Current mood: relaxed
For my readers who live in the sunny South, please allow me to explain the notion of an ice pack, and winter in general. Of course it gets cold and snows in winter, but here in Pittsburgh, there is this thing called mid-winter that we have now passed.
I know it is such because 10 days ago my driveway was covered in four inches of solid, packed ice, and now it is bare. It will assuredly snow again before we run around outside in swimsuits, but the ice pack will not form again.
In other blogs over the years, I’ve described December 1 as the onset of winter and March 1 the onset of spring, with January 21 the approximate point at which winter is at its peak. That is to say, it’s the coldest, and liable to stay the coldest.
When snow first comes down, it’s nice and fluffy, easy to shovel or broom out of the way. But if life intervenes, getting the sidewalk and driveway cleared after any snowfall, large or small, becomes a back-burner issue, so it builds up. Now and then, we get a slightly warm day, warm as in close to freezing or maybe a couple degrees above it. What happens then is that the snow pack softens slightly, maybe even pool some water on top, only to refreeze when the nightly temperature plunges again. A couple of days of this and you end up with an ice pack.
Ice packs are plain dangerous. First, they thaw from the top down, so walking on them is next to impossible. Our driveway is level, but even there, it was simply not possible to put one’s foot down and expect to be able to put weight on it. On non-level driveways, it just isn’t possible to move. Even if you can get into your driveway, the car isn’t necessarily safe. I’ve seen unattended parked cars slide down an icy, sloped driveway into moving traffic.
Here in Pittsburgh, we got quite a bit of snow from Christmas to the end of January. It also got and stayed very cold through much of January. We had a couple of days when it got below zero Fahrenheit. That ice pack was solid, and nothing was going to change it. We did have one Sunday when it got sunny enough to soften things up, so I chopped at the sidewalk pack with my square spade, clearing a line about six inches wide and five feet long. I know it was plenty cold after that because the following Saturday, the strip of cleared walkway had not grown a bit.
Last Friday, though, it got warm, comparatively. Not Florida or Texas warm, just into the high 30s, but enough to bother with. I got out my pickaxe and started chopping away. Since our church sits in a trailer in my driveway, I wanted the guy with the truck to be able to pull it out without getting stuck. It took all of Friday evening and most of Saturday, busting away with the pick and the square spade, to clear it out sufficiently.
My methodology was simple enough. Taking the pointy end of the pickaxe, I punched holes in the ice in a line a couple inches apart. This I followed with the spade, playing connect-the-dots. On the third pass, I took the wide end of the pickaxe and chopped back into the ice pack a couple of inches. Usually the hit was enough to fracture the ice, so a series of these, moving sideways, busted out four- to six-inch-on-a-side blocks, which could then be shoveled away with the spade. I didn’t have to lift the pickaxe very far, only a foot or so, then move sideways a couple of inches and repeat, but doing so dozens or hundreds of times an hour definitely tired me out. At the end of Saturday, my hands and wrists were so physically exhausted, I could barely type. Pinky to middle fingers on my left hand were virtually paralyzed.
Anyway, it’s gone now. We’ll get snow, but it won’t freeze like this because it won’t stay cold enough long enough. It’ll just be slop and slush.
Until next Christmas time, then, here’s to the memories!