The Melt

We New Englanders are moving into pre-spring.  With temperatures in the 40s for a couple days, many of us have a bit of a lift in our step, smiling and soaking in the cool air.  Until we hit black ice and fall on our ass. I love the snow, and I much prefer snow season to the season of Melt.  The below-normal cold temperatures has kept our driveway snow-packed for the last couple months.  With a good pair of boots, my feet stay warm and my body stays upright with a layer of snow on the ground.

But Melt is a different story.  Melt is the warm sun during the day and hearing the crash of the icicles in the late afternoon.  After a few days of melt, these are all gone now.

However, at sunset, the ground proves its power and within a couple short hours, black ice replaces the wet shallow puddles.  Given the ground has spent months below freezing, one whimsical sunny afternoon is not going to break its freezing hold.

Our snow banks are much the same.  During the month of February, we would sink up to our thighs if we walked on the snow banks.  Now, with the Melt, the snowbanks are solid.  The sound of the van bumping the snow banks while making three-point turns in our driveway used to be a gentle “sploosh.” Now it’s more of hard crunch that leaves me wondering if it was a tail light or snow bank that gave way.

On ice, sensible shoes are only those that might have spikes on the bottom.  I ventured out to my book club last night in shoes with rubber soles.  I might as well have been wearing skis.  The driveway to the hostess’ house looked clear.  I parked near the back door and opened my van door into a snow bank.  I wobbled between the bank and my van, leaning on the van  like a crutch.  A little of the sand and salt encrusting the van would undoubtedly land on my clothes.

At the end of the evening, two hours later, five of us exited the same back door and gingerly made our way toward our cars.  “We are using your van to balance, Linda!”  I replied, “Sorry about the dirt!” as I rounded the front of my van.  Then it hit.  Or rather I hit it: the black ice.  I waddled over it and placed a foot onto the sloping snow bank for surer footing.  I slipped and yipped.  “Are you OK, Linda?”  Yes.  I continued dancing on the iced-over snow bank until the maneuver landed me spread eagle against the driver’s door.  I had made it.  Only my back was against the door that I needed to open.

I stood still, except for the belly laugh that was shaking my core.  As I steadied myself, I heard the other women crunching their way around their car.  I immediately recognized the sound that interrupted the steady crunch.   “Splooonch!”  A slow slide down the side of a frozen snow bank.  Steadying myself against the door, I turned my head to the left and saw Samantha’s silhouette sitting against the snow bank.  She was facing the driver’s door of her car.  “Are you OK, Samantha?”  Without hesitation, Samantha replied, “Yes, I’m fine.”  The tone was of ice exasperation.

I flailed out and away and spun to grab the handle of my van door.  My body quaked with the hilarity of it all.  We were living a fast action, slapstick video.  Safely but not gracefully, I landed behind the wheel and let one of those uncontrollable laughs fully live its life.

The women in my book club are gracious and graceful.  And now, wet and dirty from my van and from snow banks that look like this in the daylight.

We are hardy New Englanders.

(This winter is Defying Logic!)

Defying Logic

Defy logic.  That’s what 100 inches of snow and sub-normal temperatures do. I picked up one of my son’s friends for an overnight late one afternoon.  Popping open the swinging gate to their yard, I was greeted by two big, lick-happy dogs.  Two days and one 12-inch snowfall blizzard later, I took Will’s friend home and the dogs greeted me in the front yard.  I must have looked at the mom a little perplexed.  “I know!  With that last snow, they just walk over the fence!”  The four-foot high fence.  I don’t think I have ever seen such gleeful dogs.

Our 4-foot high fence -- two storms ago.


