Yes, once daylight appeared I had to set out to do my most favorite thing. Walk in the fresh snow, even if only a mere inch or two. And it made me remember this excerpt from my memoir.
Had I known then, my snow-deprived self would have been jealous to have learned about the boisterous snowstorm that captured Portland and its surrounding areas just before Christmas in 1884. My great-great grandfather, Joseph Kaye Gill—better known as J.K. and grandfather of our own Daddy Dick—penned in his diary how the snow continued for two days, falling so heavily that trains were blocked between The Dalles and Portland. And—as I stood on a lonely bank, wishing some eighty years later for the Willamette to freeze—the Columbia River had frozen over entirely. The Columbia River, the largest river in the Pacific Northwest: over twelve hundred miles in length, frozen. The river that begins in the Rocky Mountains of Canada’s British Columbia, flowing northwest and then south into Washington state; turning west to form the border between Washington and Oregon before emptying into the grand Pacific Ocean.
Unlike my romantic imaginings so many years later during my childhood, blockaded trains full of men, women, and children began to exhaust their food supply. “Food was hauled in on hand sleds from Hood River and Bonneville, (towns even then on the south side of Columbia) and then taken by men on foot to the trains. In this way the people were saved from starvation,” J.K. scribed in his journal. As people attempted to cross the ice, the powerful Columbia River Gorge wind blew so strongly that they couldn’t stand up, and had to get down on hands and knees to cross. The wind that today delights wind surfers from all over the world must have felt like a terrible wrath sent down by the heavens above. When the trains finally got through to Portland, the volume of mail was so large it wouldn’t fit inside the post office building—a post office then inside the oldest federal building in the Pacific Northwest: Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse. A historic building today that opened in 1875 as the seat of government, holding then not just the post office, but courts, customs, and a tax office. And on that cold winter day, overflowing with mail. The storm reality of 1884 was a million miles away from my vision of sharing hot chocolate with a new friend in front of a warm fire.
From Snow and Ice
My Music Man
Okay, I’m finished now. Time to get back to work.