here comes a time in every winter hermit’s life when he has to venture out of his cave to see if the temperature has risen above the 32 degree mark. The other day I did just that and discovered 21 straight of sub-freezing temperatures had come to an end. This also meant that it was time to do my pre-spring chores.
The first thing I did was wander out to survey the damage caused by the Town’s efforts to keep the road clear of the snows of January. To my dismay the bright fluorescent marker I used to find the drainage pipe that directed the waters of the spring thaw away from my house, and thus from turning my basement into an indoor swimming pool, was either buried under a mountain of snow or had been deposited on the other side of town.
For a minute I contemplated whether it was really the right time to begin my search. But, the weather person – who was never right – predicted temperatures nearing 40 degrees. If this turned out to be true it meant all the snow would turn into torrents of water that had better be able to flow away from my home. So, I went to get my rubber boots that were hiding under the garage steps, grabbed my trusty shovel that had been handed down to me from my father and his father before him and put some rock salt in a bucket so I could melt the ice dam that was sure to be blocking the run-off pipe.
I then surveyed the snow that covered my front yard. The winds had scoured it into an Arctic Sahara of sculpted dunes and, to my surprise, I was able to walk on the thick crust that had formed because of the prolonged sub-freezing temperatures. Halfway through my quest to locate the run-off-pipe I glanced back at the house and observed my wife watching me from the window and felt comforted that she was looking out for me. I paused to give her a wave, heard a soft crackling sound and began to descent into the snow.
For some reason all I could think about was the pepperoni pizza I had eaten the night before and how I shouldn’t have eaten those last two slices. I sank slowly past my knees, past my thighs and kept going until I was all the way up to my waist, still hanging onto the shovel and the bucket of rock salt. Then I stopped. What stopped me was not my feet touching the bottom but the saddle of crusted snow between my legs that would not give way and began to transform itself instead, with increasingly painful pressure, into an ice-cold wedgie.
For a long, agonizing moment I hung there, suspended on a pinnacle of ice, while my weight kept dragging me down, and the only good side I could see to my predicament was that I had no future plans for any future expansion of my family. I looked back at my wife and forced a confident grin and saw her shake her head in a way that I have seen many times before in our marriage of 30+ years.
I then attempted to move forwards, and when that failed I tried to move backwards, but all I succeeded in doing was packing the snow between my legs into a narrower and narrower wedgie. That was when I decided it was probably a good time to put down the shovel and the bucket of rock salt. I decided I would just have to claw my way out. I reached out over the snow, dug deep hand holds and slowly hauled myself back out onto the crusty surface and rolled onto my back like an old seal flopping onto an ice floe to die.
For a moment all I wanted to do was enjoy the release of pressure on my crotch. Then, in its place, I felt a chilling cold in my left foot. Afraid to sit upright in case I plunged butt first back into the snow I raised both my legs into the air and there, against the bright blue sky, saw that my right foot was completely naked. I knew right away that I was in trouble because my foot was rapidly losing all feeling and I knew I couldn’t hop through the snow back to the house. I rolled back onto my belly and plunged head first into the hole from which I had just emerged so that all my wife could see was both feet paddling wildly in the air, one with a boot, one without.
She told me later that she thought about calling 911 but wasn’t sure how she would explain to the fire department that her husband was stuck head first in the snow in our front yard and so she decided to give me another minute to get myself out. Somehow I was able to retrieve my boot, with the sock still inside, and emerged from the hole, brandishing it triumphantly – like the old seal that had finally caught a fish.
The search for the pipe had now become a challenge and I was determined not to give up. I crawled carefully across the snow on my hands and knees to where I thought the drainpipe was located, plunged in my shovel and started to dig. After about an hour I had turned my front yard into a kind of Arctic gopher town, cratered with small holes, but had still been unable to locate the pipe. But, I did find the fluorescent marker, broken in half, which told me it was nowhere near the pipe anymore. I spent another half hour digging and at last the blade of the shovel clanged against metal. Paydirt! I had found the pipe.
At this point what had started out as a chore that should have taken no more than a half hour had turned into a three hour ordeal and my back ached so much it was all I could do to stand upright. But, I told myself, I was almost done. It took about another 20 minutes of digging before I had successfully cleared around the opening of the pipe and built a high wall of snow all around me. Except that the Town plow had churned sand and salt in with the snow to create a kind of heavy cement that now plugged the opening of the pipe. Hoping that the foundation on which my home rested was as strong as this cement mix I tried picking away at it with my fingers.
It took a good 10 minutes but at last my fingers broke through and I bent down to look inside and make sure the pipe was clear and found myself nose to nose with a hairy faced mammal that was at least as surprised as me. I don’t know if it was as scared as I was but I do know that I forgot all about my aching back and, with remarkable agility, threw myself backwards out of the hole I had dug and over the mountain of snow I had created.
It was just as the critter, whatever it was, scuttled back down the pipe it had decided to make its winter home. Through the window-pane I saw my wife looking at me in amazement as her husband had come out of the hole like an old seal pursued by a killer whale. I then realized I had left the shovel and the bucket of rock salt in the bottom of the hole. I looked over the edge, calculated the odds and decided to leave them there until spring.
There comes a time in every winter hermit’s life when he has to venture out of his cave to see if the temperature has risen above the 32 degree mark. I came to the conclusion that the next time I venture out will be the day the temperature has worked its way above the 70-degree mark!
Household tip # 1: When clearing snow watch out for killer whales
by J. G. Fabiano.
Jim Fabiano is a teacher and a writer living in York, Maine, USA
e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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