Where we stayed while skiing in Vermont was heated by forced air.  The bedrooms were on the cool side.  Liam slept like a rock and, back at home, said he missed that coolness.  I agreed.  I turned the heat down from our standard 69 degrees to 65.  The next morning when I turned the thermostat back up to 68, the heat wouldn’t come on.  I picked the wrong night to drop the tempurature, for I set off a domino effect:  I turned the heat to 65.  The water stopped flowing through the pipes.  The outdoor temperature dropped to minus something.  A cold breath of air found its way into the wall and gave the water pipes a cold blast.  The pipes froze.  I called therapists for the pipes.

First, just keep the heat up high in the rest of the house and that should take care of it within hours.  Many hours later, no change.  We ran our gas fireplace in the bedroom for hours a day and set up a little space heater in the boys’ room.  After days of a balmy 75 - 80 degrees on the main floor, I couldn’t do it any longer.  Then, let’s just wait until an above freezing day and that should take care of it.  That day came and went.  Finally, after Will came into our room with a morning chill, I scratched out all appointments for a day and pulled space heaters up to the walls and pipes in two suspicious rooms.  Bill pulled heavy furniture away from walls so the heat could get to hidden pipes.  Finally, ten days after the initial freeze, I felt a spring of hot water rush through the pipe to the boys’ bathroom radiator.  Oh the relief of having un-constipated heating pipes.


We Malcolms are fortunate to be a snow-loving family.  I use the royal “we” here as Bill is a ski-lover but not a snow-lover.  This year I found that a chairlift up the mountain is one place where small talk still exists.  Fingers would turn blue outside of gloves in -9 degree weather.  Plus, there is that long drop from the high-flying chairs to the slope: That keeps cell phones zippered tightly in pockets on the ride up.  The small talk experience is akin to flying in the 80's.


The spring thaw should be interesting.  We’ve installed two sump pumps in our basement in preparation for the inevitable week of 45-degree temps, a big brilliant full sun, and a ginormous melt.  Our sled inventory has suffered over this winter.  We are down to only one good sled and one duct-taped together -- and two others are under a snowbank.  Two saucers – dug out from the loft and used only in desperation – nearly disappeared in the scant four inches earlier this week, but I believe Bill rescued them.  I think there may also be a glove and a snow shovel re-appearing in May.  Thinking it might be good to replenish sleds soon, and these Paricon Winter Lightning Sled (3-Pack) look great!


Then, there are the ice jams… the science behind those is a whole wondrous story in and of itself.

Happy Winter!

(Fierce Mountain Gnomes also defy logic.)

Fierce Mountain Gnomes

In my first ski lesson with Bill 25 years ago, he taught me the importance of traversing.  When the slope down the mountain looks too steep, look across the mountain and ski to the other side.  I thought our evening out snow shoeing from the top of Sterling Mountain at Smuggler's Notch in Vermont would include traversing leisurely down a mountain. At the bottom of Sterling Mountain, we grabbed snow shoes and gracefully boarded the chair lift.  In addition to his snow shoes, Bill carried the small knapsack with our bottle of wine for dinner.  The winds howled as we crawled above the mountain to its top.  I kept thinking that the ride up is always the worst part of skiing: high above the slopes where there is no protection from the wind.  This would be the most unpleasant part of the evening.

At the top, we exited the chairlift and met another couple who had been on this expedition several times.  They led us to the warming hut where we would be having dinner.  We had a good laugh before our guides garnered our attention just before dusk to give us the evening’s itinerary.  We would put our snow shoes on now and leave them on for the rest of the night until we were at the bottom of the mountain.  The women’s facili-trees were out the door down a snowy path to the right.  The men’s were anywhere they felt comfortable.  I am confident that none of us women fully cloaked in snow shoes ever used the trees. 

Before dinner we were invited to go on a short, scenic hike to get used to our snow shoes.  Sounded like a grand idea.  I was all for it.

Bill and I, together with our newly found friends from NYC, were probably the most mature people there.  Consequently, we hung back and let those more youthful folks knock down the snowy path that hadn’t been traveled for over a week.  It was dark.  The white snow was interrupted with black trees and the contour of the path could only be seen by watching the lump of a human move in front of you.

