snow day in truckee

Jax Truckee Diner Dec30 2020

Last week, after not leaving the house for what felt like a lifetime, and taking a few days off work to eat and look at a screen, we got out of the house and drove up to the snow. It doesn’t snow in Davis, down here in the Sacramento Valley, but a couple of hours to the east of us is one of the snowiest parts of the contiguous US, in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The first time I ever went there I had never imagined snow like it, whole cars and the lower levels of houses swallowed up entirely, icicles like something from Hoth, and so cold my eyeballs were freezing over. It wasn’t like that this time, I don’t know they get quite that much snow up there any more, but there was still a good amount of snow, and lots of ice, though it wasn’t very cold. We went up to Truckee, walked around the town for a bit, got a pastry, ate our pre-packed sandwiches in the car. I really like Truckee and it’s been more than a decade since we stopped by there. I liked the look of this diner, Jax Truckee Diner, which of course wasn’t seating people inside right now but was allowing people to get take-out. Definitely somewhere I want to go to properly once all this Covid is behind us. I posted this on Instagram and my cousin said she had actually eaten there last year. I didn’t have time to draw it on site but I really wanted to draw it, so I took a photo and drew from that when I got home.

We had a nice time walking about in the snow. We went to a country park we’d never been to before close to Donner Lake (named after the Donner Party, the tragic historical incident which thankfully was given a name that many jokes can be made out of). It was like walking in a winter wonderland. When I say that, I don’t mean it was full of little stalls selling mulled wine and mass-produced hand-carved ornaments and expensive scarves, with Bing Crosby piping out of the speakers. Nor do I mean it was like walking in Woolie’s Winter Wonderland, which if you ever shopped at Woolworths in December you will know what I mean, back before Woolworths was finally laid to rest in 2008. I mean it was full of trees and snow, a perfect place to take photos. It was just nice being somewhere that looked different to Davis for a change. I don’t think I could live full time in a place which snowed regularly, but I don’t care, there is something magical about the world being blanketed in this white cold stuff. When it would snow overnight in London as a kid, which was way less often than you might think, looking out of the window and seeing the rooftops, the ground, the tops of cars, the branches of trees all gleaming white is still something I get excited about.

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In the car, we listened to the Adam Buxton podcast, his interview with Paul McCartney. That was a good interview. At one point Paul talked about when he met with John Lennon in New York in the mid 70s and they discovered they were both really into baking bread. I imagined what if they had decided to get together again and form a baking partnership together. I imagined they had a bakery in the West Village called “Love Me Dough”. (They would probably have had to invite George and Ringo in if they wanted to call it “Il Fab Fornaio”). They would sell products with names like “Got To Get You Into My Loaf”, “All You Knead is Love”, “Baguette Back”, “Bake in the USSR”, “I’ll Be Bap”, “A Croissant The Universe”, “Here Comes the Bun”, “While My Guitar Gently Wheats”, “Ticket To Rye”, “I Should Have Known Butter”, “Please Mr Toastman”, “Being Fro the Benefit of Mister Cake”, “All My Muffin”, “Garlic Twist’n’Shout”, “You’ve Got To Hide Your Loaf Away” and “Yeasterday”, to name but a few, I will think of more over the next rest of my lifetime. Flour Power. Rock’n’ Roll. Actually I’m already done with this idea. That was a loooooong journey home.

beneath whose chilly softness

snowy norwich walk (from the window)

As soon as I had finished sketching in the snow to close out Moleskine #6, I went inside and opened Moleskine #7, got myself a cup of tea and some Quality Street, stood by an extra warm radiator and looked out of the window. I sketched the other side of the street where I grew up, from my old bedroom window. After freezing my fingers off outside, this was an excellent way to spend the rest of the afternoon, while my son napped.

a warmer view

snow is falling, all around us…

snowy norwich walk

This is Norwich Walk, the street where I grew up. On this very block in fact; my old bedroom window is on the third house from the right.  I’ve never seen so much snow in London, as fell on my recent trip. It was on the Saturday morning a week before Christmas, and despite a little fall of snow the day before, we decided to take the short trip to Colindale to visit the RAF Museum. I wanted to draw old planes. In Burnt Oak, carol singers stood outside the station singing Christmas songs as snow fluttered down like a picturesque postcard (without the picturesque of course; it was Burnt Oak tube station, not one of London’s nicer spots). Then our bus stopped due to ice on the road, and we got out and walked across the estate. As we did, an absolutely massive amount of snow pounded down upon us. We were walking snowmen by the time we finally snowy pillar boxreached the musuem, which had just decided (wisely) to close. The buses then stopped, as did the tube, and cars were quickly becoming buried beneath feet of snow. Thankfully my dad managed to dig his car out and came to rescue us, though the roads were treacherous, and we had to crawl along. Snow was coming down in ice cubes. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see those little paper umbrellas too. We got home, and warmed up, and then I went straight back outside with my little sketching stool to fill the last page of moleskine sketchbook #6 and freeze my fingers off. The snow had just stopped falling, and I had to capture this before it all vanished (little did I know it wouldn’t vanish for another week and a half).

