Last fall, snow came early to the valley, and then stopped. The foreshadowing of a long, gloomy winter evaporated with a succession of sunny December days. The New Year heralded more of the same. In front of the Post Office, snapdragons I’d planted last March stood tall. Customers marveled at blooms so late in the year. The colors offset the few cloudy days that dared interrupt the extraordinary blue skies of January. Finally, several hard frosts wore them out. Their stamina at an end, I pulled the weary stalks and smoothed the ground.
Any hope that this unreal winter would slip quietly into spring ended abruptly with a confluence of snow, rain, and ice. First came two feet of snow. Then rain weighed it down, which caused trees to lean. The coup de grâce arrived with three consecutive nights of freezing rain. The snow hardened like concrete and trees toppled throughout the Hood River Valley.
This week’s worth of reckoning for the mild weather reminded everyone that winter should never be taken for granted. The upper valley, where I live, suffered the most damage. Numerous roads closed as downed trees and electric lines made them impassable. I spent four nights at a hotel in town. Power crews converged from all over the state to assist with restoring electricity. Local tree services cleared the roads one by one. Slowly, the valley began to reopen and people could return to their homes.
My property had significant tree damage. One large alder fell across the driveway. I managed to clear it out of the way with a chainsaw on the day before the power returned. Doing the work, I suddenly felt old, burdened by my age as well as the cancer that has tested my body since 2008.
Overall, my health is good. On the surface, I epitomize cancer survivorship. I responded well to a stem cell transplant 3 1/2 years ago. For 30 months I was drug free. Currently, I partake of a maintenance dose of two drugs that afford me the facsimile of a remission: the cancer presents itself in my lab tests but remains under control.
Nevertheless, the recent winter storm laid bare the underlying pathology of my blood cancer, multiple myeloma. The balance between red, white, and platelet cells is askew. A persistent low-grade anemia continues to characterize my blood counts. Under the strain of the chainsaw work, I wilted like the Post Office snapdragons.
Furthermore, this storm stirred up a foreboding common to all cancer patients. The impartiality of winter’s wrath robbed me of my sense of control. Frankly, for several days, this valley was at the mercy of the weather. Normally, I don’t dwell on the prospect of my cancer asserting itself. I passively accept my diagnosis and treatment. I understand that, statistically speaking, my prognosis proceeds on a positive trajectory. Yet, ultimately I must admit, my future is no more reliable than weather forecasting.
Last weekend, my youngest son joined me in beginning to clean up the mess caused by the storm. Thankfully, he handled the chainsaw work. I hauled broken limbs to several burn piles established to rid us of the debris. I paced myself, breathing heavily as I trudged back and forth across the crusty snow.
My trees took a beating but I believe they will survive. By May, most of the damage will be hidden behind new foliage. Birds will sing from the broken tops and their voices will be just as sweet to my ears. The fears raised by the winter’s punishing storm will subside. My life, tenuous and precious as ever, goes forward. And though my sense of well-being took a drubbing during January’s fierce weather, I, too, have survived.