Posts Tagged ‘snow’

Digging Out

After several big snowfalls, and last night’s 8-incher, we decided that before tackling the digging out process, we would go on a short walk in the woods.  We live near several snowmobile trails that except for weekends are barely in use.  Because these trails are groomed and compacted regularly, it means we have many options for walking in the woods in remote areas, but don’t require snowshoes.

On Sundays we might see as many as 10  – 15 snowmobilers.

A snowmobiler crosses our path

A snowmobiler crosses our path

I have mixed feelings.  I am certainly appreciative both to the state of Maine and private snowmobile clubs for maintaining the snowmobile trails.  It’s a lot of work and expense to keep them groomed right after a snowfall, packing down the snow and making sure the trail is free from debris.  These trails go on for hundreds of miles, right to the Canadian border, and it enables people to enjoy the woods and go places they couldn’t reach otherwise.  Snowmobilers also bring in a huge amount of revenue for local businesses and the State of Maine, from rentals, sales, motels, restaurants, gift stores, gas stations, apparel stores, and even repair mechanics.

For people who don’t have snowmobiles, the trails provide a place to go hiking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing.  Caveat:  proceed with caution.  Snowmobiles are basically motorcycles on skis.  They go fast, and some trails are narrow.  It is the snowmobilers, not other outdoor adventurers, who have the right of way, so if you hear a snowmobile approaching, you had better step aside off the trail – – and do so quickly.  The downside to snowmobiles is that they are noisy and their exhaust is smelly.  It seems counter to enjoying a beautiful day in the woods to be creating so much noise, when one of the things I like best about our area is the pristine quiet.  But since there are easier, quicker places to reach, we really do get a minimum amount of trail use by snowmobilers in our area, so the benefits of trail use for hiking outweigh any negatives.

 The ethereal beauty of our woods

The ethereal beauty of our woods near our home.  If you look carefully, you will see a snowmobiler to the left of the shed.

 

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Walking along the groomed trail

Walking along the groomed trail

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When we returned from our 3-mile excursion, we decided to get to work digging out from the previous night’s storm.

First we tackled the mailbox. Two years ago I had a welder create the frame for our mailbox so that the mailbox could be hung from chains, thereby averting knocks and destruction by passing snowplows.  The top of the pole is 7′ tall, so based on these pictures you can see that we’ve gotten a lot of snow so far.  In fact, even though I try to keep the mailbox area clear so that our mail lady won’t have any difficulties delivering our mail, if we get much more snow in the coming weeks I won’t have any place left to shovel the snow away from the mailbox.

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Even though our Plow Guy snowplows the 500′ long driveway following a snowfall of at least 4″, there is always plenty snow clean-up that remains for us to address.

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First my husband cleared a path to our 1000-gallon buried propane tank.

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Next he removed the snow from our emergency back-up generator, ensuring the air vents and access to the doors were clear.

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He also made a path to and under the laundry lines, since even on freezing days, I hang freshly laundered clothes out to dry.

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He shoveled a way to the solar panels so I could brush off the snow from the glass with our corn broom.

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We have two kinds of snow shovels. One is actually a snow pusher, as seen here. It can move huge amounts of snow without killing one’s back. Our regular shovel, seen to the left of the picture, is good for tight spots, icy or heavy, wet snow that the snow pusher can’t handle.

This has been a cold and snowy winter.  We’ve used quite a bit of wood.  But no worries:  I have several more cords of wood sitting under tarps alongside the wood shed, which have been drying out for 2 to 5  years.  The wood was harvested from our property starting six years ago, when we cleared part of the land to make the driveway, the foundation for the house, and a sunny, open field in front of the solar panels.  This summer I will be lugging and stacking wood into the wood shed, getting ready for the Winter of 2016.  The 12′ x 16′ wood shed can hold 5 – 6 years’ worth of stacked wood.  Our super-efficient Hearthstone soapstone wood stove and excellent interior insulation means we’ll only use about 2 cords of wood this year (about 2 pickup truck loads).

The white bag in the shed contains kindling.  I got this huge bag for cheap from a furniture shop - inside are the discarded raw  wood ends that are perfect for fire-starting.  Otherwise, I gather kindling from broken branches right on our property.

The white bag in the shed contains kindling. I got this huge bag for cheap from a furniture shop – inside are the discarded raw wood ends that are perfect for fire-starting. Otherwise, I gather kindling from broken branches right on our property.

Of course, we are far from done with shoveling.  Another storm is headed our way Wednesday and a 1′ snowfall is predicted.  It would not be unusual to still be shoveling in April.

