Winter in Tahoe sometimes means major storms with multiple feet of snow. When that happens we shovel until our arms beg for mercy, try to avoid that guy spinning out of control that is headed in our direction, and face multiple mile long traffic jams on sunny weekends when everybody just had to go to the same ski area at the same time. Meanwhile, I just wanted to go to the store because I ran out of bananas, guess I should have thought about that earlier. Sure Tahoe also means beautiful vistas, thick forests of pines, glorious skiing, and an occasional glimpse of that big blue body of water, but those of us who live at the lake, sometimes need a break from it all to a place with no snow, or at least a lot less snow, like Reno.
In a bit of a break between storms my girlfriend had a early morning business function in Reno to attend, so we booked two nights at the Peppermill. While she functioned, I took a walk over to nearby Virginia Lake for a few laps around the pond. I was immediately enchanted with how different this experience was compared to home. The snow was falling very gently and the world looked like an old Currier and Ives painting, with houses softly covered with a thin blanket of snow, and the park looking especially refreshed under the new coating of white. I half expected to see a horse-drawn sleigh go trotting by.
It brought me back to when I lived in Ithaca, New York while going to grad school. It was the only time I’ve lived in an urban area that got snow and it was a revelation. Walking along the sidewalks, amidst the bustle of city life there always seemed to be just enough snow to make things pretty and subdued, but not so much as to make a stroll around town difficult. It provided the joys of the coating of white, without the endless hours of shoveling that is standard operating procedure at Tahoe. Although if I dig deeper into my Ithaca memories, I remember how the temperature often hovered around 3 degrees which caused the hair inside my nostrils to freeze.
Tahoe in winter is not a place designed for walking, the amount of snow we get often overwhelms the ability to keep sidewalks cleaned and parking available. Recreation is usually performed by driving to the recreation spot, and then walking a short distance (if you are a nordic skier like me) or a long distance, if you are downhill skier.
With fewer cars on the road driving slower than usual, and the noise muffling power of snow, Reno was quieter, and quite peaceful on my walk. Just a few hearty folks joined me on the loop, mostly accompanied by a furry critter at the end of a rope. Some looked less than excited to be there, not realizing what a great time they were having. That was the people. All the dogs loved it.
Meanwhile, I felt like I was walking inside a snow globe. The multi-colored houses were lightly dusted like it was powdered sugar and the row of juniper trees had just enough snow to look straight out of every rom com Christmas movie ever made. Even the raucous multitudes of birds that dominate the lake, seemed a bit more subdued then normal, at least for my first two trips around the lake. Although I will say the geese sounded as if they were loudly chattering “freaking snow! Can you believe, it’s freaking snowing!”
On my third lap around the lake I ran into several folks in the area just past the sign that says “Don’t feed the birds.” They were holding big plastic jugs full of bird feed, but apparently not feeding the birds because that would not be allowed, but the birds did seem to be hanging out in their vicinity and repeatedly dipping their beaks into what couldn’t be birdseed. One non-feeder called out to his partner, “Oh there is Annie, we can’t forget Annie,” and then stepped down to the lakeshore to bring a douse of non bird feed towards a particular duck that to me looked like the other ducks. I guess these urban birds depend on folks feeding them, we frown on folks feeding the wildlife in Tahoe, probably because we don’t want them to become city birds like our bears have become city bears.
I was shaken out of my snow globe reverie when near the end of my walk I noticed about a half dozen police cars circling around the lake and over towards the hotel. They were either looking for some bad boys or they were searching out illegal bird feeders. Either way I walked more upright and tried to look like a fine upstanding citizen out for a stroll. Not the kinda person in possession of any bird feeding apparatus.
Tim Hauserman is a freelance writer and nearly a lifelong resident of North Lake Tahoe. In Addition to Going It Alone, he wrote the official guide to the Tahoe Rim Trail, the recently published 4th edition. He also wrote Monsters in the Woods: Backpacking with Children and has written hundreds of articles on a variety of topics: travel, outdoor recreation, housing, education, and wildfires. Check out Tim’s website here.
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