Snow in Yosemite May 2009

Snow, the West, and Old Digital Cameras

posted in: Aging, Midlife, Personal Essay, Photography, Travel | 0

We had an early February snowstorm which I was able to enjoy from the comfort of our apartment. We’ve been lucky that the weather hasn’t been particularly bad so far this winter.

Restless from not having been out taking pictures recently, I shot a few pictures out our windows with my Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.

As I suspected, I was happy to be working from home when snowy weather hit. It was nice not having to even think about whether or not I would have to go into work. Having spent most of my career working at university libraries, I’ve been in the position to help decide if the library should stay open despite the weather. Often, libraries try to stay open even if classes are canceled and campus closed so that on-campus students have a place to study and do their research. I have also been the person who had to go into work in these situations.

Working from home provides a level of certainty that was often absent in the past. Snowy mornings were often filled with emails, texts, and phone calls until decisions were made, which was quite unlike the thrill of finding out we had a snow day when I was a kid.

I remember waking up on snowy mornings and, with my family, tuning into KYW, our local news radio station, listening intently for them to announce that our school was closed. Every school had a numeric code which they read in order. The best mornings were when they announced “All public and parochial schools in Philadelphia are closed,” which made life easier. Otherwise, we had to hope our attention spans were such that our minds wouldn’t drift and miss the code and have to listen again from the start.

Not having to go to school is, most likely, a big reason I grew up liking snow. There are probably family pictures of young me enjoying snow, but my brother has all of our family photos. I am pandemically disinclined to retrieve any and also disinclined to burden him with a request to dig any out to scan and send to me.

However, I am no longer a fan of snow. The work-related complications I mentioned above are one reason.

Another reason is the time I spent living in Las Vegas. I lived there for 4 years and rarely had to worry about the weather (other than fretting about the lack of rain and the persistent drought).

People are often surprised to hear that it gets cold in Vegas during the winter. Not the cold I left behind (and eventually returned to), but it could dip below freezing on occasion, mainly overnight. It might get into the low 30s during the day, but it was usually sunny and dry which made it fairly comfortable.

One of the things I miss about my time in the southwest is the weather. The winters were much more tolerable and the heat was only intolerable about 2 or 3 weeks out of the year late in the summer. Yes, it would routinely get up to 100 degrees, but because of the lack of humidity, it didn’t start getting really uncomfortable until around 110. But then it got awful quickly after that point.

It did snow once, in December 2008. McCarran International Airport, which is close to UNLV where I was working, recorded 3.6 inches, although other nearby areas got more. Our neighborhood seemed to be on the more side, maybe about 4 or 5 inches. It was enough to shut the city down since they had no means of dealing with it, no snow plows or salt trucks. No one owned snow shovels.

One upside was that I got to see a man in his mid-50s make his first snowball.

But, being Vegas, it melted quickly.

I do have some pictures from that day. I think these were taken mostly by my ex-wife, at least the ones during the day, since I was at work during the day (and drove home on the unplowed streets).

It’s hard to believe that I once lived a life where I shared a camera with someone and can’t be sure who took which pictures unless one of us were in the picture. Cell phone cameras were certainly a thing back then, but when I first moved there I had some kind of flip phone and got my first smartphone, a Blackberry, sometime while I was there. Point being, there was a time when not everyone had a phone with a decent camera with them all the time necessitating a camera-owning strategy.

At the time, I/we had a Fujifilm FinePix E900 which I recall liking. This was before I was into photography so was easily satisfied with anything easy to use that took reasonably good pictures.

We also had a Canon PowerShot SD790 IS. From what I vaguely recall and what I can suss out from the photos I have is that my ex-wife mainly used the Canon and I mainly used the Fuji.

I’m not sure what happened to either of those cameras. If I’m right that my ex used the Canon, then it’s easy to surmise she kept that, but I have no recollection as to what happened to the Fuji. I gave a lot of my belongings away before moving back to Philadelphia, but it’s hard to imagine that I would have given away something as easy to transport as a digital camera.

One regret I have about my time in Vegas was that I wasn’t into photography and don’t have many pictures from my time there. It would have been a bit of a difficult time to take that on as a serious hobby. Good digital cameras were prohibitively expensive for me. I think the FinePix was about $500 which was quite spendy for a glorified point-and-shoot. At least for me. It did have some more advanced features which I never took advantage of.

