Snow Days in Esquimalt
A short excerpt from chapter 2 of " Reluctant Runner"
© 2016 by K Pelle
Winter makes it a little tough for a runner to stay fit, especially with the wet weather we have here on lower Vancouver Island. The rain blows in from the west in early November, then the clouds usually drizzle, dribble or drown us in falling water for the next three months, unless the weather gods decide to change the rain to snow - just to keep us from being bored. Of course for a runner, rain is bad, but snow is terrible - runners get hurt if they try to train in that crap.
I woke up early on the seventh of November and groaned as I got out of bed. It was a Tuesday, but one glance at the clock told me that Dad hadn't awakened me in time to get ready to catch a ride with him so I could go on my normal run. That was extremely unusual because Dad usually has to be on death's door to miss work and he's not one to allow me to break my normal schedule for any minor problem. Wondering what was wrong, I yanked on a pair of pants and a shirt, then hurried downstairs only to find Dad sitting at the kitchen table, nursing a cup of coffee.
"Morning, Dad. What's up, not feeling well?"
"I take it you haven't looked outside?" he chortled. "It snowed a bit last night, enough that they've even closed the schools for the day, so I decided to be cautious and stay safe. Which means that I'm staying off the roads until they're clear and relatively ice free."
Snow in early November isn't really normal in Victoria. Okay, to be specific we don't live in Victoria itself, instead we live in Esquimalt, but snow in early November is still a rare item. Six inches of snow falling overnight at that time of the year is not something anyone really expects. In fact it's so unusual that virtually no one is really prepared for it and that's not just the ordinary citizens either, that includes the cops, the firemen, the emergency services and even the municipal workers. Since the municipality only has minimal snow clearing and road salting equipment, anyone who has more than four working brain cells remains at home - if at all possible.
There are several reasons for that, but the primary one is the fact that the roads become extremely slippery, which makes even walking dangerous. Now anyone who has lived in snow country is probably chuckling about that, but if they do, then they've never been to Victoria when there was snow on the ground. You see our snow isn't exactly normal, it's closer to rain than anywhere else that receives regular snowfall and on top of that, our temperature seldom drops much below freezing. Which means that the slightest amount of pressure turns that nice fluffy skiff of snow into a sheet of ice - instantly, if not sooner! In fact there have been times when I felt that a patch of snow sensed that I was going to step on it and turned into ice before I'd manage to set my foot down. So staying vertical when you're walking on our version of snow can be a problem, but just imagine the fun a driver has trying to start, stop or turn a vehicle of any kind while driving on that extremely slippery surface.
Actually we had a fellow from the arctic, an Inuit native who gave a talk at our school a few years ago and he said that the Inuit had dozens of different names just to describe the different kinds of snow. Someone asked him to describe the kind of snow we had and he scratched his head for a second, then delivered an Inuit phrase that he translated it into English as; "Snow so slippery you can slide uphill!" Then he looked mischievous and said his wife's name for it was another Inuit phrase, one meaning "Fall on your ass snow."
One of the teachers laughed at his descriptions and explained the reason for the slipperiness of our snow. It seems that our freshly fallen snow is so close to the melting point that any pressure easily turns it into ice, but additional pressure turns the surface of that ice into water. Suddenly you are walking or driving on an icy surface which is lubricated by a layer of water. In effect, friction takes a holiday and even normal winter boots or snow tires suddenly begin to hydroplane.
Of course our snow days get extra interesting because of the people who don't believe the public broadcasts advising folks to stay home and not drive. First, there's always a nut who had a four-wheel drive vehicle and didn't believe he'd have any problem with a little bit of snow. What that idiot forgot is that while he could get started quite easily, he'd eventually have to stop! Then there's the workaholic down the way, who just had to try to get to his job. Unfortunately his car still had summer tires, but since he planned to drive slowly he didn't think he'd have any trouble either. Meanwhile Granny looked out the window and decided it was perfect weather to do some baking, so she sent Grampa to the store for a few baking supplies. Now Grampa came from the prairies before he retired and he had driven on lots of snow covered roads, so he felt he was an expert who knew all about winter driving. However he had learned to drive on prairie snow, not on "snow so slippery you can slide uphill!"
