Living Outside My Comfort Zone in the Snowpocalypse

Since we moved off the grid 16 or so years ago, I have spent a great deal of time doing stuff I’m not initially comfortable with. Much of this has been related to activities with my neighbor Ken who really personifies the “No Fear” moniker that many people like to emblazon on their t-shirts. Often the exploits of these people do not live up to the hype. The activity of climbing walls inside of a building with sculpted handholds and safety ropes comes to mind, but I really shouldn’t pick on any activity in particular.

I think I’m inspired to write about this latest escapade because it seems there is a growing portion of the population with a less than optimistic view of the future. These people often engage in activities on weekends to make themselves more resilient. I think this is awesome. People get out of urban areas and develop new skills and develop new networks of friends they can rely on, and anything you read on this subject will emphasize the importance of belonging to ‘community,’ regardless of whether your ties to a community are religious, geographic, familial, whatever.

Our neighbors Ken and Alyce have a tractor that they use to maintain their property and to move round bales for their horses. Ken has a snow blower on the back of the tractor that he uses to clear his driveway and laneways and he also does the same for a number of his neighbors. Ken and Alyce enjoyed a trip south recently and so I volunteered to look after the snow blowing. I had never used his snow blower but I had used the tractor, so I went over the day before they left and got a lesson on using the PTO and driving backwards, etc. That is the downside to his set-up, that the snow blower runs off the PTO and you therefore have to drive backwards to clear snow. But once you get the hang of it there’s no problem.

We’ve had this weird anthropogenic climate change/polar vortex-induced winter (sorry, but this is my bias) during which we had no snow at Christmas and almost nothing in January. I helped Ken attach the snow blower to the tractor midway through January because it was the first time we had enough snow to use it. As Ken and I sat at his dining room table before he left at the end of January he had the weather forecasts on his tablet and he insisted, “Look, there’s basically no snow predicted for the next two weeks.”

If anyone ever makes a prediction like this to you, head for the hills because fire and damnation are about to rain down on you. And as was to be expected I pretty much had to snow blow every second day while they were away.

One Sunday was a particularly challenging day. It had snowed all day Saturday but it was fairly light snow so I didn’t bother to snow blow. Maybe 4 – 6 cm (1-1/2 – 2-1/2 inches) had accumulated. The forecast called for it to snow all weekend so I figured I’d leave snow blowing until Sunday. On Sunday morning the snow continued but I thought I’d better bite the bullet and get’r done. There was a brutal wind, which usually I love because during the dark days of winter like this our wind turbine just howls and keeps our batteries full, and our fridge chillin’ and our TV casting the eerie blue light that I am so entranced by in the evenings.

By the time I had snow blown our driveway with our walk behind snow blower, the wind was blasting the snow around and along with the falling snow freezing rain was also falling. It -15°C (5°F) The Celsius scale is just way better than Fahrenheit when it comes to figuring out temperatures. Water freezes at 0°C. So anything below zero is cold. We tend to get freezing rain between +2°C and – 4°C, in other words the zone where the water droplets can’t make up their minds whether to be snow or rain. That day it was -15°C but we were still getting freezing rain. I’d never seen this before. It was kind of like on that movie “The Day After Tomorrow” or those other apocalyptic movies where crazy stuff happens.

It was dark, freezing cold, snowing, with wind speeds reaching gale force … oh yes, and we also had freezing rain. So off I went.

Usually when I’m working in these situations I have a backup plan. For example if “the trailer falls off the truck” or if “the truck gets a flat tire” or if “the ATV gets stuck,” I can call Ken. Well Ken was 2,000 miles away, so that wasn’t a plan that day. And there were literally no cars on the road because, well, it was really crappy out and the roads were ice covered and really, you’d be nuts to be out and about.

