Posts Tagged ‘snowplow’

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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Spring Cleaning

Spring cleaning in rural Maine is quite different from my hometown.  Besides the usual closet changeover from winter clothes to summer clothes, and washing windows and screens, we have to remove the acrylic panels from our sun porch, wash them before storing, and then wash and install screens panels in their place.  There is also a sense of panic that I have to accomplish any outdoor tasks RIGHT NOW before bug season reaches its peak and stepping outdoors becomes temporararily unbearable. We also needed to rebuild our fire pit.  Unfortunately when the snowplow pushes the snow to the side of the driveway, it moves the rocks from the fire pit in the process.  So we have to level the gravel with a rake, put the benches back in place, and gather and rearrange the large, heavy strewn rocks in a circle to create a new campfire zone each Spring.

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First campfire of 2014!

This year I had a new challenge:  getting the sand off my driveway.

I still have several layers of sand to remove from the bottom part of our ridiculously steep driveway

I still have several layers of sand to remove from the bottom part of steep driveway

Last summer after seeming non-stop torrential rains washed out the bottom part of our driveway, and with every excavating company overwhelmed with work, we couldn’t find anyone to lay another 4″ layer of gravel to rebuild the damaged driveway.  We finally relented and had several dozen feet at the steepest part of the bottom of the driveway paved with asphalt.  The good news is that we no longer need a 4×4 to make it up our driveway in inclement weather – a bonus for guests who visit us from the city who don’t have AWD vehicles.

The downside is that when our Plow Guy had to sand the driveway during this long, snowy and icy winter (you plow for snow, and spread sand on the ice to provide improved traction), there was nowhere for the sand to go on the asphalt part of the driveway once that ice melted.  Due to repeated treatments, the sand was 4″ deep in places.   Now that the snow is long gone, the sand was creating the opposite problem in Spring:  it was making our driveway precariously slippery in dry weather, and muddy after a rain.  That sand had to go, but how to remove it was a problem to be solved.

Along Maine’s main roads, and in commercial parking lots, huge “sweepers” clean and sweep away the sand.  But there is no such service in my area for private driveways.  I’m in a hurry to get this job over with for three reasons:  1) The sand-coated driveway is slippery when I walk it and I’m afraid of taking a nasty fall; 2) Bug season will get worse, and make it intolerable to labor outside for more than a few minutes at a time; and 3) my driveway needs to be cleaned before the Town’s road maintenance sweeper comes by to clean the street, because when it rains the sand runs down the steep driveway onto the road, and if it does that AFTER the road crew comes, the street will once again be sandy and they won’t come back a second time.

At first I tried sweeping with an outdoor broom, but the sand was just too thick, and the area to be swept is simply too expansive.  Next I tried shoveling the sand with a dustpan into a wheelbarrow, but the wheelbarrow was not only too heavy to push when full of sand, there was no way to evenly distribute that sand when dumped without judicious and tiring use of a rake.  I have to be careful not to dump the sand on the other side of the road next to the pond, lest the Department of Environmental Protection accuse me of destroying the integrity of the soil next to the pond (worst case scenario, subject to fines!).

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Unfortunately the only technique that seemed to work was to take a dust pan and bend down to the ground and scoop up the sand.  As mentioned, I couldn’t effectively use a broom to push the sand into the dust pan, it had to be done by hand.  Bend, scrape, fill, dump – – it took me two hours and more than 100 dust pan loads of sand removed – – and by the end of that time not only had I not finished (I hope to finish it this Sunday), I was utterly exhausted. I did as much as I could until I could do no more.  Calling it quits for now, I trudged up the driveway, peeled off my dusty, sandy clothes, and promptly fell asleep for 2 hours!

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Amazingly, I do not hurt nor do I have any sore muscles anywhere.  Ditto for when I dragged the sixteen, 40 lb bags of compost from my car into the yard for the raised beds for my new vegetable garden a few days earlier.  In my old (and weaker) life these chores would have been overwhelming, unpleasant tasks and undoubtedly I would have paid someone else to do them for me.

To my surprise, I am finding that I actually enjoy physical labor.  With so many of my friends unwell, I feel so blessed to be healthy enough to be able to do this by myself and know I am getting physically stronger and more capable every day that I live and thrive in Maine – –  even if I ain’t no “yungstah.”

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

The Mailbox

It’s taken four years, but we are finally the proud owners of a mailbox.

The horizontal side of the pole sticks out 10'.  The vertical part is 7' high because 5' additional feet are buried underground!

The horizontal side of the pole sticks out 10′. The vertical part is 7′ high because 5′ additional feet are buried underground!  In the foreground near the road is the overgrown culvert, which is a steep ditch and makes it impossible for the mail delivery truck to get close enough to a mailbox.  The mail delivery person never leaves the delivery truck; instead they perform all sorts of contortions to put the mail into the mailbox by reaching over and through the truck window.  It’s simply  too cold in winter to leave the delivery truck.

