THE COLOR OF SLUSH
What a day! Three inches of snow turning to an icy rain, and now back to snow. It is hard to find the right adjective for this sort of weather, though I always liked a very proper Englishman’s description of an icy rain with a cruel wind, in London. As he came in from the wet he spoke two words, with the stress on the first, “Filthy weather.”
Of course, my wife always says, “There is no such thing as bad weather; only bad clothing.” I must have worn bad clothing, today.
In fact I’m sure of it. Because I began working in snow, I wore outer-pants over my jeans that were more along the lines of a snow-suit than a raincoat. Rather than repelling the water they acted more like a sponge, and by the time I was done I was wet to the skin. The jeans I wore underneath went directly into the drier when I got home; hanging them by the fire would have made a puddle by the stove.
I had to spend all that time outside for three reasons.
The first was the driveway of the Childcare. When people first were arriving it was snowing to beat the band, but there wasn’t quite enough to use the snow-blower. (If I set the snowblower’s-blade to “pavement level,” on a gravel drive, it scoops up gravel, which might machine-gun a neighbor across the road and result in a lawsuit, or break a window at the Childcare and result in the wrath of my wife, or scoop up a cobble and break the blade’s sheer-pins, which happens anyway.) Therefore I was stuck with using an ancient implement known as a “snow shovel.”
Men of my advanced years drop dead on a regular basis, when they use such old-fashioned tools, but I just took the attitude that my heart needed the exercise, and I dashed to and fro across the parking lot, shoving the snow more than shoveling, trying to get it off the lot before rain changed it to slush.
I’m a wise old man, in my way, and one thing I’ve learned from my sons is how to avoid work. Therefore I don’t rush to and fro in parking lots unless I have a good reason, and in this case it involved a calculation about slush.
If the snow is going to change to a warm rain it is wise to sit by the fire and toast your toes. The snow will be slush-and-flush, and will basically flow away down the gutters without you raising a finger. However, if the snow is going to turn to a cold rain and then back to snow, you think slush-and-rush, because the snow is much easier to move than heavy slush, and if rain turns the snow to slush and you don’t remove the slush, it freezes solid to a substance which is theoretically ice, but I think is actually iron. Every rut and every footprint is fixed in place, sometimes for days on end. Even as it starts to thaw it creates a miserable mixture of a non-stick surface and stumbling blocks. Therefore, even though sitting by a fire is attractive, in slush-and-rush situations it is always best to hustle and get the driveway clean..
The second reason I stayed out in filthy weather was due to a promise I made to five small boys to take them “on an adventure.” I had a long hike planned, but looking at the way the snow was starting to fall swiftly, as huge flakes which were so sopping wet they hit you like globules of cold spit, I decided to shorten the hike, and seek the shelter of hemlocks. As I reached the porch of the Childcare, already wet, my staff presented me with five, small, beaming boys, dressed in superior one-piece snow-suits that repelled water. Just the way they looked at me quashed a selfish desire I had to convince them to focus on skills involving crayons, indoors.
I took them on a short loop, mostly under the cover of hemlocks and pines, which turned out to be even wetter than being out in the open. Last Sunday’s storm left a lot of snow up in the boughs of those trees, and as the wind picked up from the east and the snow changed to rain, the snow up in the boughs turned to slush, and fell sloppily. Literally a rain of glop fell under the trees, bothering me much more than the boys, who once again had turned the tables on me.
` I can’t say how often this happens: I get a bit high and mighty about something, and four, five and six-year-olds put me in my place. On this occasion it involved wearing the correct clothing. Usually I am the one warmly dressed, at the children become mournful, for even when their parents dress them well they tend to discard clothing when my back is turned. (When the snow melts in the spring we find all sorts of lost mittens, hats, scarves, and even the occasional jacket.) Today I happened to have five of the best-dressed boys, and envied them, (as it is difficult to purchase such outfits if you are an adult.) The boys likely could have waded chest-deep in ice-water and stayed warm and dry, as I wore neither my raincoat nor rain pants. With every passing minute I was absorbing more water and gaining an extra pound.
