This morning there would have been frost on the pumpkins, which doesn’t happen often out here. Our mailbox had some white stuff on top and the one side. At first I thought it was someone starting Halloween pranks early, then I realized it was frost, and how long it has been since I’ve seen a frosty morning. Out here we don’t get much frost or dew because the air is so dry. I remember a few years that it was a bit dry back in Wisconsin, but never like it is out here.
Out here it can go up to three months without rain. Fire season starts around mid-July when the rain has stopped, the snow is all melted, and the grass that started to grow is all dried up. During that very dry time people of the west argue over something that Wisconsinites take for granted – water.
Coming from a place where water makes the summer air so humid you can taste it, the fight for water in the west seems unreal. Every spring we, here in Reno, are reminded of what days we can water our yard based on our street number – odd numbers some days, even numbers others – to save water. Some places in Las Vegas have a ban on grass so the water can be used for other things. Front lawns are landscaped with decorative stone and maybe a planter or two, and back yards have stone pathways with chairs on the side instead of the lush green areas I remember from childhood.
Las Vegas could not exist without Lake Mead, created by the Hoover Dam. The Colorado River is dammed up in several other places between the Grand Canyon and the Gulf of California to provide water for cities in southern California along with Las Vegas. Now we are getting pictures of the “bathtub rings” round Lake Mead as it shrinks with the drought. Even Lake Tahoe is reportedly getting lower as cities take water faster than Mother Nature can replenish it.
Every year there are discussions about water rights, which at first confused me. Cities argue about who is taking it all. As their city grows it needs more water but there is only so much to go around. Towns are growing as the water supply is shrinking. Sometimes I wonder if we should continue to build in places that are teetering on the edge of the desert. My fear is that with more homes and businesses the desert will grow as the water is used up. It takes a lot more effort to reclaim a desert than it does to make one.
It’s July, the hazy days of summer. In Wisconsin, the haze comes from the humidity. Out here in the West, the haze comes from wild fires. In both cases the amount of haze changes from day to day and both can be difficult to live with.
Yes, I know occasionally there are wildfires in Wisconsin. The call goes out first to the local (usually volunteer) fire department who then calls in the DNR for equipment and organization in calling in surrounding fire departments until the fire is out. The process takes a day at most with some fire trucks staying around a bit longer just in case something flares up.
Out here the fires can take weeks to put out and the smoke travels a long way in that amount of time. Some of the smoke we have here in North Reno is actually from a fire in California. When the mountain right behind our house “disappears” into the haze we know it’s going to smell like we are inside a campfire and we may not see blue skies for a week or so at least.
Professional “hot shots” do most of the dangerous work with the fires. They are the ones who look they are wrapped in tin foil carrying axes and small emergency canisters to spray water if a quick shot of it will get them out of a jam. The local (also sometimes volunteer) fire departments are charged with keeping pumper trucks full a safe distance away and sometimes setting controlled back-fires around homes in hopes of saving the structures.
Many of those homes are on ranches. It’s easy enough to get people and most pets to a high school when there is an evacuation order, but what about the cows and horses? I think that is why they have the big Reno Rodeo in mid-June, usually before fire season is in full swing. The Livestock-Convention Center is all set up with stalls for larger animals and is in an urban area, so not likely to be in the evacuation zone of a wildfire.
Organizing the transportation to and space in the facility takes some time. Usually the “get all the animals out” order goes out early so those with a lot of cattle can arrange for transportation and space for their animals. A friend of mine has three horses and someone who said they can use their space any time so she is always frustrated that she is ordered to move her three friends well before there is a real threat, which often doesn’t come to fruition – only her frustration.
Back in Wisconsin I used to love watching thunderstorms. The cool rain and natural fireworks were welcome every summer. Out here it is more of just thunder (and lightning) storms – with little rain. The lightning often sets off new fires in wilderness areas that aren’t detected until they are burning out of control in a forest of dry trees and tumbleweed ready to roll.
Summer out here means the sky takes on an orange glow, mountains disappear and reappear in the smoky haze, and we wonder when we will be able to breathe clean air again.