I doubt I would have gotten into film photography at the time. It took some experience shooting digitally before I developed the confidence to shoot with film other than with cheap point-and-shoot cameras.

Anyway, it snowed in Vegas.

Other surprising things about Las Vegas: its elevation (2,000 feet) and the Spring Mountains to the west which were often covered with snow during the winter.

Snow on Mountains Beyond the Strip
Snow on Mountains Beyond the Strip

I did go back to Vegas with Holly in 2014 for the American Library Association conference, and I brought along my Canon EOS Rebel T3. Unfortunately, our visit coincided with one of those crazy hot streaks getting up to 119 one day. The only pictures I took with the Rebel T3 were of our first lunch that we got at Carlito’s Burrito and of the view from near our hotel, which was disappointing since I was eager to take more pictures on that return visit.

That snow in Vegas wasn’t the only snow I had seen while living out west.

My ex and I took a trip to Yosemite National Park in late May 2009. Little did we know when we planned the trip that there would still be snow. Luckily, we figured that out before we went there and packed accordingly. It wasn’t particularly cold or unpleasant, but there was still plenty of snow from previous storms.

The photos below were taken with the Fujifilm FinePix and, again, I can’t be sure who took which pictures.

Certainly, snow in Yosemite was lovely to look at, as was the snow on Spring Mountains. I guess snow on mountains = good. Snow on the city streets ≠ good since it quickly becomes a gray, slushy mess. Right before Holly and I moved to Philadelphia, we took a big trip which included Yosemite providing a nice do-over for the bad weather among other things.

That first trip to Yosemite was only 1 of 2 snow-adjacent vacation I have taken. My brother, Holly, and I took a trip to Montreal in 2018 over Thanksgiving. Although we knew it would be cold in Quebec that time of year, it was atypically cold and although we had fun overall, the cold and snow did undermine some of our enjoyment.

My feelings about snow probably began changing in the mid-90s.

A friend of my bother’s got married mid-March 1993. It’s not uncommon for Philadelphia to get some snow in March but it’s not often severe and usually doesn’t last since the weather is starting to warm.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case the weekend of the wedding. We got a foot of snow and a lot of sleet. The wedding proceeded, but a lot of people, myself included, did not attend.

By 1996, I owned a house. I was still early in my library career but, luckily, not in a position where I had to be the one making decisions or having to go in because that January, we got the biggest snowfall in Philadelphia’s history: 31 inches.

That was probably not only the beginning of the end of my enjoyment of snow but also of my interest in owning a house. When I moved to Vegas in 2007, I declared that I was never going to mow a lawn or shovel snow again, and I have mostly been able to live up to that. During one visit to see my family in Philadelphia in 2010, it snowed and I helped shovel, but I think that might have been the only exception. So it’s been a good decade since I last shoveled snow and closing in on 14 years since I mowed a lawn.

Snow in Fox Chase 2010
Snow in Fox Chase 2010

In 1996, not only did we have to shovel our steps, walkway, and sidewalk, which, granted, was not a lot of real estate, but we also had to help shovel the common driveway that ran behind our block of houses, which was a lot of real estate. When there’s 31 inches of snow, a little real estate goes a long way.

I have some photos for shoveling that day. I’m not sure what kind of crappy point-and-shoot my ex and I had at the time, and I’m also note sure who took which pictures, except, of course, the ones I’m in.

Perhaps the biggest contributing factor to my dwindling patience with snow and cold weather in general is getting older. The cold affects me more than it used to.

I moved back to Philadelphia in my early 40s. Between quickly acclimating to the warmer climate of Las Vegas and hitting middle age, my tolerance for the cold had waned.

Although I’m glad I don’t have to drag myself to work this winter (and thankful, in general, I can work from home), the combination of not wanting to go out in the cold and wanting to be cautious about the pandemic has led to a lot of staying in.

I am very much looking forward to spring and to getting outside more often. I hope some pleasant spring days will help hold me over until Holly and I win the lottery and retire early in Carmel-by-the-Sea and never see snow again.

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