It’s a balmy 37 degrees today. We’re having a heatwave in Eastern Oregon. For the first time in a couple of months, the temperature has risen above freezing. As I’ve been walking outside today, I’ve worn a flannel shirt, but decided it wasn’t cold enough to warrant a coat, hat or gloves. That’s when I realized I’ve acclimated to life in the foothills of the Elkhorn Mountains.
We live at about 3,600 feet. Where it hasn’t been plowed, our accumulated snow is thigh high. The top rails of the fences are nearly buried in snow. And yet still it comes down. The Mountain Man has spent hours plowing the long driveway with his green John Deere tractor. It’s the first week of February. The groundhog saw his shadow this week. We are guaranteed for many more weeks of winter. Locals tell me this the hardest, coldest winter they’ve had in 40 years.
Inside our tiny home—a 323 square-foot camper, the temperature has soared to a toasty 63 degrees. It’s so warm today that we don’t need to turn on the propane furnace. Instead, two radiator-type electric heaters keep the temperature comfortable.
Here are some things I’ve learned after living for five months in Eastern Oregon:
- Be prepared to drive in severe weather and really scary road conditions. I grew up on a farm in Northeastern Washington, but our roads were not as challenging as what I’ve faced on my daily commute into La Grande, 26 miles away. The freeway is often closed due to icy roads, and blowing snow that causes white-out conditions. On the way to work yesterday, I drove 35 miles per hour with my flashers on in a driving snowstorm. The snow was blowing so hard that I could barely see the road. Out here, the snowbanks drift quickly and you can get pulled into one and then you’re stuck. Yesterday after work, the freeway was closed, so I had to take the long way home through Union and Pyle’s Canyon. In some places, the snow was blowing so hard across the road that I had to stop and find the road again.
- Be prepared to be stranded in a snowstorm—and be prepared to dig myself out. The Mountain Man’s dad encouraged me to keep my gas tank full in case I get stuck in a snowbank all night and I have to keep my motor running to keep from freezing. In my Subaru Forester I keep a snow shovel, broom, long-handled ice scraper, tire chains, snow pants, heavy gloves, hat, down vest and coat in case I get pulled into a snowbank and have to dig myself out. I use the broom to sweep snow accumulation from my car in the morning. I wear my sensible, warm snow boots wherever I go. When I get to work, I change to clogs.
- I keep emergency rations in my Subaru in case I get stuck in the snow overnight and have to wait until morning for help: granola bars, trail mix and a bottle of water. It immediately froze. I also have an LED flashlight that doesn’t use batteries, but is powered by winding it up.
- When you're driving, keep an eye out for critters that might run into the road. On my first day of work, I encountered a rancher moving cattle along the road. But more often, I encounter deer, quail, wild turkeys and other wildlife crossing the road.
- When it was -6 degrees outside, it was getting pretty chilly inside our little camper. One brisk morning I tried to pull a fleece jacket from my closet, but it was so cold inside our house that the jacket was frozen to the closet wall. When I pulled it loose, it was covered with a layer of frost.
- For the past two months, we have kept a faucet running to prevent our water pipes from freezing. The Mountain Man also bought a heated hose and wrapped the pipes at the source in insulation.
- To insulate our little camper we positioned a thick layer of straw bales all around the outside of our camper. And now, accumulated snow reaches up to the windows, adding another layer of insulation.
- I am grateful to concerned family members who sent us gear to keep us warm. Doug and Tara sent us slippers and a heated throw for our tiny sofa. It’s glorious to sit underneath it, drink cocoa and watch a movie. Kalyn and Mat sent us a heated mattress pad with dual controls. I turn that baby up before climbing into bed, and I have toasty toes. Mom sent me thermal top and leggings for my birthday because she’s my mommy and she worries that I’ll freeze.
- Dress for the weather. Soft flannel shirts and down vests are a must. Keep your head covered to regulate your temperature. l ordered a beautiful handmade wool hat from my dear friend, Jean Jones, a Chewelah friend. My hat rarely leaves my head these days. Even when I’m inside.
- Sometimes when we get up in the morning, it’s 38 degrees inside. At first, it was a shock to my system, but I’m used to it now. Turning on the propane furnace quickly heats our little home to a toasty 55 degrees. And sometimes, we even heat it to 60. A cup of hot coffee and oatmeal helps heat me up on cold mornings too.
- Be prepared to be dazzled by gorgeous, sweeping landscapes, the immense starry skies and the kindness of the people.
- Learn to look for the wonder all around, and you won’t be disappointed.