After our first thaw in weeks, (perhaps in over a month), up in these hills in southern New Hampshire, the cold air has come pressing slowly back south. In fact even as our thaw came in on Wednesday, the wind was already shifting around to the north side of west. The air was Chinook air, greatly moderated by passing over an entire continent of snow. It wasn’t the tropical stuff that makes a snow-eater fog drift over cold snow, but was rather dry, and both maps and radar showed we were on the north side of a boundary between continental warmth and polar coolness, with the arctic upstream and waiting in the wings.
It was just mild enough to allow the snow-shedding roof at the Farm-childcare to actually shed snow, for the first time all winter.
I never was fully aware of how such roofs require a thin film of water to exist between the roof and the snow, in order to shed the snow. Or I never was aware until this winter. This winter it was so cold (and the insulation of the building is so excellent) that no such ultra-slippery slickness ever developed between snow and roof, so the snow just sat up there. Fortunately the winds blew some of the snow off the upper roofs, but unfortunately it packed the rest into over a foot of layered, packed powder. Because the structure was originally a barn, it has a barn’s roof, with a shallow slope at the peak, becoming a steep slope halfway towards the eves. The steep-slope has shed its snow, but the shallow-slope retained an ominous load of snow. I had to become a grouch and meany, and forbid the little children to play next to the building, (which they like to do as it is warmest next to the south-facing wall), because I was concerned they might be hit by a heavy weight of accumulated snow, if the roof ever got around to doing its job. This concern was only increased when the local newspaper reported that a man the next town over was buried and trapped for two hours by his snow-shedding roof, before someone heard him yelling for help.
In conclusion, the snow-shedding roof was a failure, this year. It is suppose to spare me the bother of shoveling off roofs in snowy winters, but I had to shovel the lower roofs of the entry ways and porches, where the wind heaped snow rather than blowing it away. Also the snow got so deep up there that a second story outlet for a propane heater was blocked, the heater shut down, and despite excellent insulation pipes froze. Lastly, when the snow finally did come down yesterday, it fell with a sound like soft thunder, and packed into a substance like stiffening concrete, and blocked emergency exits with four feet of snow. I was not pleased, as I faced clearing paths to the exits.
At least I don’t have to worry about the roof collapsing any more. (The stable for the goats has required some roof-raking, as it has old fashioned shingles.)
There have been some roof-collapses in the area, or “partial collapses”, (whatever that is). This is a big worry for high schools, which tend to have flat roofs. This is also a big boon for roofers, who tend to be out of work this time of year. However they don’t work cheaply. A degree of danger is involved, as well as discomfort when the temperature is below zero, and a guy shoveling a roof will get $50.00 an hour. When twenty men are shoveling the roof of a high school, you are talking a thousand dollars an hour, and then there is the cost modern hoists and lifts and front-end-loaders and cherry-pickers. At a school not far north of here the taxpayers were informed by a contractor that to have their school’s roofs cleared of four feet of snow would cost $60,000.
The response of the local taxpayers was a rebellion. A large number of taxpayers showed up first thing Saturday morning and, with surprising speed, they cleared off all the roofs. They had to work fast, because if the School’s insurance company found out they would have forbidden such volunteerism. However, if the insurance company found out it was too late; they faced a “fait acompli”. (This is not to say some adjuster could be all bent out of shape, and, to display his petty power, cancel the town’s insurance, however such people gain a reputation for being a “stinker”, and it has been my experience that, in the long run, they get transferred to Siberia, where they have plenty of time to contemplate the wisdom of always stressing things be done “by-the-book”.)
I had a different concern, regarding collapsing roofs. I like to provide the children with igloos to play in, at our Childcare, however because the snow has never once been the sticky snow children make snowmen and snowballs from, all winter, I had to construct igloos of blocks of packed powder. This is actually what Eskimos build their igloos from, up where temperatures are -40.
(Please do not inform me I am disrespectful to use the word “Eskimo” and should use the word “Inuit”. Such people know I have huge respect for the ability to survive vicious winters, but think lesser respect is petty, and superficial. Furthermore, if they really care about such petty things, I’ll make a deal with them: “I will call Eskimos “Inuits” when they respect a sacred tradition of my tribe, and always follow the letter “Q” with the letter “U”, when using a form of communication called “writing”, which, as far as I know, Eskimos never developed on their own. They likely didn’t bother because writing is a petty thing, compared to surviving when it is forty, fifty, sixty and even seventy below zero. )
In any case, despite the lack of sticky snow, I created a structure the little children delighted in. By running the snow-blower around and around in a circle in the playground, aiming the chute in towards a central area, I could turn four feet of snow into a mountain of packed powder they could climb up and slide down. Then a sort of worm-hole was carved through the mountain, and at one end I carved blocks from the mountain and constructed an igloo of chunks of dry snow that that didn’t stick together, and only didn’t fall because employed the principles of the arch, which was first discovered by the Roman Empire and Eskimos, but not by the Inca.
