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If There'll Be Snow
November 27, 2009 - 12:00pm


When classes were finished and Thanksgiving break started last week, my family and I blew out of town so fast we made that cartoon ptcheeeeeeew noise and left behind wavering images of ourselves hanging in the dust. I’d worked on a nonfiction book all summer so we never took vacation, and we’ve been planning ever since to drive out and spend this week in West Virginia, where Frenchy, my old friend and former boss in Army diving, arranges for us to use a condo that sits a few hundred vertical feet below Snowshoe Ski Resort. I had firmly in mind old news clips of red-cheeked Austrian toddlers learning to ski, and since Starbuck and Wolfie are seven and four already, we figured it was high time to put them in ski school.

You can imagine how comical I looked on Monday, gawking around at the bare summit of this mountain that I expected to be covered with snow. Temperatures were in the 50s, and the resort was empty, the restaurants mostly closed. Opening day, which was to have been Wednesday, has been pushed back to December 4. But the mountains are beautiful in every season, and Family Night went ahead, with only our children and four or five more in attendance. They were kings of some childhood fantasy—an enormous room filled with climbing walls, trampolines, video games, pool tables, bouncy houses and slides and Velcro walls, and as many hot dogs, cookies and tubs of Pucker Powder they could eat. I made Vietnamese noodle soup one night and lemongrass beef wraps another, using the fresh herbs, bean sprouts, and other ingredients we’d brought, which wouldn’t last long and are unavailable locally.

One day we drove down the valley, passing Pearl S. Buck’s birthplace (“I stopped by there once but she wasn’t home,” Frenchy said), went caving at Lost World Caverns, and strolled the main drag in Lewisburg, where our congressmen buy antiques, toys, and good bread while convening at the nearby Greenbrier, which also used to hide their nuke shelter away from Washington.

I cooked a full-on Thanksgiving dinner for five that would have fed 15: Turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, squash, dressing, cranberry salad, southern style green beans, rolls, pecan and pumpkin pies. About an hour before sunset it started sleeting, and we watched the clouds darken and roll in over the ridge across the hollow, then the hollow closed off. The boys made a gingerbread house, and we had a roaring fire in the fireplace, good wine and good company. Overnight the resident mice neatly removed every jellybean—leaving every gumdrop and hard candy—from the gingerbread house’s icing and carried them off to their nest.

This morning I got up to see the front deck covered in snow. I called Frenchy down at his house five miles below us. “It’s colder than a well-digger’s ass down here,” he said. “You’ll be getting powder up there.” The snow outside the big windows was actually falling up in the mountainside draft, then falling down on itself in a confused blizzard.

We talked about bringing the boys up to build a snowman in the resort square, but if we had driven our van down the gravel drive to the road, we’d never get it back up to the condo. Frenchy came up in his four-wheel drive truck and brought me to the resort so I could post this using their wireless connection. The snowmakers are roaring full blast, and 40 mile-per-hour gusts whip flakes all around the summit. Visibility is near zero.

We’re supposed to be leaving tomorrow morning to go home, but there’s a semi and two cars stuck on the road somewhere below. We have plenty of food and firewood, and I still have Richard Powers’ Galatea 2.2, which I’m supposed to be teaching next week, Michael C. Finke’s Seeing Chekhov: Life and Art, and maybe most appropriately, Peter France’s Hermits: The Insights of Solitude.

If we do make it out, we’ll go a lot more slowly than we came, but with any luck we’ll be trapped here ‘til spring.


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