I got Ken’s driveway done down to the road, past his little bridge where you perch precariously over a 10 foot drop to a creek. He’s never installed a guardrail there and so it’s really fun to drive across the bridge on a tractor … while driving backwards … on ice …. Downhill … while snow blowing so you can’t really see where you’re going. I had done enough of his place for now and decided that I’d better do down to the barn later. I figured that I’d better get over and snow blow for Ken’s neighbors in case they had emergencies and had to get out of their driveways. At that point the snow blower broke. I was just engaging the PTO and the bolt from the PTO to the blower broke. I guess it serves as a shear pin. And there I was in the blizzard, with the freezing rain, and the gale-force winds, without gloves on so that I could replace the bolts on the PTO, asking myself, how did this happen? Aren’t most people snuggled up by the fire today? It was like the Talking Heads song “ … and you may find yourself, behind the wheels of a large snow blowin’ tractor and you may find yourself replacing bolts on PTO in blizzards … and you may ask yourself … how did I get here?”

Once I got it fixed I headed out on the road to snow blow at the neighbors. I put the tractor into a higher gear so I could get there faster, which meant that I had an additional wind chill. Usually I would wear ski goggles but they kept icing up from the freezing rain. So as I drove it was hard to see because my eyes were watering so badly. And of course, unlike western Ontario which is all nice and flat, I live in Eastern Ontario where the retreating glaciers carved deep holes for lakes and high granite ridges so all the driveways I had to snow blow have about a 70° incline one way or the other. Plus I was now at the end of 5th Depot Lake and because the wind was out of the east it had 7 miles of open lake in which to accelerate and really get nasty. The wind stung as it hit my face. No facemask or goggles could stop that wind.

I’m sure my neighbours appreciated having their driveways cleared. I know that I hate the feeling of being marooned because of snow. In my previous life in the city someone else plowed my snow. Someone else provided my heat and electricity and grew my food and fixed my stuff when it broke.

And there I was, the only personal out in the crappy mess, with howling winds and pelting freezing rain, and breaking equipment, and frozen feet … and it was all starting to feel pretty normal. You can’t train for this sort of weirdness. You just have to do it enough that when you turn around and see that the machine isn’t throwing snow anymore, you have to figure out why not. And if you want to get the snow moved and do the job, you just have to figure out a way to muddle through. It’s kind of terrifying. And kind of awesome. To use the title of a George Monbiot book…“Bring on the Apocalypse!”

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Don’t forget our new book, “The Sensible Prepper” is now available. Thanks to everyone who has ordered it! For more details go here.

5 Responses to “Living Outside My Comfort Zone in the Snowpocalypse”

  • Ken Gorter:

    It was a great trip south and not having to worry about snow blowing was a real comfort! …. But now I’m starting to feel bad. I had thought that with your many years in this wilderness, these little challenges would now be the norm!

    One thing about country livin, you need to have good neighbours like I have!!

    Thanks again for all your cold hard work, looking forward to next year!!

    Warmest regards, Ken

  • Cam Mather:

    Hey Neil. Very cool story! Now that’s real horse power!

  • Gerrit:

    When the going gets tough, the tough…:-) Good on you, Cam.

    You’re absolutely right about the weirding of the weather. Climate change is now bearing down heavily on the planet. I follow “Arctic News,” the blog of the climate scientists of the Arctic. The changes are mind-boggling. We need people like you and Michelle now more than ever to help us figure out how to adapt and overcome. We’re buying “The Sensible Prepper” come next payday. (I recommend Cam’s books to everyone.)

  • Wow Neil! What a story!!! You had a lot to be thankful for that Christmas! 🙂

  • Neil B. (Orleans):

    Cam, reading your story brings me right back to Christmas Day 1966. I lived on a farm. We had almost 2 feet of snow and our lane was 1/4 mile long with 3 and 4 foot snow drifts on the lane. We were waiting for my sister and new brother-in-law from the U.S. to arrive in Maxville, Ontario, Canada. They arrived around midnight due to the conditions between Philidelphia and home. We did not have a snow blower. Our local bulldozer owner would plough our lane the next day but not on Christmas. So my father hooked up our team of work horses (each weighing 2000 lbs) and he drove them through the snow to the end of the lane where he hooked them to my brother-in-laws 1959 corvette and dragged the car and occupants up the lane through snow up to the horses belly in places…they pulled that like they were going for a walk in a winter wonderland…incredible strength in these animals…I will never forgot that moment and celebrating Christmas and dinner on Dec. 26th much to the relieve of my mother…

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Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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