SNOW (In Bates, Oregon)


By: Verna (Cook) Weatherly


It was the lodgepole pine that graced the hills which surrounded Bates.  The trees seemed to usher in the changing seasons.  The sky held the early winter, cool tunnels of air floating close to the ground.  Mountain and meadow grasses turned the color of wheat. 


It seemed the sound of our walking grew deeper, and soon the snow finally came.  It changed the earth into frosty layers, from the creeks edge to the top of the mountains, where the pines stood alone.


Our winters brought time of great beauty, but paralleled with hardship for our men, who worked hard cutting timber in the woods.  Our mill workers suffered too, like our father Bill Cook, Mr. Heaton, and many other mill workers who stood for hours on a back breaking job of pulling lumber through the saws.  No less in stature is any man or woman who worked for Oregon Lumber Company, Sumpter Valley Railroad, or the Highway Department.  These were hard driving and courageous individuals who gave so much for the rest of us, and who made Bates possible.


the children of Bates knew a different world.  We too were born with the same grit, and when the seasons changed, we challenged it to the marrow of our bones.  Our parents and our beloved mountains and trees seemed to give us the "true spirit."


Our sleds, usually bought from the Sears and Roebuck catalogue, were brought down from nails high in the wood shed and stood on their heels against the wall on the front porch.  Sledding was natural for the Bates kids and was usually introduced by an older sibling or our mothers.  We were pulled around as infants, usually in a wooden box nailed to a sled.  Later we pulled our own sleds, and by watching our older brothers or sisters, we learned the art of sledding.  As in my case, my brother Denny would run with his sled by his side, making a powerful leap onto his sled, head first he could conquer any hill.


The foothill along Clear Creek entrance to Bates was one of our favorite haunts for sledding.  This hill swept the outskirts of a quarter of the town including the house of the "nurse" Mabel Johns.  Young enthusiasts who only a few weeks prior had discarded their sleeping bags and tents were back again, this time bundled up from head to toe and pulling their sleds.  As usual the older children broke the trails for sleigh riding.  These trails formed a sizable netting over this same hill and often to other unknown parts.


We would pull our sleds up one of the narrow winding paths to the top of the hill.  From the top, he or she would usually lay down on the sled and take the trail head first.  This way you could gather more speed.  I was more of a "sit down" and "hang on for all you are worth" sledder.  Our feet and legs steered the sled with the cross bars, but I often piled up several times coming down the hill, and caused others to do the same.  It was great fun and we were seldom hurt as we were so bundled up all we could do was roll a short distance down the hill.


One some of the trails, the trees hid your view so well you often did not know where the trail would end.  Once or twice I almost landed on the roof of a house.  One long treacherous trail ended abruptly on the edge of a high cliff overlooking a road to the upper pond.  I have been told by a very reliable source that once or twice my brother Denny and Dale Heaton flew under a truck, riding their sleds head first down the hill in front of Knuteville.


We carved out a pretty impressive toboggan course on the north side of Knuteville.  Built among tall Ponderosa Pine on a steep hill, the trail ended very clse to the edge of a large curve of a road below.  It was pretty frightening.


I was too scared to go alone, so on one day I waited until late in the afternoon and stopped by to get Shirley and Donna to go with me.  Mabel Sibley, their mom, came to the door.  She was always so good to all of us and wore a big smile when she answered the door.  She loved the Bates kids and was loved by them.  She told Shirley and Donna had already left.  I was disappointed as I did not find them at the toboggan run either, so I only made one quick run and went home.


After dark one evening a group of older kids built a very huge bonfire out of about 10-12 large old truck tires in the meadow on a hill directly between Bates and Knuteville.   The fire rose like a large dark fountain as the tires were soon burning with an unapproachable roar.  We watched a dark cloud disappear, and an orange light seemed  to fill the meadow, opening a way for us to see at a greater distance.  The earlier low white sky had changed to a dome of light, which seemed to last late into the evening, making it easier for the children to see.  Our loyal sleds carried us time and time again down this well lit hill.


Several times during the winter, in a large open area of our school playground, the entire school would play the game of Fox and Geese.  One cold snowy day at school, when the white cloud covering dropped low in the sky, all the children bundled up and went out to play.  On the ground was about a foot and a half of new fallen snow.  We stomped the snow with our feet and formed a large narrow path into a circle.  We divided the circle into quarters like a wheel, leaving a small circle in the center for the Fox.  The rest of the children, the Geese, were out in the wheel.  The rules were, you could not get caught stepping over the edge of the snow path of the circle, or you were the next Fox. 


There were loud shrieking squeals of exciting delight as the game began, and the young children scattered to avoid the Fox.  The Fox, as frightening as he appeared, was usually very soft hearted while chasing the smaller children, allowing us to get away a lot during the game.  Son someone was caught, or we collapsed by excitement or exhaustion into a snow bank at the edge of the wheel.  I remember we laid on our backs laughing, looking upward into the falling snow, and spreading our arms outward, moving them up and down at our sides, making the wings of snow angels.  Somehow we then felt redeemed.