Passing locals must have thought I was a nutter (those that have known me all my life knew it for a fact…). I quickly sketched the pillar box I’d drawn two days before, and then drew the street panorama. I gave up halfway through, my fingers freezing off, but then decided to soldier on, finish the block, and I’m glad I did. My micron pen didn’t give up so neither would I. Thankfully snow isn’t hard to draw. I added the paint when I got home.

So this is the last page of this sketchbook, which was started on a very hot day in southern Oregon on the fourth of July, and finished in freezing cold London in December. I did a good bit of travelling in this book, and you can see the whole journey on my flickr site: Moleskine #6 

oh, the weather outside is frightful

sketching burnt oak in the snow

So… as you may have gathered from my non-posts this past week, I am away from rain-sodden California to lovely London, where I’ve had a week without any rain whatsoever.

Oh, but we’ve been having the worst snowy winter weather I’ve ever seen here. Many days after a sudden blizzard, the snow is still here there and everywhere, tough it hasn’t stopped me from getting out there with sketchbook. Yes, fingers freezing off and pens giving up the ghost doesn’t get in the way of this urban sketcher. Not two months ago I was sketching in hundred degree weather heat. Thing is, I grew up with snow lasting only a day or two before sodding off, and always tell people about our comparatively mild winters, but now it seems the snow comes earlier and stays longer, and the disruption is magnified. Naturally, Britain fails to cope, as the absolute madness of Heathrow attests. I’m glad I came a few days earlier than I would have. I just hope we can get back…

HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge

These are a couple of photos of what I have been out sketching though; the top one being the street where I grew up, about an hour after the biggest blizzzard I can remember here. I’m sure people thought I was a nutter sitting out there freezing, well they’re right, but urban sketchers are tough beasts. My fingers took a battering in the second one too, sat down by the River Thames, looking out at HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge. My toes were frozen too. I warmed up with a nice chicken and mushroom pie. That’s one thing Britain can always get right!

But boy, is it cold…

best in snow

luke in the snow

A few weeks ago we drove up to the snow, which is found in the Sierra Nevadas about an hour and a half east of Davis. when I say th snow, I’m not talking about a sprinkling of white, I’m talking about SNOW. It must have been nine feet deep! Much of it was only a day old, fresh and powdery. We stopped at a rest stop just outside Truckee. It was my two-year-old son’s first experience of snow, so that was a lot of fun. Trying to build a snowman wasn’t easy, so I built a snow sith lord instead.

snow vader

These were drawn in a journal that I’m keeping for my son.

Week Twenty-Six: Snow Business

So I’ve been here six months. Six months since I last saw my family, six months since I rode the Tube, six months since I watched Match of the Day, six months since I heard the terms ‘Asbo’, ‘Happy Slapping’ and ‘Crazy Frog’ (now there’s something I don’t miss). Now it’s all ‘Roseville Auto-Mall’, ‘Ask your Doctor’ and ‘Triple Doppler Radar’. And despite the recent rainstorms and floods (and, um, tornadoes), the weather is still much better than in Britain, though there is one thing I will always miss – snow. Yes it’s freezing cold and causes pipes to burst and cars to slide all over the place, but there’s something magical about a blanket of snow. So on Sunday we decided to drive a couple of hours east of snow-free Davis into the Sierra Nevada mountains to see some of the white stuff close up – and we were not disappointed.

I have never seen so much snow in my life!! The sky was blue, and it wasn’t particularly cold, but I can’t imagine the blizzards that must have raged through those valleys. We stopped at a gas station on the way, and the snow was so deep that we could not read the road signs. Snow over a metre thick was piled up on the roof, bringing to mind ominous echoes of Bad Reichenhall, while small white hillocks were only revealed to be buried vehicles when their aerials poked out of the frozen mush like pathetic grave-markers. Yet with a blue sky and a well-ploughed freeway gliding through the chocolate box landscape, it’s easy to forget the lethal side of snow.

We passed by Donner Lake, a place synonymous with icy death. It was there that the Donner Party, a group of California-bound settlers, met their fate during a ferocious winter storm in the 1840s, resorting to cannibalism. With that in mind, when we reached the town of Truckee for lunch, we both ordered vegetarian dishes. Truckee is a nice little place, whose history lies in the westward expansion of the railroads that united the nineteenth century States. It kind of reminded us of one of those model towns that accessorise Hornby model railway kits.

From Truckee we drove to Squaw Valley, the small but world-renowned ski resort that audaciously staged the 1960 Winter Olympics, fending off Alpine bids from Innsbruck, Garmisch-Partenkirchen and St. Moritz. Nestled comfortably in a valley around a frozen lake, the only thing missing was the White Witch’s castle. Skiers big and small were pouring down the mountains like tiny black raindrops on a window. I have never wanted to ski, ever – lots of danger of injury, freezing cold weather and ridiculous outfits – if I’d wanted that I would have been an X-Man (actually, that would be cool). But after actually visiting a ski resort, even after getting ripped off with an over-priced and under-sized beer, I’m starting to see the attraction of skiing. At least there are no spiders up there.

So after six months I have finally seen a new side to California, the snowy side. We are just as far from the beach here as the breathtaking mountains, and whatever else London might have to offer such as newsagents, Match of the Day and decent news channels, it doesn’t have that. Score one for Arnie’s state.