The problem is that children are not satisfied by crawling into an igloo. They have a strange desire to scale the outside as well, and sit on the top. Because the structure was not made of sticky snow, and only made of blocks of dry snow, I had to again be a grouch and a meany and forbid climbing the roof of the igloo, especially as I got a bit carried away, and the roof was seven feet tall.
Only yesterday was the snow, for the first time all winter, sticky. As soon as the drive and walkways and entrances were clean, the very first thing I did, (after attending to the nagging goats), was to head straight to that igloo and pack all the chinks between the dry blocks of snow with sticky, wet plaster. (I only did the outside; the inside must await a warmer day.) The structure went from looking like a Yankee stone wall, laced with cracks and chinks and crannies, to looking utterly smooth.)
I’m not sure why I did this. I sure didn’t need the exercise, as I already was gobbling aspirin. But I’m glad I did it. Everything froze solid last night, and stayed below freezing as today dawned gray and cold, and only got up to 27.9°. Towards noon, as I drove into the parking lot, bringing my gang-of-six back from half-day kindergarten, I glanced toward that igloo, and seated at the tippitytop was a curly-headed three-year-old, waving merrily at me.
(I’m going to have to have words with the staff about igloo-watching.)
Another concern I face this time of year is that the sledding suddenly goes from slow to rocket-speed. For the entire winter the trails have been packed powder, and any crashes were into fluff. Now a glaze forms on the trails, and increasingly the snow gets crusty, and crashes are into snow that is less kindly. Small children delight in going much faster, and need to instructed about the dangers of speed. Such awareness doesn’t seem to be something humans know about, in their chromosomes. (Nor do small children listen to me, as much as they learn from first-hand experience, and having a scab on the tip of their nose.)
Parents who allow their children to come to our Childcare are not the sort who feel children should be bubble-wrapped and placed in a padded cell. They understand healthy children tend to have scabs on their knees. However I myself don’t like scabs on the tips of noses, and do everything I can to avoid what we call a “face-plant”, which causes such scabs. However today we had our first face-plant, six feet away from a mother, and it happened not on the sledding trails, but at the igloo.
I can’t blame my staff, because I was working, but I was busy adding a new room to the igloo, and was not attending properly. The mother had arrived, and her boy, who loses his mittens with amazing regularity, had already turned in his “loaner” mittens and therefore had naked hands. I expected they would head to the car and go home. However the mother got to talking to a member of my staff, and somewhat to my astonishment, these supposedly mature women came out to the igloo and lay down and went worming in through a child-sized entrance to investigate the cavern at the side of a snow mountain. Meanwhile the small boy, with nothing better to do, decided to climb the snow mountain without using his naked hands. Bad idea. Because he was protecting his hands, they somehow got trapped beside his body as he slid face-first like an otter, and he did a face-plant, just as his mother was reappearing. feet-first, from the worm-hole.
He suffered a nick on his nose, and another on the skin above his upper lip, and his chapped lower lip split slightly (but didn’t turn into a “fat lip.”) However facial wounds bleed a lot, especially in the case of young and healthy circulations, and though in this case the bleeding lasted all of thirty seconds, five-year-old boys are not macho at the sight of blood, and this child let loose a bawl likely heard on the far side of the moon.
As one of the older children dashed off, and swiftly returned with roughly half a box of Kleenex in a huge wad, and we mopped up the blood, I figured the mother would be displeased with my skills as a childcare-provider. To my surprise she wasn’t. She watched as I went through my usual routine, admiring the blood and the loudness of the bawling, and then acting a little disappointed that the bleeding had stopped (as was shown by the failure of the Kleenex to mop any more,) and even more disappointed by the failure of the bawling to get louder. I was helped by the fact the mother was present, and could give the magical hug that makes hospitals look pathetic, as it stops crying far more swiftly, at no cost. However, as the boy returned from trauma to laughing, I was surprised the mother was so stoic, and wasn’t mad at me.
It turned out she was surprised I wasn’t mad at her. She thought her boy was bleeding because, as she squirmed out of the igloo feet first, she had accidentally kicked her child in the lip. She was very glad she hadn’t kicked him, and a face-plant was to blame.
This demonstrates the complicated social interactions which lawyers and bureaucrats would take months in courtrooms to resolve, but which mothers and childcare-providers deal with swiftly, and often do so several times in a single hour.
What do we understand that they don’t? Perhaps we simply know that in a month all the snow will be gone, and none of this will matter or even exist any more.
However it is going to be a long, long month, I fear. For the time being all the snow may be suppressed south, and it may be southern states getting the record snows as the cold sinks south. We only had a few flakes today, and Boston only got a dusting.
Currently we are only spared because the current upper air trough is “positively tilted,” and the front is a “anafront”. (On his superb blog at Weatherbell, Joseph D’Aleo has a wonderful explanation of such meteorological concepts, today.) To simplify greatly, all the weather is sweeping west-to-east out to sea, to our south.