Our route moved through some puckerbrush pines. (When a field grows-over the underbrush makes you pucker up your face as you walk through it, so the local term ifor an overgrown field is “puckerbrush.”) The snow gets deep there, for it drifts in from more windswept places and is protected from the sun, yet the trees there are not big enough to keep the snow up in their boughs. I had to break the trail, in snow up to my thighs, as the boys labored along behind, with the same snow well above their waists. (It is amazing how tiring it can be to break such a trail, and lets you understand why snowshoes and cross-country skis were invented.)
Only a few years ago the field only held pines up to my knees, but now I could not see over the wind-tossed tops, nor far ahead along the route I picked through the thick boughs. The pines were growing in what was actually a poor patch of pasture, due to a lot of bulldozed subsoil and clay spread over it when the farm pond was dug. Perhaps the pine’s taproots penetrated to better soil beneath, but I’ve been struck by the irony of how swiftly they’ve grown, when forty years of labor could barely get the grass to grow there at all.
As far as the boys were concerned, we were at the far ends of the earth. Though barely two hundred yards from the Childcare, they were in the depths of a northern forest, in snow up to their chests, and were quite utterly lost. This was as I intended. An adventure is never truly an adventure if know exactly where you are.
As we passed from the puckerbrush to some taller groves of beech, hemlock and pine the snow was less deep, and wading through it less tiresome, but still the boys wanted to sprawl comfortably in their snow-suits every twenty yards or so, catching their breath, as I already wanted to just hurry back to the Childcare and get the darn adventure over with. It was a little embarrassing to me that they were so much more comfortable in the woods than I was.
It was at this point we arrived at a place we call “Lightning Rock.” (Named because the lightning struck several trees there, perhaps because (before I cleaned it up) the area was an old-time farm dump, and included metal such as tin cans, an old bedstead, and what appeared to be rusty sheet metal from a washing machine, and all that metal may have attracted lightning.) One of the boys recognized where we were, and it was wonderful to watch their faces light up as, one by one, their young brains made the connections and they were no longer “lost.”
As soon as they recognized where they were, they all turned straight back towards the Childcare, and I surmised they had enough adventuring for one day. That gave me a grim sense of satisfaction, for it is better that they had enough, than that they scowled at me for failing to bring them on an adventure I had promised them.
As we came over a shallow rise the farm buildings were laid out across the sodden, wind-swept pasture, and I paused to sniff the wind as two boys, who had lugged plastic sleds behind them the entire hike, attempted to sled down the sledding hill towards the Childcare. Already the snowflakes, or actually slush-flakes, were looking lonely as they fell in the wet mist, and the boys’ sleds barely moved on the slope, for the snow was like wet felt. However the boys insisted on “sledding,” which gave me plenty of time to scan the skies and watch the smoke from a chimney I could see, (though I did have to stoop, halfway down the hill, and empty slush from one boy’s sled.)
The southeast wind will bring you rain
And northeast winds bring snow,
But winds due east are like a beast
You cannot tame or know.
The winds were east, and smoke from the chimney swung back and forth, forsing me to change my forecast back and forth, especially because each time the wind swung slightly to the northeast the snowflakes would thicken, as if a giant hand flung confetti, and then, as the smoke swung the other way, the snowflakes would vanish and the wind would pelt sleety rain. In the end I had to simply call it an east wind, and pity the forecasters.
I have seen forecasts change from “two inches of snow, turning to rain” to “eight inches, turning to rain,” and then to “sixteen inches, ending as rain,” with an east wind. I’ve also seen forecasts for heavy snow be nothing but rain, rain, rain.
The small difference between 32 degrees (F) and 32.1 (F) makes a huge difference, and the border between rain and snow can be altered by subtle things such as the precipitation getting heavier, and bringing slightly colder air down from aloft.
One would need ten thousand weather balloons, at all levels of the atmosphere, at all times, to get a clear picture of the goings-on overhead, and even then a swirl aloft could bring south a flat layer of arctic air, to meet a flat layer of tropical air coming north, like two cards in a shuffling deck, only shuffling cards don’t merge and create a downburst of snow and rain.
