Snow Chain Checkpoint

Previously published at the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch.


As we drove higher and farther, we began to see a dusting of white sprinkled across the landscape. In the distance, a grey mountain with gray trees grew. Higher and farther, the dusting grew into a blanket, the blanket grew into a comforter until we found ourselves in a region covered with a bipedal layer of snow. Our Central Californian kids shouted with excitement for this annual sighting.




Along the road, signs emerged, “chains required.” We continued on. The signage increased: “Icy.” Alongside a row of parked cars, in a clearing pocketed between the California pine trees, bundled children stumbled and ornamented vertically challenged snowmen.

The snow deepened. We began to wonder. Should we stop? We debated our destination. Find a town. Find a bathroom. The traffic slowed. Cars lined up. It was a snow chain checkpoint.

The signs warned us. Shoring up our understanding, we turned around and parked ahead of a station wagon. The clearing was large, separated from the road, safe with the stopped cars waiting to pass government approval to not risk their lives along the California mountainside. We would have ignored the signs. Parking, we layered our meager winter clothes and played.




When the time came, we looked for that town, those bathrooms. “Chains required,” the signs read along the meandering Train Harte Road, taking us to that wintry town.

We ignored the signs. A car slowed down ahead of us and began to move in reverse on the left side of the road. We slowed down and then as we slipped, we understood why.

The signs told us. But we ignored them. Just like everyone else.

Before that moment, I surveyed the wheels of other vehicles. “They don’t have chains on,” I thought. It must be okay.

We ignore the signs in favor of our feelings. We were excited to find the snow. I was anxious to craft a perfect “visit to the snow” day for my children who live too acclimated to this Mediterranean climate. We were amazed at the depth and beauty of the towering pine trees decorated with pillows reaching into the clear blue sky.

A man in his SUV swore at the stopped assembly.

Within thirty minutes of making our mark on the snow bank, at least 50 other Californians joined the fray, playing and romping and staggering up the steep hill punctuated with trees and foliage, bumping along as they tried their sleds to slide.




My three-year-old hated the snow.

I am glad we followed the signs, pulled over, and played. In 2006, a team of landscape architects designed a study to examine the effects of a fence around a playground on children’s play. The study is described by the American Society of Landscape Architects at “Teachers were to take their children to a local playground in which there was no fence during their normal recess hour.  The kids were to play as normal.  The same group was to be taken to a comparable playground in which there was a defined border designated by a fence. In the first scenario, the children remained huddled around their teacher, fearful of leaving out of her sight.  The later scenario exhibited drastically different results, with the children feeling free to explore within the given boundaries.”

Feelings of excitement and daring-do may prompt us to ignore the signs, but ultimately, we like boundaries. They reward the mind by clearing the landscape and helping us to know where we stand, how much room we have, what it is possible to accomplish. Contrary to what we might think, rather than hinder, boundaries promote creativity.

Pushing the boundaries became art, music, theater and Hollywood’s way of declaring itself brave, bold, and new. Yet those pieces seem to pass away as Rome remains the Eternal City and the most widely recognized literary masters rarely made up their owns words. The Golden Age of Hollywood is considered the 1930s when Hollywood’s self-imposed censorship system when into effect.

It is a loss if everything is regulated, but a few boundaries, a few guidelines, a snow-chain checkpoint, can go a long way in creating the perfect day, without sliding on the ice.

Unfriending the Stranger: on the need more stratification in relationships

Have we lost the distinction between friend, stranger and acquaintance? It seems like it goes without saying, yet I wonder if the value of boundaries is becoming more and more lost in our culture.

Real Simple panelists proposed five “old-timey” traditions they would like to see brought back. One panelist while proposing the return of titles to identify distance where distance exists snuck in a secondary proposal to bring back the handshake and hug a lot less. Hugging. I enjoyed youth group as a junior high student because it provided me the opportunity to hug the cute freshman in the group. As I grew older, I liked hugging less and less and found it more and more in all circumstances. My hairdresser, who I like very much, gives me a hug as I leave and while in experience it doesn’t seem so bizarre, saying it out loud points out the strangeness of it.

We call random connections on Facebook our “friends.” A friend denotes an intimate, someone with whom I share similar goals, views and confidences. On Facebook, these are merely connections who see what I post. It’s like we opt to be bodies occupying a room where I can hear and see what the other does. I can choose to leave the room anytime. Online we call that “unfriending.” Whether we like it or not, “unfriending” becomes laden with emotion. Rather than “unfriend” someone, which rejects the person, I can just choose not to “follow” him or her. On other social media sites I have “followers.” At best a follower denotes someone who follows me around. Some would see it as a disciple. As I said before, it’s merely being in the same room, or in terms of blog websites, becoming a subscriber. The terms make it so very personal.

Boundaries are diminished. Couples couple on their first date or even without a date but at a party. Rather than going out on dates to get to know people, we “go out” and enter a committed intimate relationship in order to get to know the person.

If everyone is my friend, if everyone is in my intimate circle of hug receivers, then I must up the ante to show those who are truly on the inner circle. I will have to marry an intimate friend, opposite sex or not, or even myself, because we must be allowed to love. We must be allowed public recognition of our uniquely close relationship.

If I referred to acquaintances, or they referred to me,  by my title (Mrs.) then an intimate would be indicated by calling me by my first name. Friendships would be indicated by first name + spending time together. Deeper friendships would be indicated by first name + spending time together + spending time with my family + a hug upon greeting or saying good bye. Marriage would be indicated by all those things and so much more.

Legally society is not greatly stratified. There is marriage. There are civil unions in some cases. There are common law marriages. And then there is nothing. I read once (I apologize for not remembering the source, though I believe it published through First Things) a proposal for legal recognition of more types of relationships, without the need to call it marriage. If two sisters live together and care for each other in their old age, there is no legal recognition given to that relationship. If one sister has an estranged child, that child has more claim than the sister who has done everything for her.

So I am proposing more steps. They need not all be romantic as in marriage because not all intimate love is romantic. Our society is hyper-sexualized and would question the nature of the relationship between those two sisters. They may just be intimate friends sans physical intimacy. Such a thing does exist.

Now, I live in California. I know my ideas/discussions here reflect that. The coasts strive to be avante garde. California is both cutting edge on cultural trends and extremely casual. I recognize what I see taking place in cultural trends does not reflect the whole of the United States, although I do think times are a-changin’ and we’re all affected to some degree, the coasts (and college towns) likely being the most extreme.

It starts with one person and how he or she builds their relationships, then teaches a group, perhaps a youth group or their group of children. Christianity has, throughout history, functions as a subculture, something counter-cultural and a little underground. We’ve tried courtship (which in this discussion means you are either my friend or marriage potential, little in between), and for many, it has been found lacking. Maybe a new approach is worth looking at.