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Dogs, Stick People, Deer

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Salt Lake City, 19 October

It began snowing in the night. By morning twenty-eight inches had fallen, and it still snowed. The announcer on KUER said it was a record. The state had begun keeping snowfall records in 1928, and it had never recorded so much snow in one storm this early. I heard a snowplow down on Second Avenue, cars spinning on ice as they struggled to make it up the hill. I pulled open the drapes and looked out into swirling snow, then six floors down at traffic inching along the street. Margie was making coffee in the kitchen. I pulled on wool socks and a thick robe.

"Listen to this," Margie said when I walked out. She turned up the radio. It was a story about snow in São Paulo, Brazil, the first since 1912. "But isn't it summer down there?" I asked.

Margie put down her cup. "Coffee futures?" was all she said. She walked into the study and turned on the computer. By the time I was out of the shower, she had on-line quotes. "Coffee prices are through the ceiling," she said. "We're late on this one, but I bought futures on two tons of coffee anyway—it's bound to go up!"

It was her turn at the shower. I fed Tuvco, our part-wolf dog. "We should have known it was going to be a hard winter," Margie said from the bathroom doorway, watching me with Tuvco while she toweled her hair dry. "Look at his coat." It was bushy and thick. Even the hair on his paws was thick.

We dressed, I made toast, Margie and I trudged off to work together. We threw our briefcases on the back seat of the 4Runner. I put it in four-wheel drive while she opened the garage door with the remote. We started for the street and her law firm and my medical software company. The street was slushy, stop-and-go, wrecks and stuck cars holding up the morning commute.

When I picked up Margie after work that night, the roads were in even worse shape. It took us forty-five minutes to drive the mile and a half home. Plows were out, but they couldn't keep up with the snow still falling.

On the way, we listened to National Public Radio news. It had stopped snowing in São Paulo, but the Russians couldn't keep the Trans-Siberian Railway free of snow and had closed it from Vladivostok to Omsk. Amsterdam harbor had frozen over. Rio reported frost. "You wait," Margie said. "They'll blame this on the hairspray women have used for forty years."

The snow was two feet deep in the driveway to the parking garage. We followed one set of tire tracks in. A plow was due between six and seven the next morning, but something clearly needed to be done before then. I rounded up four other men from the condos, and we shoveled out the driveway. Margie had hot chocolate waiting when I stamped inside.

She later drove out for groceries and came back with sacks of staples and snowshoes from a sports store in the mall. "We'd been planning to take up a winter sport," she said.

We strapped on our snowshoes after supper and took Tuvco out in the snow. He reveled in it, straining against his leash to pull us up the Avenues toward the Watershed Protection Area in the foothills and canyons north of Salt Lake City. Four times that summer and fall we'd walked the seven miles up City Creek Canyon to where it begins to narrow, to where the creek has cut deep red-rock cliffs on either side. Above those cliffs rise a thousand feet of gray, tan, and silvered granite. Tuvco loved it there. It was illegal to take him into the Watershed—nobody wanted dogs paddling in the city's drinking water—but over the summer we'd sneaked him in, careful to keep him out of the water and to hide him in brush or in one of the caves if we saw anyone on the trails. We didn't go that far, then. We tramped up sidewalks and streets and watched the falling snow. By morning, another two feet had fallen.

Salt Lake City, 25 November

The radio could pick up only four local stations, each reciting over and over the small list of open roads. "I-15's open to Provo again," I called out to Margie.

"Doesn't matter," she called back, "If you can't get to I-15."

We were snowed in, in downtown Salt Lake City. She padded into the bedroom and crawled under the covers with me. "Work's canceled," she said. "No one can make it to the Court's Building."

Another first. Her law firm had closed for one day in 1954 because of the weather. This was the second time. I didn't bother calling my office. We'd been closed for four days.

Margie and I snuggled for a while; then I got up to try the shortwave. Margie joined me at the table just after I found the BBC. The British military was sending helicopters with food to isolated villages in Britain. The Red Cross was distributing food in major cities there. New York Harbor had frozen shut. It was snowing in Mexico City. There had been frosts in Recife and Abidjan. Astronomers were speculating that the solar system had entered a region of cosmic dust that blocked Earth from a significant percentage of the Sun's rays. No one knew how long the cooling would last.

We called the closest grocery store, but no one answered the telephone. That didn't mean they weren't open. It had gotten so that if a truck had made it through—if the store had food—you could buy it, but they didn't always answer the phone to tell you about it.

We strapped on our snowshoes, took Tuvco, and snowshoed to the grocery store. It was closed, the doors locked. Margie scraped a patch of frost from one of the big, front windows, and we looked into the dark store at empty shelves.

Salt Lake City, 10 January

The gunshots were closer now, just up the street. At least we didn't hear screams this time. Margie tried the phone to report the gunshots, but it was still dead. Too many trees weighted down by snow had toppled onto too many telephone lines. We had the radio on, turned low. The state kept KUER on the air to broadcast emergency advisories, food-distribution sites, police curfew hours. We still had power. "For how long?" Margie wondered.

And we had food, which made us targets. We had maybe two months' worth of beans, canned goods, canned meats, maybe three months of rice, flour, raisins. We hardly dared cook, because the neighbors would smell it and come asking for something, anything that we could spare. We'd given away half of the food Margie and I had bought in those first weeks before the stores had emptied.

There were gunshots in our building, down on the ground floor. Tuvco padded into the bedroom, growling. We heard running in the hallway. "Piano," Margie whispered, and we both hurried to shove the piano in front of the door.

But I knew this couldn't last. We heard no more gunshots in our building, but there were others in the streets, distant, out in the valley.

"We have to get away from here," I said.

"And go where?" Margie asked.

"Hawaii?"

Margie at least smiled. There were no flights out. The airport had been closed for six weeks. "Honolulu's had frosts every day for a week now," Margie said. "Snow can't be far behind."

Then I knew where we had to go. I spent the morning lashing a sleigh together from the two sides of our bed frame and the slats sawed in half. Margie bundled food, batteries, and sweaters in blankets and backpacks. At midnight, we carried the sleigh down to the driveway, lashed on the food, sleeping bags, pans, shortwave radio, the gas I'd siphoned from the 4Runner's gas tank, my bow and arrows, anything we thought we might need. We left with Tuvco.

Watershed Protection Area, above Salt Lake City, 2 February

The back of the cave was free of snow. We sat in the smoky stillness and worried about our friends, our families, the snow. "We were always just one bad winter away from this," I said.

We tried to make plans. I practiced with my bow, shooting arrows at a wad of blankets. Tuvco and I could hunt, I thought. There were deer in the Watershed—starving deer—we'd seen them. Margie and I both worked to bring in wood and to keep the cave entrance open. All it ever showed us was snow. Margie melted ice for water and checked off the days on a calendar in her dayplanner. We'd see what spring would bring, if we ever got spring. I wished we had a gun.

Once we heard voices in the Watershed, or thought we did. The BBC still broadcast, and we wondered how many people its mere presence on shortwave radio brought hope to. At night, we could pick up stations in Cameroon, Queensland, Guyana, but there were fewer as the days passed. Eventually even the BBC fell silent; from end to end, the radio played only static.

Once I came back with wood and found Margie drawing on the cave wall with cinders from the fire pit. We both laughed but that night, in the flickering light of our low fire, her images of dogs, stick people, and deer danced on the cave walls around us.

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