To make a long story short, each of them managed to start their vehicle and fishtailed along the road for a few blocks, then all three arrived at the first major intersection and the first traffic light that any of them had seen that day.
Now Mr. Workaholic was the first on the scene, but even though he tried to stop as soon as he saw amber light at the intersection, he went into a skid. That's when he first realized that his summer tires were absolutely useless in "fall on your ass snow!" OOPS!
The weather conditions had just taught Mr. Workaholic a lesson, since his car was now jammed against a traffic barrier with a folded wheel on the left front and the rear end hanging out into the middle of the intersection. So Mr. Workaholic was left staring at oncoming traffic bearing down on him from both directions, each of the vehicles trying to stop and none of them doing much better that he had done. Then he glanced off to his right and he realized that he was stalled at an intersection which is the bottom of a steep hill and there was traffic coming from that direction too. Fearing for his life, he bailed out of the car and headed for the nearest point of safety, a four foot high rock wall that surrounded a nearby garden.
Next came Grampa, slipping and sliding on that road down the hill, finding that he had virtually no control and nowhere safe to go. To make matters worse, he was being followed much too closely by Mr. Four-by-Four Hi-rider truck and there was nothing either of them could do to avoid the impending collision.
SCREECH, BANG, CLUNK, CRUNCH and TINKLE, TINKLE, TINKLE! Within seconds either "fall on your ass snow" or "snow so slippery you can slide uphill" had collected another three victims.
Now that intersection was going to become damn popular, damn fast. First off, the intersection is near a doughnut shop, so several cops arrived very, very quickly and they were rapidly joined by various other emergency personnel. For instance the first cop on the scene sent for an ambulance and the EMTs, because the old man appeared to be having a heart attack. In actual fact Grampa was throwing a temper tantrum because his pristine 1956 Buick had been crumpled between some damn teenage fool in a Hi-rider Ford four-by-four and an idiot who had ignored the traffic light. Then since there was a curl of smoke coming out from under the hood of the old car, the second cop sent for the fire trucks, telling them to bring the 'jaws of life." Then the two cops took turns sending for tow trucks, sanding trucks and snow plows.
The previous paragraphs are a description of an actual incident, but that initial accident isn't the whole story. I haven't even mentioned the additional idiots who had smashed together in multitudinous collisions that extended for three or four blocks in all four directions of the primary accident. As well as that the incident is only an example, one of many that happen during almost any snowfall, because there are always a multitude of other drivers on the road in the Greater Victoria area who are just as dangerous and just as accident prone.
Now I'm not saying all the Victoria drivers are damn fools, because there are actually a majority of safe drivers who actually listen to traffic warnings and pay attention to weather conditions. Most of them even equip their vehicles with proper winter tires and drive safely when we happen to have snow on our roads, either that or they wait for the roads to be cleared.
For instance my dad had been born and raised on the prairies. As a young man he had raced cars on the ice of a prairie lake, usually on bright sunlit days when the surface of the ice had a thin film of water on top. He knew from experience what the roads would be like, so although we had snow tires on our vehicles, he was staying home and playing it safe for the day.
Okay, that's not absolutely accurate. Dad and I would have breakfast, then we'd go out and shovel snow to clear the sidewalks and not just our own either. Years ago had Dad decided that if our walk and driveway needed to be cleared, then so did the walks and drives of the single mothers, handicapped folk and old age pensioners who lived within a couple of blocks of our house. As a result we were outside dressed for the job and shovelling snow as soon as we had eaten breakfast. Now there wasn't a lot of snow that morning, perhaps three inches, so it was only a couple of hours before we'd cleared the walks and drives at all five places Dad considered to be our responsibility. However just as we were heading back home, the snow began to fall again, so by the time we got inside we knew we'd be out again later to repeat the job.