In the end I wind up amazed anyone would even attempt to forecast what an east wind would do, and am even more amazed forecasters do as well as they do, when winds are from the east. In essence they are cruising for a bruising, for they will never get things exactly right, and people who need to be exact, such as engineers, can be very critical.
If you compare today’s weather map with the one from two weeks ago you can see the same sort of Primary low over the Great Lakes with a secondary forming on the coast, however where the secondary exploded into a blizzard, two weeks ago, now the two lows are being squashed into a single, long, elongated area of low pressure. It is fascinating to watch, and deserves a post all its own, however, to cut a long story short, there will be no single clear storm, but rather an elongated area of low pressure, forming separate blobs like indistinct beads on an indistinct string, and the winds will swing north and south, and the forecast will be “Maybe rain, maybe snow.”
Trudging behind the boys back to the Childcare porch, I could make my own forecast, which was, “It will be difficult to plan.”
The boys were still warm and dry, thanks to their excellent outfits, and burst inside to tell my staff all about their adventure, over a snack. I, however, had to tend to some chores, though I was not warm and dry, and was hungry.
Feeding the goats their hay was nice, for they were thankful, but hay sticks to you, when you are wet. Also it sort of bugs me that they get fed when I don’t.
I just wanted to go home, but the entrance gate of the Childcare was broken. I wish there was someone I could frown at for breaking it, some child who swung on it or some parent who backed into it with their car, however, judging from the twisted metal of the lower hinge and the ripped-out screws, the true culprit was a perfectly positioned chunk of frozen snow.
Just as small rock positioned properly can serve as a fulcrum to a lever which moves a boulder many times larger than the small rock, a small chip of ice can serve as a fulcrum to the lever of a swinging gate, and twist metal and rip fat screws from hardwood.
This was an interesting tidbit of science to contemplate, as I hammered twisted metal flat and replaced screws, and sleet stung my face and cold water dripped down the back of my neck, and I also attempted to be spiritual and not contemplate how stupid the rule is, which states a gate of a Childcare must always latch easily.
There is no exception to that rule. Just as, if the inspector arrives in a howling blizzard, and finds a drift across a fire-exit, you can be “written up” for a blocked exit, you can also be “written up” if your front gate doesn’t latch correctly, even if the weather is filthy.
I know they have reasons for these rules. They don’t want a child pushing through the gate, rushing into the parking lot, and dying a dreadful death beneath an SUV. But what about me? Could I not die of pneumonia?
It is politically correct to focus on children, but what about the child care provider? I mean, I’m the one actually doing the work. All they do is get all dewy eyed and dream up rules. Furthermore, in some cases I’m old enough to be their grandfather. Why are they always saying, “It is for the children!” Have they no respect for their elders?
Of course, if the following isn’t a scientific rule, it should be: The moment that the violins of your self-pity hit their maximum pitch is the exact moment your hammer hits your thumb.
I had a few choice words to mutter at the slush at my feet, as I sucked my offended thumb, which, like me, never did anything to deserve the way it was treated. And, as I sneered at the slush, considering all the people to blame for my miserable predicament, it occurred to me the person to blame was the person who put the bit of ice in the position that was the perfect fulcrum to break the hinge. And who was that person? It was the snow-shoveler, namely myself.
Of course, even as I had shoveled that snow the violins of my self-pity were likely howling like cats, as I felt very sorry for myself for some infraction I can’t even remember, (let alone justify.)
If I had been a better man while shoveling, then, rather than grumping about whatever it was I grumped about, I would have paid more attention to what was around me, and I then might have noticed the chip of ice lodging by the hinge, and might have thought to myself, “That piece of ice might stress the hinge.” However I failed. Therefore I had no one to blame but myself.
It stinks, when you are in the mood for pity, to get blame, but it helped me get the blasted job done. I swung the gate a couple times, and it latched. I could go home and be less wet.
As I stooped to pick up my tools I noticed the pelting rain had turned the half-inch of snow, (which fell after I shoveled that area earlier,) to slush. I paused, noticing the color of slush.
Snow is white and water is clear, but slush has a hue all its own. I would call it a battleship grey, but it has too many blues.
And that is what being aged sixty is like, I decided to myself, as I snapped the toolbox shut and headed home.