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By BEN OLSON/for The Herald  —  As I have mentioned before, I’m originally a flat-lander, of the Wisconsin sort. When it snowed at my house, I could be pretty certain that everyone in my part of the county got that much snow, as well. If the snow gently fell  out of the sky, and stayed right there where it landed, all was good and removal could begin as soon as the last few flakes were settling out of the sky.

If the wind was blowing, a lot of things could happen that could change your travel plans. Depending on the amount of snow, the direction of the wind, and, of course, the speed of the wind, your blizzard experience was unique, almost like snowflakes, as the expression goes.

I have seen an inch of snow, with the consistency of grains of salt, being pushed by a 40 mph wind coming out of the east, closing down enough of the north/south roads to send the snowplows back home until the wind died down. When the big dumpings came, it always came, compliments of lots of Gulf moisture tearing through the heartland, aiming at Chicago. To be on the right side of the advancing front was much rain and more ickiness. On the other side was lots of snow, followed by arctic air, as the weatherman liked to call it.

With satellite photos and computer modeling, it is now possible to see that big winter storm developing 4 or 5 days before it hits, giving you ample time to stock up on your favorite beverages and comfort food. Having lived through a few hurricanes, I can tell you that Midwesterners prepping for a snowstorm refrain from stripping the grocery store shelves bare like my neighbors in Florida.

For a long time, I believed that whenever snow came out of the sky, it did so adhering to the Wisconsin model. In the 80’s, a friend and I scored a booking playing music for the month of October in Ketchikan, Alaska. Six nights a week at the historic Sheffield Hotel. Pre-internet, I called the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce for some details on the town I would be calling home for a month. One of the things I learned was that, on average, it rains 31 days in October. 

Two days on the boat from Seattle, catching glimpses of forested mountains through the fog and scudding clouds. To the starboard were mountains on the mainland. On the port there were mountainous islands. Arriving in Ketchikan, it looked remarkably like Oakridge, although I wouldn’t see Oakridge for another 30 years.

The mountains rose up all around town to a height of about 3000 feet. The first morning I was there, I strolled out to find a newspaper, only to see a sight that had eluded me to that point in my life. There was a straight line in every direction I looked, above which there was snow and below, just the green pines.

I didn’t need anyone to tell me what caused this- I had just never seen it before. I guess I had never been anywhere this kind of thing happened. It wasn’t part of my Wisconsin experience. By the end of the day, much of the snow would melt. Every morning I looked forward to seeing where the new snow line would be. 

I never saw that again until I moved to Oakridge. My first winter here found me back in the trees with a limited view, so there were some mornings when I came to town, I got to see how far down the surrounding hills that the snow had descended. Now I’m out in the open with views of the hills looming over Oakridge, and have gotten to see a new snow line almost everyday since the weather has turned.

The snow gives a perspective as to just how tall some of these peaks and ridges are. It lets me know that maybe it wouldn’t be a good idea to drive up to Dead Mountain or Larison Rock today, or possibly not until May.

I missed the “Snowpocolypse” event a few years ago, but I’ve heard the stories. Last winter I got to cross country ski on the golf course for almost a week. I will tell you, however, that I’m fine with seeing that snowline 500 feet above my house for the entire winter. If I want to play in the snow, I’ll drive a half hour east on Highway 58.

Ben Olson, musician and Oakridge Resident, with his standup bass Ben Olson photo

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