Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Big Bear

Before this weekend the number of times I'd been in snow was two. The first time was on a mountain somewhere around Yellowstone National Park during a family road trip while I was a teenager, which means I don't remember much of the moment and I certainly didn't appreciate it. The second time was during Christmas of 2004 when it randomly snowed in the southeastern part of Texas, specifically in the town where my grandmother used to live - Sweeny (population about 4,000 in a dry county - as in: no alcohol, as in: no wonder only 4,000 people live there). It snowed during the night of Christmas Eve and on Christmas day I woke up to my first ever White Christmas - all two to seven inches of it. My family ran outside in pajama pants and reveled in the snowy miracle; my sister may have even dry-humped me in excitement.

*This and the following pictures aren't good quality because they are pictures  I took of  small photos from a photo album.

Speaking of dry-humping, Bear was particularly thrilled to be in the snow for the first time in his life. If you know Bear then you know he's part Akita, which are Japanese dogs bred with thick coats for survival in icy winters. Those Akita instincts kicked in and he ecstatically ran up and down the snow-covered streets, laid in it, rolled around in it, and the snow just glistened as it softly fell like powder from his fur.

Our other dog, T.G - part Poodle, part Portuguese Water Dog, whole pain-in-the-ass - was not as naturally adept in the snow because his small frame made it difficult to for him to walk and his curly hair was the perfect snow-catching receptacle. Still, we were all giddy and giggling in the icy fun.

Cue last weekend.

One of the many awesome things about California is it's proximity to both snow and sand, ice and waves. This past weekend we decided to forego the usual beach trip to play in the snowy peak of Big Bear City in the San Bernardino National Forest. Yes, we were aware that the weekend before a tour bus leaving Big Bear lost control of it's brakes and went speeding uncontrollably down the winding roads until inevitably crashing and killing seven people. And,  yes, we were also aware of the manhunt there for a neurotic ex-police officer from LA who is on a personal vendetta of revenge. Both of these matters, though horrific and scary, did not deter Chris  us from driving up to Big Bear anyway.

To be fair, Chris had been planning the trip with his cousin's family since we'd gotten back from Colombia so he wasn't going to let unfortunate, sad news ruin his weekend. Chris very much subscribes to the philosophy of seizing the day. So we woke up early on Saturday morning, said a sleepy farewell to the dogs, and drove north towards Los Angeles. The drive was smooth until we got to the base of the mountain. On Friday, as it had in many parts of the country, heavy snow had fallen in the San Bernardino mountains so signs were posted along the road stating that tire chains for non four-wheel drive vehicles were required. Cars were piled up along the shoulder with people busy putting on their chains in freezing temperatures. We Chris did the same and what followed was a very slow and harrowing ride up the icy mountain side.

After an hour on the two-lane road we spotted a black cloud of smoke and soon crawled past a Ford SUV that was on fire. This did not help to calm my nerves even though the scenery afterwards was magical.

The summer of  2011 Chris and I drove with our dogs from California to Florida. Along the way we stopped at my parent's house in South Texas. On that leg of the trip I was driving on the highway through San Antonio during a light rain and lost control of the car going around a curve. Our car made one large complete circle during it's swerve, miraculously missing any other cars, and smashed into the wall along an entrance ramp. Other than what I think was a mild concussion from my head hitting the driver's side window and Kaya's reluctance to now travel in cars, everyone was okay. But ever since then I've been terrified of driving in the rain and when I'm forced to do so my pulse quickens, my throat dries, and I sweat. Afterwards my body usually aches from being totally clenched up. Add icy road conditions to this bodily reaction of mine and I probably would have fainted had I been driving. Needless to say, I was stressed. When we finally made it to Chris' family's place I was ready for a stiff drink.

But the drink wasn't necessary as my body and mind soon relaxed with the warmth of the sun that had been hiding at the top of the mountain. Then I looked around and thought, "Holy shit...snow!!!" Chris' goddaughter Sienna didn't wait a second after we arrived to ask us to play with her in the snow and nothing will more quickly distract you from anything than the presence of young children.

In ten minutes I had on my waterproof snow clothes and was outside making snow angels and breathing in the rejuvenating mountain air.

Who has time to remember scary thoughts when a little girl is leading you through the backyard to a totally empty enclosed pen to look for "frozen chickens"? Who has time to feel stressed from the ride when a five-year-old lodges a snowball at your face and then erupts in laughter when it hits? Who can possibly worry about the road's condition when your little nephew scoops handfuls of fluffy snow off the ground and shoves it in his mouth over and over and begins each sentence with the word, "Actually"? And, seriously, who can feel anything but glee when a baby is wrapped up like a little pink astronaut and placed at your feet?

Soon more of the family went outside and there was sledding, orchestrated by "Uncle Christopher". There may or may not have been a run-in with a little tree and there may or may not have been some crying but there's something about fresh soft snow that makes you suck it up and go back for more.

We did eventually sit down for some drinks but by then the sun had already begun it's descent and it was too cold to be outside so lounging in the kitchen by the warmth of the heater and the smell of chicken enchiladas was exactly where we needed to be.

The following morning, even though it was 5 degrees, Chris woke up to snowboard with his uncle. Never one to pretend to be the adventurous sporty type, I stayed firmly inside the warm house, content to sip strong coffee and help the kids make Valentine cards for preschool. 

*Uncle Steve waits. (Obviously I borrowed this picture from Chris because I was nowhere near that half pipe.) 

By noon the sun had begun to melt the ice on the road so we said our goodbyes, took the chains off the car's tires, and drove home. After all my worries our time at Big Bear was exactly the idyllic setting I had hoped for and now I can't wait to go back and play in the snow for the fourth time in my life. 


Unc Jim said...

Fantastic! One small question if I may. Who placed the lil' baby wrapped up like a pink astronaut near the dreaded "yellow snow"!

Ana Maria said...

Ha, Uncle Jim! I used a photo filter that gave the snow that color...I didn't even think about that when I did it! I swear the baby was clear out of the way of any dreaded yellow snow :)

Ana Lucia said...

Loved it!! I hope you can go back soon for your fourth time ... and keep writing, it's great, I can't wait for the next one.