It may sound like we need to get our heads examined, but both of us truly enjoy our outside chores in the cold temperatures.  Not only does it beat going to the gym, it makes us appreciate how blessed we are that we are still up to the task.

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Am I The Only One Who Loves Winter?

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View of the wood shed and generator during a short lull in the storm

(Disclaimer:  Unlike most people, I am not in any way inconvenienced by snow.  I don’t have to worry about a power loss.  I don’t have to commute to work or drive kids in a carpool to school in the snow or ice; deal with traffic; idiotic drivers who go too fast or too slow; or be at risk for a driving accident due to inclement weather.  I don’t have a  job outdoors like a utility worker who must risk his or her life during a terrible ice storm in -40F to help restore heat or power; or a logger who must hoist tens of tons of felled trees into a logging truck and then drive the logs on icy, narrow, snow-laden back roads to the mill.  I don’t, thank G-d, have to worry about how I can visit a loved one in the hospital in inclement weather, and I am most assuredly not 9 months pregnant in the middle of the blizzard of the century.)

Our ground-mounted solar panels during the storm.  This is why it's ridiculous to install solar panels on your roof:  Are you really going to wait for the snow and ice to melt after the storm so they can start collecting light?

Our ground-mounted solar panels during the storm, easily cleaned off with a broom after the storm stops. This is why it’s ridiculous to install solar panels on your roof: Are you really going to wait for the snow and ice to melt after the storm so they can start collecting light?  Or even worse, are you going to climb a ladder to reach them all the way up on the roof so you can clean them off?

Yesterday I was grocery shopping in No. Conway NH and I overheard a conversation by some workers taking a break.

“I am ready for summer!” said one.

“I am sooo tired of winter,” the other agreed.

Meanwhile my Zumba teacher said that class is cancelled for next week – she is “going to Florida for a break from winter.”

(I could not get over the fact that they were having this discussion on a brilliantly sunny, clear day witih temps in the mid-20s, when visibility from Mt. Washington was 100 miles and it was gorgeous everywhere you looked!  Besides… would they be truly be happier in Spring, aka Mud Season and Blackfly Season?)

It might be wishful thinking, but all the stores in town have started putting out their Spring merchandise, and winter garments are on clearance.  This, despite the fact that realistically we have another one to two months of winter weather ahead of us.  Still, there is something different in the air – – a feeling that winter (despite today’s mammoth snow storm!) is winding down.  Am I nuts?  I miss winter already!  I simply love winter  in Maine.  There are so many wonderful things about it:

  • I love the heat from our wood stove.  It’s a heat that penetrates to your bones, and makes you feel cozy all over.
  • I love the fact the wood we use is from our own land.  We had to clear quite a bit of woods to make way for the driveway and our house.  None of that wood is going to waste!  We also had to clear a large area beneath the house so the solar panels would be unobstructed from the sun.  I have since planted semi-dwarf apple trees in that area so we don’t feel the loss of trees from our woods.  I worked really, really hard over the summer stacking logs in the wood shed.  It’s nice to see all that work being put to good use!
  • I love my MICROspikes, my hiking boots, and my Muck Boots in winter.  They keep my feet warm and dry and allow me to go anywhere outside, even when it’s icy.
  • I love walking outside.  It’s astoundingly beautiful and you rarely see another human being on a trail.  It’s not just black and white – there are thousands of shades of grey in between. With the absence of foliage the views are even more expansive.  And it’s so good to keep moving in cold weather!  You just feel wonderful, and your cheeks get an apple red color that make them positively pinch-able!  When I go for walks in winter, I feel like I’m glowing from both inside and outside.
  • I love the quiet.  Everything is muffled in the snow, the world is at rest, yet when there is sound, it is heightened and your senses feel sharpened.
  • I love the secret world of animals, revealed.  Evidence of life is everywhere in the tracks in the snow.  Raccoons, birds, chipmunks, squirrels, coyotes, mice, skunks, deer – – it’s amazing to know what traverses our property when we’re not looking, and this is something we may otherwise miss any other time of year.
  • I love shoveling snow.  Yes, I know, people die of heart attacks from shoveling snow all the time.  But ever since we bought our snow pusher, it’s not a chore; it’s a joyous exercise in efficiency and fun.
  • I love the exuberance.  Even though I don’t go snowmobiling, I love watching snowmobilers having their fun.  I love watching kids building snow forts.  I love watching ice fisherman drive with their pickup trucks right onto a frozen lake and settle in to their ice shacks.
  • I love the clothes.  Down vests, down jackets, Peruvian wool hats, leggings, fleece – – they’re all incredibly cozy and comfortable.  If you know how to dress for the weather, you simply Will. Not. Be. Cold.  Even outside in -5F.  Really!!!
  • I love the food.  Freshly made thick soup on a cold day — what could be more divine?
  • I love bird-watching in winter.  Is there anything funnier than a blue jay that looks like he’s wearing an inflatable sumo wrestler suit, all puffed up to protect himself from the cold?  Our bird feeder attracts nuthatches, chickadees, blue jays, woodpeckers and turkeys, plus squirrels and chipmunks and the occasional annoying raccoon.  We don’t keep a bird feeder out any other time of year except winter, due to marauding bears.
  • I love not being afraid of winter, and feeling prepared to take on challenges.  We have a well-insulated house with a good heat source; we have plenty of food and emergency supplies stocked and rotated for freshness; our AWD cars are always filled with gas and we have studded snow tires. We have backup power for our solar system and a backup to our backup (generator).  Our propane tank is filled before winter starts. Our cellphones are kept charged.  We have a huge library.  My husband is a licensed ham radio operator.  Even in an emergency,  if we couldn’t get out, we are good for several weeks by ourselves.
  • I love the sunny days.  Winter in Maine has a surprising number of sunny days.  It would be unusual to go for more than 3 or 4 days without clear, brilliant blue skies.  And when it’s sunny it feels much warmer than the actual temperature thanks to the rays reflecting on the snow.  I have been outside on a windless day for a sun bath in my shirtsleeves in 20F and I was not cold.
  • I love passive solar in winter.  When it’s sunny on a winter day, our south- and west-facing windows heat up the house so well that I don’t even need to use our wood stove to keep the indoor temperature at 65F.  Yesterday our porch, which has acrylic panels instead of screens in winter, heated up to 80F just from the sun, when it was 30F outside.
  • I love the sight and sound of snow and ice crashing off the roof.  It’s very dramatic, thrilling, and scary.
  • I love the fact that one is never too old to make a snow angel!
The birdfeeder

