Tuesday, February 10, 2009


This morning when I opened my front door, this is what I saw:

That put me in mind of a scene in my first novel, The Man from Shenandoah:

The weather grew steadily colder as the men continued with the logging. James found his creek, and started cutting logs for a cabin for Ellen. Carl chose the wooded bench with a natural clearing in the center for his home site. An artesian spring rose just below the clearing, which became the headwaters of a little stream that ran to join the creek far below his father's home. Carl had staked out a homestead that took in both sides of the stream and down into the valley. Ida would favor the cabin being surrounded by trees, snugly tucked into the forest.

The walls of both cabins were half way to the top, and the Christmas party was ten days away when the good weather broke in late afternoon. White clouds laden with snow rolled down from the mountain summits. A freezing wind blew from the north, forcing Carl, working alone at the cabin, to pull his gray coat collar up around his chin. He saddled Sherando, headed him south, and told the gray gelding, "Take me to Pa's, boy."

The horse started off into the driven needles of snow. Carl hunched his back against the wind, crossed his arms, and stuck his hands beneath them. After a while, the trail lay through the sheltering trees between his cabin site and Rulon's, but at the end, there was still the meadow to cross.

Carl halted Sherando before he left the trees to let the horse rest. He dismounted and stamped his feet to restore circulation, beating his hands together to warm them.

"Sherando boy, this storm can't last long. I've got to get that cabin built before Christmas." Climbing into the saddle once more, Carl urged the gray into the biting wind. "It's only a quarter mile," he told the animal. "It's mighty cold, but you're tough, Horse."

The moaning wind blew his words away as the icy blast hit them. On every side, Carl could see only swirling white ice crystals. He gave the horse its head, trusting its instinct to reach the cabin.

Sherando moved slowly, fighting the cross wind as he headed west up the meadow. The wind increased and tugged at Carl, almost dislodging him from the horse's back. Ice caked his hair and snow sifted down into his collar. Then they passed the bulk of Rulon's cabin on the right, and Sherando changed direction to cross the creek.

The horse paused at the log bridge spanning the water, and Carl saw that ice was forming at the sides of the stream. He shivered, and urged the tired horse to step onto the bridge.

"Come on, boy," he shouted over the keening of the wind. "Them logs are set solid."

The gray stepped tentatively onto the slippery surface of the logs, then skittered hurriedly across.

"That's a boy," Carl shouted triumphantly.

Snatched by the wind, his voice carried to his father's cabin, and a light shined out into the white yard as the door opened.

James blocked out the light as he came through the door and caught Carl, who was sliding off the gray's back.

James called out, "Clay, grab them reins and take care of the horse. I'll get Carl into the house."

"You're well nigh froze, son." His father helped James assist Carl across the doorsill. "That blow came up mighty sudden. It's a wonder you made it back here."

Carl shivered, then said, "It's my fault I got caught. I want that cabin up so bad, I let the storm take me by surprise."


Morning came without a change in the weather, and Clay had to lean heavily against the door to crack loose the ice binding it to the jamb.

"Pa, that storm's still a-blowing, and the snow's piled up next to the door. How am I going to get out to feed the stock?"

"There's always a way for a man to feed his animals." Rod went over to the door. He tugged it open and faced a wall of white. "Fetch me a stick," he told Clay. "Maybe it ain't packed down tight."

Reaching as high as he could through the doorway, he flailed the stick into the snow. "It's still loose. Get some pails, boys."

Rod buttoned on his coat while Clay and Carl brought the buckets. "Clay, keep that second pail until I need it. Carl, you empty the full ones into the washtub."

Rod scooped out a pail full of snow at the top of the doorway and handed it over his shoulder to Clay. Taking the other bucket, he scooped again. Repeating the process until he had a hole big enough to crawl into, Rod then wiggled his way out the door and entered the icy cavern. "Clay, give me that stick again." His voice boomed in the confined space. "We'll see how deep this drift is."

Thrusting the stick into the snow above him, Rod felt a light resistance. He coughed as a load of snow fell into his upturned face. "Get me a longer stick," he commanded, angry at the elements.

Carl handed him Julia's broom, and Rod took it with a jerk. He stabbed it upward and broke through into the howling morning. New snow burst into his cavern, blinding him for a moment. Then he broke loose more of the crusty roof, and packed the snow down on one side to make a ramp to exit the hole. Triumphantly, he pulled himself out into the storm, floundering in the cabin-high drift.

"By gum, Colorado does everything in a big way," he shouted down to his family. "I have never seen a blow like this before."

Of course my door wasn't iced shut, nor does the drift reach the door top, but we do have about two feet of snow in a location where four inches is considered a good snowfall . . . and it's still snowing. Now that my *power is back on, I thought I'd let you all know.

* Third outage in three days, two on Sunday, one today

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