Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Getting The Drift

What am I going to tell the relatives when they call and ask, "How much snow did you get?" The question is as predictable as the sun coming up, and frankly, I don't have an answer. I've lived in this county twenty-nine years, and I still can't figure out just how much new snow has fallen in any given storm. Staring out the front window as I listen to the wind howl and watch the snow whirl up off the drifts like dust devils on a hot summer day, I wonder how anyone can measure the snow depth when the clouds are spewing snowflakes that race each other in a horizontal dash for the next county.

I decided to consult the Internet. Every site I searched directed me to use a snowboard or a sixteen inch by sixteen inch board painted white and to place it on level ground. That particular color is important they emphasized, so that the heat from the sun doesn't build up and melt the snow. Then, you were instructed to place a yardstick through the snow to the board and measure the depth. When site after site said the same thing and didn't address our particular weather problems, I began to grow suspicious that no one else had the answer either.

We've had the sun shining coldly and thin veil of fine, crystallized snowflakes falling from an icy cold blue sky but never warm sunshine on a snowy day. Not to mention that, in our county, the snow doesn't fall gently on your head or the ground but pelts you in the face like it was thrown by a big league baseball pitcher and piles up where ever its caught. Nature has a bare essentials style of decorating out here. You know, bare ground, drift, bare ground, drift. The contrast does set off the whiteness of the snow but it makes measuring it downright impossible.

Placing the measuring board twenty to thirty feet away from the house so the structure doesn't influence the snow depth and not on the lawn makes perfect sense. But, the so-called experts forgot the part about anchoring the board to the ground so it doesn't go airborne breaking the neighbors window. During a snow storm last week, a gentlemen clocked the wind gusts at eighty-five miles-an-hour at the coal mine where he and my husband work.

The anchoring bit of information may be missing but I could probably figure out how to keep the boards stationary. What was essential to disclose was how to get the snow to land on them when ninety percent of the time the flakes travel horizontally. Should I place a piece of wood vertically, then see how much snow bank-shots off that board and lands on the horizontal piece on the ground, then measure? But, they did say to place the wood where it doesn't drift in order to get an accurate measurement. Technically, my idea causes a small snow bank. Except, if you don't measure the drifts, then the rest of the ground is covered only in a skiff at most. How do I tell my relatives, "Well, we only got a skiff," when last week up to eight foot high strips of snow swept intermittently across our street baring us from travel.

I stare out the window once more at the swirling snow, having abandoned the computer in frustration. I conclude that nature must indeed be female for she lo...ves to redecorate. Last week, I could almost hear her instructing the wind as she exclaimed, "It would look wonderful over her, no... let's try over there," as she placed a large drift on our front lawn and then five hours later relocated it to the backyard.

You can probably see now why even though I'm a Wyomingite having lived here forty-nine years, I've yet to figure out how to measure the new snow. That's likely why most people in our area reply, "Well, we probably got four or five inches," as they stare at their yard trying to visually level out the drifts. So please... if you have the answer to my question, "How do yo measure the amount of new snow in high wind areas?" let me know.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

This Is Insane

"Due to extremely slick roads, the county is pulling all the snow plows from the highways." blared the radio. - Silence - "Are we back, are we back?," questioned the voice on the radio as static poised the threat that they would once more go off the air, then the announcer continued, "I-90 to the east and west is closed at this time. All other roads are open." - Silence - The broadcast was lost to the storm, and we waited expectantly for further updates.

"Wonderful," I tell my husband, "the radio station can hardly stay on the air, we are without power, and the roads are too dangerous for the snow plows but the public can give them a try." We stare out the windshield of our pickup in frustration as the snow hurls past us at forty plus miles-per-hour with wind gusts to sixty that rock the truck. I catch myself shaking my head as the thoughts, 'This is insane. I can't believe this mess', repeat over and over in my mind until I conclude that, 'Only in our county would they do this.'

