I had forgotten how the colors change. We have spent years in a place where the color of the landscape stays roughly the same throughout the year – various shades of greens and browns in the forest; the various shades of green and blue and grey of the ocean, depending on the sun or fog conditions; the color of fog and raincloud, the brilliant blue sky or blazing red sunset. Subtle variations, but always green and vibrantly alive. And so you forget. You forget how overnight the world can change from a color-filled place to one that is almost mono-chromatic, a world that looks like an Ansel Adams photograph, except that there are colors – muted greens of pine needles, barely visible beneath the hoarfrost that coats each needle and twig, and the dark brown of tree trunks, appearing almost black in contrast to the pure white snow. The sky itself can be almost white, too – it would be hard to tell where the land ended and the sky began except for the black dots of trees and shrubs that are dotted right up to the top of the mountains. So different from the vibrant green of coastal California – not so lush, but still alive, just lying dormant and resting. As I drove to work the other day I was mesmerized by the colors – or really the lack of colors. It was all so stark and so overwhelmingly beautiful, and I realized that this first winter in the Methow may be a very special time indeed – an opportunity to appreciate how different this place is from where we were before. As the years pass we will remember what winter looks like, we will have expectations of what winter is, what it “should” be, when it will snow, how much it will snow. We may try to fight these accrued expectations, but they are often unavoidable. We have a blank slate here this winter, our first winter, which can be a really amazing thing. I feel open to what is happening around us, without having any history in this place to compare our experience with. I didn’t lament the cloudy days of late November (perhaps because I just moved from a place where rain and overcast weather is the norm in late November!), or the less-than-usual amount of snow we received in December… it is all new for us, and each day comes and we see what it brings.
About a week before Christmas it did snow, the first significant snowfall since before Thanksgiving. People in the valley are happy for the snow, because now everyone can get out and ski! The trails are groomed and open, the downhill ski resort will open soon, and all just in time for Christmas – a joyful time all around. The first morning after the storm we all went out to play in the snow, shoveling a big pile for the girls to play in, fall on, roll down. The wind was blowing a little, and every now and again a branch of one of the tall Ponderosa pines would shed it’s burden of snow. The snow would start to fall and then get caught in the breeze, which would stretch out the snow into a long plume, like a flag waving. It was sunny today, and the “snow flag” would sparkle and drift down, slowly stretching out more and more in the wind, until it disappeared.
Yesterday it snowed again, and now we have a couple feet on the ground. Several times in the night I heard the soft thunder of snow falling from the trees – miniature avalanches right outside the window! None of us have been under one… yet! And with all the snow and cold weather we are learning about the new season of life in the bus – much different than roasting in the summer! As we meet more and more people in the valley, we are getting to be known for being the family that lives in a school bus. There aren’t many around. Now that winter is fully here, we are often asked if we are staying warm – fortunately the answer has been yes. Around Christmas we experience our first true cold “snap” with lows around -10 Fahrenheit. We were cozy in the bus, between the wood stove and the propane wall heater, but it’s also been interesting to see how the cold creeps in around the edges so much. We have some insulation in the floor and walls, but left the windows as they are, which is something we love about the bus – it has lots of light and you feel very connected to the outdoors when you are in it. There is not much separating you from the outside, and so now is the season when we try to make more of a separation – thermal curtains, insulated “skirting” that goes around the bottom of the bus to keep the wind from whistling underneath, plastic over the windows. I am thankful we went for a propane wall heater that can really crank out some heat – we have a wood stove installed as well, and both are important for keeping the Cozy Turtle cozy during the winters! With all that, the Cozy Turtle warms up quickly, but it also cools down fast too. Water condenses on the inside of the windows, and on very cold mornings there is ice on the inside of the window sills. I have a theory that we could tell how cold a night it was based on how far up the window the ice gets… during the cold snap the ice was halfway up the lower bus window, and then a thick layer of frost all around the bottom edge of the window too! The floor of the bus is pretty cold too – around freezing when we put our little indoor thermometer down there, while the ceiling of the bus is often around 75! Quite a range of temperature inside, and I’m glad that we didn’t try to have anyone’s bed too close to the floor! Perhaps the most annoying winter-time bus living thing is the front door – the roof is warm, so the snow on top slowly melts, and the melting snow drips off the side and makes some awesome icicles. Next to the front door we have a major water runoff spot, and it pools at the bottom corner of the hinge-side of the door. So some mornings the door is hard to open and we have to chip off a bunch of ice. Someday there will be a covered entryway that will hopefully solve the problem, but for now we keep a rubber mallet and chisel handy. And this might all sound just terrible to people reading this! But really, how recently has forced air heating revolutionized our indoor living environments? Is it truly a hardship to have the floor be cold enough to warrant putting down rugs and wearing slippers? Our children are warm in their beds at night (oftentimes too warm when they go to bed to have more than one little blanket on), which is really the most important thing I suppose! We are feeling very fortunate to have warmth in abundance (so thankful for wood to burn and that we can afford to fill our propane tank!), and have a pretty comfortable home to live in!
