The arctic blast after the last blizzard faded away last night, and temperatures started to plunge towards zero in the starry calm, but even at sunset the smudge of high clouds could be seen streaming up from the southwest, and as they crept overheard, snuffing out the stars one by one, temperatures stopped falling at 0.5° (-17.5 Celsius) at around ten o’clock, sparing us the indignity of another subzero night. Though the forecast was only for a dusting this far north, there was a general cynicism about the weather bureau’s ability, and nervousness about the southern-branch storm “phasing” with the next Alberta clipper in the northern-branch. After all, the last blizzard exploded out of a northern branch feature wirhout any help from the southern branch, but this time the south was offering up lots of juicy help.
Daybreak saw temperatures had edged past 2.7° (at 5:00 AM) and a gray sky, but the southern-branch storm was sliding away out to sea safely to our south, as the northern-branch feature dawdled behind over Lake Superior, refusing to “phase”.
This does not mean we are off the hook yet, as that northern-branch clipper could brew up some hefty squalls coming through, but for the time being we can breathe a sigh of relief and get on with cleaning up the mess from the last storm without the mess being compounded by the next one.
Of course, I’ll be too busy cleaning up to write before this evening. However when I do write I intend to describe aspects of the mess, one of which is a population explosion of field mice, who have been having a grand old time under all the snow, buffered, as it were, from the snooping noses and toothy grins of foxes, the talons of owls, and even the slinking of ermines.
The temperature is up past 10° and the bright February sun is fighting to burn its way through the gray smudge to the south, at 10:00 AM.
FIGHTING FOR NORMALCY
For a time this morning the clouds all seemed to be heading off to the east, gray to the south but a high and silvery mackerel-sky edge overhead, with the sky blue to the north, and it seemed we’d get clearing and more of the bright February sun everyone seems to crave.
Not that people haven’t adapted astonishingly to winter. It was by no means warm this morning, but because the wind had ceased parents were far less bundled than you’d expect for 5°, as they dropped of children at our Childcare. The exception was one young mother who was completely wrapped up and still shuddering, because she’d just come back from the Bahamas and, while a trip there may be a beautiful break to winter blahs, the body’s metabolism slacks off in the warmth, and it takes at least a couple days to get it back in gear. However that is the price one pays for escapism. Every form of refuge has its price.
The rest of us, who rather than tanned golden are green with envy, derive a certain amount of smug satisfaction watching the returnees shudder, but we don’t walk around with our jackets open to rub it in. We are simply so mugged by all the extra work that winter clobbers us with that we can’t find the time to button our coats unless we absolutely have to.
Today my extra work was to snow-blow the paths back through the playground. It was not a matter of blowing a foot of snow that had fallen into the bottom of the paths, which I’d cut through three feet of snow. For the most part the roaring wind had filled all the cuts to the brim, and the playground looked flat, though the edges of the earlier cuts could be dimly traced in the surface in a few places, where the wind had scoured the fresh foot of snow entirely away.
The wind was so strong it littered all the streets with dead twigs and small branches. Also many beeches and some oaks don’t shed their leaves even though they are dead and brown. (I’ve never figured out what ecological advantage is involved in clinging to dead leaves, and it is particularly baffling because trees of the same species sometimes hold on to dead leaves and sometimes don’t, and occasionally even different branches of the same tree chose differently.) In any case they shed many of their browned leaves in the gale, and they swirled incongruously with the drifting snow, as if October got mixed up with January. However odder was what appeared to be little stems of green grass poking up through the top of the snow, as if we’d only had an inch and I’d neglected to mow a final time, last fall. However grass would be brown by now, and the flat surface of the playground was benearh three and four feet of powder. What the green things were was the individual needles of White Pine, (usually attached in grouping of five to a bunch, to twigs,) which the howling winds had plucked from pines and carried hundred of yards downwind.
I was not entirely happy to be facing the job I faced. After all, only a month ago kids could run about that 130 by 100 foot playground without me needing to snow-blow at all. However when the snow is deeper than the kids are tall, a new job is created. And it is not easy, because the blower is designed to drive across a pavement of asphalt, not powder snow packed by little feet, and it is built to handle at most two feet of snow, not four. Rather than walking behind a self-propelled machine I had to push it, as it kept churning its wheels into powder pavement and bogging down. I had to fight with it and wrestle with it until my arms felt like noodles, and even then I’d only recreated 80% of the maze I blithely criss-crossed the playground with back when the snow was only a couple of feet deep. I didn’t even attempt the path out to the sledding hill in the pasture.
For that I strapped on a pair of snow shoes. I needed to tramp down some trails, because the powder is so powdery sleds just sink and go nowhere, in it.
Usually we would at least have a day or two above freezing, with the thaws creating a crust on the snow, by February. Amazingly, this year we’ve just had powder on powder on powder. My snowshoes sunk ten inches, as I walked to and fro, tramping down trails. Soon my legs felt like noodles.
I thought the children would run about in the maze I created in the playground as I did my boring chore, but for some reason a bunch trooped along behind me. They were able to walk in my snowshoe tracks without sinking. Perhaps they enjoyed getting further than a hundred-thirty feet away from a house. They were quite vocal about how I should walk faster, and had all sorts of ideas about sledding trails I should stamp down.
One idea I accepted was to put in a triple black diamond sled trail. My wife may veto it, when she sees it. Ordinarily it is littered with large stones and small boulders, as farmers for 250 years used it as a place to dump rocks they removed from the tiny pasture further uphill, however four feet of snow has turned it into a smooth and very steep slope. Walking up and down it a couple times had me leaning over with my hands on my thighs, huffing and puffing.
