I hate snow.
There, I said it.
All you Oregonians who gasp in awe and wonder at the first falling snowflake, who Instagram every second of their children and/or pets frolicking in the pristine whiteness that so seldom blankets this part of the globe, can have it. Take it all. Snow is the actual worst.
Before you judge me, go live in Michigan for twenty-one years like I did. Go enter a childhood of unpaid indentured servitude, chopping wood behind the house in subzero temperatures because your parents had a wood-burning stove, and told you that wood and labor are free, while electricity is not. Go grow up in a flat state where the most fun that can be had in the snow is sledding down a 20-foot pile of it in the Walmart parking lot. Go get an education in an area where they might close schools if two or more feet of snow fall overnight. If you’re lucky.
Almost seventeen years ago, I moved to Portland, in large part to escape the snow. (The waterfalls, mountains, and ruggedly beautiful coastline played a sizable part in my decision, as well.) Portland, thanks to its low elevation and maritime climate, gets far less snow than other cities at its same latitude. Typically, Stumptown will see a dusting of snow a morning or two per winter, and that’s it. In addition, Portland graciously allows me to enjoy snow when I feel like it, and not when I don’t. I do love snowboarding, and here, I can drive to Mt. Hood in an hour, have my winter fun, and then return to warmer climes, all in a few short hours.
Snow can be fun, as long as I can enjoy it on my terms. I don’t appreciate it when it shows up, unannounced and unwelcomed, much like ringworm, warts, or mothers-in-law.
Alas, here I sit, suffering through Portland’s most significant snowfall since 2008.
As I write these words, I have just returned to Oregon from spending two months at my (snow-free) home in Puerto Vallarta. Though I was working while I was there, I came back to a snow-capped mountain of items on my plate: meeting with clients, taking care of repairs at my rental houses, vetting new tenants at three of those houses, hiring a new cleaner for my Airbnb, preparing for another TV segment, training bartenders at a new restaurant, and much, much more. These items require the ability to drive: all over Portland, and to Vancouver, Redmond, and The Dalles.
The incoming snowstorm took a look at my agenda and said “nah.”
Right now, I can’t even get to my house in The Dalles where my coats and boots are stored, because Interstate 84 is closed due to the inclement weather. My car is snowed in, and like most Portlanders, I don’t own a shovel, so even driving to a store to buy a jacket would be a monumental undertaking. Without snow gear, I can’t even attempt to adequately appreciate the abominable arctic atrocities al fresco.
I’m not alone. Snowpocalypse 2021 has effectively brought the Portland metropolitan area to its knees. The city lacks the infrastructure to deal with snowstorms, due to their infrequency; as a result, most roads will remain unplowed for the duration of the storm. Throw in some freezing rain, and you have the makings of a disaster. Most, if not all, businesses are closed. Public transit has been completely shut down. Hundreds of thousands are still without power. The governor of Oregon has even declared a state of emergency.
I used to love snow days as a kid. Now, not so much.
What happened to the child in me that used to relish those rare opportunities to trade classes and homework in for the simple joy of building a snow fort and pelting my unsuspecting sister in the face with an unstoppable arsenal of snowballs?
In a nutshell, life. Life happened. Life came, life saw, life conquered.
As we grow older, we take on more than wrinkles. We take on responsibilities. Stresses. Obligations. (All of these lead to said wrinkles, but I digress.)
We of the 21st century have come to expect our lives to be well-oiled machines. For appointments to be kept, deadlines to be met. For us to be able to go anywhere we need to, accomplish whatever we have to, meet with whomever we are supposed to.
Until, that is, a snow day strikes.
For many, if not most, of us, our work never stops. Our phones provide us with constant, cloying connectivity, and so even during our days off, we are checking our email, responding to clients, chasing leads.
The truth is, we need time off. Our minds need it. Our bodies need it. Perhaps most importantly, our souls need it.
Yesterday, the power at my Gresham house went out. For 11 hours. I had already begrudgingly come to terms with enduring a snow day, come to terms with the fact that I would have to reschedule a lot of appointments over the weekend. But I wasn’t prepared for 11 hours of no wi-fi, a dying cell phone, and a dead laptop. Temperatures plummeting into the 40s inside the house didn’t help, either. I curled up, spent, inside four blankets and proceeded to feel sorry for myself.
It wasn’t even the impending hypothermia that dismayed me the most. It was my inability to be productive. To do. It wasn’t enough for me to just be, even for a few short hours.
What have I become? An entitled, 21st-century American? Apparently so. Eleven hours in conditions that would have been deemed luxurious by the majority of human history almost did me in.
Truth be told, I have lived my life in a hurry for so long that I don’t know how to exist in any other mode. I’ve rarely been able to locate the pause button on my inner remote. When something dramatic, like falling off a volcano, or a pandemic, or even a snowstorm brings my life to a temporary halt, I feel useless. Helpless. My self-worth is far too often based on what I do, not on who I am.
God foresaw our innate need for a pause button, one that gets pressed on the regular. For a break from the insanity we cluelessly pass off as real life. He created space in time, a Sabbath. He wrote it into Creation, into his ten commands. He created a period in which we were free to ignore work and set aside deadlines. A period in which we were free to commune with him and with the ones we love. A weekly snow day, if you will. This break was meant to be a gift, not a burden. But, like all of God’s greatest gifts, well-meaning believers Jewish and Christian alike turned it into exactly what he didn’t intend.
Even if you’re not religious, it’s hard to argue with the wisdom of taking a break.
Stephen Covey, the late author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, stressed the importance of self-renewal. His seventh habit was none other than “sharpening the saw,” or a dedication to rest, exercise, play, and personal exploration, arguing that only this dedication can enable and empower us to properly execute the other six habits.
“Without this renewal,” wrote Covey, “the body becomes weak, the mind mechanical, the emotions raw, the spirit insensitive, and the person selfish.” You can renew and revitalize yourself through rest and relaxation, he intoned, “or you can totally burn yourself out by overdoing everything.”
In other words, we all need snow days. Even those of us who live in Puerto Vallarta.
When we take the snow days, the breaks, the sabbaticals, the sabbaths, the vacations that our souls so desperately need, we find that we are actually more productive when the time comes to get back to work. Study after study corroborates this fact. Not only that, but when we take time to prioritize our relationships (both vertical and horizontal), our physical health, and our emotional well-being, we recognize work for what it is: simply one part of a healthy, balanced life, not an all-consuming fire demanding all of our attention, energy, and time.
If those ever-so-trustworthy meteorologists prove correct, this snow will melt tonight and tomorrow. Life will resume at the speed I have grown accustomed to. Once the tallest drifts melt in a couple days, all tangible evidence of this winter storm will disappear.
Our desperate need for snow days, though, isn’t going anywhere.
Find your pause button. Use it. Think you’re too busy? Think again. Maybe you, like me, often have an overinflated sense of the importance of your responsibilities. You’re never too busy to place value on your loved ones, your health, your sanity, and your soul.
Grab a blanket. A good book. Light a fire. Raise that warm mug of hot chocolate to your lips and savor a snow day, whether you asked for it or not.
Your soul will thank you.