July 31, 2011

Finally, Some White Stuff Falling from the Sky!

Dunedin finally got some white stuff last weekend.  Snow!  Snow is a rarity here with the temperate seaside climate (read this – cold and damp and never quite cold enough to be dry). My first winter in Dunedin, back in 2004, I lived up on a hill with 2 New Zealand flatmates.  One wonderful morning I gleefully woke up to about 6 or 7 inches of snow.  The three of us went outside in the street and built a snowman, took some photos, and basked in the brightness that a sunny, snowy morning can bring. Then I packed my bag for the day and started to head off down the hill to Uni. My flatmates gasped. “Where are you going?” “Uh, to school,” I replied. “But it’s snowy!”  “I know, it’ll be such a lovely walk!”  Only when I got to Uni did their inquiry and concern make sense. No one was there. Everything was shut. While I found the snow-covered morning to be exciting, it had literally never occurred to me that it would change the course of my day. Silly girl from snowy climates - Dunedin doesn’t function in the snow!

Last weekend, the snow amounted to only about 1 inch, but Dunedin didn’t let me down. Dunedin confirmed what I had learned to be true 7 years ago: It completely ceases to function when it snows. Even 1 inch of snow. As the ground became barely blanketed, people rushed to ask me (in anxious, expectant tones!) – “Doesn’t this remind you of Alaska?”  Ummmmm.  My mind raced to find an answer that would be truthful but not crush their enthusiasm for the ‘storm’ that was practically the event of the decade. Eloquence eluded me and, “Uhhhmm, soorrrt of” was my best answer.  Except that in Alaska or Utah or Colorado, you are still expected to show up at school and work when it snows. Banks don’t close, the highway stays open and events aren’t cancelled. A general sense of armagedon does not hang thick in the air.  The next day’s newspaper headline, when the amazing 1 inch of snow has melted, does not read, in big, bold, serious letters: “Now the fear is Black Ice!”

Kids sledding! Look at them having the time of their lives! (You could hear the sled scraping along the asphalt under the 1 inch of snow, but I won't begrudge them their fun!)

The truth is, every time another person proclaimed this was the most snow and ice they’d seen in 7, 10, or 15 years (reports varied), it made me kind of sad. Illogically, one inch of snow had given me false hope that a real blizzard might be possible in Dunedin. The kind that would remind me of the snowy locales of my life before now. Their excitement over the rarity of this snowfall only emphasized that a true blizzard, or even just a good amount of snow, is highly unlikely. My winter life in Dunedin will not include the kind of snow I know, love and hope for. 

Snow. Snow and I go way back. Back to me as a five year-old, zooming down the Utah ski slopes with rad, red sunglasses and no fear. Back to a snow-covered field that loomed large and enticing just outside the back door of my childhood home. Back to shoveling the driveway and we kids shedding all damp, snowy clothes in the laundry room and sticking our icy little hands into mom's armpits while our teeth chattered. Back to mornings spent in front of the TV in Missouri, reading the school closure notices that ran across the bottom of the screen - hoping, praying, that there was enough snow to close my school that day. Back to college in Colorado and my first love re-introducing me to the Rockies and the wonders of skis. Back to blizzards that would hit Denver making college kids trek through 3 feet of snow to the local Mexican restaurant. Back to Juneau, Alaska and the silence that fell over the town when the snowflakes fell from the sky. Back to cups of hot chocolate, cold toes, red cheeks, Christmas lights, sugar cookies and a bright, white world in the midst of the darkest time of the year.

Me and snow.

James on our street in Juneau.

 Snow, I don't see much of you in Dunedin and I miss you terribly.  But as I walked out the back door of our little house, along the driveway towards the wood shed, my shoes made that familiar padding, squeaky noise - the one so unique to walking over snow. I filled up the wood basket and stood for a moment outside and noticed, with quiet contentment, that even just an inch of snow is enough to cover the world in a blanket of silence and make everything peaceful and still except for the gentle movement of the falling flakes. Snow, I'll take even just this little bit of you. Thanks for visiting.

The walking path near our house.


  1. Your post cracked me up! I grew up in Canada and here I was bracing myself for a blizzard in Wellington, and to see barely any snow on the ground, ha, but the country shut down, weird. LOVE your pic of the kids and how happy they look. Can totally hear the sled scraping the pavement, sled on kiddos sled on.

  2. Hi Sara, I hope you are ready for the "wintry weather surge" this is apparently going to bear down upon us tonight and tomorrow! Well at least down here in Southland/Otago. I'm not getting my hopes up :)