 The path went up and down, curved right and left.  On the first hill up, we were like baby calves finding our new legs.  I ventured too far to the left and my leg disappeared into 18 inches of snow.  Simultaneously, a guide in the back called out, “Just walk like a duck to get up the hill!”  Well, my duck legs were stuck, so I could only flap my wings.  Which I did.  Then my laugh muscles sucked all the power from every other muscle in my body.  I soon sobered as I realized I had closed the path for 10 to 15 people behind me.  Tightening my core -- thank goodness I went to pilates two days before -- I heaved my leg up and back onto the path.  Then came the downhill.  Just as ridiculous.  I skated between trees following the guy in front of me who was cussing.  Short and scenic are not how many of us would describe this hike.  We ended up on a frozen pond that was covered with deep snow.  Now, Bill and I knew the extreme benefits of lagging behind and letting the others tamp down the snow.

We trudged across the pond, trooped up a hill, and stopped momentarily to see the lights of Stowe over the top of the mountain.  What was even more beautiful was the sight of the warming hut – until we opened the door.  It was a sauna in there.  I removed all the layers I could on the top.  One more layer and I’d be down to my black bra.  The snow pants weren’t going anywhere as they were anchored on by snow shoes.

Dinner was delicious; however, we couldn’t see anything but outlines and gray masses of what we were eating.  The warming hut had no electricity.  This was a true candlelit dinner.  While I really enjoyed the dinner, I realized how much I rely on my eyes to create the full gastronomic, gourmet effect.

After dessert in the dark, we started our hike down.  The first part was very steep, but I was confident that we would soon turn and it would get easier.  Downhill was hard work, and I was overheating.  I pulled my ski goggles off and gave them to Bill.  Then my gloves.  I kept waiting to traverse through woodlands where the decline would even out.  My knees screamed at me.

“OK, we are going to try to slide here!” called a guide.  “Walkers to the left, sliders to the right!”  The idea was to turn turtle, hold your snow-shoed feet up off the ground in table-top position, and slide down the mountain.  I watched thinking it might be a good alternative for my howling body parts, but no one could slide: there was too much snow on the slope.  I took off my coat and tied it around my waist.  Then my sweater.  My hip joints were raw.  I started to side-step every few feet to relieve the pain.

I can’t tell you how long it took to get down the mountain – whether it really was the 40-minute trip it had been billed to be.  I knew my face was beet red.  I kept thinking that thought I’ve had so many times flying when my boys were crying, “I will never see these people again.”  No, I did not take a picture of the aftermath.  Imagine your own version of a red-faced 47-year-old woman.

I wish I could say the landscape was beautiful.  I’m sure it was.

I wish I could say that I can’t wait to do that again.  I’m sure I won’t.

Sometimes my romantic expectations do not meet with reality.  The morning after this adventure, I mustered one line in my journal: “My thighs have been used as punching bags by fierce mountain gnomes.”

While I won't be going snow shoeing down a mountain again, we will definitely be going back to Smuggler's Notch for another family ski trip!  Skiing Smuggler's Notch, VT

The Winter Hitchhiker

Well, the weather is always a good fallback for conversation. It’s safe and you can normally find agreement on it from folks without too much negotiation or conflict. So, I start there today. Spring is on its way. So close. Even if we have a couple good 12 – 18” snowfalls – which would brighten up the dirty, tall, icy piles around here – it won’t last for weeks. Yes, if that gray sky would just drop flakes, I would happily take it. Or if those clouds would just ship out and make way for some sun, the rest of the population in snow country would also feel a bit better.

Some people, Bill being one of them, are more desperate about the need for 90-degree weather. Driving through a local neighborhood, I saw a very desperate guy (not Bill) in need of sun and warmth. He stood next to the curb, a smile on his face, and his rigid arm and thumb extending, pleading for a lift.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. He was holding a sign that made me smile when I passed him. I had to have another look. I circled the block and pulled over to the curb a few feet away from him. I know what moms say about hitchhikers, but he looked harmless enough: I had to stop and take his picture.

