Mowing the snow


Neighbor was mowing the lawn last week.

That scene doesn’t spark much, does it? Interest… imagination… you get the idea of the spark that’s missing. There isn’t too much in a lawn mowing, stated simply such as I did, that veers off the path of a normal Saturday afternoon. So, let’s add a bit…

It was well after 3pm. Thanks to that lovely fall-back event a few weeks ago, we were roughly an hour from complete darkness. Anyone that lives in the northeast can tell you about the arrival of the night during the winter run that follows the end of daylight savings. There is no lingering twilight. There is no gradual fade. It looks, feels, sounds… yes, it feels and sounds like someone dropping a can of paint. A chilling thud with gloomy darkness enveloping everything. A real mess.

Ok… mess isn’t quite right. Some winter evenings are pretty sweet. (Though if you want a “thud” tossed in there, consider walking around the house between 4 and 5pm, having not turned any lights on. You’ll hit a wall or a chair every so often. Thud indeed.)

My neighbor was out there, pushing his mower, in the final threads of light, with a storm on the way.

Ok, adding an approaching storm and diminishing visibility, maybe now we’ve moved off the path of normality. Let’s continue…

I was walking around the house, more or less taking care of quick chores. Towels from the washer to the dryer… moving a bowl from the sink to the dishwasher… thinking about vacuuming (and talking myself out of it)… you know, things that needed to get done but nothing requiring amazing time or focus. And then I heard a lawn mower.

On a Saturday afternoon in August, a lawn mower isn’t going to catch your attention. At least not to any high degree. It’s a routine kind of thing, where even late on a summer afternoon you hear the sound and it matches the rest of the atmosphere. When it is heard and registers, you can quickly figure out who is outside working in the yard. One neighbor uses a ride on mower… another mows in the morning… little suburbia events that connect with clues of familiarity.

But this was November. The forecast was calling for snow starting around 5 and offering a possibility of a few inches of snow overnight. Darkness was arriving and light was scarce. Still… I heard a mower.

I stepped out onto the deck and looked off in the distance. There, in a shadowy winter-like dusk, was our neighbor. With his lawn mower. Wearing a heavy coat that extended down to mid-thigh, winter gloves, and a knit hat with one of those balls of yarn on top.

I haven’t had a chance to see him in person to find out what was going on. He might have been making a rushed effort at attacking some leaves, but there was no bagger on his mower that I could see. With snow on the way though, that seems the most likely of explanations.

What I do know is this: We have had a crazy run of strange around here lately, especially in the northeast.

The day before I spotted Paul, I was out with a rake and our ride on mower. It was part of an attempt to clear out the drainage ditches and attack what I could of the yard. And I had to do it then, in part because of the snow that at the time of my efforts was still a day away. If it wasn’t for that expectation over the weekend, I wouldn’t have been out on that particular Friday.

From the beginning of October, it has been a swirling mix of rainy, cold, damp, wet, sloppy and everything in between. Didn’t rain each and every day, but the wetness just lingered, and the ground was soft, and there was no way to walk across the yard without making a mess (never mind pushing a mower across it). But once the snow packs down those leaves… that’s it… game over.

My parents were reporting something similar around them. Not quite the same expectations of accumulation, but the leaves dropped late this year… and the weather wasn’t helping in giving a day that worked for raking them… and yuck.

All of which leads to my spotting Paul, effectively mowing the snow. Every year is a bit different when the snow arrives though.

Have you ever considered how the temperature changes the snow you get? Light and fluffy and mind-numbing-frigid… heavy and wet and hovering around freezing… stuff like that. Similar thing can be said for the process of clearing the snow and the temperatures in the days around the job. Keep it around 32-degrees and the ground is sloppy, muddy, and a pain to work in. Single-digit storms and the ground is usually solid, which is not too bad for moving along.

If you have a driveway that involves moving a snowblower partly on some grass or dirt… well… you have a mixed blessing and headache. Unit doesn’t move well in the mud, but the fluffier snow just disappears in the wind (usually to settle by covering the portions of the driveway you already cleared).

Every so often I find myself with a bit of a twist when it comes to mowing the snow. Do you have oil heat? Ever mistimed it so the walk to the pipe for the tank isn’t free of snow and you need to make some type of path? More than once (though fortunately not often), I’ve found myself navigating the journey from driveway to oil tank, across the front lawn and around the side of the house, with my snowblower leading the way.

There isn’t much that will make you feel stranger than using a snowblower across the grass. Then again, mowing the snow just might. (Or… spotting a neighbor, gloves on with a heavy coat, pushing a mower in the dark, minutes before the first flakes begin falling.)


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