A SURPRISING ZAMBONI
I took advantage of the pool of mild Chinook air flowing over us to avoid arctic windburn, and to snow-blow the Pond in relative comfort, today. This served two purposes.
First, it will reassure both my wife and my customers to know that I have been toodling to and fro with a snow blower that weighs nearly three hundred pounds, weighing around a hundred-eighty myself, (dressed in winter clothes.) That is practically a quarter ton, going back and forth and back and forth. Every square inch of that pond has been tested in a way that ought make skeptics fairly sure a child weighing forty pounds, (or even ten such children sprawling in a happy heap,) will not break that ice.
However, (I have learned,) if the temperatures rise above freezing for ten minutes, parents will worry the ice is no longer safe. (My wife will worry if it is above freezing for ten seconds.)
Of course it is good that they watch out for the little ones, however they should watch out for me. They are questioning my judgment.
I’m old. I remember when that pond was brand new.
Back in 1968 the wealthy doctor who owned the farm decided it would be good to have a pond, because the little brook that crossed the farm dried out in the summer, and the cows had to be watered with buckets. So he hired bulldozers and the pond was gouged down eight feet into the native clay, and swiftly filled with pristine water. It was so clean back then Hippies skinny-dipped in it. (I know, because I was one.)
Now 45 years of autumn leaves (and cows and horses and pigs and goats and ducks) have left a layer of compost on the bottom, browsed by an unwisely introduced population of hornpout and sunfish. Trees, which were saplings on its shores in 1968, now have 45 rings. And I have witnessed all those years passing, yet people still think I don’t know when that pond’s ice is safe?!!!
Some parents have no sense of diplomacy. They seem to forget they are young enough to be my children. I know that little pond like the back of my hand. If there was going to be a spot of thin ice, I know exactly where the underwater springs well up and make the first spots of open water appear in the spring. However I also know that no such spots of thin ice can possibly exist, when, out of the past 480 hours, roughly 48 have involved above-freezing melting, while 432 have involved sub-freezing and even sub-zero increasing-of the-ice-thickness.
In fact it is pretty outrageous that they question my judgment. How dare they! I’ve half a mild to tell these young whippersnapper parents that…
“The customer is always right.”
That’s my wife, saying that. She knows a thing or two about diplomacy I don’t. I trust her judgment, regarding diplomacy. When I’m about to belt a customer, and she tells me to go take a hike, I go take a hike.
Rather than the satisfaction of growling at customers, I’m left with the cold comfort of demonstrating, by taking a nearly three hundred pound snow-blower onto ice they are afraid to let a thirty pound three-year-old walk on.
And it is the second time I’ve snow-blowed that pond, this winter.
That is the first reason. The second reason I snow-blowed the pond is because the weight of snow on a pond pushes the ice down. Water oozes up through cracks in the ice, and turns the snow atop the ice to slush. The slush freezes, which increases the thickness of the ice, but frozen slush tends to make a low-quality ice, for skating.
If, instead, you snow-blow the snow to the side, the snow’s weight still presses ice down, and water still wells up, at the center of your rink, but when it freezes between the snow at the sides it becomes far smoother and harder. The more you do it, and the bigger the banks around the edge of your rink are, the more the weight presses down, the more the water wells up through the cracks that form when temperatures get frigid and ice contracts, and the more the center of your rink is resurfaced, not by an expensive, commercial Zamboni, but by the powers of nature. And, of course, the totality of the ice gets thicker and thicker, not only because it is resurfaced, but also because the cleared surface is not insulated by an igloo-insulation of fluffy snow, but rather is exposed to the long winter nights.
Unfortunately I have lots of other tasks, and cannot get around to snow-blowing the pond until Saturday, and by Friday water was already welling up and making last Wednesday’s 4-inch snowfall a bit slushy, at the north end of the pond, where the brook flows in. And it is not reassuring to people who worry to see they are walking through slush, and not upon rock-hard ice. It matters not a bit if you explain there is a solid foot of ice beneath the slush. And the first to notice the slush was my wife.
This created a sort of Catch-22 situation, for my wife has heard all my tedious science about ice, and is mysteriously able to both incorporate it and utterly ignore it, when she worries. She can not only worry that the slushy ice may not be safe, but she can also worry walking on slushy ice might spoil the skating.
This second worry involves situations when you cannot get around to snow-blowing a pond during a fall of heavy, wet snow. So heavy is the snow that it presses down swiftly, and water wells up swiftly, and, unless you can snow-blow as the snow actually falls, the bottom of the snow becomes several inches of slush that can defeat all but the most heroic snow blowers. In such situations it is best to let the slush freeze, even if it takes a week, for if you try to walk in the slush every footprint becomes a frozen divot which ruins the skating.
So I was getting a double whammy of worry. On one hand children might fall through to their death. On the other hand future skating might be ruined. However the fact of the matter, this Friday, was that I wasn’t officially even working. I wasn’t supposed to be dealing with children, and instead was clearing brush and burning it on the far side of the pond. Of course, little children delight in firelight, and also on walking on water, so I swiftly had a swarm of children scampering over my end of the pond.
It seems fairly obvious to me that I deserved kudos for watching kids when I wasn’t even on duty, and didn’t deserve doubted judgment and a double whammy of worries. After all, I’m the one telling this tale, and that makes me the hero.
For a hero, my expression wasn’t utterly heroic. I’d say it was on the edgy side of patient, but I was attempting to be diplomatic, explaining to my wife that Wednesday’s snowfall was of light snow, not heavy snow, and was only four inches, so the slush would likely remain at the far end of the pond, and children running about my end wouldn’t ruin future skating.
Right at this point a rather large parent appeared, at the far side of the pond. He towers around six foot seven, and weighs about as much as my snow blower. He is kindly and good-natured, but I am fairly certain that if you ever put his three-year-old daughter in danger, your life expectancy would be measured in moments.
I’m afraid dealing with my wife’s concerns caused me to give way to exasperation, for what I said, as the big, amiable fellow started ambling across the ice, was, “I guess if he falls through you’ll know it isn’t safe.”
He didn’t fall through, and as he arrived he looked about to see what his daughter was up to.
Like most little children she was filled with wonder over things we stodgy elders have become blind to. We’re too busy arguing whether ice is safe or not to see how beautiful the world is, but his little girl was engrossed in the wonder of seeing her own breath. She was puffing out little clouds of steam, and watching them drift away as tangerine clouds in the orange winter twilight, over and over.
After telling me how glad he was his that daughter was at our Childcare, and not in some institutionalized indoors box, he gathered her up and ambled away across the pond, weighing roughly thirty pounds more.
It was Friday, and had been a long and hard week, and my wife was not thinking as clearly as usual. Adding (an unspecified amount) more to the total weight load, she walked with them, stating she wanted to be sure they were safe. The big fellow laughed, and asked her what on earth she could do if he did fall through the ice. She said, “Yell for help,” and he said he could likely do that for himself. My wife then added something, jutting a thumb backwards over her shoulder towards me.
I wasn’t sure, but I thought she might have confessed, “My husband said if you fell through, we’d know it wasn’t safe.”
All I know is that he turned, beamed at me, and shouted, “Did you really say that?”
Assuming the worst, I nodded; glad to see he wasn’t the slightest bit worried. It seemed there was one parent, at least, who trusted my judgment about the ice.
It meant a lot to me. The memory of his beaming cheer kept reoccurring to me, as I snow-blowed the ice today, and reoccurs again as I sit here typing tonight, and nature’s Zamboni resurfaces my pond.