Our first snow this winter happened to be a blizzard in West Central IL. Within a hour of it beginning, I found myself starting my 20 mile drive home from work down the county highway. I had to first pick up my kids in the nearest small town before heading home. Halfway to the babysitter’s house, I saw faint emergency vehicle lights ahead. Within a few seconds, I was stopped completely, and I continued to sit in the same spot for over 20 minutes behind three other cars. Visibility was anywhere from 0 to 100 feet due to the snow fall and the intense wind that whipped across the fields. It was obvious from the emergency vehicles, the lack of any traffic coming from the opposite direction, and our standstill that the highway was closed and there was no way of telling when we’d be on the move again.
Knowing that the snow storm was just beginning and I’d soon be driving in the dark, I became nervous. I noticed that there was a road in front of where the emergency vehicles were parked and that I could possibly make it around the other cars and turn onto an open country road. I assessed the situation: if I remained stopped on the highway, I had no idea how long it would be until we’d be allowed to continue our journey. I still had to pick up my kiddos and drive 10 miles in the blizzard all the while losing daylight. I also knew that after five winters of living in the country (and trading in my cute sports car for a huge Tahoe after my first winter on the farm), that I’d be able to brave the country roads on my own. So, with the courage of an “experienced” country driver, I turned on my hazard lights, slowly drove around the stopped cars in front of me, and turned onto the empty country road with the blizzard to brave on my own. I was able to detour around the accident and make it to my babysitter’s house before dark.
My drive home from the babysitter’s house was a whole different story. With the dwindling daylight the visibility was so poor, I had to stop completely a few times because I literally couldn’t see out my window. I had never felt so unsure of our safety. I even considered pulling off and knocking on the closest farm house in hopes of warm shelter to wait the storm out. Thankfully, I somehow made it home safe with only the frozen snow on vehicle to show the beating we just took in the blizzard.
While growing up in the Chicago suburbs, I rarely worried about road conditions during less than ideal weather conditions, just the traffic it would cause. Snow plows were constantly on the move and the weather never kept us from our destination. This is not true of country living. Things can get dangerous, and they get that way fast. During the winter, most country drivers are sure to travel with blankets in case of emergency as well as fully charged cell phones. We also don’t leave home unless it’s necessary. The school district I teach at even builds in five snow days to our school calendar, assuming we may have to take all of them. In the five years teaching there, on average we take three days off due to snow/ice/below zero temperatures. However, growing up, I only ever remember having one snow day...and we took advantage by sledding in our backyard and sipping on hot cocoa.
While living in the country, I’ve learned many things, most of which include how to brave the elements of snow, rain, ice, and wind. If I hadn’t had the experience of living in the country, I would have never dared to blaze my own path during a blizzard through untraveled country roads, and I surely would have waited until the storm died down to leave my babysitter’s house to drive home.
My third winter on my husband’s family farm, a massive ice and wind storm caused power lines to blow down, leaving us without power. Our thermostat dropped to under 50 degrees, and we contemplated sleeping over at my in-laws across the road who had a generator hooked up so they’d have heat. Thankfully, the power came on before bedtime and we snuggled under the covers to keep warm.
The following winter, we were stuck for four days inside our house during a blizzard. We prepared in advanced by buying our own generator, shopping for the major grocery staples, and filling the bathtub with water in case we lost power to our well. Our road wasn’t plowed for 48 hours, and even then, we didn’t dare to drive through snow drifts. That same blizzard hit Chicago, and city-dwellers were upset that Lake Shore Drive shut down and that their cars were stuck on city streets, sometimes in the middle of them because they tried to drive despite the warning not to. When I lived in downtown Chicago for a couple of years, I kept a shovel in my sports car to get myself out of a parking spot in case I got plowed in overnight. I don’t miss the shoveling, but I do miss the ease of travel during snowy weather. For now, I make sure we all have our hats, gloves, and winter coats when we leave home and that my Tahoe has a few warm blankets just in case of an emergency. And if there’s a blizzard, we stay inside our cozy home where it’s safe and sound, and hopefully warm.
(Pictures were taken during the 2010-11 winter blizzard when we were stuck in our house for four days. You know there's a lot of snow when your father-in-law has to use the HUGE snow plow to get you out of your house!)