Writers’ Retreat in the Wallowas

Snow in October -- Joseph, OR “I’m renting a house in Joseph, Oregon, in the Wallowa Mountains, for the month of October,” a friend of mine said last summer. “I’m going to go there and work in my novel, and ask some other writers if they’d like to come for all or part of the time. Are you game?”

“That sounds like fun,” I said. “Can I come for a week, say the first week in October, which is closer to September, as opposed to the last week in October, which is almost November already, considering I’m a confirmed Seattle snow wimp?”

So that was the plan.

Sunset, Joseph, OR, October 2009.So on Saturday 3 October I set out in the morning for Joseph, OR, and all was well, if a little grey and rainy in patches. The grey and rainy was broken up with bands of blue sky, white clouds, and sunshine, and my passenger and I decided we were driving across bands of weather alternating between rain and sun. Then we hit a long patch of grey and rainy and I joked that we were pacing one of the cloud bands; if we were half an hour ahead or behind ourselves, we’d probably be driving in sunshine.

And then the rain began to get, well, kind of solid.

I am a confirmed Seattle snow wimp. When it snows in Seattle, anybody with any sense parks their car, and anybody who can possibly get away with it stays home. We get snow so infrequently that it isn’t economically feasible to keep a lot of snow removal equipment on hand (though the city fathers took a big political hit last winter when we had a lot of snow and they used up their salt and sand budget pretty quickly and then more or less didn’t do anythin at all).

Snow on Branches, Joseph, OR, 3 October 2009Also nobody in Seattle gets enough experience driving in the snow to get any good at it. My mom, who grew up where it did snow and even spent a significant amount of time in the snow belt of upstate New York, just laughed at Seattle snow driving, though it wasn’t all that funny when she knew what she was doing but everybody around her was losing control and bumping into each other.

I was a bit bummed before I set out because of the weather report, which forecast “snow showers,” but I figured I could cope. It’s a lot easier with the front-wheel-drive Taurus than with the Camaro I drove for a long time, whose idea of driving in the snow was to get out in the middle of the street and spin around 37 times. And as extra insurance I bought a set of chains, which I hadn’t owned in a long time — long enough that I was impressed with the new technology, the weight of them (maybe 25% of what the previous set weighed), and the relative ease of putting them on. I figured if I had a set I wouldn’t need them.

Magical thinking at its best.

About half the accumulation of snow. More fell later.After lunch in Pendleton we headed out again, to drive through the Blue Mountains to Joseph. And as we drove the rain got solider and solider. A ways before Enterprise it really started coming down, in great big wet flakes. Great big wet snowflakes. It wasn’t a blizzard: no wind to speak of, and a reasonable amount of visibility. But for a Seattle snow wimp it was  offputting. At first the roads were clear and wet, but then it started to stick. Fortunately it was the middle of the afternoon so there wasn’t much chance of ice. When we rolled in to our destination, I was a bit white-knuckled, but at least I hadn’t had to get out in the snowstorm and scrabble around putting on the chains. (New tech or not,  you still have to do a certain amount of scrabbling around to put them on.)

I have to confess I was mildly pleased with myself for not freaking out when the snow started to stick. On the other hand, what else can you do when you’re miles away from anywhere, but keep going?

—  Vonda


Albino cobra: Photo by Tanith TyrrDreamsnake was caught in several SF publishing line meltdowns and has been difficult to find (the quaint publishing term is “Out of stock indefinitely,” which means “We don’t want to publish enough copies to sell, but we don’t want to revert the rights to you, either”) for a number of years. Now I have it back, and Book View Cafe is presenting it in serial form, for free, and as an ebook. Get your copy while supplies last.



Writers’ Retreat in the Wallowas — 2 Comments

  1. The snow is still there–I just got back from hunting around Wallowa Lake. Rather nice (but I’m a confirmed Portland ski bum who drives Timberline Road every week during ski season).

  2. There’s snow around the lake on the ground under the trees, and a little bit left in shadowed spots, and it sounds like lots where you were — I took some really pretty photos of the snow on the mountains, though I was down on the flat and saying there.

    In Joseph itself the snow was nearly gone by yesterday. But it was cold and any leftover snow, or the dew that condensed on the roof, dripped off onto the front porch and froze. I don’t think the folks who own the house use the front door very often.

    I envy you your snow driving practice! I never got into skiing — I was a three-phase eventer when I was a pup.