Emergency flashers blink all around us as we wait in the parking lot designated for the vehicles of personnel who work at one of the four coal mines near our town. Here they board buses which transport them to their respective mines. Barely audible above the howl of the wind, diesel pickups and semi's engines rattle beside us and in front viewed intermittently as the storm occasionally draws aside its white-out curtains are four mine buses, three Caterpillar machinery trucks - all waiting. - Waiting for the storm to abate, waiting for their bosses to tell them to go home, or waiting for the roads to close - I don't know which.

The stress of their journey from the next nearest town, forty miles away, is inferred as small caravans of vehicles pressed tightly together slowly enter the area. Our short trip of only a few blocks in a three-quarter-ton truck with four-wheel-drive was stressful enough. Hungrily, we searched for light posts, vehicle tracks, anything to distinguish our where-a-bouts as my husband laid over the steering wheel, and I leaned forward peering out into the darkness, blinded by the snow that encapsulated us. "Turn left," I yelled as we hit the curb once more. "No, don't turn right, we haven't past the Baptist Church yet. Keep going. Can you see that dark line. It's the fence leading down to the corner," I directed as the thunder rumbled and the lightening flashed, illuminating the heavens, giving an ominous foreboding sense to the storm.

As day approached and the heavens lightened, I couldn't figure out why we had sat here for an hour and twenty minutes waiting with my husband's mine bus idling nearby. There was no way that this storm was letting up, and if he made it to work thirty miles away, he wasn't coming home until it was over. We've been through this before. A storm that shuts down the county the end of March or April is almost a yearly event. My patience was nearing its end. I'd left our home without my medication and as the lack of it began to take effect my husband decided he had better get me home. "No, don't turn yet. You'll run into the hill," I said four times before we reached the corner. My husband gunned the truck as we bucked our way through the drifts and slid up the driveway. Our livestock, a few miles a way, were going to have to ride out the storm without food and water We couldn't reach them. The power had returned in our absence, and so as it flickered, I hurried to vacuum and dry clothes - just in case.

Three of the four, mine buses that had sat in front of us slid into the ditch on their return trip back north to the next, nearest town. Men from the coal mine thirty miles south spent four and a half hours creeping along the highway crusted in ice and drifted with snow in order to reach our community as the wind whipped the storm into a blinding fiery. The sides of the highway were littered with abandoned vehicles that had skid off or their drivers accidently mistaken the burrow pit for the road. The passengers in those vehicles piled in with others and the caravans crept on. One man spent the night in his pickup in the area where we keep our livestock and called emergency services the next morning to come pull him out of a snow drift.

Adventurous Chicken

Fitted with the task to describe myself for the profile of this blog my brain emptied like a refrigerator right before a long vacation. As the minutes ticked by and my mind remained blank, I panicked. To coax it back home I decided to write a list of perceptions of myself.
I wrote...
big chicken
...then stopped and giggled.
In two words I have described myself perfectly. No, adventurous and big chicken are not an oxymoron or a stupidnoid as my dear husband calls it. I love to try new things, just not sky diving, bungee jumping, rock climbing, or anything else that raises one's heels more than a few feet off the ground. Nor am I inclined to head the other way and scuba dive or go spelunking as I'm claustrophobic, and stock car racing is way too fast.
I prefer...
raising livestock, spinning, knitting, soap making, photography, writing,
horseback riding, bee keeping, gardening, fly fishing,
sewing, cooking and cheese making
...to name just a few of my past times.
In fact, we just butchered a beef and spent this morning cleaning up equipment. My husband rendered the dry, hard fat that hangs near the kidneys creating a pretty, sunflower yellow, hot liquid that has me thinking I should turn it into Castile soap. Definitely not today, so into the frig it will go to cool into a solid white mass.
Yet, with all these hobbies I would hardly call myself a back to basic kind of gal for I'm far too attached to my dishwasher, Kitchen-aid mixer, clothes washer, and four-wheel drive pickup to ever go back to a primitive lifestyle. I've hauled water to do dishes and been limited to the use of an outhouse. In fact, in the middle of one winter my dad's sewer line backed up leaving only the outhouse that the skunk air conditioned the summer before. No, thank you; I've lived my pioneer ancestors lifestyle for brief periods of time and that's an adventure. To have to live it permanently would be a torture. I invite you to drop in and read my blog as I describe easy living the hard way.