The birdfeeder

Lots. More. Snow.

Enjoying the beauty of winter in Maine!

This past snowfall was a very wet, heavy snow, of which you can see evidence by its weighing down this birch tree to form a perfect, beautiful arch.

This past snowfall was a very wet, heavy snow, of which you can see evidence by its weighing down this birch tree to form a perfect, beautiful arch.

Our street was plowed within one hour after the snow stopped falling

Our street was plowed within one hour after the snow stopped falling

The plow guy is in touch with street plow people so he knows when to come and do our driveway.  He usually follows right on the heels of the main road plow person.

Our driveway plow guy is in touch with street plow people so he knows when to come and do our driveway. He usually follows right on the heels of the main road plow person.  Beneath the house, on the bench, we’ve placed a 50 lb salt block, but so far no deer or moose have come to take a lick.

Little Pond

Little Pond

Little Pond

Little Pond

Little Pond

Little Pond

Wild turkeys foraging

Wild turkeys foraging

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Our dog, Spencer, is dwarfed by the presence of winter on our driveway

Of Mice and Men

A full tray of D-CON is about to replace an empty one.  I have spared my dear readers a picture of the dead mouse!

A full tray of D-CON is about to replace an empty one. I have spared my dear readers a picture of the dead mouse!

After driving through the night, we arrived in Maine on Sunday at 7:30 a.m.  Once inside, we were greeted by three totally empty trays of D-CON (mouse poison) and one very dead mouse (my husband had the unpleasant task of removing it).   A propitious start, I thought.

I’m always a little on edge when I walk into my house after a prolonged absence . . . especially between seasons, when there are extreme temperature changes.  Once the wildlife know we’re gone, they are only too happy to “house-sit” in our nice, cozy abode while we’re away.  Intruders of the non-human variety can mean anything from beetles, flies and wasps, to rodents,  porcupines, raccoons, fishers, or even bears.

When our house was being built, shortly after we installed our garage door, a very determined mouse gnawed at the hard plastic and rubber weather seal at the bottom, breaking it and creating a glaring point of entry.  This kind of damage was not covered under our garage door warranty, and repair would be expensive, since they’d have to take apart the entire door in order to replace the weather-stripping.  We decided to live with it, and try to fill the hole with spray-foam insulation and steel wool.

