Friday, February 27, 2015

Winter's Garden: When Does the Snow Go?


            First we attack the icicles.  
            We weren't the ones who started this, remember. It's one thing to grow huge icicles outside the house. This we expect. It's part of the snow season ritual. If you get snow on the roof, especially if it hangs around, as it has this year, week after week after week, you're bound to get icicles hanging off the eaves, the gutters. They grow long as knives, thick as iron bars, descend like swords and spears outside your windows. You see them when you look out through the glass. You look for the natural world, but you see a world refracted, mediated, muddled, rippled by thick translucent layered ice.
            But this year the ice gets inside between the storm windows and the window panes. We have some old windows here. We have had had an unusually heavy, long-lasting snow load. The intersection of these two factors produces broad, thick, hungry, unyielding sheens of ice, chunky and mottled like frozen fish swimming up streams of ice into a space we habitually regard as inside our house.
            Eventually, sun will melt them, and then their liquid remains would fill the well of the window sill and spill inside. We wish the outside to remain outside, especially when it persists in being so cold.
            So last weekend the humans struck back.
            Anne forced up the window, applied the hair drier -- that age-old homemade remedy against the forces of ice and cold -- and loosened the hold of ice on glass until the storm window slid free up and down as well. What remained, a frozen lake in the well, she attacked with a hammer. Until, when the battle was over, she harvested a buck of icy chunks, a strange fruit of this winter's assault of snow, ice and freezing weather.
            Some days later, at night, men come in trucks and tractors to haul away the snow.


            I hear them past midnight. The beep-beep, beep-beep sing-song of backing trucks; the stepping back of the front-loading scoops. I know they are carving away at the snow mountains and wonder where within hearing they are striking. A weak spot? An essential fortress? They have already widened a key intersection at the end of our street where it meets a busy artery, but they have not brought their forces any closer to us since then. I wonder how the campaign is going.
            I wonder also where they are taking the snow.
            In the morning I know what I have heard, but I see no signs of retreat in the snow fortresses that ring both sides of all the nearby streets. Our own block is still heavily walled. We travel in a little tunnel from front door to car. When we leave the house we can move in only one direction through a tunnel of now compressed snow. An unmolested snow-mass completely blocks communication to the next house over. 
            Later that day, a few blocks down, I find a street where the blockade has been attacked, the walls diminished, the roadway widened.
            Another morning I hear them somewhere nearby again -- the telltale warning beep-beep of the backing front-loader -- for a short. But instead of the banked walls in front of our house lowered, they have been raised, big chunky blocks of  compressed snow on top. My first thought is to fear the worst. If some tractor has skimmed along the feet of the snow walls and piled up the resulting blocks of compacted snow in my driveway, once again blocking our lifeline to the street, I will not answer for my actions. I will be driven to desperation. I conceive of terrible acts. A one-man guerilla war; a snow-driven terrorist.

            But no, when at last I go out to inspect, the driveway gap has been spared this time. I see that the local target of the snow removal mission was simply the liberation of drain in the gutter on the other side of the street. The drain will be needed to absorb the snow's retreat, the cold flood of melt water from a major thaw when it comes, as inevitably it must.  
            I have hoped for more. If only they could take away the snow, now that we have all grown tired of maneuvering around it. 
           We hear there's a place by the river, a place by the sea. We see photo of mountains of old snow huddled by the harbor in a city park. I hope they get to our street eventually in their slow-going snow removal campaign, but if they do they'd better have a plan. I don't want it ending up in my driveway.