It was -10C this morning with an icy north wind. The snow crunched like midwinter’s when I stepped on it. O.K., I was bored. I had fired up Tony’s 4WD Polaris Ranger to take out the garbage and it made sense to warm it up a bit before putting it back in the shed. And there was that huge expanse of untraveled snow…

The Ranger booted over the snowbank at the edge of the driveway and dove down behind the house. No problem. If it can do this, I can haul the sugar-making equipment up to the shack. How do I get back up? Last year I ran on down the hill, crossed to the barnyard and climbed back up the hill there.

Off I went at full speed. The snow felt like concrete under the freshly-tuned Ranger’s wheels. I carved a wide turn in the 20-acre field below the house and headed west. This was too much fun. Why not carry on to the other end, another quarter-mile away, and come back the next field over?

At cruising speed I ducked through the gap between fields. A straight shot to the 50 acres beyond beckoned, so I headed north.

All of the sudden the left front wheel of the Ranger dove into deep snow, quickly followed by the rest of the 1500 pounds of vehicle, cargo and driver.

Why is it always the left side which falls through the crust? Tony has a real stability problem with that machine.

Mind you, my slightly lighter Ranger TM did the same thing in January. In fact the only way three of us could keep the 1100 pound vehicle on the crust after lifting it up and rolling it ahead was to drive it from outside, manipulating the gas pedal with an old canoe paddle found in the box. Maybe it’s the driver’s weight that’s the problem. Oh, well.

So there Tony’s Ranger sits, front corner down in two feet of snow, next to a quiet farm lane. It’s comfortable. There’s no point abusing it in a frantic attempt to back out. A crew will either lift it back up onto the snow or spring will free it, whichever comes first.

UPDATE: 6:50 p.m.

Did I mention I buried the winch tractor on the way back to rescue the Ranger? I explained to Bet that I had needed some space in the buildings for sugar-making equipment. This barely earned the derisive grunt it received.

After supper I walked back to the Ranger with a round-point shovel. Anything I dug just buried it deeper.

On the other hand the Massey Ferguson 35, though apparently stuck in the snow, wasn’t quite done yet. After rocking a bit of a gap, I discovered that while high speeds were useless against the crumbling snow, if I eased the old tractor forward very slowly it would in fact climb back up onto the crust and creep the final 150 yards to where I could turn it downhill and run the cable 150′ to the Ranger. That was 5800 pounds + driver riding on the crust at least a foot above the field.

The buried Ranger offered no resistance whatever to the 8800 lb winch. In no time it was back up on the crust and after a couple of spins around the fields to celebrate and allow the battery to charge up, I put it away. The MF35’s as comfortable there as anywhere.

UPDATE: 27 March, 2014, 5:30 p.m.

It only gets worse. I need spring to get here.


UPDATE: 30 March, 7:30 p.m.

After a day of thaw I was able to drive the winch tractor from where I had abandoned it to a road a half-mile away. With the winch I then rescued the Bolens by dragging it through three feet or more of snow to a path I had blown out with another tractor.

We still can’t get to the sugar bush with wheeled implements, snowshoeing has become an agonizing way to travel now with the uncertain footing, but the thaw is gaining momentum.

UPDATE, 3 April, 2014:

Rod vs Snow

So far it’s Snow 6, Rod 0.

The path back to the woods remains stubbornly impassable for wheeled vehicles. There’s just too much snow and with mud underneath. The task overwhelms even my larger tractors. The situation improves each day, but only by a little.

Four days ago on snowshoes I sank to the bottom so drastically that I could barely travel. In one area in the middle of the walnut field I dropped into snow above my knees. Sore muscles leave me disinclined to try that again soon.

But waiting for spring is a difficult concept even for a not-so-young fellow hardly brimming with energy, not to mention a son whose travel agenda allows only a short time in which to expose all of his friends to the joys of sugar making.

Of course the trees in the lane (now 33 buckets) have stopped running. Yesterday I tried to use the new Kubota with its large turf tires to smooth the ruts in the driveway. Nearly got the thing stuck. With a trailer attached it’s useless in mud.

