January 6, 2013

North Cairn: Enduring the Maine winter with a stash of supplies and common sense

A lot of my resolutions are not my own creations.

I am still a "from away" here, relatively new to some of the esoteric knowledge that Mainers possess after a lifetime of living through winters in the northernmost state of New England. I understand I have a lot to learn.

It's not that I am a complete novice to the realities of 2- or 3-foot snowfalls; I grew up in Chicago, which never failed, especially in the dead of winter, to live up to its nickname, "The Windy City." And I lived for more than 10 years in the part of Michigan that routinely gets swept by 8 to 12 inches of "lake effect snow," right before 18 inches more falls dead-on from a sky that seems pewter-colored for about 85 percent of the time between December and April. A foot of the white stuff is a twelfth of a good season's storms, and the rural legend is that the Army has a winter survival training camp in that neck of the woods.

So it goes without saying that I have never owned anything other than a four-wheel-drive vehicle, and I have an ice scraper in my car year-round. But a neighbor sensed that I needed a little more instruction and recently sat down with me to go over a few tips to making it through the Maine winter in one piece.

He pulled a length of notebook paper out of his pocket and went through several items one by one. A couple had to do with the wind and cold (consider lining those windows with clear insulation film, and get some thick curtains up over that to hold the heat in and the cold out) but most were about common sense in heavy snow.

He had them numbered as I recall, though not in order of importance -- just listed as they had come to him while he was jotting down notes for the lesson plan.

And I was heartened to know that I had a neighbor through the woods who possessed a certain Good Samaritan take on life.

If you know a storm is coming, he said, lift your windshield wipers off the glass, otherwise they might get frozen down and it will take forever to get going. And it will also save on the number of times you'll have to replace the wiper blades.

Always keep a path shoveled to the kerosene and propane tanks, he said. Otherwise, if the snow's too deep, you might not get a delivery -- even if you need one.

Keep a couple buckets filled with water if a storm is brewing, just to be on the safe side. If you lose power, you'll want to be able to keep the toilet working.

In fact, I'm big on investing in a few buckets, he said. You can use some for water, and some to pick up sand and salt at the town maintenance garage. Good to have on hand.

Of course, he added almost parenthetically, always have a good flashlight and plenty of batteries. And candles or oil lamps -- something.

"Don't start using the wood stove until January -- or you'll run out," he warned sagely. I had only bought a half cord of wood -- backup, in the event that the power failed in a blizzard. I'm hoping good luck, reliable utilities and frugal use will keep me safe enough to endure until spring in that regard.

But again, not to bank on fair weather or a warm winter, he also advised investing in a small ceramic heater for the unheated room on the main floor, out of which cold had already been pouring like an Arctic blast.

I started pricing them right after Christmas.

But by then a good snow had already fallen, and by New Year's came the almost-certain promise of sub-zero temperatures. It was definitely time to take a few cold weather precautions.

Resolutions toward common sense is how I'm thinking about them.

I dragged out a few old tricks from my days in Midwestern winters: a down sleeping bag in the car; thermal blankets for the dog, should she be traveling with me; extra socks, boots, pants and ski jacket -- in case I encountered some foolishness that left me wet and without a heated car for retreat. A bag of rock salt, a broom to go with the snow scraper, bottled water inside a cooler (in case the water froze and the plastic seams gave way).

I'm sure it will all come back to me, this survivalist mentality. I've already picked up a couple pairs of YaxTrax and stowed the cross country ski poles in the back of the Escape. I know my limits and I'm embracing them.

Meanwhile, I'm off to the town maintenance garage, buckets in hand. Better safe, I say, than sorry.

North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6329 or at:

ncairn@pressherald.com

 

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