Yesterday was more fun than your average Monday. We got our first official snow day of the year.
Snow cancellations are a part of life in the northern tier of American states, and the Canadian provinces. When snow comes in regular, more or less predictable storms, every three to four weeks, a foot or several at a time, and then needs to be moved before regular life can proceed, you don't want extraneous people on the road. You certainly don't want schoolkids and students trying to get to school in their school buses and private jalopies in the dark and snow at 6.30 am, which is when the school buses and the high school students have to get moving in this part of Maine, but also when the plows and salt spreaders have to work the hardest.
And when the schools close, Unity College also closes. Mostly to avoid death and injury in road accidents from students, faculty, and staff trying to hard too get to work.
Which accidents are after all fairly inevitable, if you think about it.
You can see the results of a snow day policy fairly quickly in reduced accidents. It's a very sensible policy, and has the particular psychological benefit of making adults who work in education, state government, and other sectors where workplaces close for snow, feel like happy schoolchildren for a day, because, well, we don't have to go to work that day.
Our first snow day didn't get called until the late morning, which was a bit of a pain. That meant we had to struggle through the storm to get to school, then struggle back home again later. No benefit to driving safety from this snow day.
But we did get the afternoon off. Not entirely, because I spent about five hours of the afternoon and evening grading. But I was able to concentrate on the grading and get it done properly, for which I was grateful.
And I was able to get my tractor out and move all the snow in our driveway and barn access, a vital chore, but one that requires daylight.
The sheep were all pretty stoic about the snow. The outside ewes, the ones in with the ram, hung out in their little shelter or just slept in the snow, emerging with several inches on their backs to eat hay when I went to feed. The barren ewes with last year's ewe-lambs stayed in the barn and ate lots of hay, twice as much as usual.
They must have been bored, poor lambs.
The hens and rooster, for the most part also stayed in the barn, although one enterprising hen came out and dodged around the tractor while I was plowing, looking for bits of grit in the snow. Cheryl Roethlisburger Crow, the rooster, was subdued for once. There's one benefit to the snow -- it shuts the durn rooster up!
The dogs came out to play a little, and Haggis got rolled in the snow, making a doggy-snow-angel, which made him deliriously happy, and so he ran up and down the driveway just for the fun of it.
Back at college, before we left, the first and second-year students had reverted to their childhoods, which after all is not so far back, and were sledding on bits of cardboard, stolen meal trays, trash can lids, and snowboards down the small sled hill next to the main dorm.
I wasn't up for too much of this larking about, except to give Haggis his roll in the snow. I was way too sore for playing in the snow.
And therein lies a winter's tale...
Sunday evening, as the storm was getting going, while it was still a cold miserable rain, I was struggling to get back from the statewide search and rescue quarterly in Bangor, which had me crossing the Mount Harris pass between Dixmont and Jackson (900 feet above sea level), when I started to slide on the way up the mountain. This doesn't happen often, but I quickly threw the truck into four wheel drive and continued at a more subdued pace.
When I got to the top, I saw a half-dozen cars pulled over and a truck in the ditch. I too pulled over, to see what was wrong. As I was doing this, another four-wheel drive truck passed me and lost control, sliding right away into the front of the truck already in the ditch. I got out to see if anyone was injured, but as I was crossing the road I discovered how slick it was -- I fell flat on my butt.
To begin, I couldn't even stand, and had to crawl to the shoulder to stand up. The road was beautifully covered in three eights of an inch of hard, wet black ice: really, really slick. It was obvious that we were not going down that pass. Bruised and tender, I started working my way back through the row of waiting vehicles to tell them what was up, and several drivers turned around to take the western route, through Unity, which is not nearly as high. You need studded tires to handle slick black ice like that, especially on a steep hill, even with four wheel drive.
A few cars, oblivious, sped past me as I was doubling back, including a couple of neighbors. I hope they didn't try the pass.
I didn't feel like going forty miles around to get home, so I doubled back then took the eastern route over dirt roads and through Jackson village, a fifteen-mile, thirty-minute detour. The dirt roads were bad too, but a four wheel drive truck can handle mud.
Driving the long way back home, hurt, on the bouncy dirt roads was pretty poor fun, but sitting down to do grading Sunday evening was pure misery. Not only were the papers pretty bad, which always makes me upset, but my back was whip-lashed and very stiff and sore. Three Aleve tablets reduced the pain sufficient to get a good night's sleep, but I was still fairly upset about it this morning, and so extra happy to get home early.
Then, to cap it all, I'd forgotten to move my tractor into the barn before the ice storm, and so had a very cold bum after my hour's work moving snow yesterday.
Insult to injury.
Eventually I got wise and chipped the ice off with a hammer, but not before the numb-butt effect took hold.
Is a numb bum better than a sore bum? A silly question. Any Mainer can tell you, what you need to last the winter nicely is a warm dry bum, preferably unbruised.
That tractor is now safely in the barn, where it will stay all winter when it's not being used. I run it on kerosene in the winter, to make sure it will start, and keep it in the barn.
Now we're out of propane, and there's been more snow. Aimee will not be a happy camper this morning when she finds out, especially if she doesn't get a hot shower. With the Camry out of action until the part arrives, we'll need to drive to work together in the truck today, and then come home early so I can get propane and plow snow again.
Oh well. It's winter. Time to struggle a little again. Can't be helped.
You get used to it, and quickly begin to remember all your precautions, like never running out of gas, keeping firewood well-covered, shoveling, plowing and moving snow when you can, or putting the tractor away every time.
Keeping it under control and civilized.
Snow days make life a lot easier. If I couldn't have that extra time, I'd be doing a lot of plowing and other chores in the dark, and we'd have a lot more accidents around here.
As for my slight accident, well, I dislike driving in the dark at the best of times, but driving in the dark with a sore butt and whiplash over dirt roads in freezing rain, that I can really do without.
I hope I don't let that happen again this winter.