Today is another day. It’s frozen quite hard outside this morning, so the sap may run. The tractor may even make it from the big walnut tree (a quarter-mile back the lane) across the 450′ of walnut seedlings to the woodlot, where more deep snow awaits. Then at least the Ranger will be able to haul people and materials back and forth to the house.

Saturday, 5 April, 2010

We’re still far from our goal of free passage to the woodlot, though it rained heavily overnight. At 6:00 a.m. on Charlie’s last weekend before he returns to Vancouver, who knows how today will unfold?

The photo shows four people stuffed into snowmobile suits, mitts and helmets, standing along the edge of a frozen lake and leaning on a pair of old snowmobiles.  The shot could have been taken anytime, but in fact it is only a couple of years old.  It marked the final winter expedition to the cottage on Schooner Island.  That’s right.  Never again.  Both our wives insisted.

But the trip had gone well; it’s just that the weather changed a bit.

Tom and Kate get homesick for their cottage on the Island during the winter, and I can tell by the frequency of emails and phone calls about when the pressure will become unbearable for Tom, and up they will come.  Much planning is required:  ice reports are filtered through runoff records to determine if the ice is strong enough for a passage across Newboro Lake to the Island.

A few years ago in a fit of optimism I asked a snowmobile collector to locate me a serviceable Ski Doo Alpine, the two track, single ski behemoth which crowned the Bombardier line for many years. From the first time I drove it the thing intimidated me:  I could barely pull the starter cord on the monstrous engine.  It refused to turn without running into something.  Its suspension ignored my considerable weight, and only rode smoothly if I had a full oil drum on the back.  But it would float over any depth of snow, and could it ever pull!

Not to be outdone, Tom found a 1970 Evinrude Skeeter, also with reverse, which had been kept in its owner’s living room in Ohio since it was new. 

Tom and I decided to run out to the island without wives or luggage to make sure the ice was strong enough to support us.   Tom’s machine made a ghastly racket at its maximum speed of 25 miles per hour.  The Alpine is actually a lot faster than that, so I had to idle along to let him keep up.  Then Tom spun out on the ice.  This looked pretty funny, but the third time the machine flipped, tossing Tom clear and rolling until it had divested itself of its windshield.  Chastened,  Tom made the rest of the trip at a more modest pace.

Back at the SUVs we discovered far too much luggage to load onto the little sled I had brought, so Tom took it and I hitched the 5 X 8 trailer to the Alpine.  Down the ramp we went with everything but the kitchen sink in the trailer.

As long as the shore was nearby, our wives’ morale was high.  As we pulled out into the open lake, though, and the only reference points became the large bubbles of air just beneath the black, transparent ice, I began to notice a persistent vibration coming from the rear of the Alpine.  It didn’t vary with engine revolutions or speed.  In fact the shaking continued when we’d stopped.  Bet was shivering.   This did not bode well, but we were over half-way there,  so on we went.

The cold-weather camping was good fun at the cottage, and then the morning dawned to a five-inch drop of slushy snow, with clouds and wind which indicated more on the way.  Yikes!  The trailer!

The retreat from Schooner Island occurred  more quickly than our hosts would have liked, but we had to get off the ice.  With the wide track of the trailer I would have to maintain a steady speed until we hit dry land, or we’d be stuck.

We tossed the luggage into the snow-filled trailer, Bet clamped her arms around my waist, and I gingerly urged the rig along the  shoreline  until we had gained enough momentum to brave the deeper snow.

With a roar the Alpine hit cruising speed, and the next three miles was quite a ride. The open lake alternated between hard portions of frozen snow and liquid puddles of goo.  We plunged straight through them.  I didn’t dare look back.

Down the lake we went and up the ramp.  Newboro had never looked so good.  The Alpine shut down with a grateful sigh; I pried Bet’s arms free and staggered off the machine.  She still sat there. When I knocked on her helmet, an eye opened through the frosted visor and she gradually became aware that we had arrived.

She pawed at the visor a couple of times with her mitt.  I helped her open it and remove her helmet.  “I … will … never … do … that … AGAIN!”

