Snowed In

This is, I have to admit, a first for me since moving from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to Alaska over twenty five years ago.

We are officially completely snowed in.

My husband has always plowed out our farm driveway himself, with our mid-size 1/2 ton pickup truck and equally mid-size Western plow. It’s not a lot of horsepower, but it’s usually enough.

Snowfalls here in this part of Alaska have seldom (in the 25+ years I’ve lived here) been even close to what I used to see in MI, and Jer’s truck has been up for the challenge without any problems. So has Jerry, who is a capable plow driver.

Until this past week, when we were hit by one storm after another after another in quick succession, each of them heavy snowfalls in their own right.

The first big snow fall Jerry was able to clear (after help from that very nice man, Scott. You all remember Scott, right?).

It was a lot of snow, but nothing we hadn’t dealt with before. Jerry is 70, diabetic and has COPD, so he takes more breaks than he used to. What used to take him several hours is now apt to take most of the day, between rest breaks. We are neither of us as young as we once were.

Given adequate time, he would generally go out the following day to clean the driveway and yard up nicely and all would be well. But this time, it just kept dumping on us.

During and after the second storm, Jer managed to keep the driveway passible, but our truck and plow combo aren’t really made for this sort of snow depth and he was finding it more difficult to push snow far enough down or off the driveway to be effective. It didn’t help that it was snowing almost as fast as he was plowing and he was getting tired.

When Jerry looked at the driveway yesterday afternoon, there was about 4-6” of new snow. He was exhausted and reasoned that plowing again at that point would be doubling up his work load, since it was just going to snow again overnight. He planned to hit it early the next day.

In hindsight, this was probably not the best decision he could have made.

With the driveway only sloppily cleared (and by this I just mean the last passes he made the night before were what he referred to as fast and dirty).

Being tired, and knowing more snow was coming, he had been more concerned about keeping a driving lane passible and not about cleaning edges, pushing snow evenly or clearing areas for turning around. He was TIRED.

So when another 12+ inches fell overnight last night, it was difficult to see where the center of the driveway even was, and harder still to know where to stop pushing the snow.

A couple of spots on our driveway drop off towards a ravine and he has gotten the plow stuck there more than once over the years, just plowing over-enthusiastically. It can suck you in if you aren’t paying attention.

He started clearing off the truck and plow at 7:30 am, which is two hours before sunrise. Drifted snow completely covered the front of both the truck and the SUV.

We have a lot of area to clear, between the front parking area, the road to the shop, up to the barn, and then over 300 yards of additional driveway out to the road.

By 9:00 am, he had gotten the plow stuck and shoveled it out twice already, but had made progress.

Where things fell apart was the turn in the driveway down by the ravine.

In case you’re wondering, that’s not the direction the driveway turns. He was just trying to push some snow off that way before tackling the last 50 yds of drifted snow between the truck and the road.

The road is ⬅️ that way.

I suggested calling in a bigger snowplow. 🤷🏼‍♀️ We aren’t going to starve. We have water, electricity and plenty of wood. I’m trying to convince him not to physically over-do trying to get the darn truck out, but as you already know … he’s stubborn.

All’s Well That Ends Well

Easily 18” of snow later, the saga continues. The plow was free of the frozen ground, but Jerry had been unable to budge it the last little distance to make final connection with the truck. It might as well have been a lawn ornament.

I feel confident no one is going to believe how this sodden, snowy story ends.

When I last journaled, my husband had just relayed to me the news that he had reached someone by phone, and in spite of the ongoing storm, we were amazed (flummoxed, to be honest) to hear they’d be here first thing in the morning.

My brain continued to insist there wasn’t a single plow within 50 miles that wasn’t working 24 hours a day, with a wait list of frantic people vying for a spot. How could this be?

So I asked Jerry who he had called, wondering how on earth he had managed to reach what had to be the sole available plow driver in the entire Mat-Su Valley. He wasn’t sure.

It seems he had gone online and Googled “Snowplow Services in Wasilla”. It was the logical place to start, although having anyone even answer their phone at 5pm in the middle of the heaviest single snowfall in 20 years (here in Alaska, at least) was unlikely at best.

But this is where God, Santa Claus or dumb luck (personally, I’m going with divine intervention 🙏) stepped in and guided Jer’s hand.

Of the long list of snowplow services out there, large and small, most of whom were not answering their phones at all, Jer managed to accidentally reach the owner of a “Parking Lot Plowing & Sanding” service. They don’t even do private driveways.

Chatterbox that my husband can be; he poured out the whole sad story, adding in being 70, diabetic and a traumatic brain injury survivor. The poor man probably would have promised anything to get Jer off the phone.

When Jer told the man where we lived, the miracle happened. This nice man told Jerry that although his business doesn’t do private driveways, he lives not far from us and would be driving right past our home on his way to the job he had lined up for the following morning.

He told Jer he would personally stop by and see if he could help Jerry get his plow hooked up. Jerry, in his excitement, never even asked the man’s name or wrote down the name of the business.

We went to bed that night tired and stressed, but with hopeful hearts.

In the morning (this would be Friday now), true to his word, the Parking Lot Plow Service owner showed up in his big, commercial plow truck. He make short work of clearing the end of our driveway, the berm of which had been starting to take on the dimensions of Denali, then pulled in behind our truck. Wonder of wonders, he’d even brought one of his employees along.

These two big, burly men had a short conversation with Jerry, then went right to work. With Jer inside the truck, working the plow levers, Scott (we know his name now 😉) and his helper manhandled the recalcitrant plow onto the receiver and locked it into place. It took the two of them about ten minutes.