Meanwhile I took no chances, even though I didn’t really have a mouse problem – – yet.  I put trays of D-CON throughout my house:  under the kitchen cabinets, behind the microwave,  in our basement under our food storage shelves, and at the bottom corners of the garage door.  We do a visual check for possible mouse infestation each time we return to Maine from our home town, especially since that time when my husband went to use the bathroom upon arrival – – and found a dead mouse in the toilet. (We now make sure we keep the toilet lid closed before we go away.)  Once we noticed that the tray of D-CON behind the microwave oven had been delicately noshed, but no further signs of mice or their droppings were discovered.  (I should mention at this point that when our grandchildren come for the summer, we remove all the trays of D-CON for safety’s sake.)

This time, though, I had a feeling that mouse presence would be worse, because the house had been vacant for 3 weeks and outside it was terribly cold.

Sure enough, all the trays of D-CON inside the house had been ravaged.  One small dead mouse was on the floor next to our food storage shelves.  Fortunately, the food was completely untouched (I store large, emergency-sized non-perishables such as grains, flour, nuts, seeds, condiments, etc. in glass jars and industrial-strength sealed plastic containers that are inaccessible to non-humans).  Unlike rats (thank heavens we don’t have those!) mice desiccate and are odorless after death, but even then it is unusual to find a deceased one out in the open.  I only found a couple of random mouse droppings.  But the hole in the bottom corner of the garage door is a little bigger so it looks like we will have to have that weather-stripping under the garage door replaced professionally, after all.

The problem with finding evidence of a mouse is that, left unabated, they multiply rapidly. (You can click here to see what happened to our pop-up camper when it was taken over by mice two summers ago.)  I couldn’t be sure it was “only” one mouse, even though at present there was no evidence of more.  This meant an unplanned trip into town to buy more D-CON, a drive I was not enthusiastic about doing after being on the road for the past 10 1/2 hours.  After all, I had loaded the car with groceries from our home town so I wouldn’t have to do shopping for a week.   But with predictions of a snowstorm headed our way the following day, it was now or never, so we did make the 45-minute trek into North Conway.

But before setting out, there was even more important business to take care of:  getting our house warm.  We cannot simply turn off the heat when we leave, as the pipes will freeze, but we do set the thermostat very low so we won’t go through too much (expensive!) propane while we’re away.  When you’ve been driving through the night, the last thing you feel like doing when you come into the house exhausted and cold is building a fire and puttering around to keep it going.  I’ve learned from experience that before we leave Maine, I layer kindling and firewood in the woodstove and close its door, so all I have to do when I return to Maine  is open the woodstove door,  light the pre-prepared wood with a match, and an effortless fire awaits.  Even with the hottest of fires, though, it takes hours to bring the indoor room temperature from 45 degrees F (!) to 67 degrees F.  But by now I have the routine down pat and make sure that longjohns/leggings, sweaters, gloves, hats and coats are close by.

Suddenly we realized that we had forgotten to replace the screen panels on our porch with plexiglass ones.  We use our  porch, which is located just off the kitchen, even on sunny winter days, thanks to its ideal southerly location.  In the summer, the porch is shaded by trees and the cool breezes flow pleasantly through the screen panels.  In late autumn or early winter, once the leaves have fallen and the outside temperature cools, we replace the screens with plexiglass.  The southern exposure of the porch means that the sun shines on the plexiglass panels on a sunny day, and through this “passive solar” heat our porch can often reach temperatures of  60 – 65 degrees F on a 20 degree F day!

But because we had neglected to do the switch-over before returning to our home town, we were now faced with unscrewing the screen panels and screwing in the plexiglass panels in 22 degree temperature!  Needless to say that although we worked quickly, we were forced to seek shelter indoors in between each panel installation to warm our hands (gloves were too bulky to handle the tiny screws).

Taking down the summer screens...

Taking down the summer screens…

. . . and putting up the plexiglass panels

. . . and putting up the plexiglass panels

We had planned our departure from our home town carefully.  Since a snow storm would hit the East Coast on Sunday but not reach Maine until Monday, we decided to leave right after Shabbat, on Saturday night, and drive through the night.  We figured that if we could fit in a nap after davening (religious prayers at the synagogue) and lunch on Saturday (not an easy feat considering the short hours of daylight), we’d be rested enough to travel the distance to Maine, especially if we could  alternate the driving between us.  An added bonus would be the lack of traffic at night, but unfortunately we hadn’t counted on New York’s perpetually jammed George Washington Bridge (with the rip-off toll price of $13 for the “privilege” of traversing it) being busy even at midnight.   But once we managed to get out of New York the rest of the way was quick and uneventful.  Indeed, the very next morning our home town experienced a huge snowstorm even bigger than predicted, and the entire New Jersey turnpike was hazardous  with snow, ice, and accidents, so our timing had been perfect.

