Thursday, February 19, 2015

Flying the coop

We are leaving this arctic world for a week.  By the miracle of flight we are able to spend seven days in Florida where it rains instead of snows; where the grass is green and the lakes are liquid; where the summer birds fly freely.

This morning I shoveled the three inches of fluff that fell last night.  It was beautiful and fresh, and not even very cold.  That makes three days in a row of shoveling.  Yesterday it was a bit warmer and I was able to cut back the snowbank at the end of the driveway by at least 3 feet or so.  I hope that gives our plower a little more room to maneuver.  He's running out of room to put the snow, and I'm trying to avoid hiring a backhoe to reposition the pile.  My friend, Malcolm, had to shovel his long driveway by hand because there is no place for the plow to push the snow.

I have begun to develop an attachment to my snow shovel.  Over the years we have bought and discarded many inferior models.  They tend to disintegrate under the stress of repeated use.  The current one is a marvel.  I am thinking of mounting it on a plaque with an inscription:  My daily helper  January-March 2015.  I have shoveled almost every day this week, and the blue shovel has held up well.

I uncovered the deck one more time.  I think I'm making a ski slope in the yard.  Two immense piles rise above the deck railing and threaten to tumble back inside.  I wanted to clear the porch furniture because we are expecting rain this weekend.  Can you believe it?  Of course the rain will fall on frozen surfaces and create instant ice shrouds.  People with flat roofs are scrambling to unload the snow before the rain falls on a snow sponge and threatens to collapse the roof.  The weatherman predicts heavy fog on Sunday because the warm air, hovering over the cold snow will bring the clouds down to earth.

There are few animals to be seen.  Dog owners shovel paths in their yards.  The birds fly around looking for food.  They roost in the trees, fluffed up to twice their size, in an effort to keep warm.  There are no deer tracks.  Usually there is evidence of great bounding strides across our back hill, but no deer can navigate this depth of snow.  The only tracks are from rabbits.  They come up to the house, and I think they may be nibbling on the azalea bushes which are now at ground level.  I put our Christmas wreath on the ground (snowbank) thinking that the green leaves might feed the bunnies.

I am sure that Florida will seem even more of a respite than usual.

Monday, February 16, 2015

On the set of Dr. Zhivago

We have lived through a fourth blizzard in as many weeks.  I have no idea how much snow fell this time because the wind took over and redistributed everything.  How do you measure depth when the wind flattens everything as though it were sand on the beach?  All night long the wind howled, shaking the windows, and buffeting the doors.  Gusts rocked the trees and sent fine snow powder into every crevice and crack.  The mounds of snow, which I had thrown off the porch were sculpted and smoothed.  The driveway, which had been plowed, now had a four foot drift blocking the way.  The copper beach in the yard is disappearing, branch by branch. 

This morning, after the blizzard, was bright blue, just like in Dr. Zhivago. The temperatures were appalling, in the single digits.  It was 32F in the garage.  And the wind made my skin sting.

After lunch, when the temperature rose to 16F, I gathered my courage and went out to clear enough of the drifted snow from the driveway to allow us to get a car out.  I was afraid I would not be strong enough.  The banks are so high, I can barely lift the shovel to dump it.  I worked diligently, making limited progress.  I was making a path which was barely wide enough for the car.  I didn’t think I could do any better.  But I have great neighbors.  Their snow blower had been broken, but was finally repaired.  He came over and threw that drift back up out of the way.  I shoveled as well, and between us, we made it possible to get the car out.

We decided that we would head to the gym to walk.  It’s too cold outside for Peter to walk, and it is the best exercise for us both.  Walking a mile in a comfortable temperature helps you deal with the claustrophobic feel of being housebound.

