• Burr Morse: The personalities of storms
    March 03,2014

    Our sluggish winter ended on a recent morning with over a foot of snow, and one quick look outside made me know how hard my day ahead would be. After organizing my priorities over two cups of strong coffee, I donned my battle garb. I headed out into the depths toward the prize, our Kubota tractor in the barn a quarter-mile away. The hundred-foot wallow out to my trusty Honda reaffirmed the storm’s severity but did nothing for my intelligence. I cleaned the car off, started it, and backed it down the drive to a point where it was thoroughly grounded and completely in the way. It would be necessary to abandon the car and continue my wallow that quarter mile.

    As I disgustedly slammed the car door, I noticed our 10-year-old black lab Averill down at the bottom of the long driveway. When she saw me, she rushed to “say “hi” (no hard labor for dogs, just hard play and excitement). When we met, she did her best to bowl me over, but I, still disgusted about the stuck car, shooed her off toward the house. Averill’s tracks, though, did make me smile — her uphill loping left six feet of air between landings. All dogs are Olympic material.

    In direct contrast, my tracks could have been made by a tired, old hedgehog with a dragging tail, but I finally made it to County Road. The town crew had been out all night, but snow like this gets ahead fast. I waddled on the left side of the road, very defensively, and finally made it to the barn. The Kubota, a modern diesel, started like it was July, but during its warm-up period, sputtered and groaned almost as if anticipating the work ahead.

    Our bucket loader has what is called a “quick detach” feature that enables us to switch between multiple implements such as a bucket, forklift, log grapple, and of prime interest that morning, a snow plow. I crept the tractor up to the snow plow and began the cold, arduous process of attaching it. There’s a reason why they call it the quick detach and not the quick attach. After a painstaking job of alignment, freeing the two stuck lock handles, and plugging in two frozen hydraulic “quick couplers” (another misnomer), I was ready to plow.

    Plowing’s the fun part. To me, a non-skier, snow is a hindrance designed by angry weather to both curb human progress and stress roof systems. It’s best dealt with swiftly by high horsepower machines and fine-tuned plows, but this I say with tongue partly in “cherry-pink cheek.” I know better. Snow creates fun for many folks, good economy, and habitat for wildlife. The latter brings to mind a “plowing story.”

    Years ago, I was operating my uncle Bernard’s plow truck “cleaning up” from another one-foot snowstorm. One of the houses on my route was close to a brook and had a long driveway that required speed enough to shoot the snow to one side from the angled plow. I had made one successful pass, but on the second one, all of a sudden something “foreign” shot out in the wake of snow. I stopped and got out to see what it was and there, lying dark against the white snow, was a muskrat, thoroughly ruffled but not hurt. He shook himself off and briefly looked up at me. In the closest thing to a common muskrat to man language, he said, “How dare you do this to me. I was here first!” I watched him amble off toward the brook, not certain that he understood my one word, “Sorry.”

    Yup, snowstorms have personalities of their own. To some, they’re pure agony; others, pure joy. One thing for sure though, they’re part of nature around here, angry or not. At my age, you’ll probably not be seeing me out downhill skiing or snowboarding. No, “been there, done that.” But will be out there cleanin’ up from the next storm. In the words of Edgar Allan Poe, ”Never to suffer would never to have been blessed.”

    Burr Morse lives in East Montpelier.

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