By contrast we will prelude 2008 with a snow scene from 2005, another of our snows so brief I forgot to note the day and month.  With the child clinging to her sled, neighbors improvise with a kayak.


Click to enlarge


Taken mid-afternoon on Saturday December 1, 2007 that Season’s biggest snow looked promising but soon surrendered to our Mediterranean moderation.  The view looks north into Meridian Park, which is part of the old Good Shepherd Home campus in the Wallingford Neighborhood.   Below it is a second panorama taken from nearly the same position one year and a few days later on December 14, 2008.  As a snowscape it is less impressive, but had the several photographs merged to make this pan spoke in chorus about the chill of the moment they might also have advised us to prepare for our Big Snow of 2008.


Looking east from the southeast corner of 42nd Street and Eastern Avenue N., twice: September 3, 2007, and at deep twilight on December 21, 2008. (click to enlarge)

Two weeks of freezing, the coldest temperature in nearly 20 years, the first White Christmas in 18 years: the Big Snow of 2008.  And what fun, except for mothers trapped at home for days with family members from whom they reasonably need frequent relief.  And what fun also for hot tub quarterbacks, rant radio pundits, and anyone venting his or her anxieties of concern: no buses, no flights, no garbage pick-up, no trains, no schools, no salt, and no package deliveries in the days before Christmas.  In such moments of distress the people’s hearts and minds, of course, go to the mayor but not all them benevolently.  “The mayor should have used salt much sooner and more sand.”

Looking southeast across the intersection of Corliss Avenue and 46th Street, twice: March 27, 2008, and December 21, 2008.
Looking southeast across the intersection of Corliss Avenue and 46th Street, twice: March 27, 2008, and December 21, 2008.

This snow was hard.  It resembled those a paperboy in Spokane would challenge beginning his morning round (I don’t remember any Spokane papergirls yet, in 1950), still in the dark, with his fingers freezing and a 100-pound load of the Spokane Spokesman Review Sunday edition compressing his spine already, at age 12, and for at best six bits. (With inflation, about $6.50 now.) What required adolescent confidence was the hard snow – the crust either on the surface or often buried.  Each step was given a special twist, both going in and coming out.  Even an athletic child with the balance of a ballerina might get snagged and fall in such snow.

It took about two days for our 2008 snow to become a Spokane snow.  I cannot say for certain when it happened – probably while we slept.  The first serious snowfall came on Sunday, December 14.  My one-foot ruler almost plunged its full 12 inches into the snow accumulated on the deck table, but it kept its head and I thought, “Now this is convenient – a measure I shall remember.  Call it 11 inches.”  This first layer was without crust.

On the 4300 block of Corliss Avenue N.
On the 4300 block of Corliss Avenue N.

That first day we started telling big snow stories, although most of us expected that our northern visitor would leave like an Alaskan celebrity whose name we might soon forget.  Instead the snow stayed because its dresser or valet, the freeze, did.  It registered 19 degrees at 4 a.m. on Monday, December 15, at SeaTac.

Then came one slight and hardly noticed thaw (the part I missed), which an abiding freeze soon followed.  This kept the snow well-sewn and snug like a “great coat” off a Hudson’s Bay Company rack.  And with all that, we got our Spokane snow with crust.  (Meanwhile, Spokane was all “ubersnow” with two of its own – a cover two feet deep and growing, and an abiding freeze.)  Here the crunchy frosting – like white chocolate on an Arctic Bar – gave the second coming on Thursday the 18th – another snow – a foundation on which to pile its own contributions to the growing and by-then complex anatomy of the Big Snow of 2008.  And big snows are complex in spite of our picturesque Currier & Ives impressions.


With the second dumping we got our own snow strata – two powders separated by that hard, thin crust.  Before a path is beaten, or if one ventures off it, the sound of walking in such snow has a three-note progression – a waltz.  It reports, “fuf-crunch-fuf.”  The crunching begins, of course, when one’s foot reaches the glazed middle stratum and then resounds while punching through it into the first, or lowest, snow.  Pulling out of one of my first baby steps, the frozen filling at the center snagged my shoe and I fell. At the time, I was avoiding a tree that earlier had fallen across 43rd Street near Sunnyside (northwest corner) under the weight of our Big Snow’s second coming.  Earlier that day, from a block away, I had heard the tree crack.  I turned quickly, but only in time to see it bounce and shake in the street like dancers at a block party.  It was a soft landing, missing everything.

