Into the Well of Souls and Other Tales from Life with Nearly Four Feet of Snow

On Saturday evening as my family went out to synagogue for purim, I was astonished - driving through Schenectady there were only a few inches of snow on the ground. Now we often get more snow than lower elevations, but this time the difference was astounding - we have nearly four feet of snow on the ground.

I like snow, but I admit, I've never dealt with this much, accumulated so quickly - it snowed non-stop from Tuesday morning until Saturday night. Sometimes we had gentle flakes, other white-out, but snow it did, and looking out this sunny morning, my four and a half foot goat fences are nearly invisible, and our well pump is completely missing.

We have a long gravel driveway, and we ordinarily figure shoveling it out is good exercise for us, so we don't usually pay someone to plow. But after we did the first 18 inches, and then you couldn't tell we'd done it, we broke down and called the neighbor with the big truck, and thus we have 7 foot plow piles along our driveway.

The weather was warm - only just above or below freezing for most of it, so the piles and the snow have a thick layer of ice, and are pressed down by their own weight - it is tough snow to shovel, and for the most part, we haven't bothered - just as much as is needed to get through. in some places we simply can't - the plow piles, for example, are now iced over and can't be moved without a bulldozer.

The kids think this is unutterably awesome and have decided that this is a new ice-age ecology, complete with a list of wildlife previously unknown - Snow Moas, Polar Aardvarks, Giant Arctic Ground Squirrels and other creatures have been discovered by my little naturalists (I think snow moas are particularly cool). For those of us tasked with the exercise of actually doing things, it is a little less awesome.

Several revelations:

1. Three feet of packed snow means that animals are not bound by 4 foot fences. It is very difficult to keep creatures in or out.

2. There are lots of places for children or goats to get stuck. All of them vastly inconvenient to the adults who have to extricate them.

3. Getting hay out of our hay barn, plowed in by the piles and with a five and a half foot doorway now resembles, as Eric put it. "going down into the well of souls" - one walks along a precarious packed snow path through the seven-foot piles, and gets to the doorway, which was at one point fully blocked by snow. We dug it out, and now you slide through a foot and half hole down (standing up, I'm level with the top of the roof) into the hay barn. Bales of hay are hoisted out over your head, pushed up onto the snow piles, then you scramble out, and haul the snow along the icy path, hoping that you don't accidentally step into a weak spot and sink past your hips.

4. Everything takes three times as long as usual. It is, however, great exercise, being both weight bearing and aerobic.

It is definitely early March, and things are dripping slowly. At the present rate of decline, I expect the last snow to be gone by early July, at the latest. Meanwhile, we're adapting to our new habitat.



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I love the fact your kids think of this as a new ecology! That has probably made for some really interesting homeschooling projects...

By curiousalexa (not verified) on 01 Mar 2010 #permalink

I too have realized I need higher fences in the winter feeding pen! You'd think having lived here all my life this would've occurred to me, but nope ... it wasn't until the calf was in with the sheep and the sheep were in with the cow that I realized just how MUCH more fencing I need!

One nice thing about snow cover is it's easy to pull a sled loaded with hay from point A to point B. Snowshoes would probably be a good addition at your house, though ...that crusty stuff that you can suddenly sink into up to your hips with no warning is treacherous.

I'm keeping an eye out for a used pair for here, actually. You just never know when you might NEED to walk across a snowed in pasture.

By Apple Jack Creek (not verified) on 01 Mar 2010 #permalink

Get a sled to haul hay and other stuff around. A big plastic toboggan can multitask as a utility hauler (hay, firewood, groceries...) and as a toy for your boys. If you don't have snowshoes, the sled can also help you climb back out of treacherously deep snow.

If you don't have snowshoes, try making some. It's easier than caning a chair if you have enough cord and some flexible saplings.

Sand. I love sand, sand and ashes. And dirt.

A light scattering of sand on snow or ice, or even darker fluffy light debris, and the snow develops pores and weakens and goes quicker. Anything, really, that disrupts the all-white reflectivity of the surface of the snow helps to rediscover the actual ground underneath. Even a very light casting of dust or sand can show a lot of difference, over several days. And sand and dirt don't impair fertility of the soil or damage cement like salt will. In Minnessota it seemed that the salt was about as effective as salt for managing ice and snow. Slower than a shovel, mostly, but unlike the shovel it keeps working when you go in to warm up.

Happy Monday!

I've been through two really heavy snows: once in Nova Scotia about 30 years ago when we got between 4 and 5 feet (my car was buried) and after three days I flagged down the county plow to clean out my little bypass road that didn't normally qualify for plowing since I was the only person living on it year-round. The second time was fifteen years ago in Sault Ste. Marie when we got 6 feet in 24 hours. We had a hall at the time and had to clear the parking lot. We'd go out to clear around the hall and then come home and clear the (fortunately) tiny driveway and feed the wood stove. -- We moved to southern Ontario the following year. We've gotten as much as a couple of feet in a single snow fall. When I worked full time, I've sometimes snowshoed to work because I had to be there before the plows came around. The same system that gave you so much gave us just under a foot -- a large amount in this winter of very little snow here (we saw more in Alabama and Mississippi on our travel back from New Orleans the second weekend of February than in our driveway here.

We do have snowshoes (love 'em) but they aren't very much use going over the packed plow piles - and I'd have to take them off to climb into the hay barn. Same with the sled - it isn't all that far back to the barn once they are out, its the hoisting them out. We use the sleds to haul wood and other things, though.