Snow in April

When I look out the window and see white on the trees, I smile. After all, there couldn’t be better weather for this time of year.

OK, now that you think I’m nuts, let me explain.

Snow in April is one of those things that can boggle a Front Range newcomer. One minute, the sun is shining and the leaves are budding … and then, just like that, your neighbor gets to explain why you never plant flowers before Memorial Day.

Even when you know it’s inevitable, an April snow shower always has the power to catch you by surprise. And it changes everything when it comes. So for our family, there couldn’t be a better setting for this time of year.

After all, April is also when we became “Missy parents.”

For those who haven’t met her yet, Missy is my wife Heather’s developmentally disabled aunt, a woman who’s my age chronologically but often greets the world from a much younger place. Sometime after her parents passed away, Heather and I moved in to take care of her … 13 years ago in April, as it happens.

Needless to say, all three of us found ourselves with a lot to learn.

We entered a world where the morning must always start with tea, and where the best end to the day is always a bedtime story.

We learned a certain amount of translation (Heather had a massive head start here) to understand Missy’s needs. “Book” could be an actual book or purse, “Up” was usually a request for help and “Mom” could be any parent figure, male or female. But in moments of high excitement, new words or even complete sentences could enter the fray. (The most astonishing remains the “Hallelujah” she picked up one December.)

We discovered just how intense even simple things can become when life is lived without filters. A piece of peanut butter pie. (“Wow!”) The much-awaited climax of a favorite book. (“Yeah!”) The sudden appearance of a much-loved movie character. (“Look-look-look!”)

She demonstrated for us how much a purse can hold, how loudly a stereo can be cranked, and how many different ways the same jigsaw puzzle can be put together if you apply enough force. And that there could never be “enough” when it came to Christmas music, cutting up magazines for artwork, or cute dogs on the street. (“Hi, you!”)

And as we loved and exasperated each other, we re-learned every day that “family” isn’t a one-size-fits-all term. And that we had a pretty darned good one.

The world changed – and we couldn’t see how much until we were in the middle of it. Like snow in April. Powder on fresh grass.

I suspect many of us have a moment like that. The ones where you take a step forward and everything changes. Where you thought you knew what was coming, only to realize how different everything looks from the inside.

It can be humbling. Frightening, even. But it’s also those moments where we truly learn. Where we’re forced out of the comfortable and the familiar, and have to see the world with new eyes.

After all, spring is the season of rebirth. And when your perspective gets reborn with it, anything can happen.

It’s something not to be missed.

But it just might be Missy’d.

April (Snow) Showers

On Saturday morning, the landscape was made to confuse Bing Crosby.

“I’m … dreaming of a white … springtime?”

Some things just come with Colorado living. Like elevation signs at the city limits. Or a faith in the Denver Broncos that defies all evidence. Or – perhaps most of all – the roll-the-dice seasons that give you snow in April, even if it’s only for a day or two.

I got an early initiation into the wonders of Colorado weather, with a blizzard that closed my grade school and knocked out the power … in May. And of course, by the next day the streets and sidewalks were as dry as a bone. It wasn’t exactly a planned part of the curriculum, but it drove its own lesson home.

And yet, no matter how many times it happens, I can still get caught off guard by it. It’s like a weird version of Rip Van Winkle: go to sleep with green grass and weekend plans to weed the garden plot, only to wake up to the latest episode of Second Christmas. (“You’d better watch out …”)

It’s weird. It’s wonderful.

And more often than not, it’s exactly what we need.

OK, put down the torches, pitchforks and angry snow shovels. I know how long a winter we just had. Even for the Front Range, keeping snow on the ground from December until March is a tad unusual. And I know some of you became more than a little tired of it, even while others found a childlike wonder and glee and still others gave the mandatory chant of “Well, we can sure use the moisture.”

But I’m not talking about the snow itself.

I’m talking about the shakeup.

It’s easy to get into ruts and routines. Even when the pandemic hit, our world shattered in an eye blink … and then reorganized itself around a new set of precautions, habits and expectations. After all, it’s exhausting to constantly reinvent everything; slipping into the familiar frees our mind to focus on other topics.

But if we stay too familiar – if we introduce nothing new – we risk stagnating.

The mystery writer Lawrence Block once gave the example of a man stranded on a raft in the freezing North Atlantic. Every day, Block said, he burns a piece of his raft to stay warm. And sooner or later, if he doesn’t find any new material, he’s going to be in trouble.  

It doesn’t have to be huge. A book you’ve never read before. A place you’ve always thought about visiting. An experiment of any kind, even if it fails – maybe even especially if it fails, since that can allow you to learn more for the next time around. (“Rapid unscheduled disassembly,” anyone?)

It can be anything that opens your horizons just a little more and makes you consider something new. Because then a bit of you becomes new as well. And like snow in springtime, that piece can shine with its own unexpected beauty.

By the time this appears in print, the coats may be back in the closet  and the gardening tools back in play. That’s OK. If the unexpected stays too long, it becomes a new routine. Magic, to stay magical, can’t linger.

But the lesson can. I hope we remember it and put it to use.

And if we can, it’s snow wonder.

Snow Idea

A late May snowstorm carries certain obligations. Shake snow from the branches. Disconnect the hose. Rejoice that the Rockies won’t be able to lose today.