That same snowstorm finally hit us today.  I did manage to trek 3 miles in the woods with my very enthusiastic dog in the morning, while the snow was still sparse.  I walked with trekking poles in case it got icy in spots, but this turned out to be unnecessary.  The temperature was 22 degrees, but I was wearing layers and a down jacket and in reality I was a bit too warm.  At least now my cheeks have a rosy glow.

Instead of attending to work responsibilities (I have several clients waiting on photos), I spent the morning cooking enough food to last for the next 2 days.  I made a hearty vegetable soup, some butternut squash, sweet potatoes, lentils, beans, and a large tub of yogurt – – all “stick to your ribs” kinds of food for the coming cold spell. (Forecast for Wednesday night is 3 degrees F and 0 degrees  F Friday night.)

After heating 1/2 gallon of milk to the foamy stage and letting it cool slightly, I added a few tablespoons of yogurt to the milk and stirred well.  Then I poured this warm mixture into a bowl, covered the bowl with a plate, and wrapped it in a beach towel for extra insulation.  Usually I let the yoghurt ferment in the trunk of my car on a summer day, but in winter I put the bowl on a trivet on my wood stove.  After about 8 hours the yoghurt will solidify to the proper consistency.  I then let it sit overnight in the fridge to firm up some more.  The next day I will spoon it into a large glass jar and enjoy.  This is about a 1-week supply.

Homemade winter yogurt:  After heating 1/2 gallon of milk to the foamy stage on my regular propane range and letting it cool slightly, I added a few tablespoons of  plain, store-bought yogurt to the milk and stirred well. Then I poured this warm mixture into a bowl, covered the bowl with a plate, and wrapped it in a beach towel for extra insulation. Usually I let the yogurt ferment in the trunk of my car on a warm summer day, but in winter I put the bowl on a trivet on my fired-up wood stove, since our indoor room temperature of 67 is not warm enough for the yogurt to culture properly.  After about 8 hours the yogurt will solidify to the proper consistency. I then let it sit overnight in the fridge to firm up some more. The next day I will spoon it into a large glass storage jar.   I like to use the yogurt to make smoothies, or to eat 1 cup plain with 1/4 cup of raw oatmeal and frozen blueberries mixed in.  This makes about a 1-week supply.

Almost Over

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That’s not smoke, fog, nor a low cloud – – it’s snow blowing due to high winds. Brrrrr! (click to enlarge)

I’m now back in Maine:  YAY!

While in the post office yesterday, it became clear to me that not everyone is as excited by winter as I am.

“Didja he-yuh, more snow fuh this week?”

“Ayuh.  I say, enough already!”

Perhaps it’s because I was gone for a month and missed the cruelest part of winter (it was -30 with windchill); but I still get excited with every bit of snowfall.  Thanks to the woodstove, our house is always nice and toasty, and we really are at the stage where the weather can’t quite decide if it’s the end of winter or beginning of spring –  – temperatures continue to hover  just above or below freezing.  Hopefully we can avoid a lot of sleet, which is never fun, and of course, once the melt begins, we have mud season to look forward to.

But for now, there is still ample snow on the ground, much to the delight of snowmobilers  and dogsledders who love to explore the wooded trails that crisscross the White Mountains.

People often ask us if we are bored on Shabbos.  It is very quiet, but never uninteresting or unenjoyable.  This is actually a busy time in this part of the woods, and there is more traffic than usual (in summer we get an average of one car per hour down our road, if that).  While out for a walk this past Shabbos, we saw at least a dozen snowmobiles, plus a dog team of 6 American Eskimo, Husky, and Malamute dogs pulling a sled with a “musher,” his wife , and their preteen daughter.  Of course we stopped to chat – – that’s just what you do in Maine.  We also met up with the law enforcement side of the forest service – – a game warden.  We spoke with him as well, and he told us that they patrol the trails (on snowmobiles, of course), checking snowmobile registrations (you have to register your snowmobile much like you register a car) as well as ensuring that snowmobilers are sober and safety-conscious.

Just down the street from us, we drive down this six-mile-long road, which leads to Evans Notch in New Hampshire, all summer long, but it's open only to hikers, snowmobilers and dogsledders in the winter.  Think of this scene the next time you are stuck in city traffic!

Just down the street from us, we drive down this six-mile-long road, which leads to Evans Notch in New Hampshire, all summer long, but it’s open only to hikers, snowmobilers and dogsledders in the winter. Think of this scene the next time you are stuck in city traffic!

