Discovering Our Inner Lewis and Clark

Centennial Mills Snowscape II oil, wax on panel 2019 by Julianna Paradisi from an image of the 2017 Portland snowstorm

Those of us living in the Banana Belt of downtown Portland were spared the large amount (up to 8 inches) of snow dumped onto adjacent neighborhoods and outlying towns this past weekend.

Michelle Obama cancelled her trip to the Rose City because of the weather reports predicting Snowmagedon, after Seattle was blanketed in 5 inches of snow in only a few hours. Flights between Seattle and Portland were cancelled.

On Friday night we got a dusting of powder. Saturday morning, although air temps only reached 30° F, the sidewalks were clear except small patches of ice here and there, gone by noon.

The rest of the weekend was pretty nice, in terms of weather. In fact, the sun shone gloriously most of Sunday. I got a slightly pink sunburn from an hour’s worth of it shining on my face through the window during barre class.

The Internet guffawed mercilessly at the forecasters. Twitter and Facebook popped with snarky photo memes. Portland weather forecasters are used to the heckling, similar to our local sports teams when they lose.

Unpredictable weather is a part of life in Portland, treated like a personality participating in all social events like that crazy relative everyone suspects will act out but is invited to the wedding anyway.

It was reported with great humor that all the kale in Portland grocery stores had vanished from the shelves as panicked Portlanders stocked up on essentials to sustain them during the predicted week-long siege of Snowstorm 2019.

I hadn’t planned to go to the studio on Saturday, because we had tickets to see Michelle Obama. When she cancelled Friday afternoon, I still  didn’t plan to go because of the predicted inclement weather. When the snow accumulation proved slight, I still didn’t go because something inside me suspected foul play on the part of the storm: It was just an unexpected break in the weather; the really bad stuff could start any moment. These thoughts were somewhat fueled by reports and photos posted by Facebook friends attesting there was significant snow in selected Portland neighborhoods.

So I adapted. I scheduled barre classes instead of my weekend runs along the river. I did laundry. I meditated. I read my Tarot cards, and then journaled about what I thought the reading meant. I read a book. I took a nap. I made a pot of soup. I texted my husband who had to work the weekend. I told him I loved him and missed him, adorning the texts with happy faces blowing kisses emojis.

It didn’t snow.

On Sunday there were occasional light flurries of powdery snowflakes that melted on contact into tear drops falling from the railings of my deck. I took another barre class, but ventured no further from home than that.

We ate leftover soup that night for dinner.

The whole weekend was entirely anti-climatic.

I wasn’t alone in my feelings I discovered on Monday morning at work. When the topic of “the snowstorm that wasn’t” came up, and it did often, everyone said the same thing. They had been unable to reorganize their weekend plans to make use of the unexpectedly good weather. Almost everyone made soup. Lots of soup, too much soup for one family and they shared portions with their neighbors.

Disappointment was the most commonly expressed emotion. We had looked forward to being homebound by the snow that never fell.

In my mind, we were mourning our inner Lewis and Clark. A snowstorm gives us a cause to focus on as a community. But more than this, a snowstorm provides the opportunity to test our inner resilience, because in reality, Portlanders are closet survivalists. Note that stores ran out of kale, bread, milk and bacon. There were no shortages of parkas, snow boots, traction devices to put on the boots, or of generators, or snow tires, That’s because households already have these things, and every neighborhood has a neighbor with a big sturdy truck with all-wheel drive who will happily volunteer to take you to work at the hospital or wherever it is you need to be.

Oregon is home to the last of the pioneers headed west. Europeans discovered Hawaii long before Lewis and Clark arrived on the Oregon coast. In Oregon, we have travelled as far west as one can on the continent of this great country.

Those of us who came to Oregon from other places as young people came because we wished to connect with our inner Lewis and Clark; at least I did. I learned to start a fire from kindling I split myself from wood taken from the cord I stacked in the fall to get me through winter. I came because I love the change of seasons, the colors of fall, the damp, grey mossiness of winter that breaks into the brilliant smile of spring. I left the monotonous days of the state where it never rains to experience the full palette of nature.

Like my fellow Oregonians, I relish the threat of a Snowpocalypse for its gift of revelation: who I am, and what I am capable of.

And like my fellow Oregonians, I’m a little lost when the Snowpocalypse doesn’t arrive.

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