Newcomers to Pittsburgh are often unprepared for the number of gray days we experience. Likely the one area with most similar weather is the Northwest Coast–Washington and Oregon. We felt right at home there.
Late September found the Oregon coast bereft of users on a weekday save for the hardy few clam diggers hoping to fill a pail or so with the sea’s bounty. It was chilly, the sun cast over by deep clouds and the wind quite sharp. We strolled the rocky shores for some distance without encountering anyone. Oregon’s coast is publicly owned, so shore visitors have ample room to spread out but sandy beaches are few.
Despite the cold there are some things I do love about winter.
I grew up in the deepest South: annual snowfall two inches every two years. A snowfall of one inch or less provokes a run on the supermarkets for eggs, bread, milk and toilet paper. Fear that these items will be depleted before the snow melts tomorrow prompts sometimes strange behaviors, and too many drivers assume the rules of the road are unchanged. That means good business for the body shops. But mostly there is appreciation for the beauty visited on the area by a somewhat unusual event.
For the past 10 years I have lived in Pittsburgh, and though snow is no longer a rare event I still am awed by the softened landscape of a snowfall.
Unless I have been up unusually late the night before or am ill I usually awaken around 5 am; I may have padded down to the kitchen even earlier and there was almost enough reflected light to navigate without turning on the overhead light. The light snowfall during the night laid a fresh coverlet. The light it reflects back, even on the cloudiest nights, is amazing; it’s so easy to pick out all the details of my surroundings: the houses across the street, the lyre-shaped oak in the back yard, someone out for an early walk with a dog (the road crews already had made their passes). In the clear sky of the last full moon it was astounding, the pergola’s shadows sharp on the snow.
As I waited for the coffee to drip, through the bare trees I saw the lights of the various houses all across the valley and on the hill behind me wink on as their occupants arise and light their ways inside, and I watched the lights of cars coming down the distant section of PA 910 about a mile away.
I share the woods behind my house with a variety of animals and in the morning’s snow I saw their wanderings during the night: deer, squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, groundhogs. Sometimes a fox trots through the yard. And later in the morning the local flock of crows will be flitting from tree to tree and commenting on all the activities in their domain.
Biologists tell us that we are losing billions–that’s right, billions–of birds, insects and other fauna every year because of our own activities, and the possible consequences of this loss of diversity may be far more and far worse than we imagine.
As I pour my fresh coffee and take my cup to sit before the fire I think of this and hope we have not come too far down that road to make a course correction.