Now is the winter of our content.
Now is the winter of snowdrifts like large waves on the ocean, like the one completely submerging the pick-up in the driveway. I know it’s under there.
Now is the winter of carving steps into the ice and snow to access the narrow pathway — the width of a shovel blade, through head-high walls of snow — across the yard to the front deck. The winter where the large picture window in the front room is covered on a regular basis with snow, a blown-on plaster, resulting in twilight at midday. The winter of wearing avalanche beacons to go check the mail. The winter we’ve all been waiting for.
Similar to 2002, when an abnormally dry year produced cataclysmic forest fires, this year’s smoke and ash have given way to a procession of heavy storms, a solid, unrelenting cycle that has skiers deep into powder and plow drivers deep into overtime. You know it’s a big winter when you go to shovel the shed roof and you don’t need a ladder to reach it.
Another successful traverse of Spring Gulch this morning; an especially large sigh of relief. White-out williwaws forced three stops, until visibility was re-established, wind-whipped cornices brushing both sides of the truck, a narrow, barely discernible track swimming through the moving mass.
The town plow, attempting to widen the passage, was met at the top. While waiting for it to blade a gap in the berm, I wondered when Spring Gulch would run again. It had slid a couple days ago, large debris piles in the throat. This particular avalanche path, the largest and potentially most destructive, isn’t controlled, unlike all the other major paths that threaten the road. “Legal reasons,” we are told. Sometimes, there is a deadly disconnect between legality and reality.
The plow driver eventually waves me through, I gun it over the snowpile and fishtail down the lane to home. Wet gluey snow coats all the houses white. I thank the five things that have been my best friends on the trip up the valley: my studded snow tires and 4WD.
My best friend at home, besides the Vermont Castings woodstove, is the large blue push-style snow scoop, a snowblower without a motor. Everybody has one; up and down the lane, friends and neighbors methodically clear out driveways after each storm, a blue scoop army. The blue scoop, which slides along the ground, propelled by hips and legs instead of just sore backs, is keeping the chiropractors, rolfers, acupuncturists and Ben-Gay salesmen from making even more of a killing.
Now is also the winter of curious driving. When the forces of Nature assert themselves, among a select few there are inappropriate responses, products of a kind of panicked short-circuit. Like, for example, the semi-truck drivers who for some obscure reason don’t think chain laws apply to them and subsequently gum things up on Lawson Hill.
Or drivers who stop in active avalanche paths to snap photos. It’s one thing to be impressed by Nature; it’s another thing altogether to offer yourself up for sacrifice. At the very least, pull over to one side so some of us might continue through and enjoy a fighting chance.
What about the drivers who, at night in black-ice, whiteout conditions, roar up onto your rear bumper and start flashing their brights, presumably so you’ll pull over and let them by, never mind the piles of snow on the shoulder? This is highway sodomy, and enough to make one wistful for a beater pick-up, the better to jam on the brakes.
You’ve seen this fellow around: he’s the hemorrhoidal one driving that big old hawg pick-up, the one with all the chrome up front. If you have the horsepower to go that fast, and that much disregard for safety, you can darn well use the passing lane, bub. In the next life, may you be consigned to a Yugo and hopefully become a more considerate person.
There are, of course, no shortage of drivers possessing the extraordinary superpower necessary to navigate narrow, slippery byways lined with dying-to-be-dented vehicles while conducting urgent business on cellphones. Sad are the distracted phonists sending pictures of the incredible candied walnuts on the spinach salad they just enjoyed for lunch on the way to the spa, right before ramming the silly Subaru wagon that some idiot parked in the way.
The rest of us, into spring, white knuckles on the wheel, forge ahead.
Now is the winter to be grateful for the firewood collected last August, inhaling, when splitting kindling in swirling snow, the sharp pitch from the same rounds gathered between monsoon rains in the heat of summer. Certain odd-shaped pieces are recognized, with a unique pattern of sheared limbs here, a distinctive bole there.
What last year was a casual stroll with an armload of wood across a yard with mud patches showing, is now a somewhat gymnastic balancing act through narrow aisles punched across snowdrifts and over a swell of accumulated snow many feet above the frozen mud, sinking randomly to the knees, at least until the path is packed down between storms.
Now is the time, a mother storm in full roar blowing sideways and the road closed again by avalanches, to fill the firebox with night logs and bank the stove, to check the doors and douse the lights, to climb the stairs, the last act of a boisterous day to look in on a child sleeping serenely, little smile on a perfect mouth, tousled hair surrounded by favorite stuffies — Blue Dog, Judy the Rabbit and Brownie the Fawn — then nestle under a fluffy comforter, safe at home in a rowdy snow dome, simple pleasures the best.
Sean can be reached at at firstname.lastname@example.org.