Icicles dangled quietly from the roof of the railroad building across Route 66 as my neighbor and I ate pork green chile breakfasts. We live in snow country, maybe a hundred inches a year, so of course we were talking about the coming snow. Predictions were flying, with above the fold headlines, phone app screen with embedded exclamations in red triangles and maps showing large colored blotches that resembled moving herds of quadripeds, and tables of historical statistics, foreshadowing an imminent attack, perhaps a foot of snow.
I’d seen the rituals of preparation, the crews on flat roofs clearing left over snow and checking roof drains, fending off roof collapse and the extra media in bright vans adorned with Saguaro decals, eager to create marketable air time. I joined the preparation rituals. I covered the windshield of my driveway truck and located its window scraper. I gathered flashlights and batteries, food an snacks, coffee and tea, clothing layers, extra gasoline, shovels, scrapers, and brooms. I started the snowblower and checked the rotor operation.
Then, ready, I sat down. I sipped dark coffee. I enjoyed the view of the peaksfrom inside our sliding glass door. I listened to Tchaikovsky’s Tempest. I remembered past storms, their calls to arms and their comedy, tedium, risk, beauty, community, and reward.
When the snow started, it came softly, enveloping, wistful. The small watery flakes blew back and forth, floating, then growing more solid. Tiny projectilpellets joined in, landing and melting, leaving momentary wet spots. The flakes and pellets alternated, cooling the sun-warmed earth, gradually turning the patio pavers smoothly white.
I enjoy the intensity of storms, so I stepped outside to feel the the breeze onmy face and the flakes falling on my hands. I wanted to get started, to respond to the call to arms, but I reminded myself there was no use going out early. There would many flakes, lots of work. Better to wait, I said to myself, to save energy.
When a foot had collected, and the pets seemed trapped, I suited up and moved out, charged with adrenaline. I transformed into a puffy senior, covered head to toe, a comedic imitation of a samurai warrior: hat, sunglasses, thermal shirt, water resistant coat, gloves, gaiters, boots. I was flanked by weapons, shovels and my mechanized sidekick, my red snowblower.
I opened the garage door and grabbed my snow shovel, clearing a path along the edge of the driveway, hoping to avoid the risk of later propelling a yard rock into a vulnerable window. Then I started the snow blower and went up the first strip of snow. The blower grabbed the powder and sent it out in a stream, onto the yard. The powered wheels pulled me forward until the blower lip hit the first upraised paver, pushed there by many cycles of freezing and thawing. The blower suddenly stopped and the wheels spun while I pulled the blower back and lifted the front edge over the break. This would be repeated again and again as my driveway showed its age.
The arching streams were landing on the plants that had been carefully planted and maintained, burying them under layers of what would become ice. My wife worried that her roses would have broken branches. So perhaps they were fighting back when a wind gust reversed a stream, waft its icy fog back at me, covering me head to toe in ice.
I noticed my neighbors, suited up and also working hard. Snow clearing isn’t free soloing and it isn’t competition. It’s a community, one that helps each other: with extra gas, blower problems, extra shovels and extra hands. We each have a style. Some of us use only shovels. One neighbor clears in but a hoody and shorts. Some start early in the morning. Others wait for off-season landscapers to arrive and clear their snow.
On I went, back and forth, following behind the roaring engine, lifting, turning, again and again. The work became like slogging up out of the Grand Canyon after several days on the trail, manual labor, trudging along, headed upward toward the rim.
Some rows reached the inclined concrete driveway apron, my least favorite area. The blower always left a thin icy layer there. As it accelerated down the incline, the grip of my boot was faltering, and my control was weakening. I was being launched into the street. At the same time, the wind was still reversing the blower stream and pelting me with more aerated ice, reducing my visibility and probably blocking the vision of approaching drivers on the icy street. I felt risky and comedic, like Dick Van Dyke walking through a room of footstools.
But there were also windows of beauty, times of magic light, glimpses of blue sky or a tree covered in snow that then fell in clouds. Sometimes a camera escape was demanded. Such transient images became keepsakes, memories: “remember when…?”
After a while I finished a first clearing. There would be more snow, but I needed to listen to the call of comfort, get coffee, put my feet up and watch the snow from inside.
Thankfully, the day did end. Morning did follow. There was a bit more snow and there was the berm. The street-clearing grader had passed by, leaving a moraine of ice, several feet high, that loved to re-test my endurance and try to break the delicate snow blower shear pins.
When it was over, the numbers came. Our paper labelled the storm a ‘snowpocalypse”. Actually, it was eighth in the list of “big ones”. But there was a record: the most snow in 24 hours since 1915. I bid the storm farewell and did an imaginary end zone spike.
Snow Storms are magic. In the mountains they are elixirs, magical potions of life, tests of virility, and invitations to explore. As we plodded slowly across newly white fields, in snowshoes, we heard the silence, feelt the crunch, watched clouds scud across the peaks. “Where did the dog go”? She was bounding across the fields, each step a leap. She looked back, her head coated in white, and wondered why we’re so slow.
As the melt unveiled its captives, roses with broken branches appeared and my wife asked me to throw the snow elsewhere next time. “Ok, dear, I’ll try.”
Meanwhile, my snow melts, drip by drip, down into the earth, into hidden channels, then jumps out into springs and creeks, flows south toward the desert. When the storm came to the people of the desert, they had put on coats and gloves, gathered their fallen powder sugar into snowballs, made each other shriek. Our melted powder flow to them as sustenance, in a web of life.
**this piece is excerpted from a longer work intended for publication submittal
**please contact me (vic at vicsmithphoto.com) if you are interested in reviewing it
My thanks to Jessie for her help