Dateline: Antarctica, Massachusetts
It’s true. The city of Boston has become nearly paralyzed with snow. The subway is a disaster, with only a few trains limping along and lots of disgruntled passengers waiting on the platforms. The buses are having a hard time getting through the now-narrowed streets. Public offices are closed. Schools are closed and youth is running riot. And parking, a nightmare at the best of times in this pre-industrial city, is now more valued than life itself.
Two weeks ago, we opened with “Juno,” AKA the “snowpocalypse” or “snowmageddon.” That charmer dropped just over twenty inches in a bit more than 24 hours (about three or four times a normal storm), and to the delight of schoolchildren throughout the Northeast, set off what was to become a rather astonishing chain of school-closed snow days. Woo hoo!!!
Though a lot of snow to receive at once, we dealt with it in a curmudgeonly, New England kind of manner, dutifully snowblowing, shoveling, and melting with salt and other chemicals. The newly-elected governor held press conferences from a bunker in Framingham, where most of what he had to say could be filed under the heading “obvious.” Don’t drive, clear your snow, and watch out for falling ice.
Prior to that storm, winter had so far been fairly benign. Sure, there were cold temps with a few nights close to zero Fahrenheit, a few degrees colder than normal, but nothing that we couldn’t deal with, especially in the dead of night when most of us didn’t have to leave our houses. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one to think that winter was actually kind of tolerable. Cold, yes, but reasonably dry, and thus far with little snow. So against that backdrop, Juno hit. We dealt with it and hoped to move on.
During the week after Juno, the temperatures didn’t break the low 20’s for a high, and the nights were bitterly cold. In fact one morning, we woke to -3°F. Though cold, it hadn’t snowed any more, but then nothing had melted either so most of Juno’s snow just hung around.
The following weekend, we got another twelve inches or so of snow. More snowblowing, shoveling, and general cursing ensued. Because you don’t want to let snow build up (it could melt into an unremovable block of ice), I was out twice a day running my snowblower, clearing my excessively long driveway, my sidewalk, and helping various neighbors with their sidewalks and parking spots.
But this past weekend was the final straw. We got “Marcus,” and Marcus was a sluggard. He didn’t dump snow very energetically, but he basically stayed around and snowed constantly for three days, leaving another eighteen inches or so in his wake. That meant that for him, I basically dragged out my snowblower about six times, once in the morning, and once in the evening for each day it was snowing.
Now it has become a cliché, but we are literally running out of places to put the snow. As you can see from the photos, there’s a small glacier forming at the bottom of my driveway. And most of my neighbors also have their own nascent glaciers. You’re not allowed to throw the snow into the street, and by city ordinance, you must clear your sidewalk within 24 hours of the end of the storm. If you’re smart, you’ll do it several times before it gets too deep. So snow must be piled. And piled. And piled some more. We are relatively lucky in my neighborhood. Most of the houses are single-family, and virtually all have some kind of yard or garden where snow can be hurled. So we have some space, unlike the rest of the city where houses start at the sidewalk, and mostly don’t have garages.
The problem? After a snowbank gets to a certain height, it becomes a lot of work to throw the snow up so high. And even if you can hurl a shovelful of snow up 6-8 feet into the air, much of it will simply roll off the sides and back onto the sidewalk. This is nothing if not a Sisyphean task.
But we are truly running out of space. My back yard is now pretty full.
And neighbors are desperate to guard their freshly shoveled parking spots. When people leave, they put something into the space to save it. Lawn chairs are mostly what you see here, but garbage cans and other objects are used too. I’ve often thought it would be funny to get a mannequin in a bikini, and set her up in a cleared space in front of my house, on a chaise lounge, with a side table and some martini glasses to save the parking spot, all under a nice, bright beach umbrella. But so far that’s an idle fantasy that I think about when clearing snow, but not much the rest of the time.
For clearing snow, nothing beats a hefty snowblower. You don’t want a lightweight model because it’s going to disappoint you when you need it most. When I bought my snowblower years ago, I realized that I would need something serious. Something that could handle the big storms that Mother Nature occasionally throws our way. So I bought an 8 hp, 36″ wide monster that could chew threw anything we’d ever get. This baby would be at home in Alaska. He always starts up with one vigorous pull of the starter cord, and even has a plug-in electric starter if you aren’t up to jerking a cord. He’s got “fingertip” steering controls that make him easy to direct. And he’s got 6 forward speeds and three reverse speeds. He’s even got a headlight, which is surprisingly handy. I can’t complain about my snowblower; he rocks, easily blasting through the toughest mountain of packed snow cutting a path for civilization to follow.
But even with the best power equipment, things just aren’t that easy. To get ready to blow snow, I have to suit up. I put on a down vest, then ear plugs as the snowblower is as noisy as it is powerful. After that, I put on a red, down-filled hat/hood that covers my neck and throat and, and has a lace system that lets me shrink down the face opening to basically just expose my eyes and nose. Then I put on a parka which has a collar that zips up to cover the base of the hood. Of course long underwear is part of the gig. Finally, I pull on big snow boots, and then a set of fleece gloves, and then a set of opera-length, very heavy-duty rubber gloves to keep the fleece gloves from getting wet. Thusly equipped, I go out to do battle with Mother Nature.
Theoretically, with eight horsepower and “fingertip steering” at my command, I should be able to easily overcome Mother Nature. Not so fast, Gringo. Mother Nature has a few tricks up her sleeve. First, and I can’t complain about this because the opposite is *FAR* worse, the snow is very dry and powdery (due to the sub-25° temps). The machine sucks it up and blows it 20 feet into the air in whatever direction I want. The problem? In one word: wind. Mother Nature’s favorite thing is to blow all that snow right back into my face. OK. I’ll change directions and blow the snow the other way. Hahahaha… Think again, Gringo. Mother Nature can change the direction of the wind faster than I can turn around the snowblower. So I just keep my head down, look at the ground, and plod grimly forward. Eventually, I do win, but at a price of coming back in the house covered with snow, and definitely freezing. But this kind of experience is character-building, right?
Finally, today we got a break. It stopped snowing early this morning and the sun even came out. The high was 32.5°, maybe even 33° and with the sun, the snow began to melt, at least on the road and on the driveway. Though I don’t like to use rock salt, I relented and put it on my driveway and now, for the first time in a couple of weeks, I can actually see the surface again.
But we’re not out of the woods. Supposedly another storm is due for Thursday, and then another one is right behind it.
Which begs the rather obvious question: why am I not in Mexico?
Please. Don’t ask. I’m not sure I have a good answer. Meanwhile I’m gassing up the snowblower for the next storm.
P.S. I shot this short video (on my phone) driving around the neighborhood Sunday night after going to dinner with some friends. Please forgive the out-of-tune singalong, LOL. It’s my first attempt at putting a YouTube video on my blog. And it’s pretty obvious I’m better with a still camera. As you can see getting around isn’t easy.