Saturday, December 15, 2007

Between the Storms

A beginner's guide to snow farming.

In New England, our snowstorms don't usually drag on for days, as they do on the plains. Today is a blue-sky Saturday with little wind. It is bone-chillingly cold, but this is no day to nest. Between the storms, one must practice their drift maintenance. Old snow out, new snow in.

Make no mistake you Southerners, you transplanted easterners turned Californians,you coast-dwellers with your skill for X-taping picture windows and planning your escape routes.... snow shoveling is sweaty work.

The togs
silk-wool-fleece-down. You can't be Vegan and shovel snow.

Wool socks first, then wicking silk undergear over the socks, to seal all openings. Wear your sports bra; you're gonna need it. You'll want a ski-type undershirt that zips open down the chest. All your layers should zip open. Sweat maintenance is as important as snow maintenance.

Fleece vest to keep your chest warm and allow freedom of shoulder movement. Don't box yourself in. Down jacket. Your snowshoveling jacket should be a ridiculously flourescent color like a hunting jacket to lessen your chances of being plowed. Gloves of course - waterproof ski style with a silk liner underneath. Mittens are great for skating and waiting for a bus, but you need a grip to shovel.

The tools
Like the prairieman's rifle, the bayou's fishing rod, your snow shovel is for life. Local news loves that stand-up of people crowding Home Depot before the storm to buy a shovel.
The truth is, New Englanders have their shovels.

I have been thinking about getting one of those new aerodynamic push-plow styles, but I picture my wood and steel shovel wimpering in the garage with only a velveteen rabbit to give it comfort. And I cant bring myself to. It fits in my trunk, it has a wide flat blade like a dustpan, and a sturdy handle that suffered a stress fracture years ago and somehow still hangs on. When it goes, I know there are more in the world, but until then, we are a team.

The warmup
No kidding. Stretch out. You won't look as ridiculous doing that as you will walking in a L shape for the next 3 days.

The rules
Know your local custom for parking spot clearance and observe it. Don't assume that whatever rules worked in your former village will be acceptable here. Breaking the scared rule of the spot is sure way to get your tires slashed.

Never shovel a neighbor's driveway or walk unless you ask first. They won't like the way you do it, and it is the equivalant of mowing another man's lawn in the South. It says, "You're a slob and I took matters into my own hands."

It is, however, a noble gesture to approach while the neighbor is shoveling (pushing a car, scraping an overhang) to offer help. It's good karma and an even better pick-up line.

The laws
Never ever, don't you dare, shovel snow into the street you selfish bastid. You can actually get a ticket.

The strategy
Instead, plan your snow pile ahead of time. When moving into a new home this is as key as knowing where the christmas tree will go. Be mindful of sightlines and keep your pile long and low rather than high. You never want it higher than your hips. And when it gets that high, you must farm before the next big one. A pushbroom is good for this, or even a dirt rake. Not a leaf rake -- they are barely good for leaves.

The technique
Wet snow can push-plow-pack to make a pathway almost as tidy as a snowblower's. The dry powder is going to drift back on you and will need to be combed out Zen style instead.

The aftermath
Depending on the type of snow (post for another day - a thousand New Englander terms for snow) and the forcasted conditions, you may have to farm immediately after the storm. And since the sun sets at 4:30, this is often done in the dark. Kick, rather than chop, the icy top layer away before digging. Just wade around in it to break the surface tension and spread out the drift. Get as close to the bottom as you can and sow some ice-melt for good measure.

The cool down
Shower. Sweats. New socks retrieved from the drier. Hot chocolate. Bailey's optional.
Do it all again in about 3 hours.

1 comment:

  1. Snow, the city version:

    1. Get neighbor friends. If you are the selfish bastid who's shoveling snow into the street, you probably also don't know your neighbors, and the rest of us, helping each other, will get out quicker than you will, ha!

    2. Shovel before the snow turns into rain. You think the rain will help wipe away some of the snow, but you are wrong.

    3. Shoveling out the car only requires enough snow removal to be able to rock back and forth and drive like a mo-fo over the top of whatever you just couldn't face. Shovel as little as possible.

    4. Best part of urban snow removal: you probably don't need the car tomorrow. Just leave it there and take the T. :)


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