Friday, February 4, 2011

Coping with Copious Snow

I'm in Ann Arbor this weekend, working with Sunward, a cohousing community built in 1998. Next weekend I'll be in Kalamazoo, working with the Kalamazoo Peace Center on the campus of Western Michigan University. After navigating the aftermath of Tuesday's blizzard, I'm happy to be in Michigan anywhere.

Back at Sandhill Tuesday, we got about 14 inches of snow (how could they measure the stuff after it had been whipped around by 30 mph winds?). There were spots with only an inch or two, and other places with 3-foot drifts. In 37 years at Sandhill I'd never seen higher drifts—level with the bottom of some windows in the house. With the sun out and the wind died back, it was actually a lovely day Wednesday—both to appreciate Nature's artwork and to attempt to dig out from it.
(My left hand was cramping lightly all day Thursday in protest to the shoveling I'd done Wed morning, and my thighs were cramping in protest to sitting in the cab of my pickup all day.)

I left home in the pre-dawn light Thursday and got off to a hopeful start simply by getting to the blacktop (which was actually mostly whitetop with all the packed snow). Our access road is one-half mile of rock that goes downhill, crosses an intermittent stream (the Sandhill Branch) and then goes back uphill. The trick when driving under adverse conditions is to have enough speed when you hit the bridge that you have sufficient momentum to make it up the hill—while not having so much speed that you hit the bridge literally.

It helped enormously that a neighbor had come through three times on Wednesday with their big ass John Deere tractor: first to simply make tracks, second to blade off the top half of the snow; third to plow as much snow off as possible. This made a channel in the roadway and reduced the remaining snow pack to a manageable 3-6 inches. Because the axle width on the pickup is less than that of the John Deere, I kept sashaying from one rut to the other as a wallowed along the road, but I never lost my momentum and made it out in one pass. Whew!

Next I had to cope with our secondary county roads, which, understandably, hadn't received as much attention from the snow plows as the primary roads had. I discovered, to my chagrin, that the blacktop near us had only one lane cleared. Yikes! It turned out that I had to traverse 10 nerve-wracking miles of highway until I got to where two lanes had been cleared. Luckily, I didn't meet an oncoming car. Double whew!

After that, I only had to worry about slowing down soon enough to avoid spinning out on occasional patches of snow. After 150 miles I got onto the interstate. Even the snow patches mostly disappeared and my speed approached normal. The only remaining serious challenge was negotiating the stretch of I-80/94 around the southern end of Lake M ichigan—where there's always congestion—and I had to contend with the triple whammy of heavy truck traffic, patches of ice, and sudden constrictions forced by lanes still clogged with snow. Nonetheless, I got through, and was happy to pull into the Sunward parking lot five minutes before my scheduled dinner meeting. Triple whew!

Here in southeastern Michigan, they only had six inches of white stuff (14 had been predicted). As that's a more or less a normal winter event for these parts, my hosts hadn't experienced the once-in-four-decades storm that Sandhill (and Chicago) had. For them, it was just another chance to go car sledding, and meet after sidewalk shoveling for hot cocoa.

That's OK with me. Even if my kids—who live in Las Vegas—don't seem to get tired of hearing about the weather they're missing by no longer living in the Midwest,
I think I've had enough winter for this year.

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