What do the girls think of all this? A friend was visiting last week and asked the girls if they liked all the snow – both of them instantly screamed “YES!!!!!” and howled and made a lot of noise. That pretty much sums it up. They love the snow, and spend a lot of time outside in it. During the cold snap we spent more time inside – it’s hard to be outside when it hurts to breathe. But fortunately that only last a few days. Now the temps are back up around 20, and I really did not anticipate that I would actually have the thought “Wow, 20 degrees is really comfortable” but there it is. The girls can play outside for a long time before needing a break, and they don’t need the break to warm-up, but just a chance for a snack!
Some friends have asked for more details on what life in the bus is like – and really it’s just like life in a house was but with a lot more “excuse me”s, toes being stepped on, and time spent waiting for someone to get in or out of the entryway so that you can have a turn to put on/take off your boots and coat. It seems that children are often credited for being very adaptable, which I have found to be true for the most part – but I think adults can be just as adaptable if the mind is open and ready. Life in the bus is just life – we all get along the way we generally always have. We still cook dinner every night. Having our water come from a 5 gallon jug on the counter is shockingly normal (although come spring I have plans for getting the faucet running – but right now we don’t want to have to worry about the water tank freezing. We do spend a bit more time cleaning up after ourselves, which is good practice for the girls anyway – space is tight, so if you want to start a new crafting project, well, you gotta clear off the table first!
In September we got a puppy – a little border collie/heeler/corgie mutt who has really only improved life in the bus. Shocking, I know. I think I expected to regret getting a puppy on some level, and am still surprised at how great a fit the little pup is into our life. Her name is Stella. She is mostly black, a bit of white on the paws and chest, and she takes after her Corgie ancestor in many ways – short legs, small stature (great for a bus!). And also has the brains of the border collie – she learns things so fast, and is extremely connected to her people. She does not wander far, which is great since we don’t have a fenced yard, and she hardly barks – when she does bark we know there is something to see, whether it is a biker coming down the road or a couple coyotes running through the meadow 50 yards away. The girls love her more than just about anything, and she sleeps snuggled on the end of one of their beds every night. She was an unplanned addition to the family, but one that has been much appreciated by us all!
Christmas in the bus is a bit different than in a house – there is no space in the living area for a tree! The girls cleaned out a bunch of toys and folded down their little craft table in their room so we could squeeze a tree in there – a tiny 3 foot high tree, and we picked out only our favorite ornaments to put on the tree. There is very little space for presents, so most are still packed in their boxes, which is far less tortuous for the girls anyway! We did decorate with lights on the exterior, which is fun (although I inadvertently made the bus kindof look like Mater… it has lips now….), and there has been some great cookie making on the interior while watching our favorite Christmas movies, so some things haven’t changed at all!
As we quickly approach the end of 2017 I am looking back on the past year and thinking about what a busy and eventful year it has been for our family. I am proud of how our girls have handled the transition we thrust on them – both have adapted so quickly, and are blossoming! I have personally felt more stress in the last year than I think I’ve ever felt in my adult life, but I am so grateful to be here and to have taken this leap that we dreamed about for years. We all are feeling at home here and are happy we made the move to this beautiful place. I hope you all are feeling peace and contentment wherever you are!
Happy New Year!