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Buried in Snow

Buried in Snow
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There is so much snow here now that Mayday, my 20-pound schnauzer, can walk on the crust of the snow over to my living room window and look inside. She puts her paw on the window, a window that most of the year is way out of her reach. I get the feeling she is as surprised by this as I am. The snowbanks are so high that, when I look out the window, I hear cars go by but I cannot see them. A strange deprivation — there is so little traffic on this road, I am used to looking out and knowing who it is, driving by. If I see an unknown car, I am curious. Of course. But being closed off like this, it is as if one of my senses has been switched off. This morning when I went out with the dogs, I could hear a pack of coyotes reveling close by so I hustled us back inside. But where were they? They sounded close enough to touch. Looking around, I could see nothing but blowing snow.

This is not the “snowiest winter” — not by a long shot. Not yet. In April of 2000, we had a storm that dumped three feet on top of what was already a record-breaking amount. At that time, I took an indelible ink Sharpie and drew a line where the snow stopped almost to the top of my downstairs window. The line is still there and it’s about three feet short of where we are now. But that was April and we are still in February so there is plenty of time to break records.

It’s all anyone talks about. The snow. I have been so entranced with the beauty of it, you might say I’m obsessed with taking photos of its shape and form, the way it stays on the branches after a storm, the way the roads narrow with each storm, big clumps falling into the road from atop the high banks. Coming out into traffic from a side road, the banks so high, visibility nil, is nothing short of Russian roulette. The snow that has fallen to date is so light and fine that sometimes, on a windy day, clear blue sky above, the town plows have to come back around, as the wind has blown the snow back and closed the road as if it had never been plowed before.

With all this snow, people worry about their roofs caving in. It’s a legitimate worry, especially if one’s roof is flat, which, in this climate, should be illegal. Many schools are built with more or less flat roofs as are warehouses and factories. This does save money in construction but it doesn’t if the building collapses, which some have. To combat this, people climb up and shovel their roofs or else hire someone to do it. (I heard about one elderly man who was fleeced by some eager young roof shovelers to the tune of $5,000 — modern-day highway robbery.) Driving along, I see many hardy men (and some women) up on the snowy rooftops, heaving shovelfuls of snow onto the ground. I have seen men up on these flatter roofs driving snowblowers around which makes me wonder how on earth they get the snowblower up there. I went last week to have my car serviced, parked alongside the building and went in, only to be greeted by a chorus of mechanics, urging me to quickly move my car. I looked out and saw my car was sitting underneath an enormous row of icicles, hanging ominously over my car. I returned at my fastest pace (more like a shuffle across the ice-covered parking lot) to drive my car away out of danger. When I did, the young man I had not seen before resumed his effort to dislodge the ice dam by banging on it with a long muffler pipe. I (and my car) was saved but others have not been so lucky. One man I heard about was in serious condition having endured the savage blow of these javelins known as icicles. Another person was up on his roof, shoveling. He went down with the big load of snow, a suburban-style avalanche, and was temporarily buried, just his hand sticking out. Fortunately his neighbor saw his hand and came to his rescue. The buried man’s nose and mouth were crammed with snow. He recovered. A heavy snow load on the roof of an old barn can act as a kind of euthanasia for an old structure that has not been shored up or maintained over the years. Driving by some of these landmarks, we watch to see when the day might come and then, one day, it’s down, shock and relief, all at once.

My friend Jamie has a farm in western Massachusetts with a chain of barns. One she uses the most is a building like a WWII Quonset hut. The inside is cavernous. She uses it as an indoor riding rink for training horses or just to exercise the horses in winter. It has other uses, including storage of trucks, tractors, boats and a myriad of tools. One day last week, it went down in a single moment. From inside the house, they heard a “thud.” That was all. When they went out, the big old structure had pancaked. The good fortune was that all the horses were outside, and no one was inside — as they certainly might have been. Momentary gratitude. But in the days that followed, they learned that their insurance policy does not cover collapsed structures (most don’t). So they are busy trying to recover what has been lost in the rubble. The remains look like a crown, the big round hump of the snow-covered roof in the middle surrounded by the splintered supporting beams which splay outward in a jagged circle. A casualty of this winter’s storms.

In all of this, wind has been my ally as it blows the snow off my roofs, eliminating the need to shovel. I do have a row of icicles outside my bathroom window. They thicken and lengthen with each passing day and, if things get worse, they will cause damage to my inside walls. I think about calling the young man with his muffler pipe to come over and bang on it. But the trade-off is roof damage which might require a new roof come spring. A gamble. While I ponder these odds, I take a photo of the ice bars on my window. I am going to send the photo to my cousin. Every time he comes to visit, he complains that I don’t have curtains, insists that I need to get curtains. But I hate to block my view of the field and the tall pines that lead up the road to my house. In all seasons, this is poetry. I am not so afraid of someone seeing in (since I have no neighbors, I don’t know who that might be) as I am of not being able to see out. For now, the icicles have shuttered my view. So I will show him my new curtains. If we all get our wishes and spring comes early, they will be gone soon enough.

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