By Mitch Mode
There is a crease in the sky at dawning and for a moment the color of heat seeps through. It is a rose color, tinged to orange; the color of embers; the color of warmth. It is the first day of February: dawn, and the sky shows the hint of fire.
“Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.” The old rhyme echoes in my mind. Red sky; weather moving in.
I see the red sky from an upstairs window but when I get down to the main floor and let the dogs out the red is gone. Clouds shift and the crease in the sky closes. The rose color is gone. I wonder if I saw it or if I imagined it.
There is much ado this day of a winter storm on the move, on a slow, steady march from the west and southwest of a winter storm the might of which seems considerable. Perhaps the storm was on my mind and the red was imagined, a trick of light and mind.
But I don’t think so. I think it was there for that instant, fleeting, now gone. But the power of what it portends, that much remains, like an echo in the sky, unseen but shadowy with mystery and promise both, reverberating like a taut string that has been struck.
I go about my day but the memory of the rose colored sliver of sky is on my mind. Red sky, however brief, is like an arrow loosed from a bow; once in flight it cannot stop.
Talk of the big storm fills the day, outmuscling any pre-game blather of the Super Bowl, challenging the Iowa Caucuses for top billing in news from the heartland. There appear maps online and on TV with great swaths of color indicating the storm path. The amount of forecast snowfall rises like bids at an auction: “I’ve got 4, do I hear 5! I’ve got 5, now 6, now 8, now more!”
Schools announce early closing a day before the projected arrival.
And a name is given: Winter Storm Kayla. I think, Nice enough name but since when do winter storms have names? Did I miss that memo?
The storm builds like a whispered promise; slow, faint, then building bigger and stronger with time.
I walk to work on Tuesday and think: How much of this do I feel? Do I feel the storm build? Do I feel the forces shift and rise? One does that of course. How many times have you said or have you heard, “It feels like a storm coming?” How often do you think, “It feels like rain?”
I cannot answer my question. Yes, the air feels heavy. Yes, there the sky is weighted with cloud and there is east wind and my dad taught me decades ago that in this part of the world east wind brings rain and brings snow. But do I really feel the storm in the coming? Or do I know because of the forecast which assures me that we will soon be inundated with snow?
I really cannot say and in that uncertainly know the answer: If I truly felt it I would know. To have doubt is to admit that to me it does not feel like a storm in the air.
The day turns to cloud; heaviness builds. Then it begins to snow, steady and damp and the snow builds on sidewalk and on street. The storm is upon us.
I walk home for lunch and I wear a shroud of snow by the time I get home. I shake off the snow, stomp the snow off my shoes and let the dogs out.They run wild in the falling snow.
By early evening the storm is, for all intents, over. The storm coming in has soared like a 4th of July firework, up and up, trailing brimstone and light and then, at the top of the arc when it should all come to glory, it fizzles out. A spark, a dim pop, nothing more. That’s the way this one played out. All build-up, all anticipation, all hope; and in the end a dud.
That, in a microcosm, is how this winter has unfolded: A lot of promise; no delivery. The groundhog on Tuesday foretold of an early end to winter and one has to wonder if it ever really started, this winter. Not in the way we’d expect.
On Wednesday morning I let the dogs out in the gray light of dawn. There were fresh rabbit tracks in the yard and the two boy dogs, Thor and Fenway, bounded to the back fence. In the half light I saw the blur of a rabbit in panic, racing for its life across the backyard with Thor churning through the new snow.
The rabbit made it through the fence. Thor and Fenway howled a dirge, standing at the fence gate, looking down the driveway. It was with some effort I was able to get them back in.
I went back outside and lifted the shovel. I walked to the truck and pushed the blade of the shovel straight down on the hood and pulled it toward me. The clean cut of new fallen snow showed. Three inches, maybe four. Not five and not eight and not a foot.
Later that day I skied under cloudy skies on newly groomed track. The track was soft; it would take a night to set it up firm. The ribbon of new cut trail held the pattern of the groomer and it looked like fine corduroy, creamy white and holding the shape like whipped cream. When I skied on the new track the skis ran slow but very smooth as if I was skiing on white silk.
I thought back to the flash of red sky on the earlier morning and the hope of the big snow and of the reality of what we actually got. Thought to myself: It’s been a strange winter. Then I skied on. What else can one do?
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Sporting Goods, downtown Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800.