Oh, yes. And find a way to keep a young dog from losing his mind.

“Holmes, I promise, it doesn’t look any different out there now than it did 20 minutes ago.”

The deep brown eyes refused to believe me. I knew they wouldn’t. After all, the energy of a 1-year-old pup cannot be denied.

“OK, OK.”

The door opened. Holmes emerged … to a world still gray with cold and snow. The look in his eyes as he returned said it all.
“I thought you FIXED this!”

Sorry, buddy.

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve discovered that our new dog’s secret identity is the Flash. (I know, Barry Allen will be shocked.) Given the chance to let out his energy outdoors, he gets the “zoomies,” dashing here, there and everywhere with a velocity that the Indy 500 would envy. Frisbees? Fun! Sticks? Even better! Squirrels? LET ME AT ‘EM!

But he’s also not all that fond of water falling from the sky. So when he hit his first spring snow with us, his pent-up energy could have easily charged a fleet of Teslas. Indoor play time helped, but (puppy and toddler parents, please join in with me here), “It’s just not the same!!!”

These days, I think many of us can sympathize.

After all, we’ve had our own routines disrupted for a lot longer than a one-day snow.

For more than two years now, COVID-19 has been a fact of life for all of us. We’ve learned about it, guarded against it, seen it touch those we know (or maybe even ourselves). At different times, we’ve masked up, locked down and learned the six-foot safety dance.  

All the while, we keep looking for the way out again.

All the while, we keep getting frustrated.

By now, we all know the cycle. Cases cool down. Caution gets relaxed. We sprint for “normal” like Holmes heading for the back door, sure that the world is different this time.

And like Holmes, we discover the world hasn’t changed that much yet. New surge. New variants Same restlessness.

After a few rounds of this, the term “normal” has started reminding me of a line from “The Princess Bride”: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

We’re still finding out what normal is. It’s probably not going to look like 2019. It hopefully won’t look like 2020 (please, no). But there are two things we can know for sure:

First, normal is a moving target.  Always has been, always will be.

Secondly, discovering that normal will take time. And patience. And yes, some continued caution.

That’s not a popular thought. I don’t like it either. I’d love to be able to push “reset” and have instant resolution. We want clear definitions, quick resolution, a finish line that we can cross and celebrate.

But it’s not that neat and simple.

We have to wait out the storm as best we can. Or everyone’s going to keep getting drenched.

On Saturday, Holmes peeked out into a different world. Muddier. A little harder to navigate. But once again open to dashing and discovery. He hurried out, his faith in the world restored.

May we all be so lucky.

A Memory of Water

The surging water quickly filled the gutter, cascading down the nearby grating in ripples and bubbles.

I watched in the dark, hypnotized for a few seconds.

Part of it, in all honesty, was probably fatigue. Normal people sleep at 1 o’clock in the morning. Even crazy ones will sleep at 1 a.m. when it’s snowing outside. But as a reporter, I’m a special breed of crazy, so I was out in the snow showers, trying to get a halfway-decent picture that could run on our website come morning.

But lack of sleep only goes so far, especially for a night owl. The larger part of my mind, the part that couldn’t look away, was hearing an echo. One that was six months old.

A memory of a river that would not stop rising.

***

I doubt I’m alone here, either in my reflex or in my embarrassment at it.

I mean, water is the treasure of the West. It’s what starts small towns and big fights. It’s the heart of everything we do in Colorado, from farms to breweries to ski lodges.

What’s more, I love water from the sky. I glory in rainstorms (especially since their arrival means my early-warning pressure headaches can go away). And snow has been a special treat for me since childhood, a chance to see the world transformed and the California drivers at a loss.

It’s beautiful. Marvelous. Powerful.

And last September, we all got a reminder of the other side of that power.

I was one of the lucky ones. The flood didn’t reach my home, didn’t harm my family, didn’t turn my life upside down. Even so, I still have memories from the first day, reporting from the south side of Longmont and not sure how I was going to get back to the north.

I remember the “Missouri river” created when Left Hand Creek emptied into the nearby street. And the sea that had been Boston Avenue, stranding those who lingered even a moment. I can still see water slowly filling neighborhoods or quickly roaring under bridges or ripping away railway beds. And I doubt I’ll ever forget the sight of people walking across a flooded-out Hover Street, desperate for any way to get back home.

That’s from someone for whom the flood was a job. How much stronger still for those whose lives passed through the current?

And no one emerges from a trauma unmarked.

It’s like having a death in the family: the smallest things will trigger the most powerful memories. And so we sometimes wince to see gray clouds in the sky, or to hear rain on the roof, or to even think of what spring’s runoff may bring down the St. Vrain’s channel.

It’s a natural reflex. And not an entirely bad one.

When a relative passes, the unexpected memories help preserve a loving tie even beyond death. When a flood passes, the memories can keep us alert and watchful — a useful thing, so long as it doesn’t degrade into a fear and panic that paralyzes instead of primes.

We know what can happen now. We can be ready. Even if we don’t anticipate everything, we can prepare for enough.

And someday, down the road, we’ll be able to hear the rumble of thunder without anxiety.

Maybe not yet. Maybe not now. But someday, when watchfulness has built security, the time will come.

Until then, all we can do is navigate as best we can among a flood of memories.