My Perception Of SnowFriday, November 26, 2010
From the downtown window I watched the snow fall over Holy Rosary Cathedral on Thursday morning and I was momentarily distracted from a sudden financial plight. I watched the snow fall. I began to think about my perception of snow and tried to remember when I had first known of its existence.
|On my way to Watson Lake|
That would have been Christmas 1948 in Buenos Aires. I was six. It would have been before Christmas day since we were decorating a little artificial tree. It was at least 38 degrees Celsius and it was one of those humid Buenos Aires summer evenings. My father took out a can. It said something like Noma Artificial Christmas Tree Snow – Made in USA. My father sprayed the tree with it. That is when I first knew of the existence of that magical white and cold powder.
It was not until 1955 when our airplane landed in Mexico City that I first saw real snow. It was at a distance. In 1955 Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes had yet to write his important novel “La Región Más Transparente”. Mexico City had little atmospheric pollution and one could see the pristine snow on the two volcanoes, Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl. They would begin to disappear fom view by the late 60s.
It was in 1963 that I climbed Popo with a few students from the University of the Americas and not only did I step on my first snow but I had the chance to pick it up and see for myself.
In 1976 we experienced our first snowstorm in Vancouver. I was overly confident as I damned all those Vancouver drivers who seemed to drive much too slowly and much too cautiously. To avoid the bumper to bumper traffic on East Broadway (we lived in Burnaby) I went by another way which finally brought me to crossing Prince Rupert at Grandview Highway. Prince Rupert was steep here and our VW (Arctic Blue!) began to slide and we slide down the hill to hit a pile of about 35 cars and trucks that had preceded us. A crowd on the sidewalk shouted at to get out quickly. We did and shortly after a huge dump truck came down and totaled our little arctic blue beetle.
It was late 1990 and I had gone to teach photography for a weekend for the Emily Carr College Of Art Outreach Program to a northern community town called Cassiar. To get there I had flown to Watson Lake in the Yukon, rented a car (a Ford Taurus, very important!). After a short stretch of paved highway the highway became a dirt one to Cassiar. This was my second time in Cassiar and the town had deteriorated in every respect including socially. The first time I had feasted on roast beef and homemade bread in the company cafeteria. The town rarely named what it was that they mined. They called it product. I soon found out, after persistent questioning that the product was asbestos. By 1990 the only people buying asbestos were the Japanese who used it for car brake linings. Instead of a nice motel I stayed in the only and most primitive Last Chance. That’s what it was called.
On Sunday night it began to snow heavily. I became nervous. I had an early morning airplane to catch in Watson Lake and an appointment to photograph Ron Johnson (he was running the campaign to put Mike Harcourt as premier of British Columbia. I was to photograph Ron Johnson for Equity Magazine. Chris Dahl has suggested I photograph Johnson making shake and bake chicken in his kitchen.
Early Monday morning the town was blanketed by deep snow. My students told me it was probably intelligent if I did not attempt to drive to Watson Lake. I did anyway.
On my way to Watson Lake no car or truck ever crossed my path. I drove through deep snow by going fast knowing the car’s momentum and front wheel drive might prevail. It did. I got to Watson Lake and I immediately gassed up before returning the car. The folks at the gas station surrounded me to ask me about the driving conditions to Cassiar. I had been the first vehicle to make it. I was most proud!
By the time I got to the airport it was snowing heavily. I asked the airport counter official if my plane coming from Vancouver would be able to land. His answer, “I think it is doubtful. It depends on the pilot.” The plane, to may amazement did land. I was able to discern a streak out the window which was all white. When the airplane door opened I watched a uniformed woman step down. “I didn’t know these small airplanes had stewardesses,” I commented. The man behind the counter told me, “Sir, that’s your pilot and you'd better hope she is able to take off.”
I was the only passenger. I looked out of my window and watched them de-ice the wings. I watched snow plows try to clear the runways. When the plane began to taxi I nervously held on to my arm rests for dear life.
I made it in time to photograph Ron Johnson making shake and bake chicken.
Not only do I now drive with extreme caution when it snows I sometimes opt (as I did today) to take my Number 10 trolley to town.