Tuesday, March 20, 2007

But It's A Dry Snow

It is not just the heat that is dryer in New Mexico - it's the precipitation too.

Rain, which just doesn't happen in the desert southwest (can you spell d-r-o-u-g-h-t?), is by virtue of its absence that much less humid than the showers that frequently fall in the forest northeast. But snow, which does occur relatively often in the higher altitudes of "The Land of Enchantment", also seems to come with a noticeable lack of liquid content. Or at least that's how it seemed to me this past weekend when Mars and I were digging ourselves out from the second (and probably final) shovel-able snowstorm of the season in our home state of Connecticut.

Both of the "snow events" were light on the white (four to six inches) and heavy on the wet (fifteen to twenty pounds per square inch). Okay, a slight exaggeration for rhetorical purposes - but only a slight one. Until this year winter precipitation like this was extremely unusual in our neck of the woods. Both storms were forecast and post mortemed as "a wintry mix" which sounds to me like the melange of vegetables that might be served with coconut coated shrimp at your local nouvelle cuisine establishment this time of year. Instead it seems to be an eighth inch of snow, then a one-inch layer of ice, then another ultra thin layer of snow, and so forth. Had all of this been actual snow we apparently would have had two to three times the depth - and less than ten percent of the weight and work.

Mars, whose poundage along with several other things I do not and will not ever know, can walk on the latest yard-full of white stuff without even making a dent. I, whose one hundred eighty pound heft I am aware of, sank on about one half of my steps. The virtually weightless squirrels and birds that inhabit our property haven't left a discernible track since their playground became buried in white two days ago.

The snowblower was absolutely useless. Like all of us in the preceding paragraph it also rode up onto the thick crust of frozen-solid, moisture-laden "snow" barely making a dent in the surface as it spun its auger fruitlessly.

In what used to be called a normal snowstorm I would have looked at my inability to use that thirty-year old machine as a good thing. I actually like shoveling snow. To me it is one of the few absolutely pure jobs in the world - well defined and finite, uses pretty much all your bodily muscles, provides interim successes along the way, and is perfectly evident when it is finished.

Two of my favorite activities were shoveling snow at five in the morning before I went to work when no one at all was out and about, the air was wake-up-quick cold, and the sky was starry; and performing the same act on a bright sunny afternoon when it was cold enough to require a jacket to start but the heat of the labor caused the removal of layers down to a lone cotton turtleneck with ski cap and gloves - plus other socially required articles of clothing.

This shoveling was neither of these. The tip of the blade pinged helplessly off the rock-hard surface and it took repeated whacks and hacks with the ice chopper in order to loosen up the snow enough to allow removal. Mars and I settled on a routine wherein she chopped while walking backwards in front of me and I followed with the shovel. We live on a corner with sidewalks on both sides, a path across our front yard and a driveway. After almost two hours we had done the part of the path from the front step to the sidewalk and the walk itself - one shovel-s width. In contrast, on my five a.m./sunny day adventures in the past I myself could do the whole thing including the driveway in thirty to forty-five minutes.

The next day with the help of sun and temperature I chopped away for another ninety minutes and cleared the driveway apron and the area near the garage where the outside car would be parked. And yesterday I spent another forty-five minutes creating a pair of snow-free tire-paths to connect the two previously cleared areas. Today, in another three quarter hour chopping workout, I finally removed the remaining snow-ice esplanade and saw for the first time in four days the entire surface of my driveway.

When we were in New Mexico for Christmas we were snowed in for four additional days by fifteen to twenty inches of precipitation so light and fluffy that you couldn't have made a snowball out of it even if you added your own water - which of course you couldn't, this being the desert southwest and it being drought-plagued, etc.

I wished that I had brought my snow shovel. Especially since they seem not to have any of their own in Albuquerque or Santa Fe. Nor snowplows either. They just wait for it to melt. Which it does pretty quickly because (a) the sun is so intense and (b) the snow is so full of air and empty of liquid.

Which of course means that when we move out there to live I'll be setting my alarm clock for five a.m. on snowstorm mornings. The New Mexican sky is bigger and darker so there will be even more stars under which to do my early morning shoveling. And (based on what I have observed of the natives' snow-clearing proclivities) even less people out and about to share them with.

THEY, Mars included, will all still be in bed waiting for the sun to rise and the snow to melt.

THEY just won't realize all the fun that they are missing.

(Photos by Mars)

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