Zen and the Art of Snow Clearing

Zen and the Art of Snow Clearing

I love my tractor. Not in a creepy grease nipple, if I’m smiling don’t leave me alone with heavy machinery kind of way. Just honest, wholesome bloke love for his tractor. But, I’ve been having one or two technical challenges of late with George.

As you probably know, we live in Canada and it usually snows a bit in winter over here. When we bought George in spring, I remember thinking about how great it’s going to be to use it to clear my farm of mountains of snow. I pictured one man against the elements, battling a path to civilization with scant regard for personal safety. I wanted beep-beep-beep reverse sounds and lights so powerful the older neighbours would think their time was up. I’d imagined a cape made out of grizzly bear skin that billowed like vintage Angel and perhaps some of those flappy eared hats with fur on the inside because at the end of the day, laughing in the face of danger is fine provided your ears don’t get chilly.

Of course I didn’t tell anyone because then it’s just a bit embarrassing but the compulsion to mount my tractor and clear the driveway has become a bit of a private obsession. Unfortunately, as the weeks of December rolled by without any sign of Snowmageddon 2011, I must admit to feeling rather cheated. I mean, what’s the bloody point of -20 degree temperatures if you can’t be a snow-ploughing Adonis?

You see, for the last six years I’ve had to make do with a crappy plastic snow shovel and even that got broken on the bottom a couple of years ago rendering it about as useful as a paper cup in an avalanche. Even Huwyl’s sand pit toys had more raw snow-shifting power than my shovel.

I’ve had to tolerate the smug nods from the guys next door as they emerge half-an-hour after me, fire up their snowblowers and casually refill my driveway with wind-whipped snow while I’m taking a breather and wondering if this is what a cardiac feels like.

On many occasions I’ve smiled back, clutching my chest and unable to move without wheezing and all the while indulging my imagination, fervently hoping for a bizarre belt-drive incident that ended up with them being fed to their own Yardworks 2000 as I look helplessly on. You might be thinking “Steady on Stephen, that’s a tad harsh” but anyone that’s cleared a driveway of several inches of heavy snow would agree it’s absolutely fair.

All of that trauma was settled when I bought George. Weighing in at several tonnes, my need for bigger and better had been firmly satisfied over their puny machines. Driving it over to Barrhaven to show them posed a challenge, but regardless of whether I worked that out or not, there was just no way I was being humiliated this year.

At least that’s what I thought.

Being a man, I naturally assume that I can do most things without much in the way of planning, forethought or in fact, skill and experience. After all, how hard could clearing a bit of snow be when you’re armed with George The Invincible? So when the first proper snow fell today, I fired up the block heater and waited. As night fell, the snow and ice rain came down harder and the temperature dropped. Perfect conditions for a heroic struggle. I settled the youngest into bed with an improv version of The Gruffalo in which the mouse didn’t make it past the “you’ll taste good in a slice of bread” line, thereby eliminating half the book, skipped dinner and by 8:30PM was outside.

Now, in full disclosure, I’d had a previous attempt which hadn’t gone so well. I’d found that without proper insulated footwear, I lost all sensation in my toes which somewhat hampered my ability to control the pedals on mighty George. So this time I was better prepared and wore my heavy boots.

Unfortunately, I forgot about suitable leg attire and after an hour sat on a tractor in blowing snow and ice rain wearing jeans and boxer shorts, it’s hard to move your frozen legs when they’re pinned to the floor by steel-capped heavy winter boots. Again, that leads to a certain amount of hampering in the old tractor driving department. Sigh.

But that was the least of my worries. George has lights. Being an engineer, I checked when we bought him. They’re square and white and look rather boxy in a retro 70’s kind of way. Unfortunately, full beam is less UFO spotlight and more Austin Allegro dim. Making matters worse, when I lifted the front loader into optimum snow-clearing position, it blocked what little light they provided, plunging me into sudden darkness. That’s a little scary when you’re on a tractor plunging through the snow and can’t feel your legs.

But that still wasn’t the biggest problem I faced. As it turns out and against all the evidence, I don’t in fact know what I’m doing when it comes to using heavy equipment to clear snow. It took a few tries, but I think I managed to scrape the fresh snowfall into all the hollows in my driveway, cleverly concealing the ditches and turning what was merely an inconvenient 1″ of snowy lane into a death trap of hidden dells and cunningly concealed potholes.

What remained after my snow grooming debacle was Japanese garden-esque. Seriously, you could have put an ice-bonzai on it and scattered a few pebbles and been hip-deep in parka-clad Geisha. Some guys probably train for years to level snow like that. If I’d deliberately tried to achieve it, then I’d probably still be out there. You might be thinking “well, that sounds ok” or “at least it’s level”. That indeed would be fine if in fact I’d actually cleared any of the snow. My drive is 150 feet long and at least 10 feet wide. At an inch deep, I should have been left with a pile of snow several feet high. My boys should have been cheering my snow-slide building prowess.

But, after an hour or so of fumbling in the dark, I unpeeled my frozen legs from the cold plastic tractor seat and stumbled around for a closer look. My pile was more like a speed hump than a mountain. It’s a baby slope for sledges, provided it’s only used by baby hedgehogs. Even then, the hedgehogs would probably get bored after a few times and leave in search of something more challenging.

So, depressed and humiliated once again, I put George away and surrendering to the inevitable, returned to my old green snow shovel.

The moral of the story? Wear thermals, remember that daytime is your friend and if all else fails, buy a better shovel.

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