How does one tell the story of a winter that lasted too long and brought a lot of misery? I’m told that the winter of 09-10 was unusual—unusually long, unusually snowy, unusual for sickness and death and distress. I don’t know; it’s been my only mountain winter but I’ll take their word for it.
We had six major snowfalls of several inches each. Each one brought the schools to a standstill and made driving on the mountain roads treacherous. School was out for most of January because of road conditions. I’m thankful we made it through winter without hitting a guardrail or another car or going off a road. Alan had a lot of fun plowing and blowing snow at Red Bird; he seemed to be one of the few enjoying the snow! However, we discovered there is also a great stark beauty to winter here. All the little rivulets and streams of water froze as they tumbled over rock ledges. The roadsides were edged with frozen waterfalls of all sizes, widths and lengths. I called them frozen music and could never get enough of looking at them.
A wet snow knocked out electricity for five days just before Christmas. Although we slept at our house in 40 degree temps, the clinic had a generator and I could go to work like normal. Alan worked on generators, blew snow, & helped in other tasks. A few slept in the mission guest rooms; we all took meals together and worked to cook up our quickly rotting food on a camp stove. The experience redefined the term “Red Bird Family.” Fortunately, most had left the campus for Christmas in other parts and those remaining survived the week. We were mighty glad to get power just in time for Christmas Eve services and other celebrations.
Unfortunately, winter brought sickness and death to people we love. Two friends were diagnosed with serious cancers, friends just too young and vibrant for such a thing. Another friend was hospitalized and struggled all winter to breathe. In January our lab tech’s husband was killed in a coal mining accident. A safety violation left unrepaired, a 29 year old husband and father crushed to death by coal, and the clinic and community were left in mourning. We still grieve for the young widow, Pam, and her three year old son.
So winter settled long and hard in these mountains. Everybody endured, or course, but all were anxious for the first signs of spring.
The big winter is followed by a series of little winters. These little winters appear after the days have begun to warm but are interrupted by cool days with night temperatures that reach down toward freezing. They are named after the plants that might be blooming at that time and appear in this order: Sarvice Berry Winter, Red Bud Winter, Dogwood Winter, and Blackberry Winter. Hopefully there aren’t any more cold snaps than that. One may need to cover their plants during one of these ‘winters’ but they’re never very threatening and are soon gone.