As we made our way back home, we met up with a single woman who was also out for a walk.  Laura is a life-long Mainer whose Maine roots go back many generations.  It turns out I’ve passed her house many times on my walks in the woods – – she is  my  second-closest full-time neighbor, only a mile-and-a-quarter away (!).  (By “full-time,” I am excluding those who live in summer/vacation cabins.)

She regaled us with stories of  her “Grampy,”  who lived in Norway, ME (about a 30 minute drive from here) his entire life.  He had worked for decades at a wooden dowel factory.  It was his custom to walk home for lunch.  After a perfect on-time attendance record, one day he was 15 minutes late getting back to the factory after lunch.  He was so mortified, he figured if he couldn’t walk fast enough to get back to work on time, he wasn’t good for anything.  So he quit that job on the spot!

“That’s when Grampy was 89,” Laura added.

Life is awfully good here in Maine.

Not There Yet

“Tai Chi class is ON for today!” That was the email I received yesterday at 7:30 a.m.  “Even though the roads may be a bit messy– especially north of Bridgton, we will be at the Town Hall for the 9:30 AM class today.”

This came as a surprise.  The roads outside were truly treacherous following the recent snowfall, which was followed by an ice storm, leaving our winding, steep mountain roads both icy and slushy and all-around dangerous.  My Tai Chi class is made up of 45 Mainers, mostly ages 60 – 85.  As the second youngest in the class, I felt a bit embarrassed by my own wimpiness.  “If the 80-year-olds can make it, surely I can too,” was my thought.

What I should have remembered is that Mainers tend to understate things.  A guy who is crippled by arthritis will say his “bones are misbehavin’ today.”  A woman sick as hell  from the effects of her chemotherapy treatments will say she’s “a bit undah the weathah today.”  A speeding motorist who crashes into a tree, totals his vehicle and survives his injuries will say, “I guess I gave (the car) a bit too much gas.”  These comments are made calmly with straight faces and stony expressions.  This takes some getting used to when you are a loud Jewish woman from the city, given to excessive and expressive emoting, including hand wringing and lots of “oy veys.”  So I should have realized that “roads a bit messy” really means, “the roads are extremely perilous!”

My husband was kind enough to drive the car down the driveway.  The plow guy had been there the day before, but now there were an additional two inches of snow mixed with ice.  My husband figured he’d make a new path in the snow with the tires, thereby making it easier to get down the driveway when I left.  It was a good plan – – but unfortunately conditions were so bad, that once my husband brought the car down, he couldn’t get it back up our impossibly steep driveway.  He parked it at the bottom and I only hoped the town’s snowplow wouldn’t be coming by until after I left, because the last thing you want is to be in the way of a snowplow on a narrow mountain road.  I walked down to the bottom of the driveway wearing my MicroSpikes, which are sharp metal crampons you put on the bottom of your boots, which grip the ice so you won’t slip and fall.

Unfortunately he had parked the car facing the wrong way, and there was simply nowhere to turn around.  I had to drive a mile up the road to the Inn, and only then, and with some difficulty, was I able to turn around and start my journey to my Tai Chi class.

I was less than a mile from our house when I saw an abandoned Ford F-250 pickup truck that had gone off the road and slid down an embankment into the woods.  The truck wasn’t damaged and it was clear it was not a case of his having gone too fast; the road was simply too slippery and he had spun out around a curve.  This is a 4×4 truck that is quite large and heavy and should have had enough traction due to its sheer weight.  It was an ominous sign, but I (stupidly!) pressed on.

I was driving about 15 miles an hour when I got to the main road; but despite the fact that the main road was clearer and more frequently plowed and sanded than the rarely traveled  street that leads to our house,  the main road wasn’t looking much better (after they plow they sprinkle the roads with a  mix of sand and salt to melt ice and improve traction).  There were barely any vehicles driving on the road (I should have taken this as a sign) and after 35 minutes – – normally a 15 minute ride – –  I reached our post office.  Katie, our new postmistress, comes all the way from the town of Mexico, Maine which is about 1 1/2 hours away.  (Our former postmistress just quit, deciding to pursue her Mary Kay cosmetics career.  Talk about an untapped market!  I can’t recall ever seeing a  rural Maine woman wearing makeup, so she has a lot of hard selling to do.)  Katie described her “wicked scary drive from hell” and my first thought was, “Well, she’s not going to last long at this job,”  because she is going to have to make that commute every day this winter.  But irrespective of her crazy daily commute,  I don’t expect her to be around much longer anyhow, since our little post office is likely up for closure along with 4,000 other rural post offices across America.

