Wednesday, January 28, 2009


So the other day I bundled up and prepared myself for a round of clearing snow from the driveway. There wasn't much -- 4, 5 inches -- just enough to necessitate removing it in order to get the car out. The sun was shining, my mood was up. This was in contrast to my usual snowblowing demeanor, which involves grumbling, swearing and, on occasion, weeping. There may have even been a time or two when I've looked up at the sky, heavily into the drama of it all, and asked why god had forsaken me. The snow, in other words, often gets the best of me. Once there's a foot or more, the work is hard. The driveway -- only about a third of which is visible in this photo -- is steep in places, deeply rutted in other places, and the snowblower itself is petulant, deceptively heavy, and more than willing to engage like a champion in our love/hate relationship. One gear doesn't work, occasionally we'll "toss a rod," which makes the whole machine tilt to one side, and even on a good day it's not my favorite way to spend an hour. I've compared it in the past to wrestling with a refrigerator. Uphill. In the cold. So I'd say it's generally like that -- only worse.

The snowblower and I, in short, have a history. On this day, however, I had put that history aside and was approaching my task, if not cheerfully, at least not with dread. Trudged out to the garage, turned this lever, lifted that lever, pressed this button, that button, and heard the machine roar to a start. As I pressed the handle that engages the rotating blades, the snowblower stalled. I repeated the process, still in reasonably good humor. Stalled again. Third time. Stall. Went inside, consulted with Leigh, who is on crutches and can't, therefore, attend to this sort of issue herself. She hypothesized that maybe a line had frozen. I had no idea if there even were "lines" and, if there were, what those lines consisted of, and had no clue as to whether or not they could freeze. Nonetheless, it seemed like a possibility, so I took her advice and started the thing up again and let it run for a while. Let the engine warm up -- that was her thinking -- and that'll melt the frozen lines. All would be well.

After ten minutes of listening to the din and feeling the lighter side of my mood dribble away, I tried to engage the blades again. No luck. Or, I should say, luck approached from afar. Our neighbor, Mark, yelled over, wanting to know if everything was alright. He lives in shouting distance, and with all the snow -- its way of insulating the environment, allowing sound to travel easily -- it was almost like we were standing within ten feet of each other although we were yelling across two substantial yards. I briefly explained the situation, across the acres, and he said he'd be right over. I said a quick "thanks" to the gods of small town neighbors' good-heartedness, and met him at the top of the driveway. "Sounds like the blades are frozen," he said. "Hmm," I said.

Mark proceeded to tip the snowblower on its back -- I had the weird sensation that I was eavesdropping on some weird human/mechanical gynecologic procedure -- and said "I need a tool." He maneuvered his way around the garage, which is a typical garage -- fairly low on organization, fairly high on clutter -- and intuitively found his way to the appropriate tool. (I should warn, about here, that if you retain that gynecologist analogy in your head, this is about to become disturbing.) He'd found a crowbar, and began -- what would the right word be? -- assaulting the snow blower's innards. He hacked at chunks of ice, he speared at the blades, he whacked that machine inside and out. It caused a considerable racket, what I'd normally call an alarming racket, and there were points at which I was sure he was about to destroy the snowblower entirely. The thing held up, however, and after another good ten minutes of battery he attempted to start the blades. No go.

"Gonna get my torch," he said, heading back to his place. "Torch??" I responded. "Yep," he said.

I went inside and informed Leigh that Mark had gone to get his torch. "Torch??" she said. "Yep," I said. "I'm just a little concerned," I said, "that introducing a torch into the machine, even near the machine, might be a little problematic. I just filled it with gas..." I trailed off.

"Oh god," Leigh said. "Yeah," I said.

I went back outside and met Mark at the garage. He had a blowtorch, the size of a small fire extinguisher except, I guess, its opposite. He got ready to light it and, I confess, I stepped back. I may have jumped back. Quite a ways back. I was willing to watch him blow up, apparently, if it came to that... but I didn't really want to blow up myself.

I watched as Mark ran the flame over the red insides of the machine with the fluidity of a welder, stroked the outside of the machine, over and over, smooth movements. Eventually a stream of water began to run from its interior -- a column of solid ice melting -- and a few minutes later we attempted to start the blades rotating.

They did. I mouthed "my hero" to Mark. He smiled, walked away. I cleared the driveway, wiped the snow and ice from the snowblower's guts before putting it away for the evening.

Today we're expecting another foot.

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