He wanted a lift to paradise, but I told him he would need more than just a car ride on a snow-, ice-, slush-lined street to get there. He didn't reply, but he did let me take his picture.

 (See the glory of 50 Inches of Snow in Pictures!)

A Sleet Day

(Written January 2011: The winter of 70+ inches of snow in Boston.)

I’m awake early this morning after a heavy snow dream: We drove up to our house and our roof had collapsed. When we went inside, we saw that only the attic had collapsed, but we watched as the plaster slowly peeled away from all the walls on the second floor. I left the dream having called a roofer and wondering if we should call the construction company.

In real life, we have had 70 inches of snow – I’m not sure if that includes the two inches of ice from last Thursday. There have been enough snow days that Will wakes up assuming it’s a snow day until told otherwise. For days we have been watching six to eight inches of ice on the narrow overhang above the deck, just over the door to our house. Last weekend, from the driveway I looked up concerned that it would collapse, but Bill was unsure that anything could be done.

On Monday, Bill went away on business for the week. Tuesday we had twelve more inches of snow. Wednesday we woke up to sleet and another snow day. That morning the boys were in their pj’s playing and I decided to take a quick shower – until I opened the curtain to look out my bedroom window. Eight inches of snow rested on the window pane. Aha! This is the roof of the overhang! Right outside my bedroom window! I can shovel this roof from my bedroom window!

Armed with a baby snow shovel and a full-size snow shovel, I opened the window. Unfortunately, this particular window is one that when the lock is released the top window falls down a bit. But I was still able to reach out and push a lot of snow off. If I leaned my upper body out of the window, I could reach right to the edge of the ice. Looking at the amount of ice built up, I hoped that if the wall gave and took me with it, that someone would find the little orange snow shovel so they would know I hadn’t jumped due to another snow day. The amount of ice under the snow was shocking: Six inches thick up to a small boulder in a corner where the sun rarely glanced. Still I had done what I could – as the morning news had suggested – in removing snow behind the ice to avoid an ice jam.

I was ready to move on to window #2. I started the usual dance with the funky window: push the top one up that had fallen and hold it in place while pushing the other one down. We’ve done it a million times. But today, the top window pops out of the frame and thuds onto the ice roof I had just shoveled from my bedroom window. Moments of silence… then under my breath… “Nooo!”

My neighbor had told me to call if I needed anything while Bill was away. “My bedroom window fell out while I was shoveling my roof.” I scrapped that scenario and lunged out the open hole to grab the window – wet but no broken glass. Forty-five minutes later, I had learned a lot about window design, including how the little pulley system should work if the window is installed properly. I gave up on proper installation and managed to wedge it into the slides, delicately push it up, and snap the lock.

I shoveled from window #2 without incident then went downstairs to check on the boys. “I thought you were going to shower, Mom.” My straight hair had been sleeted on while I was clearing snow, so the curls were wet and crazy. “No, I decided to shovel snow. I’m going out to do the steps now.” Two feet of roof snow was on the steps.

As long as I was out, I thought it would be a good idea to clear a path to the mailbox from the drive before all of the sleet froze on top of the snow banks. The box itself was the only thing visible, gulping for air under a muddy snow mound. Slowly, I cleared a shovel’s width of snow and ice, three feet high. I moved to the street side, thinking I would help out the mailman as well. Then a snow plow came over the hill. So I stepped back into my drive. And as he left the ridge in the drive, I smiled pointed to my shovel and to him. He backed up and cleared the ridge he had just left in the drive. I gave him a thumb’s up as he went on his way.

I returned to the box. My three feet of snow had returned: the ridge across my drive was now another three-foot high muddy, icy, slushy mound filling my little path to the box. I cleared it again from my drive and left the street-side mound for the government to deal with. My shower was long over due.