I’d  sorta expected that, so I checked the load behind.  Nope, nothing there but a snowbank which had somehow slid up the ramp and into the parking lot behind us.

Tom  couldn’t get over the remarkable turn of speed the Alpine had shown on the trip across the lake.  “We were following in your track, but your machine was just a dwindling yellow dot, with a great big snowball forming behind it!”

Perhaps the governor on the huge Rotax engine responded to the weight it was pulling, or maybe the beast just sensed its master’s panic and ran for it, but the Alpine has never gone that fast since, and perhaps it’s just as well.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

January Thaw

January 10, 2008

But when he had seen again the face of this world, enjoyed water and sun, warm stones and the sea, he no longer wanted to go back to the infernal darkness. (Albert Camus)

This line from The Myth of Sisyphus came to me this morning as I gently tooled my golf cart down the rows of next year’s walnut seedlings. The sun feels fresh and a little strange on one’s face at this time of year, but it’s a pleasant strangeness. It indicates that the long night of November is finally over. After this thaw winter may bluster and blow, but we know that its anger is a ruse: whatever it throws at us will soon melt away because the sun is ascending more steeply each day. A look at the buds shows they are already much larger than they were last fall.

The melting snow has revealed the net of mouse-burrows which seem to have covered every square yard of the walnut fields, yet so far no saplings show signs of hurt.

The coyote’s footprints in the old snow are close together, with many small detours. He’s walking his route, paying careful attention to the activity below.

The huge wind yesterday took down a white ash on a fence-row below the house. This news provides an excuse for a visit to my neighbour, so I shoot down the road on my golf cart, drawing broad grins from the guys on the loading dock at Baker’s Feeds. They’re enjoying the sun this morning, as well. Grant Stone’s working on a chain saw’s carburetor, and seems inclined to take the tree for firewood as soon as the field is frozen enough to support a tractor, so I head out of the cozy workshop and make my way back up Young’s Hill.

The gods condemned Sisyphus to roll a rock up a hill for all of eternity. Camus insisted that Sisyphus’ rock, intended to be his punishment, was also his victory. In order for him to suffer the gods had to make him aware, and in his awareness came his victory. In those moments of quiet reflection as he walked down the hill to once again resume his pointless task, Sisyphus was happy.

I parked the cart. Inside the house my vacuum cleaner awaited me.

Ready or Not, Winter is Here.

November 23, 2007

Yesterday’s snowfall caught me unprepared.  For the first time in my life I hid in the house and read a book, neglecting all of my manly duties with the rationalization that, if I waited, the snow would melt.

 It didn’t.  More fell.  Forced by high light levels into a more active mindset this morning, I put on the long underwear, found one heavy mitt abandoned in the garage, and coaxed the snowblower to life for a brief attack upon the banks left by the town plow.  A determined effort opened the back of the unfamiliar Tacoma — who knew those windows freeze up? — and gave access to my gloves, which were soggy and freezing.  Not much help.

 Off to the farm with the utility trailer which had been hogging garage space.  Once there I found the cache of winter clothes hidden in an upstairs room during a tidying frenzy last summer.  The Massey Ferguson started up on cue, reminding me that the temperature wasn’t really that cold.  I cleaned the icy crust away from the garage doors with the blade so that I could liberate a shovel.  Plowed the driveway, as well, leaving snow/mudbanks which will no doubt come back to haunt later.  The back deck had accumulated half a foot of crusty snow over the storm.  As I shovelled it I kept thinking about heart attacks and how easily they occur during storms.  Small wonder: that snow was heavy and stiff.  Doormats should be outlawed in snow country.  They don’t shovel well when frozen into the ice cover.

But from there on the day went well.   

 I can see how people of my age get the idea that they can’t survive another Ontario winter, and must go south regardless of the cost or the forced inactivity of a tiny Florida rental.  To them I guess I’d say, “Put your long underwear on, clean out the garage so you can put your cars in, and whatever you do, make sure you can find a good pair of mitts when you need them.” 

One day of winter torture was more than enough for me.  From here on in I intend to play.