Gary Anderson

Gary Anderson

You know it’s a real snowstorm when you can’t hear the snowplows passing by.

Flashing lights outside wind rattled windows is all that gives them away. A glance at the alarm clock reveals that daybreak is still a long ways off. For Public Works to be up and about so early means there will definitely be a wall of snow at the end of the driveway.

For me, the end of the driveway is the rear end of my car. Here in Bath, houses of a certain age weren’t built with the anticipation that far in the future each residence would need space for a horseless carriage, or two.

With every significant snowfall the dilemma is always the same in deciding whether or not to shovel out before the last plow passes. Initial removal of the wall of snow will only be replaced by subsequent plowing and the grand finale when final clearance of the full street width is accomplished. The gamble is in guessing how much snow will actually fall. Strategic incremental snow removal has its merits over an endgame shoveling showdown maxing out one’s physical stamina or snowblower capabilities.

If one waits too long there’s the additional liability that temperature and precipitation change might increase the weight of the snow. More than once I’ve learned the hard lesson that it’s even more difficult to shovel a now cement-like accumulation while kicking oneself at the same time.

The other perennial crapshoot is in figuring out when Public Works will play their final hand. Just when you’re convinced all plowing has been completed and access to the roadway is permanently regained by the optimum practice of minimum labor, here comes yet another plow to perform the ultimate pushing back of the street’s margins complete with bolder-size well-salted and sanded ice chunks.

The other lesson annually retaught is that, given my property’s footprint and my house’s street proximity, each storm’s accumulation must be judiciously redistributed to allow sufficient space for the snowfall of oncoming bad weather. This year I’ve again dropped that ball. Thankfully, January has graciously passed on its signature thaw to February.

Such is winter life in The City of Ships, doing pretty darn well staying up and running and snow cleared given its limited financial resources, and well served by a public works crew doing their usual stellar job in spite of that reality. Given the difficulty in predicting even one snowfall’s accumulation, how much more so the challenge in allocating resources over an entire winter’s duration.

Meteorology is hardly an exact science. Lately, I’ve essentially stopped listening to the vagaries of forecasts and just roll with what actual punches get thrown. The best “Storm Center” reportage can’t rival simply looking out the window for accuracy.

The rarely acknowledged enlightenment of a really big storm is that at some point one realizes the futility of trying to impose one’s normal schedule upon its indomitable force of nature. Even the collective municipal might of Public Works has to stand down until the worst of the storm passes.

Consider it a tap on the shoulder, emphasizing that our abused environment can still override the best laid plans of mice and men. Even the mightiest snowfall is nothing compared to the retribution climate change will ultimately bring to bear on our carbon addicted hubris. Major winter storms aren’t nearly as disconcerting as now common major warming the very next day.

Rather than being even a tiny red flag to the reality of climate change, for far too many of us really big storms still only provide bragging rights to having endured another historic meteorological inconvenience in putting one foot in front of the other with no consideration of choosing a more sustainable journey. As soon as they can, it’s back to an increasingly challenged blissful ignorance, once again self-absorbed instead of at least temporarily connecting with the wonder of something magisterially larger than themselves and awesome in its primordial beauty.

Politics aside, like it or not major storms demand some acquiescence.

If you have nowhere to go, fine. Wait out the storm. If the power stays on all’s right by me. There’s nothing so needed that venturing out can’t be put off for a day. I could hardly live much closer to my place of employment, but I’ve finally learned the value of opting out for a snow day rather than inviting even minor risk to life, limb or vehicle.

For many, however, waiting out the storm isn’t an option. The complexities of many workplaces requires showing up regardless of the peril in getting to the punch clock. The bottom line cares not if roads are a nail-biter.

Local roads are treacherous enough. Then there’s the increased hazard of trying to still travel on a limited-access highway open despite the DOT’s inability to achieve that goal safely.

How much simpler Vacationland life would be if major meteorological events were declared official stay-at-home holidays statewide. Not just for schoolchildren, but for everyone.

Any politician running for office on that platform would almost certainly have my vote.

Gary Anderson lives in Bath.

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