SHOVELING OUT AT UNDERHILL HOUSE
Three days ago, Doug and I were coming home from errands in Madison in near white-out conditions. The flakes were tiny, but so thick they filled the air, and they were being driven almost horizontally through the headlight beams obliterating any sight of the stripes on the road. The same wind was doing its best to bat us off that road. Traffic on the Interstate was crawling at 30 and hoping to make it home safe.
This morning I got up to see an incredibly gorgeous snow falling outside Underhill House. Some of the flakes were the size of dimes. They wafted toward the ground so gently, they reminded me of a dreamy song by Manhattan Transfer called, not surprisingly, Snowfall.
In Wisconsin, you never know what the winter will bring. In December, one in four years tops 22.5 inches of snow. Another 25 percent of years receive less than 3.4 inches for the month. Similarly in January, fresh snowfall in the heaviest years amounts to over 19 inches, while the lightest years get under 6.5 inches. New snow for February ranges from over 13 inches in heavy snowfall years to 6.5 inches or less in light years. That makes for some very different February’s. March is a month that can really be all over the map. Last March had a record high of 82 F – smashing the previous record by 13 degrees. What should have been the last hoorah blizzard of winter was a pounding deluge of rain. We are starting March in the upper Midwest with an average of 9.1 inches of snow cover. Where it will go from there is anyone’s guess.
I’ve been doing a little figuring.
I estimate that we have about 7,000 square feet of drive. If the snow is about 6”, which it has been several times recently, that amounts to 3,500 cubic feet of snow, or a mound about 10’ x 10’ and 3-1/2 stories tall.
Depending on the nature of the snow – light and fluffy or dense and slushy, it can weigh from 7 pounds a cubic foot to 20 pounds and more. We’ve had both types this past week, so picking a number in the middle, would mean 50,000 pounds of snow – that’s 25 tons. I’ve just re-checked my math, and I think that’s right.
Yet we did it – twice (about 3-4″ each time) on Wednesday.
We’ve got a system. We have a DR brush mower that can switch out the mower blade for a snowplow blade, and Doug wrestles it up and down the bulk of the drive, back and forth many times, easing the snow gradually from the center to the outer edges of our gradually-narrowing driving lane.
My job is to do the steps, the spur beside house and the space where we park the cars. I use an array of shovels and brooms for that task.
I sweep the porch steps and our stone steps. They are lovely, but not very shovel friendly. If the snow is deep enough, I must start with a shovel, but I ultimately need to clear out all the little indentations in their irregular surfaces with the broom.
Then I get to work moving snow away from the house across the drive and dumping it over the rock wall along the edge of the drive. We have the perfect tool for the job. It’s a huge push shovel with a rectangular handle like a reel lawn mower. With it I can move all the snow I can manage, sliding it uphill with ease and gliding it up over the increasing ridge of snow at the edge of the area I’m clearing and dumping my snow load beyond.
What I love about it is that you can really tailor the amount of snow you move each trip. I prefer to make more trips but carry less than the shovel could absolutely hold each trip. I can keep myself in a gently aerobic state, gradually peeling out of my hat, gloves and overcoat, and still feeling plenty warm.
There are few activities as pleasant as methodically moving snow and clearing a path. I used to like the sound of the city after a big snow. Noise seemed muffled and the mechanical background noises were minimized. Sometimes you would hear the answering screech of a neighbor’s shovel cutting down to the concrete sidewalk. We all had a chance to catch up on each other’s lives in a Currier and Ives setting.
Out here in the country, it is very quiet as I shovel. If it’s windy, the spruces are whispering. Every five or 10 minutes Doug sweeps past with his noisy but effective walk-behind plow, and then the roar fades away, and it’s back to just me and the pure-white snow. As the climate warms, I look on each fresh snowfall as an endangered species that I feel fortunate to experience.
What do you love about shoveling snow? (I know almost everyone says they hate it — but isn’t there something that’s kind of cool about shoveling that amazing substance, snow?