News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 21, 2010

The Off Season: The mostly cloudy with a chance of snow times have changed

By Mike Lunsford

I spent a while tonight shoveling snow, a ritual to which I have grown quite accustomed this winter. I made the arrogant mistake of pointing out to my wife one day last week, after a particularly satisfying session of excavating, that I enjoyed seeing all of our walks, and the backyard deck, and our driveway, clear of the snow cone-like mess that was left by a quick but sloppy storm.

It was a comfort to me to look out of my windows to see neatly shoveled paths to our bird feeder, to the barn and to my truck, which has to endure the harsh winter weather since only our car can fit into a garage made snug by the Fred Sanford-like clutter of recycling cans and filing cabinets and overflowing shelves.

But I have paid the price of such chutzpah; another cold front has curled its frigid fingers around the Midwest, and just last night we picked up nearly half-a-foot of powdery snow that this evening covers every track and trail and clear road that my plastic shovel and I had created on willpower and ibuprofen and a well-guarded back. Now, a new load of snow blankets the tops of fence posts, hangs precariously from the eaves of our barn and sits on the rocking chairs and old wooden storage trunk that reside on our porch, mocking the roof that they supposedly use for protection.

We have grown quite tired of the monotonously similar weather forecasts we hear: “Mostly cloudy,” the weathermen tell us day after day, “with a chance of snow.” In the not-so-long-ago old days, the two of us, both teachers in small, rural schools, delighted in those words, for we might enjoy a day off from work, a day we not only didn’t have to pay back, but also one in which we could sleep in a little.

But times have changed. We must now tone for our snow days under the illusion that we can keep our students’ attention in warmer, greener times, and I stew a little now in knowing that despite their both being adults, my two kids are driving in, rather than playing in, the stuff. It’s on days such as these decades ago that I used to be on my sled, racing down my cousins’ hill across the road from our house. I’d go inside only for a change of socks or gloves or scarf.

Yet, despite the labor it causes me now, I have grown friendly with our frequent snowfalls. I often shovel in the evenings under a crystalline sky, in the dying light that Rockwell Kent or Maxfield Parrish captured in watercolors. I watch my breath in regular smoky puffs and feel my face turn pleasantly numb, and despite an obvious lack of publicity on such matters, feel myself accomplishing something — a self-satisfying clearing and cleansing — one scoop of my shovel at a time.

I can now anticipate the places on my deck where the treated brown boards have raised up a little, a frozen swelling for which I have to adjust the angle of my shovel lest I punch myself in the stomach with its rigid handle. I have the odd shape of our deck planned out in my head, too, knowing that I can save a few trips down and back by cutting a corner here and there. It is near my back door that the snow nearly always blows off our roof to pile itself up in a most inconvenient spot, so my first shoveling task is always near there, for our cats’ bowls manifest a snow-removal priority, something like snow routes plowed first by the road crews.

In recent weeks, the snow has come in three varieties. There has been a powder that easily picks itself up and moves across our fields and closes our roads and reminds us all of Napoleon’s miserable army in retreat across Russia. There, too, is the snow we still can see crusted on the north sides of the trees like sprayed insulation on an industrial building’s ceiling. It was that snow a few weeks back that led me to check to be certain that my mailbox would open for a mailman already weary from a long morning of tugging and pulling.

There is also the wet, heavy snow, the self-packing kind that makes my shoveling real work. It is the kind that I know causes sore backs and coronaries in middle-aged men. I obviously try to avoid both maladies, so I set a fairly leisurely pace and rest often. My friend, Joe, tells me that I need an electric snow broom or gas-powered blower to clear away the mess, but for now, I still like the sound of my scraping shovel and crunching boots, and I do need the exercise this time of year.

In recent days, we have experienced a freezing fog that leaves our pine trees and woven wire and uncut ornamental grasses glazed like works of art. My woods remind me of a Dr. Zhivago-like wonderland, and despite knowing that it all melts away in a process that resembles a false snowfall, it is a beautiful thing to see, a natural freezer in need of a natural defrosting. I told my students in an early morning class a few days back that it was a real joy to be up early to see the sun cut a path into that splendid frosty air, and they looked at me as if I had volunteered to diffuse bombs or had claimed to have spotted a Yeti behind the house.

In her beautifully rendered, “February Twilight,” poet Sara Teasdale recounts a silent icicle of an evening when she “stood beside a hill/Smooth with new-laid snow. A single star looked out/From the cold evening glow.” I have been in a similar place quite frequently this winter. I enjoy my shoveling for the most part, but like her, it is the evening sky that keeps my attention most of all.

It is getting dark on me now, and I am tempted to grab that shovel and head out to the south side of our house to tackle a few inches of snow just left for us yesterday.

“Why don’t you wait,” my wife half-asks and half-tells me. “The weatherman says it’s going to stay cloudy, and there’s a good chance for snow.”

I have no doubt about that.

Mike Lunsford can be reached at hickory913@aol.com, or by regular mail C/O the Tribune-Star, P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808. He will be speaking and signing his books at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Indiana State on Thursday; the Clay County Historical Society on March 1; Psi Iota Xi meeting at the Vigo County Library on March 2; and at BookNation on March 5. Check for times and other presentations on Mike’s Web page at www.mikelunsford.com.