Tomorrow it will snow again, but we are only expecting another three inches.  And the wind has stopped its attack.  I think we can get through this.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


Today is Wednesday, and after yesterday, when no new snow fell, and the sun shone briefly, it is snowing again.  They tell us this is no big deal.  A little “ocean effect” snow which is very localized.  Tomorrow there will be more, although no advisory has been announced meaning it should be less than six inches.   There is more coming on Sunday, although no one is talking much about it. 

The weekend storm was depressing.  It started on Saturday night and snowed until Tuesday morning.  On Monday afternoon Peter was despairing:  “We’re stuck in here.”  He was right.  There was no way to go anywhere.  The truck did not plow us out until Tuesday morning, and that was an adventure. 

There is no place to push the mountain growing on our driveway.  At first it was on the lawn at the edge of the driveway, but the mound has encroached on the drive.  The truck is blocked in the garage, and will not come out until sometime in May, I fear. 

Backing the car out of the garage is tricky, and when you get to the road, there are inches of packed snow to negotiate before you make it to Rt. 97 where the road is visible.  We went out yesterday, just to do it, and we met others in the stores responding to the same compulsion.

The pathway I had dug last Friday that lead to the propane tank was completely filled in.  I dug it again, hoping the propane comes before the next storm. 

Today I tackled the deck.  I was afraid that the weight of the snow would crack the glass on the deck table, or even tear the deck from the house.  I worked hard for at least an hour, dumping many pounds of snow over the railing, making a pile that reached to the top of the deck railing.  Then I decided to keep going. 

Trying to battle the drifts behind the house, to reach the birdfeeder, was no longer possible.  Instead, I shoveled straight from the deck to the retaining wall of the garden, and turned left at the top of the wall to reach the feeder.  Hopefully I can keep this new path alive.  The birds responded enthusiastically. 

Monday, February 9, 2015


I can remember waking up as a child and knowing, before I got out of bed, that it had snowed during the night.  The light on the ceiling was unmistakable.  In this polar world, the light has become a constant source of wonder

Last night, when I woke in the night, I thought it was almost morning.  The room was as light as predawn. The other night, the sky was clear, and the moon was almost full.  The moonlight silvered the yard, and the stars glittered in the cold.  But something different happens when snowflakes fill the air.  The outdoor lights combine to shed an unnatural glow over the nighttime world.  The reflection is pink and ghostly.  It snowed all night, and is expected to snow all day today, and tonight as well.  The ghosts are prowling.

Taking photos of the snow is challenging.  It is hard to get a real sense of proportion.  Everything is white, and 10 foot drifts look improbably distorted.   When the sun appears, the snow crystals sparkle like Swarovski crystals, but I have not succeeded in capturing that marvel with a camera. 
The blue sky and scalloped clouds contrast sharply with the white ground in wondrously beautiful landscapes. 
In the late afternoon, the light falls in horizontal rays, and gives a buttery glow to the snow.

It almost seems to yellow in the sunshine.  In the morning the shadows lie more vertically.  Blue shadows fall against the white.
  And sometimes, at sunset, the whole earth turns pink.  The white ground reflects the sunset colors in the sky.
  There is a world of color in white snow.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Birds

Astonishingly the birds come out in the storm.  At one point there were 30 to 40 birds in the bushes around the feeder.
 There were sparrows, titmice, juncos, chickadees, cardinals, blue jays, mourning doves a starling and a woodpecker.  In the time since it first started snowing I have shoveled my way to the feeder at least every two or three days. Why have these birds stayed around?  They seem to be able to find enough food and protected hideouts.  They chatter in the sunshine, and perch on the treetops.  

But it is a dangerous game.  A couple days ago I saw what looked like some sticks in the snow next to the weeping larch.  But then I used binoculars.  It was the remains of a bird, probably a blue jay.  Feathers were scattered about where a predator had attacked a bird waiting for a turn at the feeder.  The culprit was probably a hawk.  We had seen one fly past.  Today the remains were covered with a new layer of snow.  Only a single vertical feather marks the site of the carnage.  But they still gather at the feeder.  No more sign of the hawk.