As I was leaving, a woman customer walked in carrying packages containing the Christmas gifts she was going to mail to her children, who live in other sates.
“I got to be 65 years old for a reason,” she said. “It’s because I didn’t go out in weather like this!”

At this point I was seriously thinking of giving up on the Tai Chi class and returning home.  But the road ahead was clear, and the road behind me to my house was awful, so I pressed forward.  I had already warned my husband that if things got worse, I’d simply find a room at a motel in Bridgton and spend the night.  In my car I carried a blanket, warm clothes, a flashlight, and food, and my cell phone was fully charged.

As I made my way through the towns of Albany and Waterford, I never went past 20 mph.  By now my class had started, and I was still 15 miles away, but I simply could not go any faster.  Just before I made the turn to the town of Bridgton where the class was being held, I made a detour through the town of Harrison, because the road there wasn’t as steep or curvy, and it was a good decision.  But it meant that despite my extra-early departure, I’d arrive 40 minutes late for my class, and by now I was pretty tense from my vise-grip clutching of the steering wheel.  I’d been driving for almost 90 minutes at 20 mph – – it usually takes me only 35 minutes – – and I was so exhausted I simply couldn’t imagine concentrating on intricate Tai Chi moves.

Instead, I pulled into my auto mechanic’s garage, where I had made an appointment for later that day to have studded snow tires put on my car.  I had hoped to combine my errands and intended to go there anyway after my Tai Chi class.

“Any chance you can fit me in earlier today?” I asked.  Fortunately, they could.  I was SO happy to have those tires on my car!  The difference was remarkable.  I was no longer slipping and sliding along the road, but I still had to proceed very slowly and cautiously.  All the way home, the weather kept changing.  One moment it was snowing, the next it was raining or sleeting; ice pellets were pounding my window.  Sometimes it was a combination of all of the above.

When I got to the bottom of our driveway, I said a little prayer.  The first time I tried to drive up, I got stuck in snow.  I was able to coast back down, and I tried again.  This time I paid careful attention to the tire tracks from my husband’s earlier descent.  By following the tracks and putting the car into 2nd gear (it’s an AWD stick shift), I was able to get to the top!

“I can’t believe you made it up the driveway!” my husband exclaimed.

“To heck with the driveway,” I said, “I can’t believe I made it home alive, period!”

Lesson learned:  I simply don’t know what I was thinking, and why I allowed temporary insanity to overtake me:  when the weather is bad, there is simply no reason to go out except in cases of extreme emergency.  I may be a wimp, but I am an alive wimp.  Tai Chi will have to wait.

Post Script:  Early Friday a.m.  I need to pick up a guest at the Portland airport who is coming to visit us, and of course the weather report is calling for heavy morning fog and more snow!

Mush!

Mainers do not spend the long winters at shopping malls. This is partly because there is little disposable income in Maine; but mostly, it’s because there are maybe two shopping malls in the entire state.  Nor do Mainers mope, immobilized and catatonic, around their woodstoves, waiting for Spring’s arrival.  The newspapers are full of activities that celebrate the cold.

Children playing at a park, 6 degrees F. The yellow sign says "Freezin for a Reason!" (click to enlarge)

The other day I drove by a church whose billboard announced their “Ice Skating Rink Now Open!”

My synagogue back home doesn’t even have a social hall! (Though it’s standing room only, even without a skating rink.)

This past Thursday thru Saturday in Rangeley, Maine there was the Snodeo.  As the name suggests, this is a snowmobile rodeo, with a great variety of events, including trick riding, obstacle courses, daring gymnastics and races (top speed last year was 130.4 mph!) – all on snowmobiles.

Snowmobilers (click to enlarge)

Site of the Musher's Bowl: Beautiful, frozen Highland Lake in Bridgton, ME, with tracks from snowmobiles and dogsleds (click to enlarge)

We decided to attend an event a bit closer to home.  This weekend was the 16th annual Musher’s Bowl.  There is no such thing as “weather permitting.”  The temperature hovered between 6 to 11 degrees F, but we weren’t going to let anything stop us from a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity . . . to go dog sledding!

We gathered at Highland Lake in Bridgton Maine, where our musher/sled guide, Andy Chakoumakos of Lovell, ME, awaited us with his 6 Alaskan Husky mixes.  The dogs howled, bayed, barked and leapt into the air in anticipation of the upcoming ride.  They were very excited and obviously love to shlep their human cargo, even fatties such as moi. (Each dog can pull about 180 lbs, and we had 6 dogs for us 3 riders.)

