Learning New Tricks

I had evidence that I need to continually learn new things this past week.

Until I moved into my house in Massachusetts, I had lived my life with heat coming through natural gas pipes or electric wires to my place of residence.  Maybe when I was 0-5 we had coal, but that is a vague memory and I wasn’t responsible for ordering the coal.

My daughter called me at work this week and asked:  Did you know they were coming to fill the oil tank today?

My response was:  No.  I don’t have to call them.  They just fill it when they need to.  They track the temperature and know when it needs to be filled.

Her response was:  OK.  I went out and asked the man what he was doing.  He didn’t seem real happy because he had to wade through 4 feet of snow to the back of the house with the long hose and dig out the place where the hose attaches.  He said he would appreciate it if we dug it out next time.

Mmmmm.  I hadn’t even thought about this when we got buried in snow again and again.  I didn’t even know where the valve was on the back of the house!

I immediately went and asked my colleagues about cultural protocols.  As it turns out, often those that deliver oil will not fill your tank if you haven’t gotten the path and valve dug out for them.

Bless the man who delivered the oil this last week while I was on a learning curve.  He showed us grace (and warmth).



Snow Farm

IMG_20150128_103619077 IMG_20150208_140134008_HDRSnow is part of my imagination. I grew up, and have lived, primarily in places that get snow storms. This means that when I visit a place in the spring, summer, or fall, I am always imagining how people navigate in the environment in the winter.

I lived for a short time in Louisiana and saw how people had house lots that were long and narrow—a reflection of the French long lot survey system. Houses were at the back ends of these lots with long driveways leading to the road. I immediately wondered—doesn’t this make it difficult to clear the snow in the winter? I also saw sugar cane grown in strips with fallow blocks in between. My mind quickly moved to interpreting this as a strategy for creating snow shelters. I had to stop and remind myself—Louisiana does not get snow storms…

Likewise, when I lived in New Zealand I kept looking at incredibly steep driveways and worry about the ice and snow in the winter. I had to get my anxiety under control, remembering that I was living in a temperate climate.

Snow has always been part of my life, or at least my winter life. I don’t remember much inconvenience related to snow when I was growing up. I only recall cancelled school—snow days—and sledding down the hill behind our house on our toboggan while launching a saucer off the back. Somebody else must have been dealing with the inconvenience.

IMG_20150208_140056473_HDRThe challenge of big snows began to impinge on my imagination when I had my first car and was living in an apartment with on-street parking only. After a huge storm, the city snow removal plan went into effect where they cleared and plowed north-south or east-west streets on alternative days. I had to first dig my car out on my north-south street, and then dig through the mountain of snow left by the plow as it went down the east-west street, in order to move my car around the corner and on to that street. Public frustration (and tickets) were directed to those who did not comply. You also could end up with a car even more deeply buried if the plow went around it.

Getting off-street parking at my next apartment was a huge step up. I had to dig out and drive to work. When I returned, the parking lot would have been plowed.

At some point in my life I moved up to new heights—I had a garage. Of course, it was a long and wide driveway with the garage door facing west. Huge drifts of snow would be up against the garage door, sometimes 4 feet deep, with other parts of the driveway swept clean by the wind.

IMG_20150208_140116901When I moved to Michigan I had a list of non-negotiables for a house purchase, including a short driveway. I didn’t get a short driveway, but it was a narrow driveway that did not face west. In spite of my life experience, I still was a bit mystified that first fall when I saw four-foot stakes show up at the end of everyone’s driveway and city workers attaching six-foot high flags to fire hydrants. After a winter where the mound on either side of my driveway was piled six feet high I hired a plow service. That fall, stakes showed up at the end of my driveway.

IMG_20150208_140008694_HDRWhen searching for a permanent place to live in Massachusetts, I found that off street parking seemed to be the measure of luxury. But I held out for a minimum of a single car garage. As I drove around old settlements like Salem and Boston, I kept driving to figure out where they would put the snow in the winter. The streets where narrow, there were no yards, and no garages. As attractive as gentile urban living was to me, my imagining snow kept me from pursuing that option.

This winter, with snow coming in feet rather than inches, I have found out the secret around snow in places like Boston and Salem. Snow goes to snow farms. As a geographer, I have to say that I am upset that this is the first time in my life that I have heard of snow farms. Even in graduate school, while taking meteorology and climatology courses I was not informed of this phenomenon. I was taught that snow formed in the atmosphere under certain conditions.

Now I find it is grown in New England.