Reno is in the midst of the first real heat wave of the summer. According to my mother, that means it will be hitting Wisconsin in two or three days. My classification of a real heat wave is when the temperature gets to be over 100 degrees, about the same as my thoughts on the subject when I lived in Wisconsin. To me the psychological difference between 99 and 100 degrees is much bigger than the scientific difference, which is the same as the difference between, say, 95 and 96. My friends in Las Vegas have a different psychological threshold of a heat wave. They break the triple digit barrier daily, at about 9 or 10 am most days between May and September. To them a heat wave is when the daytime high gets to 120 or so, which is just too hot for me.
Every year during deer hunting season Bananas At Large remind Wisconsinites that “It’s not so much the heat as it is the gosh darn humidity,” in their song “Da Turdy Point Buck.” Let’s face it, 120 degrees is hot no matter if it’s humid or not, but the lack of humidity in the Reno area does have an advantage. My threshold for good sleeping is when the nighttime low gets below 70. Wisconsin’s humidity keeps the heat going over night so the days it gets into the 90’s it likely won’t get below 70 during the night. Out here, without humidity, there is a wider gap between daytime highs and nighttime lows and, given that when it does hit 100 there is almost no humidity in the air, the temperature can drop as much as 35 to 40 degrees at night, keeping the nighttime low below my threshold for good sleep.
That science lesson brings to mind something I never heard of until I moved to Reno. When we were looking for a place to live, which happened to be in July, several places had something called a swamp cooler but not an air conditioner. My first thought was something like the way people in Alaska will cover things with snow when their freezer is full over winter months, but this was summer and I was confused. My husband, who spent a lot of time in desert climates, had to explain. A swamp cooler takes in dry air, fills it with humidity and pumps it into the house. The humidified air is cooler than the outside air, very much different from the humid air in Wisconsin homes over summer. Just like evaporating sweat cools our bodies, the evaporating humidity cools the air in the house in desert climates. The basic idea is the same as in the movies or TV where someone is sitting with a block of ice between themselves and a huge fan. The official term for them is evaporative coolers. Out here they are more cost effective than central air conditioning, as long as there is water to put into the air but that will be the focus of another of my ramblings. The thought of using humidity to cool a house took some time to sink into my Wisconsin trained brain.
What I consider spring is in full swing here in Reno. The apple blossoms are out, the lilac bushes are green awaiting the burst of color in a couple of weeks and I saw a robin in the yard last week. That’s about a month earlier than in Northeast Wisconsin. Last week I went to a friend’s house to get some yucca plants for our yard. Right now our yard is more like a sage brush field but I would like to have some plants that won’t dry up and blow away in a year or two. We had a maple in our yard. We do not have an underground watering system and the tree just couldn’t get enough to drink. Last year it came down in a wind storm because it was over half dead. Yes, the colorful leaves in the fall reminded me of my childhood, but I think it’s cruel to put a maple in the sandy soil in our yard on the edge of the desert. The tree hugger in me wants to go back to the Big Woods like in Wisconsin.
To show how much of a tree hugger I really am, the one thing I wanted to do in Las Vegas was touch a palm tree. You always have to be careful of what you touch in Sin City, but I wanted to feel one of the trees that don’t grow in Wisconsin. I didn’t care about the glitz of the Vegas strip or even seeing snow on Mount Charleston, I wanted to touch a palm tree. Our one night stay in Las Vegas didn’t go as planned, but because of that we ended up taking a bit of a walk and there just happen to be a palm tree along our path. I got to run my hands across the dry bark of the trunk while standing under the fronds that always make me think of illustrations from books by Dr. Seuss.
