Arrow-right Camera
News >  Features >  Washington Voices

Big snow berms, bigger hearts welcome newcomer to Spokane

Marmots? Snow berms? What is this place?

My son and I moved to Spokane from another state – dare I say, a southern state – this past December. We drove through Oregon, Seattle and through (or is that over) the Cascades during one of the worst winters in Spokane’s history. Did I mention that I had never driven in snow before?

My mother, along for the ride, sat in the front seat, eyes partially closed, her eternally cold hands gripping the door handle while my son in the back seat exclaimed, “Wow, this is awesome, look how fast the snow is blowing!”

GPS on dash and maps in tow, I nervously plowed (literally) my way through one blizzard after another. What should have been a two-day drive with scenic detours turned into a six-day nonstop terror ride.

There are a few things I learned about long- distance-blizzard driving:

1. You cannot see through snow. We do not have X-ray vision. It’s OK to drive 3 mph.

2. Studded tires rock! As people were stuck on the side of the road, freezing rain, fierce winds and snow pummeling their faces, we drove by with ease. I felt guilty and grateful at the same time.

3. Ice isn’t just for drinks; apparently the roads like it, too. Why can’t someone invent special driving glasses to detect black ice?

A few gray hairs later, we made it just in time to help the movers unpack the truck. Hard to believe my entire life was contained in one truck, but there it was, safe and sound. I felt like my child had just come home from war. Whew. I took a breath. We were alive. My stuff was safe. I helped myself to a glass or three of wine and vowed not to leave the house until spring.

As we adjusted from our pleasant, 70-degree weather to a numbing 30, my other senses kicked in. I forgot how loud apartment living can be. In the very early morning, large airplanes in the sky and gunned engines in the parking lot below my bedroom jolted me from sleep. (Forty minutes? Are you kidding? How long do you really need to warm up that car?) Don’t people realize that when you are inside an apartment, you can hear everything? I wanted to see a color besides white. I heard there is a river here; it would be nice to see it. I ached to smell pine-scented roads, and they were everywhere. Why couldn’t I smell them? “You have to wait until it warms up,” I was told. Why doesn’t this city have motorcycles, V-Dubs and convertibles? (OK, I figured that out myself). I waited for the weather to warm, so I could bare my white toes in my flip-flops and wear less than three sweaters with a ridiculously oversized coat and two pairs of gloves (yes, it is possible). My skin turned from fabulous tan to pasty white in one week.

December and January passed and so did the snow. We were able to see the Spokane River for the first time. Sidewalks appeared from nowhere, and there were these funny brown creatures that reminded me of groundhogs, no … beavers, no … gophers. What are they called? Marmots. The New Year’s Eve parade was even themed after them. Spokane must really like these critters. They are kind of cute. But not all people love them; ask any golf-course manager.

Then to my surprise, it happened: Spring is sprung in Spokane! Bulbs blooming, bright green leaves everywhere (I thought those bushes and trees were dead). Pink, white, red, yellow – wow, there are tulips everywhere! The river is full and flowing, and my Avista bill finally went down.

What a great place to live!

But here’s the most important part: We left California for a better life, cleaner air, less traffic, slower pace. My son wants to be a firefighter or work in forestry. What better place than Washington? I was brought here because of a job and a great opportunity but we will stay for all the reasons listed above. But the true beauty of Spokane? Without a doubt, the people.

Never have I witnessed such politeness, community involvement and respect for the great outdoors and for each other. Spokanites are some of the nicest people I have met. You have greeted us with welcome arms and large hearts. Some call us transplants, job stealers, real estate robbers. But the majority of the people I’ve met come from somewhere else. I see a different side – from the man who smiled and patiently waved my car through traffic when I took a wrong turn on a one-way street, to the proud business owners I meet every day on my job.

Gracious? Yes. Kind? Unbelievably. Unique? You have no idea until you’ve lived somewhere else. So thank you Spokane, for making two outsiders feel very welcome. We are proud to call this beautiful city with it’s beautiful people our home.

Berms and all.

Sheryl Krom can be reached at