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Ramblings Give Me A White Christmas
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Christmas Day and it was snowing. Was this perfect or what? True, it wasn't happening in the Central Valley. But we'd driven a couple of hours up to the foothills to enjoy the holiday feast with in-laws and as the road climbed into the pine forest on the east edge of Placerville, the weather turned to sleet and snow.

The sleet was nasty, icy stuff bouncing off the windshield, rapidly whitening the road and making it very slippery. The road was of the winding type, bordered by solid-looking trees and with a cliff on one side and a sheer drop-off to the river the other side. There are lots of them in that area.

Please slow down and don't go off the road here, I implored my son. I was riding on the sheer drop-off side.

Coming up on the sharp turn and the steep climb up a private road, he dropped into low gear as the tires began to spin on a mixture of ice and wet pine needles and we urged the old bucket up an impossibly precipitous and slippery slope - the kind you forget exist while living in the Valley.

Having made it to the top and the expensive house perched on stilts in the pine forest, I got to wander to the windows, hot grog in hand, and look out from the security and warmth of the house upon the forest.

The midnight black cloud that had dumped sleet on Placerville had broken up, sunlight was lancing through the trees and it had begun to snow - with slow, peaceful flakes swirling among the greenery that created a magical moment and brought back memories of my younger days.

Attending Midnight Mass with my parents at a church in England, for instance, with the light from the open wooden doors streaming across the snow and the priest in full vestments standing there, his breath steaming in the cold, to wish his parishioners Merry Christmas as they stepped into the darkness.

Standing a night watch aboard a British destroyer in the North Sea with the weather hovering on the edge of snow. Bundled in layer after layer of wool sweaters and oilskins but still located in the open at the corners of the bridge, the better to use binoculars on the horizon. There were electrical heaters, hot and tiny, built into the chest-high bulkhead - you could try and stay warm by leaning against them but risked setting yourself on fire or burning any exposed flesh.

Approaching Paris along the Seine aboard another boat - this time an old wooden yacht, cutter rigged with auxiliary engine, but my own. Once again it was cold and I was steering by sitting in the cockpit with the lower part of my body in the warmth of the cabin and peering over the top. The magical thing was it was the day before Christmas - we'd been delayed going south by the canals freezing early- and it was snowing on deck.

Guess I have this love-hate relationship to cold and snow. Brought up in a country colder, wetter and windier than California or at least the Central Valley, I spent much of my youth feeling cold - waiting at rain beaten bus stops as a schoolboy springs to mind - and love the benign climate and warmth of California.

This skinny frame is not designed for the cold. Sunny beaches are much better. I'm a poor skier and mediocre swimmer who cringes at the mere thought of jumping into cold water. Putting on tire chains I consider one of the most miserable jobs known to man.

But I do like snow provided it's where it belongs, on a ski slope, on a picture postcard or viewed from within a warm house.

And I do love a white Christmas even it only lasts a few moments.

John Branch is editor of The Riverbank News and a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader and The Escalon Times. He may be reached at or 847-3021.