The next thing I would like to cross off my bucket list is to visit the redwood forests of California. Reno is about a day’s drive from the redwood coast of California, about the same distance as we are from Las Vegas but in a different direction. I know I wouldn’t be able to fully hug one – that would take every one of my siblings and our spouses to get around some of the older trees – but I want to touch one. Part of it is the historian in me wanting to touch something that was alive when kings and queens ruled Europe. And, of course, the tree hugger in me wants to lay hands on the tallest trees in the world. Another part of it is that I just want to get out of the city and smell the forest again like when I was growing up in Wisconsin. I want to enjoy the randomness of a forest planted by nature, not planned by a landscaper. I want to feel the sunlight filtered through a canopy of leaves that can move and sway with a breeze. I want to be able to close my eyes and remember the joy of being surrounded by trees as a child in Wisconsin and thinking of the line from Tolkien – “not all those who wander are lost.”
Cheese is a comfort food. The pre-packaged, snack size, perfectly shaped string cheese will do in a pinch, but what you really want would be real cheese. Some days I’m in the mood for some cheese curds, which we can occasionally get out this way. Some days the saltiness of real Wisconsin string cheese is needed. Some days nothing will do but the rind of some aged brick. It is also hard to find the meaty snacking cheese, like salami or bacon cheese, out here. Good thing I have a supplier back in Wisconsin who sends care packages when possible.
You expect to wake up to snow at least some days in March. People expect the Tahoe ski hills to have snow into May at least, but away from the resorts people are taken by surprise by snow in March and take it as an attack from Mother Nature if there is snow in April. For me, March was when we started to see the lawn occasionally between snow storms. Usually by Easter, in early April, the lawn was a muddy mess rather than covered in either a blanket of snow or lush green grass. That doesn’t mean no more snow for the season, just that it has all melted at least once before the Easter Bunny visits. I could not imagine living in Las Vegas where any day it snows becomes a holiday for everyone except traffic officers and tow truck operators. Then again, in the desert of Las Vegas even rainy days are a nightmare for anyone who has to be on the roads.
You pronounce the name of our great state the correct way. There is a subtle difference in how a Wisconsinite says their home state and how the rest of the world says it. It took me a long time and a lot of careful listening (something my family would say I’m not always the best at) to figure it out. It is agreed that there are three syllables and the emphasis is on the middle one. The difference is where the first and second syllables are split. Someone who grew up in the state will likely put the first four letters in the first syllable, so it would rhyme with disc, then go on to emphasize the next two letters (on) an end with sin. A non-cheesehead would only put the first three letters in the first syllable, making it wis, emphasize the con and end with sin. We are not as particular about how to pronounce our state as someone from Nevada, where people will correct you if you say it incorrectly in public and may not purchase a product just because of a mispronunciation in an advertisement. I do, however, notice a difference when a character on a TV show claims to be from Wisconsin. Then again, usually they say they are from Milwaukee which we all know is really just a suburb of Chicago and follows the dialect of that state.
The world is full of alphabet soup. As a special education teacher, I’m spouting out acronyms left and right. A writer friend on Facebook asked for help coming up with a phrase that would create an acronym to spell out a specific name for a robot character. We have become a country of letters that stand for emotions, actions, and everything we can shorten.
I blame Twitter, at least in part, for the explosion of complete phrases that have become a single word or series of letters. This, however, is not new. We have had radar and sonar around for a while, so long that they are no longer capitalized, are defined by words other than just the phrase they replaced, and are legal words in Scrabble.
Some multi-meaning acronyms are not new either. There is a trade school in several western states that specializes in auto mechanics and was obviously named by males because when females hear UTI they do not think of Universal Technical Institute. Just think of the difference in meaning for DNR depending on if it is said on a lake in the backwoods of Wisconsin as opposed to the emergency room of a hospital.
Sometimes the new alphabet soup really makes me think. It took a while for me to figure out why there is almost a completion for which athlete would be considered the GOAT. I thought they are animals used for milk when there isn’t enough food and/or space for cows.
Originally these acronyms were designed to make our lives easier, but they can also interfere with real communication. The language of alphabet soup only works if everyone knows the code. If not, it only frustrates the sender and the receiver as much as if one person speaks only Swahili and the other speaks only Russian. In my case it has created somewhat of a generation gap with the younger generation fluent in acrospeak and those born before 1980 or so trying to figure out what all the letters mean. It may or may not be intentional, but it is getting harder for me to truly communicate with the younger generation.