Until now, we have traveled 8 miles to our rural post office every time we wanted to get our mail from a rented post office box.  I really didn’t mind at first, because I liked Heidi, our postmaster, very much and enjoyed speaking with her each time I’d get the mail.  I learned all sorts of stuff from her – – not just the goings-on of our town and its residents, but she was a great reference for “where can I find . . . ?” and “where can I buy . . . ?” and “how does one . . . ?” plus she was great at recommending tradesmen, doctors  – – you name it.

Then the US Post Office, in its efforts to save money, started making all sorts of cutbacks, which included shuffling hours and clerks and routes.  Heidi was transferred to another post office, and we got Lili in her place – – another lovely person.  But then 3 months later Lili was given the axe and then it was Wendy.  But Wendy lived 1 hour 20 minutes away and the drive in the winter at 5 a.m. wasn’t practical, so then we got Debbie.  But then the Post Office decided that our little branch wasn’t busy enough, so they cut the hours to 4 hours a day – from 7:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m and 2:15 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.  These hours proved hugely inconvenient for us, and by now I didn’t even know who the clerks were, they were changed so frequently.

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I pasted lots of red and white reflective tape on the box and the pole so the snowplow guy can’t say he “couldn’t see it” while plowing at night. Mailboxes are commonly knocked down by snow plows in Maine. If this happens, you can’t dig a new hole until Spring because the ground is frozen solid!

If you are reading this blog from a large city, you are probably wondering what difference it makes who my postmaster is.  Because we go back and forth from Maine to our hometown, our mail is always in a state of getting forwarded or held.  With our local rural post office,  you can simply call and ask if you got anything important, and they will not only tell you what’s sitting in your box, they will offer to send it to wherever else you happen to be.  If you are expecting a package and you let them know, they will be excited for you when it comes.  A rural postmaster looks out for his customers.

The new branch hours were more than inconvenient – – they also affected our Fed Ex and UPS deliveries.  Those companies would often deliver to us via the post office, where we’d pick up our parcels.  Their routes from the city meant they arrived sometime between noon – 1 p.m. daily.  But since the post office was closed at that time, they couldn’t drop off the packages there, and the post office had no interest in creating some sort of secure drop box for their deliveries.

Besides the expense of the rented post office box, there was the cost of gas.  The 16-mile round trip, at $3.75 a gallon, meant I was paying almost $2 each time I went to check on the mail.

But getting a mailbox was no simple matter.

Our local Post Office was willing to deliver the mail if we’d put a mailbox at the bottom of the driveway, at the street.  Unfortunately, however, there is a culvert (drainage ditch) on either side of the driveway, so there was nowhere to put a mailbox because the mail truck couldn’t pull up to a mailbox without the vehicle falling into a ditch.

Our difficult set-up is in no way unique.  So I began paying attention to rural mailboxes whenever I’d go out for a drive.  I saw right away that even if I could place a mailbox on a post, it would be at the mercy of the snowplow, and snowplow drivers are notoriously careless about knocking down mailboxes.    The best design for our situation would be a very, very long, extended pole, with a mailbox hanging from the pole by chains.

It took me nearly a year to find someone who could create this design at a reasonable price, but Jeremiah Johnson is a welder who was up to the task.  I showed him a pencil sketch, told him what I wanted, and a few days later he brought the 10′ x 12′ L-shaped pole that he had welded for us.  It was HUGE.  Of the side that was twelve feet high, 5′ had to be sunk into the ground.  It had to be sunk that deep due to the frost line.  I also knew that I needed to get that hole dug before it got too cold and the ground froze.  I called a local excavator, but he was busy.  I called a handyman and he said he’d do it, but he wasn’t quite sure when.

Three weeks later, we still did not have a mailbox hole dug.  But luck was on our side.  The road maintenance excavation crew happened to swing by our street.  Their job was to clean out and replace culverts that drained into the bog known as Little Pond across the street.  They brought huge monster trucks and bulldozers to dig up our road, put in new culverts, cover it with gravel and smooth it down with asphalt.  They also  re-dug the ditches on either side of our driveway.  They were happy to dig my mailbox hole for a little proffered cash on the side.  And so we now had a 5′ feet deep hole at the bottom of our driveway.

Next I bought two 50 lb bags of “Quikcrete” – –  a fast-setting concrete mix – – and my husband and I filled the 5′ hole with a combination of Quikcrete, gravel, and dirt.  I put plenty of reflective red and white stickers on both the pole and the mailbox, so our snowplow guy won’t hit it (but at least the mailbox will swing on the chains instead of snapping off a post if it does get hit).

It is pretty nice not having to drive to the post office to get my mail, although I still go occasionally to buy stamps, send a package, or catch up on town news with the latest postmaster.