When Jer came into the house, he was all smiles. He told me how they’d cleared the mountain at the end of the driveway and that the plow was up and running.

Then he told me he had asked what we owed them (a detail he’d neglected to ask the night before, but we’d agreed it didn’t matter. The need was great and we’d happily pay the piper).

Scott’s response to Jer’s query was, “Oh, no charge. We had to drive right by here anyway. Merry Christmas!”

Early Winter Woes

Early winter woes indeed … the story continues where I left off from the snow storm last Thursday. Honestly (spoiler alert), none of what happened was earth-shaking in itself. This is mostly a cautionary tale of how wrong things can go when you procrastinate.

It also brought home to me very strongly that the older we get, the more vulnerable we can become – and the more important it is that we plan ahead.

I watched from the house as my husband struggled, with a crowbar, shovel and pots of boiling water, to wrestle the corner of the snow plow from the frozen ground.

It was past noon by this time, since the morning had been taken up with a trip to the tire shop to get our studded tires mounted. Of course, Jerry had first needed to shovel out the opening for the big barn door and then manhandle the four big truck tires into the bed of the truck.

Jer’s TBI thirteen years ago left him with a deep, driving need to prove he is still the capable man he was before his accident, and is determined not to accept help if he can avoid it. He especially doesn’t want a helping hand from me.

It hurts my heart, but I understand the conflict inside him and try to be supportive. My transition from being his wife and helpmate to his caregiver, then slowly back to being his wife (with some caregiving and guidance inevitably mixed in …) has been an ongoing, often challenging process for both of us.

This balancing act has only gotten more complicated as we’ve aged, since at 70+, we both need help a lot more than either of us did even just five years ago. Jerry has no problem helping me when I need it. He just won’t let me help him.

Anyway, an hour passed, and he eventually came inside, cold but [temporarily] triumphant. The plow was free from the frozen ground. Yay!

I convinced him to rest and warm up before heading back outside for the final step of actually connecting the plow to the truck. He assured me this would take no time at all and he’d be able to clear at least the main driveway before it got dark. Such optimism. It was, of course, still snowing.

As I alternated doing loads of laundry with sitting by the window and knitting, I watched him pull the truck up to the plow. Then I watched him walk back and forth from plow to truck cab – again and again. He’d kneel in the snow, mess with something, then move the truck a little. Repeat. Obviously, something was not going according to plan.

My anxiety level continued to rise as temperatures dropped and snow fell. Single digits were expected overnight. I hate feeling helpless.

The war with the plow continued well into the afternoon, with Jer slipping and sliding in ever deepening snow and fading light. I’m pretty sure this was when he fell and bruised a rib.

Jer finally made his way back through the snow to the house just before 4:30 pm, exhausted and defeated. The plow stubbornly maintained it’s independence from the truck, which meant no no snow removal for us.

I felt so bad for him. I know how hard he worked out there today. How badly he wanted to be successful.

On the other hand, I could not help but feel frustrated and yes, angry as well as stressed. The last thing Jer needed was a lecture, so I kept my thoughts to myself, but geez – if only he had done all of this weeks ago in warmer weather and on dry ground!

Once Jerry was out of his wet, half-frozen outerwear and had slumped onto his recliner, I sat down across from him. I didn’t want to wrest control from him, but something had to be done. I chose my words carefully, trying to use “we” whenever possible instead of “you”.

I told him firmly, but with as much compassion as I could muster, “Jer, you’ve done your best, but at this point, we need help. The driveway has to be cleared. It can’t wait any longer or we are going to be snowed in. Please get on the phone and make some calls. Do it now, before businesses close for the day.”

I mentioned possibilities; plow companies, friends, handyman businesses, our church, etc., but I didn’t tell him what to do. I went back upstairs, fingers crossed, and left it in his hands. 🙏

While Jerry figured out what to do next and made some calls (have you ever tried finding a plow service in the midst of a snowstorm?), I arranged for a back-up plan, hoping it wouldn’t be needed.

Twenty minutes later, Jerry told me he’d called a plow company and they’d be here first thing in the morning. He was pretty proud of himself and I didn’t blame him.

For the rather miraculous conclusion of this snowy tale, tune in tomorrow. Until then, keep smiling!

Procrastination Station

Life has been “interesting” around here this past week. The three days of snow, with accumulations of about 18”, would not be blog-worthy on its own, although it’s quite a lot of snow in one dump for this part of Alaska.

In spite of it being December and having had a couple of light snow events already, Jer had procrastinated. He had not hooked the plow up to the truck yet – even though that’s pretty much all we use it for these days and he’d talked about doing this three weeks ago.

No, that would have been fine, and we deal with worse most every winter. The misadventures started with a single lapse in preparedness – and snowballed (pardon the pun) from there.

If he HAD gone out to hook the plow up, he probably would have realized he’d neglected to switch out the regular all-season tires for the aggressively treaded, studded tires needed for snow removal on our fairly large property. The tires that were currently sitting in the barn under a tarp, waiting for October, when it’s legal to mount them. Sigh.

Jerry would have also noticed that the heavy Western plow, in spite of resting off-season on supportive bricks to avoid this very thing, had sunk, bricks and all, into the soft, spongy soil last summer’s weeks and weeks of unrelenting rain had created.

This would have been a fairly simple fix before the ground froze. But no; here we were on Wednesday morning, with 5-6” of snow on the frozen ground, more snow coming down, and the plow we so need is tilted slightly askew with one corner frozen solidly in the ground.

Winter … to be continued.

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