Tuesday, February 26, 2008

More is not necessarily better


I might be more excited about the record quantities of snow if I wasn't sick with some sort of flu or bronchitis or something. Glad I shoveled the damn roof.

Monday, February 11, 2008

More Northern Bullshit

Shoveling roofs gets old long before it gets finished. Structurally ours don't need it yet, but Twelve Days of Hell starts Wednesday. If we get a big storm we could be in trouble. Even if we just get six inches over and over we could be screwed*. I won't have a day off to do anything about it until February 25.

When I shovel a roof I borrow a bit of mountaineering technology to belay myself against a nasty fall. I know that makes me less manly than legendary New England snow removers like Stumpy Edwards, Gimpy Coleman and Wheelchair McWilliams, but I have my own style.

Tying off my old climbing rope to convenient trees, I run it over the ridge of either of the roofs I might need to clear, and pull a loop through a Sticht plate hooked to my harness. I can pull tight whichever half of the rope I want for the side of the roof I'm on.

I warmed up with a spot of unbelayed soloing on the relatively flat top of the woodshed. It has the weakest roof support, so it really needs to be cleared. With the driveway glaciers as big as they are, I can step right onto the woodshed roof, which isn't more than about seven feet high at the high side anyway.

The real work began on the North Face of the Garage. Layers of crust held up to hard jabs with the shovel. The whole layer cake was about two feet thick anyway. I carved out a small square at the top of the ladder, snugged the belay line and dug in.

Once a clearing is established, I snug up the belay line so it will stop me from going all the way off the edge of the roof, but allow me to slide freely when I cut a big block loose from the main mass and ride it down to shove it off into the abyss. With the Sticht plate tied off and the loop of the half hitch clipped into the carabiner that holds the bight going through the belay, I have both hands free.

Things went faster on the South Face. You can learn a lot about mountain snows by looking at how snow acts on a roof. You have different pitches and exposures, combined with the different storms themselves and the temperature swings that may have modified the snowpack. Clearing a roof you try to start a controlled avalanche. On the 45-degree pitch of the steeper roof I have not had to intervene. Above 30 degree angles slopes get increasingly unstable, but the real action starts at 45 and above. Enough comes off the high roof by itself to keep me from having to scale it. Without crampons it would be dicey, even with a belay.

The whole thing feels a lot like ice climbing. I get hot and sweaty while working, but chill rapidly when stopping to deal with the belay. At least I don't have to stop for as long as it would take a partner to follow the pitch and lead the next one.

Strong winds blew snow bombs out of the trees overhead. In milder weather I could wear just a light shirt while shoveling and have a jacket handy to throw on while I did rope tricks. With wind gusts and spindrift it was a better idea to stew inside the shell gear today.

After I clambered down from the garage roof I still had to tidy up stray chunks and shovel a trench to the garage door so we can get in.

In big winters we live in a snow fort.

Tomorrow morning I'll tackle the lower house roof. Snow this deep starts to make this house feel like a small boat going onto big water. The swells of white don't lap at the windowsills yet, but not far from the house they crest higher.



*I know, six inches over and over is the definition of screwed. My words are always carefully chosen, except when they aren't.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Regional Considerations

I put on my boots, jacket, parka, hat and gloves, shouldered my computer bag and daypack and trudged through the snow to my car.

At the car I brushed away what I could from the passenger's side door, chipped the ice away from the lock, unlocked the door and yanked on it to break it loose, because it had frozen shut during the snowy day.

I put my bags on the seat and reached through to start the engine. I turned on the lights and the front and rear defrosters. Then I pulled my shovel and scraper out. With the shovel I pushed off the loose snow and broke loose some thicker crusty deposits left over from several days of mixed frozen precipitation. Following that I made another lap around the vehicle to scrape the ice off the windows.

After tossing the shovel and scraper back into the car, I went to the driver's door. It was so solidly frozen shut that I feared I would damage the handle if I continued to yank. I went back around to the passenger's side, leaned through and punched the driver's door open from inside. Then I went back around to climb into the driver's seat. There I pulled off my wet gloves and started to laugh.

The only time someone living in the south goes through this much bullshit just to go somewhere in the car is when he's to drunk to get the key into the door lock or the car is buried in tornado debris.

We go to a lot of trouble to live up here. And it doesn't even keep the riffraff out. We just have our own variety.

I made it to Route 16 just in time to settle back and enjoy the spectacle of a frantic Masshole desperately jockeying to pass a state plow truck. He finally made it, double yellow line and all, leaving me directly behind the truck to enjoy the seizure-inducing strobe lights and the fountain of sparks coming off the wing plow like a private fireworks display. I would have liked to go faster, but I could see the plow driver had a reason to dump salt and sand on the black ice ribbons on the pavement. Why act like an ass for a few miles per hour when I might get out there and wish I'd waited for some traction assistance? I pushed in some tunes and enjoyed the light show. The headlights of a desperate man filled the rear view mirror.

The plow eventually turned off. The guy behind me was so happy he passed me on the right and ran a red light as if it wasn't there.

Just another evening commute in snow country.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Luge 'em and leave 'em

With very limited time for outdoor exercise and recreation, skiing or snowshoeing seemed like they would need too much preparation time. Laurie pulled the plastic sleds out of the shed and we started making runs down the little knoll on which our house sits.

We established two general tracks. It took a few runs to set courses that avoided things like trees and bramble bushes. Like kids, we whooped and hollered and compared distance. As we made run after short run, we climbed the knoll many times. In this way we passed an unstructured hour of play.

I'd like to say a sense of carefree, childlike wonder overtook us, but that seldom happened to me even as a child. I've been worried about the future for as long as I can remember. I distinctly recall being ten years old, in the back yard in Maine, wondering what I would find to do that would earn me enough money to enjoy life and have a decent retirement. History will show that I never found it. Sometimes it's like that. Humans are the only species that retires. We made that shit up. Other life forms just live until they die, doing whatever they can. But at ten years old, I had not had time to think about the validity of the human model, only to consider my odds of doing well in it.

Regardless of the fact that I was not magically transported to a timeless land of youthful innocence and optimism, I still had fun and got a little exercise. Those were the objectives. I typically require more, but Mondays have turned into my biggest rest days. I crawl out of the work week feeling surprisingly drained. I blame the long drive and chronically short sleep. Whether I'm busy at the shop or not, I have to be there, awake and ready to focus on whatever might walk through the door or call on the telephone. Anything I might be doing to pass the time, however important to me, I must drop on the instant to attend to a customer's urgent need for Kleenex, socks, wax advice or $800 worth of high end ski gear.

For someone who does not require a rich diet of strenuous exertion, an hour of running up and sliding down the sledding hill is vastly better than nothing. If something is fun, it tends to get done. So think about chucking the serious adult fitness activities (or the unfulfilled intention to pursue them) and maybe just run around on the playground for an hour. Just be sure to do it daily, or nearly so, for it to do any good. We were built to run around, not sit around.