Notes from the Polar Vortex
Posted by wendiwendy
When we lived in Illinois, our neighbors across the street were fanatical about clearing their driveway of snow. We didn’t know them at all; the only time they spoke to us was right before we moved. Someone had kicked in their front door and robbed them, right in the middle of the day. The guy came over to see if we had seen anything (the police also came by before he did) but we weren’t even home that day, we were at my mom’s. (I have to confess, I was glad to be leaving the neighborhood after that happened.) Anyway, we never knew anything about them but we assumed they had jobs in the health care industry because they kept kind of strange hours, Dave had seem them in scrubs before, and, like I said, they always kept their driveway shoveled as if they needed to be able to leave in an emergency.
They used shovels, both the husband and wife, and the minute we had more than one inch of snow they would be out there, methodically shoveling. The sun hit their driveway perfectly, so it would melt whatever stray flakes they missed. (I used to be envious of that; the house shaded our driveway so the sun never warmed it and we always had little icy mounds that didn’t melt.) Dave and I would watch them surreptitiously in amazement. We used to joke about them blow-drying the driveway to get every last bit of snow removed. It didn’t matter if it was still snowing or it was below zero. They’d pull up, park their car in the garage, and then go out and get that driveway cleared. It was obviously important to them, being able to leave at a moment’s notice if they needed to.
Honestly, we would have rarely shoveled our driveway if we didn’t feel pressure from the neighbors. The renters on our left didn’t often bother to shovel. If they could drive over the snow, that was good enough for them. The guy on our right had a snow blower and he was pretty rigorous about using it … except on the sidewalk, which always irritated me. We’d be out there with our shovels, shoveling HIS area of the sidewalk so our kids could make it to school without walking in the street. Asshole.
So I’ve been watching to see how our new neighbors handle snow removal, just out of curiosity. Most people here are pretty lax about it. They have trucks and SUVs and they just drive over the snow unless it’s over six inches deep. We have this big half-circle driveway but we really only use the half that goes up to the car shelter, so we tend to just shovel that side. Sometimes I’m feeling feisty and like I want the exercise, and I’ll continue all the way around to the mailbox on the other side. But if we don’t bother, I don’t feel like the neighbors are judging us. I mean geez, the sun is going to come out and melt it eventually – why bother?
This has been a very cold, snowy week here in Michigan. Yesterday I was reading in bed and I realized my hands were freezing – like, going numb. It’s usually colder in the early morning because I have the thermostat set for 66 degrees during the night, but it felt unusually cold. So I got up to check the thermostat and it read 60 degrees. I stood there for a second as the thoughts tumbled around in my brain. If the furnace is broken, we’ll freeze – we have no fireplace or wood stove here, and we’re in the middle of a polar vortex until Sunday. What if it takes the repair guy a week to get here, what will we do?
I woke Dave up, poor Dave, and told him the furnace wasn’t working. He went downstairs, messed around a bit, came back and said we were going to have to call the landlord. I started putting on layers of clothing. He went back downstairs, did something else, came back up and said he thought it was working. A few minutes later, the heat came on. Hurrah!
He had also turned the thermostat up to 75 (I had changed it to 70 when I got up that day). The furnace has been running fine ever since, so we think it was just the thermostat being temperamental. But for the rest of the day, he was restless and nervous. It was snowing like crazy all day. It was beautiful and awe-inspiring, watching the snow blow and surround us. But Dave kept fretting about the fact that he wanted more gasoline in case we needed it for the generator – what if the electricity went out? – and the bird seed was low, just a handful. The birds were depending on us, how could we let them down?
At 4:00 we had a little break in the snow and he wanted to drive to town for gasoline and bird seed. We ended up compromising – we have a wind chill warning until noon today (it’s -7 degrees as I write, with a wind chill of -29). Then we have a winter storm warning from 3 pm today until 4 pm tomorrow – more snow is coming in, with lots of blowing and drifting. We’re heading to town for supplies during that three hour window. Hopefully it will at least be one degree above zero – a heat wave, you know.
I find that weather like this brings out my maternal nature. “Wear gloves!” I admonish Dave when he leaves the house. “You’ll get frostbite!” When my daughter mentioned a trip to visit a friend, I texted her, “Wear a hat! Gloves! A scarf!” (I know she doesn’t listen to me. The thought of her heading out in a hoodie , no gloves or hat, and moccasins with no socks makes me cringe.)
As long as we don’t lose electricity and the furnace (or thermostat) keeps working, we’re doing just fine. Dave put out a seed feast for the birds this morning and I’m watching them right now – finches, chickadees, a red-headed woodpecker, lots of cardinals and blue jays, a tufted titmouse.
I think, though, that a fireplace or wood stove has just been added to the mental list of things I’d like in the next house we buy.