RFD Maine — Snowbound
By late December, we here in Maine know that a major snowstorm could hit us at any time. Oddly enough, as much as I dread shoveling snow and dealing with its attendant trials and tribulations, something about the onset of a big storm excites me.
For me, becoming snowbound has a compelling, even romantic aspect about it. This was more so in the past, when it might take several days before the plow man arrived to clear my driveway. It also took infinitely longer then for the town plow truck to fulfill its appointed rounds than it does today. Generally speaking, getting snowed in meant an enforced confinement at home. This could last for two, or even three, days.
Back then, when a big snowstorm hit, it was a matter of staying put and not even going outside until the next day. It made little sense to shovel a path during a storm, since it would only fill back in again. Better to wait until the storm abated.
Of course this dictated that all necessities be tended to in advance of being snowed in. This included lugging two days' worth of firewood, buying extra rations if needed and perhaps checking oil levels in kerosene lamps in the event that electrical service was interrupted. With all those things done, it was time to sit back and relax.
The day after a big snow brings profound changes to the landscape. I always marvel at how objects such as raised bed gardens and even rail fences can disappear entirely. “It’s right there … somewhere,” I tell myself. And despite knowing that things remain just as they were before the storm, once a deep blanket of snow covers them, they may as well be on the far side of the moon.
A copse of mature white pine on a hillside behind my cottage becomes a subject of deep study. Early-morning sunlight shines a pale, egg-yolk yellow on the snow-laden branches. And here and there, a branch gives or twists under its pure-white burden and drops a load of snow to the ground. It falls in streamers, the last remnants slowly sifting down as a dust finer than talc.
Dr. Meldon Collins ran a practice in the town of Liberty some years ago. “Doc” Collins is long gone now, but I recall the mural in his sitting room. It covered one whole wall and it was a giant photograph of tall white pines covered with snow, beams of early-morning sunlight playing on their tops.
So every time I witness my own pine trees under a fresh coating of snow, it brings me back to that little country doctor’s waiting room where so many of us sat and waited for the kindly doctor to open his door just a crack and softly proclaim, “Next.”
Back when my yellow lab/golden retriever Ben was alive, a big snow was always a fun time. Ben delighted in snow, and when let outside, he would romp in the stuff like a young child. Sometimes he would get into predicaments where a particularly large drift had covered up a low spot. Then, Ben would be forced to wallow like a turtle in order to extricate himself. I laughed at his carefree antics.
Then, when it came time to do some serious shoveling, Ben made it a point to stick to me like glue. It was as if he had somewhere important to go and couldn’t wait for me to clear the way. Perhaps he did have some plans, too, but they were beyond my discernment.
And like all youngsters, even those of the doggie kind, this running around in the snow took a toll and after finally coming back inside, Ben would immediately drift off into a deep sleep. I remember hearing him make little yipping sounds and even watching his paws twitch. I always thought that he was dreaming of bird hunting with me, a favorite activity of ours.
Ben is long gone now, but when out shoveling snow, I sometimes imagine that I see him loping through the drifts. Hopefully he is doing just that wherever he is now.
Being snowbound makes me aware that I am cut off from the rest of the world, even if that world is only a half-mile down the road. And that acts as an anodyne to my spirits. My fingers reach for the collection of Robert Service poems on my bookshelf. Stories of the Yukon, of gold rush characters out in the great beyond with nothing but a team of huskies and the Northern Lights for company.
Service’s yarns become far more believable when read by the waffling light of a kerosene lamp, while the wind howls outside and snow piles up ever deeper. It all seems so real that I want the storm to continue so as not to break the spell. For a brief while, the things of modern civilization retreat far away over some dim horizon.
But as always, the snow eventually stops, the wind winds down and then the distant whooshing sound of a snowplow blade throwing snow as the truck hurtles down my driveway breaks my reverie. The plow man has arrived. I’m no longer snowbound. The connection between me and the rest of the world is restored.
But I know there will be other storms, other times when, for a brief while, I’m roaming the far north along with Sam Magee, Pious Pete and the other characters in those wonderful old Robert Service tales. And maybe that storm will come sooner than later. As I said earlier, once it gets into late December, we just never know when we might get snowed in.