Growing up in Northeast Wisconsin, I took a white Christmas for granted. That’s not to say it snowed on Christmas Day every year, but lawns were white on December 25. The lawn was so white, in fact, that there were places we couldn’t get to unless we trudged through snow up to our knees. Most years there was so much snow that when we went outside during Christmas break (early in the afternoon so there was still sunlight) we could build snow forts in the drifts around the house. Since those are my childhood memories, I thought a white Christmas was the norm. Moving to Alaska cemented my belief that it was an occasional oddity that the ground was not white on Christmas.
The year I moved to Denver all of that changed. Yes, they had a white Christmas that year. It was the year of the big pre-Christmas snow storm that shut down the airport for three days. Later, in February, there was a lot on the news about the record of 61 days of snow on the ground somewhere at the airport. Here I thought if snow fell any time after Thanksgiving the ground was expected to stay white until at least March. It wasn’t always the same snow, but enough snowfalls and temperatures cool enough to keep the snow when it did fall, so the new snow constantly covered up the dirty snow.
Now I’m living in Reno. According to one of the local news stations there is an 11% chance of having a white Christmas any given year. Out here a white Christmas means it snows on Christmas Day. Just yesterday it snowed a little in the morning but by early afternoon the lawn was just sage brush and dirt again. It seems that evergreen trees grow better than deciduous trees out here and grass is hard to keep growing so lawns look about the same on December 25 as they do on June 25.
It’s no wonder that most of the world just doesn’t understand the quiet serenity of the Christmas season. In Northeast Wisconsin the weather often forces people to stay inside, giving them time to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. Snow isn’t just a one day thing, like the spirit of Christmas shouldn’t be a one day thing. From now to mid-March you will likely have frequent reminders of fresh starts when a good snowfall covers the dirty snow with a new blanket of white. I’m jealous.
Thanksgiving will be different this year. New Yorkers will not be getting up early to find a good spot for the big parade. There will be three football games, but very few will be allowed in the stadiums to see them in person. Family gatherings will most likely be nuclear as in just parents and their children gathered around the Thanksgiving dinner table, not nuclear as in extended families fighting over things that happened years ago along with the wishbone of this year’s turkey. “Black Friday” sales have started already making it a “Black November” rather than just one day of shopping for Christmas gifts.
The world changed this year, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons to be thankful. This is not to minimize the thousands of deaths in this country alone or the jobs that are on the line because of the current pandemic. This is meant to find something positive out of a horrible situation.
The world has yet to find its “new normal” post-pandemic, mainly because we are still mid-pandemic and don’t really know what the world will look like on the other side. One thing we have already found is a new appreciation for family. Spending months on end with a limited number of people gave us no choice but to learn about each other on a personal level. Families worked together on projects around the home rather than each doing their own thing. Parents were no longer merely logistic planners and taxi drivers – chauffeuring children from activity to activity and having most conversations with children using the rear-view mirror. One good thing that will come out of this is stronger family bonds.
Since families are staying home more, the pace of life in general has slowed. With more people working from home traffic runs more smoothly. You still can’t go the speed limit on the freeway during “rush hour” here in Reno, but you can drive faster than the crawl drivers were forced to use a year ago. Grocery stores still have the Saturday morning rush, but now the long lines at the checkout are more a factor of having fewer check stands open with limited staffing and people buying carts full in one stop a week rather than a few things each day to use the express lanes. We are learning to plan our time outside the home more efficiently and slow down the pace of life.
As a teacher, I always think of how this will affect children. Staying at home more has helped youngsters develop life skills. Families are planning and completing jobs around the house together. Children and parents are preparing meals, doing yard work, and fixing decks together. Older children are helping younger children with school, play and life itself, preparing them to be better parents when the time comes. Houses are becoming homes for families to develop the next generation.
With all the togetherness of sheltering in place, what can we expect the future to look like? There are things to be thankful for because of the pandemic. I see more stable families that know each other better and can solve the problems the world throws at them. I see families working as a team to navigate the waters of life. And I see a baby boom of COVID kids starting in a month or so with a real competition for the first baby born in 2021.