I look further south, to the Gulf of Mexico, where I see the above maps show a sort of weak, winter “Bermuda High” is starting to bring up tropical juice. I have a very nervous feeling we will not get out of this winter without a surge of that tropical juice interacting with arctic air, and giving the east coast one, last, farewell kick in the butt. After all, this far north March is still a winter month. In 1993 the entire east coast was clobbered by a magnificent storm, but even that amazing event was small potatoes compared to a storm that hit between March 11 and 14 in 1888.
That 1888 storm hit after a mild winter, when they had no snow banks to begin with. If such a storm were to hit us now, with the huge snowbanks we already have, New England would be basically be shut down. Of course, we’d make an effort to clean up, but the real clean up would be done by spring sunshine in April. For the most part we’d rely on that, and not on bureaucrats, lawyers, and politicians, who think they have power, but are pawns to a realer Reality.
UPDATE —SUPER SUNNY—
It was -2.0° (-18.9° Celsius) just before sunrise this morning. It’s unusual to get sub-zero cold in March. It’s also unusual to have the entire USA basically storm free, without any rain or snow except a few showers off the southern tip pf Texas, and flurries up in Washington State.
I refuse to be fooled by this benign map. I’m waiting for Grrr-blow (play on words: Waiting For Godot), and will not lower my guard and be hit by a sucker punch.
However I have to admit the March sunshine does get to you. It has a sort of exuberance utterly unlike December’s sun, and gets under your eyelids and chases gloom from the caverns of your mind. Even our old, fat cat waddles to the front door and stands by it, as if it actually will go outside for the first time in months. Of course, if you open the door, it recoils from the inrush of arctic air, and does an about-face. However the sunshine pouring in the window can fool even a comfort-loving cat.
Into my mind this morning came exuberant sunshine, and out of the blue I recalled a song I wrote at age 19, after a long, cold, and seemingly hopeless winter.
Is that there a willow tree
In the winter’s gray?
Clowning yellows happily
And laughing in its play,
“Spring will come some day.”
Can it be a hidden grin
Is bursting out aloud?
A boatless sailor’s porpoise fin?
I see you’re in
Beneath your shroud.
I had better be careful. If I don’t watch it I’ll be fooled into smiling by something you can’t put in a bank: Sunshine.
EVENING UPDATE; ARCTIC SUNSHINE
Today was dazzling, so brilliant that I verged on snow-blindness. When I stepped indoors it seemed very dark, even when I turned on the lights. The temperatures only topped off around 20°. ( I have to move my Christmas thermometer, for the sun has gotten high enough to mess up its midday readings.) Yet the snow softened next to south-facing walls, or on south-facing slopes, and I was able to transport sticky snow in a sled to my igloo and strengthen the walls. The snow has settled to a degree where small children can walk on top of it rather than wallowing through it. It remains amazingly deep, but definitely is on the defensive.
The snow-cover is extensive. Joseph D’Aleo had some great satellite shots today on his blog at Weatherbell. However what I notice is how it is largely to the east. The snow-cover had record-setting readings way down in Kentucky, (-9° in Monticello). Meanwhile way up in Wyoming there is hardly any snow-cover across the entire state. To me this suggests things are out-of-balance, and some peculiar adjustment will occur. My forecast? Planet Earth will abruptly veer from its orbit and head off towards Pluto.
I think it was a dazzling day over a lot of the USA. Mighty March sunshine briefly rules. A single weak clipper-like storm nudges into Minnesota.
I worked a long afternoon shift at our Farm-Childcare, including “quiet time”, which involves watching innocent children nap. Usually at least one is trouble, but today, for some strange reason, all konked out. So I sat and thought about March sunshine and wrote a couple of sonnets.
All winter the snow’s been powder, never
The glue you can stick together and shape
Into castles and forts and other clever
Constructs of winter minds, until now, too late
To build anything lasting, snow’s sticky.
What’s the use of starting? Forts won’t last.
What’s the use? Ah! There thought gets tricky
For all things will someday crumble, be past,
Yet who can resist building castles of sand
At the beach, despite a gargantuan
Snoring, a stone’s throw off? It’s our demand
That we bloom; fruitfulness is part of man.
Therefore I’ll build snow forts in sunshine
That will erase all, and leave not a sign.
Moved by March sunshine, my wise, old, fat cat
Waddles to the door and looks up at me
As if she might go out. Fat chance of that
When the temperature won’t nudge past twenty
At noon, and yesterday’s slush is so frozen
That light-footed ladies crunch like elephants
Passing in the street. My cat hears, and then
Turns away from the door, not taking the chance
Of wincing whiskers with in-rushing arctic.
Still, the sunshine is March’s, so the wise cat
Walks to where light pools, and pauses to lick
Her paws, and then slides into warm honey that
Will push her across the rug all morning.
March sunshine moves us, without warning.
I get a lot of quiet joy from playing with words and penning sonnets, and tend to softly chuckle to myself and, if I am describing a cat, to take on the cat’s facial expressions as I describe it. Just as I was finishing the second sonnet I glanced up, and saw a small six-year-old girl, with her head up on her elbows, was studying the contortions of my face with obvious, deep, and grave interest.
One wonders what she might tell her parents.