That's me sitting in the sled just before the start of the ride. The restless dogs are anxious to get going! (click to enlarge)

There were two ways to ride:  seated in comfort, or balancing precariously on a sled runner (a ski) in the back of the sled alongside Andy.  My spouse and I traded positions halfway into the ride so we’d each have a chance to fully experience the joys of dog sledding from two different vantage points.

As we round the corner over frozen Highland Lake, you can see other sledders in front of us (click to enlarge)

It was a blast (of cold air)!

Now I'm standing and my husband is sitting - you can see his boots in the foreground as the dogs dash over frozen Highland Lake (click to enlarge)

enjoying the ride (click to enlarge)

We learned there are many types of sleds and different competitions, as well as different breeds of dogs developed for the various types of rides.  Siberian huskies are known for their endurance, but they are slow, so they typically are not used for short, sprint-type races.

No, pullng the likes of me did not cause this dog to collapse! (He was giving himself a back massage)

Alaskan huskies are mostly a blend of huskies, malamutes, and hounds, whose combined traits of endurance, speed, drive and cold-weather tolerance make them a winning mutt combination.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the site of the "freezin' for a reason" polar plunge, a fundraiser for a local animal shelter. They had to chip away several inches of ice in order to reach water. (click to enlarge)

After our ride we passed a “swimming pool” that had been chipped out of the 5″ thick ice.  The previous day, fundraisers for the local animal shelter had participated in a “polar plunge” in their bathing suits (!) in 10 degree weather.

 

This beautiful apple orchard with the million dollar view was the site of the dog sled races. You can see a sled racing behind the small shack in the distance (click to enlarge)

We drove a short distance to a beautiful apple orchard, which was the site of dog sled races, as well as skijoring races.  Skijoring is a relatively new winter sport, consisting of a single skier who wears a belt that is tied to a long leash, at the end of which are 1 or 2 dogs.  The dogs pull the skier along a cross-country race course; it is a timed event.

Sled racing (click to enlarge)

pushing for the finish line (click to enlarge)

Skijoring (click to enlarge)

Skijoring (click to enlarge)

The races were attended by dozens of spectators who stood for hours in the extreme cold.  One guy commented to me, “I can’t believe you’re wearing a skirt in this weather!”  I answered, “Always the lady!” and he laughed, but the truth is, I was probably dressed warmer than he was.  Besides heavy wool socks and neoprene and rubber waterproof, knee-length boots, I was wearing long johns and sweat pants under the polartec fleece skirt; and a thermal undershirt, a polartec fleece top, an arctic-weight fur hooded winter parka, plus a wool hat, ski goggles to protect my face against icy winds, and fleece gloves.  It was so cold that several times I missed some good shots when my camera froze!  However, I personally never once felt cold and even my toes were toasty!

with all this clothing, it's hard to move (but at least it's tznius!)

(click to enlarge)

Every so often a very cool-looking ATV (all-terrain vehicle) with tracks would groom (smooth) the trail.  I wish I could afford one of these with a snow-blower attachment to plow our steep driveway!

at least my dog was concerned...

When we arrived home we decided to try walking on the frozen pond across from our house. Now we can truly say we’ve “walked on water.”  However, the pond’s edge turned out to be not as frozen as we thought (it was covered with about a foot of snow so we couldn’t see it so well).  I fell deep into a drift, the bottom of which turned out to be the not-completely-frozen pond!  My spouse seemed to find amusement in my sinking through the ice and hitting freezing cold water!  My loyal dog (more concerned than my spouse, I might add) was busy trying to rescue me.  My husband, on the other hand, was busy laughing and taking pictures as I flailed my arms and hoisted myself back to solid frozen ground like a beached whale (or make that “wail”). (It sounds more dangerous than it actually was.  The water was only about 6″ deep, and I was wearing waterproof boots, but because I was stuck in a snowdrift it was difficult to extract myself.  Honestly, my husband isn’t the sadist I’m making him out to be.)

(click to enlarge)

We returned to the house just as the sun was setting behind the mountains.  We heard that a serious cold snap would be hitting our area this evening, so my spouse quickly refilled the wood cart and brought it inside the house so we’d have plenty of fuel.  We love the challenges of winter weather in Maine, but in -25 degrees F (without windchill!) it’s just downright dangerous to be outside, and that is the forecast for this evening, so we want to make sure we have plenty of fuel within easy reach.

We ended the day with a bowl of homemade spicy chili – yum!  It really hit the spot.

We really do love it here and are constantly grateful, amazed and in awe of the number of once-in-a-lifetime experiences we’ve had so far!

(P.S. According to our thermometer, it only got down to -13 F last night, not the -25 F that was predicted)