You might think that was enough exercise for an old geezer like me, but I put together a fifteen foot long snow-rake yesterday, to rake four feet snow from roofs before the snow collapses structures. Some of the roofs are “snow-shedding” roofs, designed to spare me this trouble, but when the snow is powder on powder on powder, such roofs don’t work.
I didn’t get very far. Those roof-rakes employ muscles I never knew existed. Raking and hoeing in a spring garden often makes me ache, for the muscles that pull-towards-you get little use the rest of the year. However a garden’s rake and hoe are only five feet long, not fifteen, and you are only lifting them slightly above ground level, not way up high to a roof. In fact I felt like a wimp, I tired so swiftly. Not that I’ll pay some bum $500.00 to do the job for me, but I will procrastinate a trifle.
The thing about all this work is that it isn’t necessary. It is all a big bonus you get when you live in the pristine landscapes of Currier and Ives, and Norman Rockwell. It looks lovely to people who come north to ski, and they get this bizarre fixation that it is easy to live here. The locals warn them, “It’s a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live here”, but they cannot be dissuaded, and buy a shack for three times what it is worth. The local folk can’t afford to buy a house, until after a winter like this one. Then there are plenty of places going darn cheap.
After a winter like this the local folk are glad to see the first black flies, but, to a newcomer, stepping outside when the snow finally fades in May, and immediately being swarmed by a hoard of biting bugs, drops the sales price of their “chalet” (IE “shack”) another 10%.
Local folk like a winter like this one, because it means they might be able to afford a home, but it is a long haul until spring, and in the mean time you have to work, work, work, as it snows, snows, snows.
Which brings me to the subject of this nasty critter:
Photo Credit: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/202310208235192486/
Yes, yes, they are cuter than a button. And, if you are camping like a hermit in the woods, it is a salve to your loneliness to befriend a single mouse, and feed it some crumbs. However, in a winter like this one, protected from predators by four feet of snow, they don’t breed like rabbits. They are faster. Soon there are so many they exhaust their natural food supplies, and pop up all over the place, which is very good news for foxes, who haven’t been able to find many with four feet of snow in the way, and are gaunt and starving. The hungry owls can fly away south, but the foxes are stuck here.
Ordinarily the foxes take care of all the stupid members of each mouse generation, but four feet of snow have allowed lots of stupid mice to breed stupider mice, and if a fox can avoid starving to death until mid February, all of a sudden he or she is midst a cornucopia with stupid mice popping up all over the place.
The smarter mice all head for human abodes. They find the smallest hole in your foundation and move in where it is nice and warm, and there are all sorts of snacks on shelves in your kitchen. It is such a nice place that they swiftly raise a few generations, and abruptly you start to notice mouse-droppings, (little black grains like a grain of rice, but half the size), on counters, shelves, and perhaps beside your toothbrush on the bathroom sink. Mice suddenly are not cute any more.
We were spared this problem at our Childcare because, rather than mice, an ermine moved in. My wife got quite a shock when she stepped into the back shed with some trash for the trash can, and saw the little white weasel looking at her with a critical expression, but I did not mind at all having that creature scuffling about behind our walls.
The only better predator would be a tiny shrew. Half the size of a field mouse, they have to eat like crazy to fuel their fierce metabolism. They need a mouse a day to keep going, which is like a human eating an entire pig every day.
Unfortunately no shrew moved in after the ermine moved on, and our Childcare abruptly is facing an invasion of field mice. For some reason I am to blame, and I am expected to be the one who solves this problem.
This has gotten me thinking. I am a manly man who has to do all the rough, tough physical stuff, like wrestling snow-blowers across playgrounds, tramping sledding rails with snowshoes, and raking snow off roofs. Is it not reasonable to expect more delicate deeds would be handled by womanly women?
Apparently not. Take changing diapers, for example. If I say changing diapers is not the work of a manly man, it apparently proves I am some sort of male chauvinist pig. I could argue, but don’t, because a man has to chose his battles, and it is easier to change a gross, stinking diaper than to pick a fight.
You might think that women, in the same spirit, would set a mousetrap and remove the dead, brained mouse, even though it is as gross as a diaper. Nope.
I am the one who has to kill the cute, adorable creatures. I am the one who has to face the horror of seeing the dramatic posture mice always seem to theatrically assume, when the trap snaps, with the blood trickling from the wee mouth, that only wanted to taste a little bit of peanut butter, and with the wide open eyes looking at me, somehow accusingly though dead. Somehow it is a man’s job to face the GUILT.
This is the sort of thing that eats away at a man, and makes him mean. I don’t deserve to be treated like this! And it starts to expand into a theory about how I am splendid and everyone else is an asshole. And when you start to see that sort of thought you know the winter is getting to you; you are suffering Cabin Fever, and showing the psychological symptoms of becoming Shacky Whacky.
The only remedy is to turn to weather maps and become absorbed in isobars.
Though the silver edge of the storm was heading awy to the east, out to sea, up against the blue sky high above my head, a few shreds of gray cumulus scud passed over, coming up from the southeast. Even when these shreds were only 5% of the overcast, tiny flakes began falling. The scud kept increasing, until even the blue skies to our north filled with gray, and the bright promise of a February sun faded into a smear. The mist of snow continued, though it didn’t show on radar, though to our south a new band of snow did show on radar.
The day turned into a gray one, with a constant snow that never amounted to more that dust on surfaces. Temperatures climbed to 22.8° (-5.1° Celsius) which seemed downright bally after what we’ve been through. I think a very weak Norlun Trough was occurring.
As the long day ended temperatures fell back into the teens as darkness fell. The southern-branch feature slipped out to sea, and the flakes grew large briefly before ceasing.
You will notice that though we escaped the snow, Boston didn’t escape. However though we escaped the measurable snow, we didn’t escape winter.