Waiting for the other shoe…

March 8, 2008

If you were hit by the last snowstorm, the following passage is just more of the same, and you may ignore it. If you hail from somewhere warm and dry, however, you may wish to read it 1) to affirm your decision to flee winter 2) to give an idea of what a lot of snow is like or 3) because you are the one person who enjoyed the CBC’s The Week the Women Went and just can’t get enough of Canadian reality media.

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The Weather Channel has shown a red screen for two days in anticipation of the main event, the Storm of the Winter, or the Storm of the Decade, depending upon who was speaking. They predicted a major snowfall, potentially crippling the district with more than a half-metre of accumulation. They promised high winds, mixed rain, ice pellets and snow, the whole thing coming in a series of waves over two days or more.

This one was different. We knew it by the evil wind which blew the snow back in our faces this morning as we worked to clear six inches of fine, dense powder from the driveways. We knew it in the deeper tone of the snowblower’s engine as it worked its way through a wind-hardened drift. This was not the powder of gentle snows.  We knew it by the frenetic activity around the bird feeders this day, by the sudden bravery of a grey squirrel shopping in the feeder for an emergency supply of seed instead of languidly trimming buds off the elms.

When the deck at the rear of the farm house needed another four inches of snow cleared after two hours so that the birds could be fed again, and three cardinals sat waiting for the emergency food delivery, we knew this was a bad one.

So I was ready for the drive back to Smiths Falls on the deserted highway. A snow-covered road should hold no terrors for the driver of a well-equipped 4X4 in late winter, right? Yet when the wind gusted from unfamiliar directions and wiggled the front wheels loose from their tracks, I felt fear. This wasn’t normal snow-pack on the road. There was a layer of grease under it.

So I arrived at home, parked on the street, blew out the driveway again, and put the truck safely away in the garage. Exhausted, I fell asleep for a few hours, and awakened to another six inches of snow, and no traffic on the streets. So far I have removed about a foot of snow, there’s another six inches on the ground, and the storm’s not yet half over.

The hush that has settled over the town? We’re waiting for the other shoe to drop.

7:00 a.m., Sunday, March 9, 2008

I’m in Smiths Falls, a town of 10,000 in Eastern Ontario. As of 7:00 a.m. nothing is plowed; nothing is moving. The Weather Channel says that the O.P.P. have switched to snowmobiles and are warning drivers to stay off the roads. The first image I saw on the screen was film of a fire crew evacuating the passengers (all unhurt) from a Greyhound bus on its side in a ditch.

It may be tricky to get to the farm to do the snow removal today.

8:45 a.m., Sunday, March 9, 2008

That other shoe has landed pretty hard. My blower could handle the snow, but it was usually up to the top of the hopper in the regular running on the paths around the house. In the driveway I moved an even 12″ of firm powder. The wind seems to have done me a favour there, because the pack on the streets seems considerably deeper than that.

The first vehicle I saw this morning was a heavy duty Dodge Ram 4X4, stuck in front of our house. He couldn’t make it up a slight rise on the main street, and he had all four wheels at work, pounding up and down like pile drivers. It seems that whatever’s under the snow offers very little traction. The driver eventually escaped by turning down a slight slope on a side street. This enabled him to gain some momentum, and he was off.

A plow truck weighted with a full load of sand has made a couple of passes through on George Street and now a Pontiac/Matrix-clone is stuck facing downhill, unable to breach the snowbank left by the truck. Another Dodge 4X4 backed up to the Pontiac and offered a tow, but there’s nowhere to hook a rope on that generation of vehicles, so the guy has gone back to work with a little red shovel.

9:08

While I watch a GMC pickup hopelessly mired in snow in the middle of Church Street, a telephone conversation with my mother at the farm reveals that the door to the balcony off her kitchen is frozen shut. That’s where the bird feeders are, and they need attention. The alternate entrance from the wing we are renovating is also snowed in by about a foot, even though it’s up an 8″ step from the balcony. She bent the door enough to toss some feed out, but we worked out a compromise that she establish a new feeding station outside an upstairs bathroom window which I think will open and close with relative ease. The birds and the squirrel are boldly demanding more food, so this crisis must be dealt with immediately.

Heat and hydro, more mundane matters in the short term, seem to be operating normally.

10:30

Two road graders attack the street grid in this area, and they shortly have paths through so that people can get out, once they have cleared their driveways again. We nudge out of the garage only to back directly into a deluge from my neighbour’s snowblower. I had suggested that he might as well blow his snow onto my driveway and then send it along south, because if he tried to blow it north over an eight-foot bank it would just drift south with the wind again, anyway. So he was at it, but his glasses were so fogged and he was in such misery from blowback that he didn’t notice a black pickup truck inching by ten feet to his right.

The drive out of Smiths Falls was on cleanly-scraped glare ice. Hwy 15 offered more of the same, though it seemed less slippery. Bet let me out on Young’s Hill at the farm and left me to snowshoe in the lane to the tractor while she bided her time with the truck at the Forfar Cheese Factory. The Massey-Ferguson 35’s blower had little trouble with the drifted snow on the driveway, though there was a lot of it. Before long the lane was clear and a call to her cell reeled Bet and the truck in. I decided not to plow to the barn, as the drifts out there are huge and I might break the blower while we still need it to clear the driveway.

12:00

The back deck was a chore. Mom’s door was blocked by a two-foot drift. On the rest of the deck nearly a foot of soft snow combined with ice from dripping eaves to produce a half-hour of heavy shoveling. But that was it. By 2:00 the sun was out and we were well into a lovely spring day with pristine snow all around.

2:30

Back in Smiths Falls the banks were high, the driving lanes narrow, but everything had pretty well returned to normal.

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