the wind out of me: "Time lays down for those who let it." I had to google it, thinking you were quoting something fantastic. Made even more badass by the fact that it simply grew out of an icy sled ride.

Quite the enlightened moment -- good on ya! More from ATL soon,

October 6, 2009 at 2:31 PM  

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