Later that evening, mine was a soft landing too.  I extended my right hand to help break the fall and in this I made my scientific contribution to snow studies.  While holding a camera in that plunging hand, on reaching the bottom a slight bump jarred a finger against the trigger with the attached results: a picture of what this snow, at least, looked like when one is buried in it.  (It should be noted that this evidence was recorded at night and with the flash off.)

What the camera saw buried in the Big Snow of 2008

While lying there, I thought of the lessons about snow crusts that I first learned and then forgot from my frozen mornings of delivering the Spokane Spokesman Review.  Then I remembered Mother and, again, Byron Fish.  Mom frequently encouraged me to make angels in the snow.  And so in remembrance of her, whom the reader may remember as Cherry, I rolled to my back and made one.  (You probably already know how to make a snow angel.  While on your back, spread you arms – and legs if you like – and wave them through the snow like an airport signaler.)


Getting up, I took a picture of neighbor Warren Parker, who was at work clearing away the tree, which had stood in his mother’s front lawn.  I used the previously buried camera, and it worked, although as you see the image is a wet one.  Returning the next day to admire the snow angel and mourn the fallen pine, I found that the scene had been covered again through the night by more snow.  I intended to record these changes but I forgot to refresh the battery, and substitute here in its place a simulation.



I will now describe my vision of By Fish after I fell in the snow.  This valued old acquaintance, now long deceased, did some science as well, and intentionally during the 1969 snow, really our last big one before this one of 2008.  Published in his Seattle Times column, By’s experiments in snow traction became famous in that genre.  He claimed to have tested every available tire, with and without chains, and concluded, “We discovered that whatever the wheels are wearing, we learn where we are going after we arrive.”  That is, every test both confirmed the “principal of uncertainty” and ended with a crash.  These conclusions were derived long before there was any “chaos theory” to help explain the confusion.


If Fish’s findings also seem Zen or remind readers of a master’s paradox intentionally composed for meditation or sometimes weight loss, they should know that Byron had only a passing interest in anything so restrained as Buddhism and/or serene reflection, even with car wrecks added.  Much earlier By did have a brief flirtation with serenity, when he was helping his friend Ivar Haglund.  They had run into one another during the “silent snow” of 1943 when Fish was editing the Boeing News and Ivar was working on Boeing’s rotobin line.

Ivar approached Fish – or vice versa – about Oscar, the octopus in his Aquarium on Pier 54.  Ivar explained – or agreed –  that with his many arms, Oscar could help mightily with sorting nuts and bolts in the war on Fascism.  (In this blog’s archive you will find more on this, including a reproduction of the story that Fish published in Boeing’s in-house tabloid.)   After the war, their friendship grew as the two opportunists saw how they could work some breaks together.  In 1946 Byron helped Ivar open his Acres of Clams restaurant on Pier 54.  It was then that By almost certainly originated the expression “Keep Clam,” which is both good advice and one of Puget Sound’s greater puns.

(You can read more about this in the almost certainly upcoming book Keep Clam. I hope that the reader caught the slight reservation that accompanies some of the claims I made above – that  “almost certainly.”  This may be, or is almost certainly, one of my favorite constructions in the English language, and I recommend it.  It has both the bravura of speculation and the suspended judgment of science.  By comparison, the fumbling filler known as “you know” implies none of  the mysteries included in the expression “almost certainly.”  Also the dumb twang of repeated “you knows” almost certainly cost Caroline Kennedy her Senate seat.  It would have been better if she had just kept clam.  Let the lesson be for anyone with public ambitions: “you know” is now proven to be a dangerous cliché, and therefore a good one to treat like an old friend who has had trouble with the law or has been photographed associating with women whose first names, like Dawn or Dove, feature vowels at their centers that open with their necklines.  If showing great restraint and sincerity, citizens may still use “you know,” but in very limited contexts, such as “Excuse me, but do you know the way out of here.”)

To return to theme, there was no notable snow in Seattle in 1946 that I could discover, although that was the year that scientist Vincent J. Schaefer almost certainly first produced man-made snow in the General Electric Research Laboratory at Schenectady, New York.

(continue to Part 11)

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