(click to enlarge)
NORTH SIDE VERSUS SOUTH SIDE
Years ago my car got old in Gallup, New Mexico, and I was stuck there, trying to get my act together in a place which was going through a local depression. The Uranium mines had closed, the Navajo Jewelry boom had gone bust, the completion of Interstate 40 had basically bankrupted all the motels along old Route 66, and the local unemployment rate was soaring up over fifty percent. It was not the best place to break down.
My car had such bad problems there was no way it could pass inspection, however I found out Gallup was also a good place to break down. The Navajo didn’t think much of white man’s laws, and drove around without plates. The police were far too busy with more serious problems, (the chief of which was drunkenness,) to bother with me, so it turned out to be safe to drive an illegal car, as long as I stayed in that area.
I sort of got stuck there. My car never did leave, and last I knew its faithful engine was running a small Navajo sawmill. There was not much left of the body, even when I drove it, and towards the end I could see the highway pass beneath my feet, and on dirt roads dust billowed up inside.
It was the worst of times and the best of times, a time of amazing extremes and opposites. If God is kind, I’ll someday write a book about the wonderful, terrible time I had trying to escape, but staying stuck. It was four years before I got out of there. However tonight I only want to talk about the weather. A nice safe topic, you would think, but even weather was weird in Gallup, with extremes and opposites.
If you look at a map you see Gallup is as far south as the Carolinas, and you might think it would be warm. It is. Then you look at the altitude and see the bottom of the valley is higher than the top of Mount Washington, the highest point in New England, so then you think it must be cold. It is.
I knew all about the cold, for during the winter the tourists stopped coming and it was hardest to find work, and I slept in my tiny car a lot. Above the small, squat city was a bank thermometer, which told me it was in the teens in March. In cotton-picking March! When I was as far south as Myrtle Beach! To make matters worse, each dawn it was one degree colder, when it should have been getting warmer, because spring was coming. I could muster a sense of humor when the bank thermometer said it was 19 (F) at dawn, but when it said 12 (F) seven days later I had a thing or two to say to the Trickster playing jokes on me.
It is amazing how quickly it gets cold, in the high desert, when the sun goes down. Because I was not eager to go to my Toyota bedroom, I found all sorts of places that stayed open late, where I could be an artist nibbling an eraser and scribbling in a notebook (and avoiding the cold.) Bars are best, but you are not as welcome when you can’t buy anyone a drink, and also it is hard to write there. I preferred the local libraries.
Gallup had extremes even in terms of libraries. There were two. The public library was downtown, and full of old, conservative books. The college library was up the hill, and full of brand new, liberal books. I wasn’t so welcome, up the hill, but was very welcome down town.
Because I was so cold, I poked about through books to find out how cold it could get, on the coldest day, in Gallup. The book I looked at stated 39 below zero (F). (Handy temperature, because it is also 39 below zero (C.))
It is not a coincidence that so many places have that, or forty below, as their lowest temperature. That happens to be the temperature where the alcohol in the old-fashioned thermometers froze solid.
It is amazing it can get so cold so far south, but a “Blue Norther” can make it happen. Very cold air, sunk down low and in the lee of the Rocky Mountains, ducking behind jagged peaks and avoiding all Pacific warmth, can attack south from Montana all the way to Mexico. The invasion takes invasive species like English Sparrows and me by surprise.
As soon as the southern sun came up I fled the cold to its rays. In Gallup the sunny side of the street is much warmer. It is dry and warms swiftly, as dirty desert snow doesn’t melt on the shady sides. But even the sunny side is cold, when the sun first peeks over the hill. One morning, as I hunched down the sunny side of the street, I noticed the English Sparrows were twittering and fluttering on the sidewalk. When I paused to watch, I noticed a lot of them lay still. The “Blue Norther” had killed them.
But not me. After four years I had the good fortune to go back to my homeland, where I belong.
However I remember the difference between the sunny side and the shaded side. The Anasazi had a good reason to build their homes up on the sunny side of the cliffs, above where the “Blue Norther” pooled the coldest air, and up where the dawn first hit.
Even the plants knew. On the sunny side of a canyon you would find prickly pear, while on the shady side you found incongruous spruce.
Now that is all memories from my youth, a quarter century ago. I am no longer an oddball white among Navajo, Zuni, Acoma, Hopi and Hispanics. No one can tell me, “Yankee Go Home,” because I’m home. I’m no longer visiting the Navajo Reservation; I’m on the Yankee Reservation, which is called New Hampshire.
However there are some laws that apply in both places. As I collect maple sap, the spigot on the south side of the tree drips, but on the north side only a silent icicle hangs from the spigot.
The south-facing sides of our hills only hold a few inches of snow, and there are a few bare spots, even as the north-facing slopes and pine-shaded places have nearly two feet of stubborn, crusty snow.
I have had too much of winter. I’m yearning for spring. I’m longing for spring. I’m aching for spring. However, what is the forecast?
The above map shows an “Alberta Clipper” gave New York and Philadelphia snow, as we escaped with a dull day with a dim sun. However that second low pressure area, hanging back to the west, will follow, and the computer models are suggesting we could wake to a foot of snow by Tuesday.
A climate cycle runs around sixty years, and now that I’m sixty I’m starting to see weather that seems strangely familiar. Back when I was just a child the AMO was warm, as it is now, and the PDO was cold, as it is now, and there was a lot more snow in March.
Blast. That is not what I want to hear, when I am aching for spring. What can I do?
Seek the sunny sides. Stick to the sunny sides. And face the sun.