As soon as we opened the door after that first session of snow shovelling that day, my appetite rose to unbelievable heights. I felt as if I was starving, but it was the scents which pervaded the house that induced my hunger. You see when we all stayed home on snow days, Mom cooked. In fact for the last few years my sister, Donna had joined Mom in the kitchen and that day the duo seemed to be competing for the title of 'Super Chef' and were cooking up a storm. As we stripped of our coats, gloves and boots, both Dad and I were sniffing the air and grinning at each other. We might be a little tired and we might have a few muscles that were sore from doing unaccustomed work, but we knew we were going to eat well.
Mom must have heard us come in because by the time we'd gone to the bathroom and washed up, fresh coffee and newly baked bread were waiting for us on the table. As far as I am concerned there is little in the world that can beat the taste of good coffee, freshly baked bread, farm-fresh butter and home-made strawberry jam. That's especially true after a person has been outside working in the freezing weather, even if there is only a degree or two of frost. Not only that, but the ambient smells coming from the stove seemed to increase my appetite and my enjoyment of the food I was already eating. The smell of freshly baked bread was definitely strongest, but doing their best to edge it out of first place were the odours of apple and pumpkin pies baking in the oven, tomato and onion soup simmering on the top of the stove and even a beef stew, bubbling away in a crock-pot. I was in gustatory heaven and I didn't need any dang bells to emulate Pavlov's dogs. If the fresh bread I was eating hadn't been absorbent as well as delicious and if I hadn't been stuffing it in my mouth at the rate I was, I'd have been sitting at a table covered with drool.
I was in such a good mood that even the teasing I was getting from Donna wasn't bothering me . . . well, not much. Of course that couldn't last for long. You see Donna simply has to tease people, especially if the person was a guy, any guy, including me, or should I say particularly me. If you want an example of what I mean, that day in the kitchen on the day it snowed would be an excellent illustration.
When we had come in from outside, I'd peeked into the kitchen before heading to the bathroom and had noticed that both Mom and Donna were wearing long, full aprons to protect their clothing. However, by the time Dad and had washed up and gotten back, both Mom and Donna had discarded their aprons and were setting the table for everyone to have a snack. At that point they were both dressed in sweaters and slacks. Mom was dressed in warm, comfortable clothes meant for a cool day, but in Donna's case, her clothing fit like a second skin. In fact each and every prominence and almost every subsidence of her body was faithfully duplicated for all to see. So when she placed a hand on one of my shoulders and leaned over the other in order to fill my coffee cup, what brushed against my bare arm might just as well have been her actual bare nipple. But for Donna - that was quite enough, she had to add a little vocal stimulation as well.
"Gee, Bro, it must have been cold out there. Your arm still feels chilly," she whispered in my ear. "Feel that? Your cold arm is making my titties tingle and my nips turn into nubs."
Since Mom was serving Dad and talking to him quite loudly, I knew I was the only one who heard Donna and of course I'd blushed like mad, so she'd scored another one on me. She did that sort of thing constantly and she always got away with it. That morning though, her antics didn't bother me much. I just did my best to ignore her teasing until later in the day when we both went outside. Then while we were clowning around I managed to get a handful of snow down her neck. That cooled off her sexy antics for a bit because she got pissed off and as a result she wouldn't have anything to do with me for days. I suppose that was meant to deprive me in some way, but it was actually a relief. So for both days of the first snowfall of the year I was actually left alone and not pestered by my 'big sister.' Not only was I home and being fed extremely well, but I had some peace and quiet for a change. I thought I was in heaven on earth!
Actually, that was the first of three short snowfalls that winter, but none of them lasted long. It would snow one day and a day or two later the warm rain would come along and wash all the snow away. In other words it was a typical Victoria winter, much more rain than snow, but far less of either than the folks further up Island, over in Vancouver or on the lower mainland get each year. You see we usually have a very mild winter, but that's because of our normal winter weather patterns and our surrounding geography.
Of course every time a writer makes a statement like "a typical Victoria winter" or "normal winter weather," Mother Nature will make a liar out of him - so I should mention the winter of '96 - '97. That winter was an anomaly, so I suppose I should tell you a bit about it too, even if it was abnormal. Only since that particular event wasn't mentioned in "Reluctant Runner" I think I'll just suggest that you might want to read a recently written historical vignette, simply titled: "The 'Blizzard' of 96"