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A Floridian’s First Snowfall in Friday Harbor

snow in the san juan islands
My beloved Mustang, covered in snow for the first time in its life!

Hi! I hope that all of you folks who celebrate Christmas had a wonderful day. This was my first Christmas away from my family, but fortunately I had some wonderful people on the island who made me feel included, and the day was relaxing and peaceful. We had our first snowfall of the winter last week here on the island! Unfortunately it was a few days too early to give us a white Christmas, but it was beautiful all the same.

We don’t get a lot of snow in the San Juans. Being surrounded on all sides by water certainly makes it difficult to get to “the real world,” as I like to call it, but it also helps in keeping us from getting too frosty! The “rain shadow effect” also helps a lot – we are protected on all sides by the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges, and so the perennial rainfall and frequent winter storms that are commonplace in the rest of the state are much less so in our archipelago.

So that’s why the snow, 2-3 inches that stuck to the ground for about two days, was such a big deal. Of course, it was a bigger deal to me than it was to most others who live here!

I grew up in Florida, as you know by now. Snow is as foreign of a concept to me as 98% humidity is to my new neighbors. The last time I saw snow that stuck to the ground, I was 17 years old and visiting Australia in the middle of the summer (their climate is opposite to ours, due to being in the southern hemisphere). So when I awoke last Friday morning to see my backyard (and my car!) covered in snow, I could only look around in wonder.

The snow has a way of making everything feel clean and crisp. I wasn’t a huge fan of my backyard on Thursday – it had muddy puddles in spots and is in dire need of a good mowing. But Friday’s snow settled down on everything, almost as if someone had purposely placedsnow in the san juan islands it there, and made it all look like something out of a postcard. And the silence! The silence brought by the snowfall was profound. I felt almost guilty about stepping into it – but as soon as I did, I thoroughly enjoyed the satisfying “crunch” that my brand new snow boots made. The tiny flakes were still falling softly, and although the Floridian in me wanted to rush back inside and huddle in front of the wood stove, the child in me wanted to stay outside and feel those tiny little bites land on my cheeks. So I did, armed with my camera. I wanted to capture the way the snow transformed my backyard into a quiet, pristine little forest. My earliest memories of snow – seen only through my worn VHS copy of Disney’s Bambi – had me keeping my eyes peeled for a magnificent buck to step out of the trees and greet me with a toss of his regal head. But as I gazed around, only more silence greeted me.

I went back inside for a moment to clip a leash to my dog’s collar and urge him to come with me. Charlie, an 8-year-old Boston Terrier who knows all the usual commands but generally chooses when to obey them, planted his black and white paws on the deck and flatly refused to budge when he saw the white ground. He wouldn’t even go after a treat tossed in front of him. So, I did what any loving dog mother would do – I picked him up and set him gently down into the powder. He glared at me with what can only be described as shocked accusation, but stayed put. He gingerly took a step, buried his nose in it for a good sniff, paused a moment, and then gleefully pranced off, as if he had been doing it all the while.

snow in the san juan islands
My drive to work looked a little different….

Exploring in the comfort of my home was one thing – venturing out into a white new world was a prospect entirely different! Mustangs are NOT designed for driving in snow. My boyfriend was kind enough to scrape off most of the snow before he left for work, so I got into my car, turned on the heat, and waited for the engine to warm up. Then I left, being careful to keep my speed down. By far the most annoying part of driving after a snowfall, for me, was the piles of dirty slush that accumulate in the middle of the road. Trying to keep my wheels on either side of that, and succeeding in not careening off the road, was a testament to how well I know my car! Coming to a complete stop was a work in progress, though.

I somehow made it to the inns for a work meeting, sporting my brand new down parka and snow boots, positively giddy to finally have a reason to wear them. I entered rather loudly, being somewhat miffed by the presence of the snow and simultaneously proud of myself for having made it there unharmed. I was immediately snowballed (forgive me) on all sides by Anna Maria, Dave and Beth with helpful tips for driving in the snow. (Turns out, it’s quite similar to driving through the torrential rain that Florida is so used to). I was also very impressed with the speed and efficiency with which the town of Friday Harbor cleared the streets.

All in all, I’d have to consider my first snowfall as a Washingtonian an early Christmas gift. It was something that finally seemed to make all the shivering worth it, and it served as proof that even this thin-blooded Southern gal can make it anywhere with a little determination, help from my new friends, and of course, the right pair of boots!


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