Winter’s Back is Broken (and Mine is a Mess)

Meteorological winter, the coldest (on average) 1/4 of the year, is over. Winter’s back is broken but, as I’ve written before, you can’t shoot winter in the head and put it out of its misery. We must wait as winter kicks and fights with everything it can muster at this late stage of the game, while spring slowly asserts itself, a little bit at a time. Unfortunately, on days like yesterday, when a warm(-ish) breeze from the south brings mild temperatures and rain against driving snow and the cold(-ish) air still hanging on, both seasons end up looking foolish and the dooryard fills with slush.

We’ve had enough snow this winter that we were saying, “yeah, yeah, we get it” about four feet ago and we are ready to move on to the next season, which around here is mud. A lot of barns and other buildings collapsed last month, crushed by the weight of snow. Crews dug and raked as best they could, trying to lighten the loads on other roofs, but poor timing, gravity and uneven weight distribution continued to wreak destruction. Even with the sounds of catastrophe ringing through the valley, it was tempting to look at the roofs under my care, scoff, and say, “Hah! They’ve held more snow than that!”

I admit here and now, that is exactly what I did.

But the more I repeated that phrase the more it sounded like an entry in a forthcoming book titled “Famous Last Words of Caretakers”  and I became determined to see to it that nothing of the sort would ever be attributed to yours truly, Quill Gordon. I gave in before the roofs did, grabbed a shovel, the roof rake and four sections of shaft, strapped on the snowshoes, and went to work.

Looking closely at the picture above, you may notice a piece of metal dangling from the port side of the roof rake handle. That would be a stabilizer bar and normally it would be doing its part to keep the roof rake head square to the handle.  This particular stabilizer bar has bent and broken before, becoming a tad shorter with each repair, and now it must be replaced. Replaced, in this case, means fabricated because no one carries spares, and fabricated, in this case, means a trip to the hardware store for an aluminum strip to cut, bend and drill back at home.

In hindsight, I see 150 ways to have made emergency roof rake repairs but old Quill doesn’t get out much and none of them would have involved a trip to the hardware store (or been particularly light-weight). The drive was made even more worthwhile with the discovery that, not only was the hardware store sold out of the aluminum strips to make roof rake stabilizers, they were sold out of roof rakes. A new shipment of 25 was expected in two days, with 17 already spoken for, so I paid in advance for two.

(The punch line here is either “Because I have two hands” or “Because I hate to see Mrs. Gordon out there raking roofs by herself.” I’m still not sure.)

Proper Footwear is Important for Any Job


I do not know how many strokes it takes to clear a sizeable roof but I think it is about the same number as licks to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. The goal was not to completely clear the roof, but to lessen the stress on the roof members, so once I felt better about the snow load I declared victory and limped my way to the next building, unable to draw any further analogies between roof raking and Tootsie Pops.

I’ve gone on about this roof raking business before, in “Quill Gordon and the Roof Rake” among other places. To me, it’s like deja vu all over again, all this shoveling and plowing and raking, and a picture from one winter looks pretty much like a picture from another.

(AN IMPORTANT SAFETY NOTE FROM QUILL: Never climb ladders or drive tractors while wearing snowshoes.)

It’s the first of March and we have almost made it through another Vermont winter. Almost, but not quite. There is plenty of time for another sub-zero cold snap or two so the heating season is nowhere near over. In the Gordon house the oil-burning furnace is used mainly to chase the chill from the edges and to keep the water treatment system from freezing down cellar. The core of the house is heated by burning wood pellets, which I bring home in batches of fifty 40-pound bags. They warm me as I take them off the truck and stack them in the barn; they keep me warm as I bring batches of them to the house and stack them inside; and finally, they warm me when I pour their contents into the hopper of the stove.

Another Month's Worth of Heat

Twenty tons of snow have been pulled forcibly to the ground, hundreds of thousands of BTUs are stacked neatly in the barn and I am in my chair, smelling great.

An enchanting, eye-watering scent

Today is the first Tuesday in March and a hundred plus villagers gathered at 9:00 in the forenoon, as they have for generations, to conduct the business of our town. Many groups, political representatives and private individuals take advantage of this annual event to conduct surveys of the people on topics as wide-ranging as motorcycle helmet laws and the legal drinking age to end of life decisions and using cell phones while driving. I conducted my own, absolutely un-scientific survey and found that, when asked about the glacier-like qualities of snow banks, dooryards and drives after yesterday’s rain, 74% were not in favor (26% of responses were unintelligible). Thirty percent of those responding showed visible bruising from spills on the new ice, 50% reported bruising in places they preferred not to share and 20% generously offered to administer bruisings of my own. When asked about roof raking and snow shoveling, fully 100% of the responses were unrepeatable in present company, and the most common scents worn to Town Meeting 2011 were, in order, wood smoke, Ben-Gay, Tiger Balm, and Absorbine, Jr.

Town Meeting Day

In addition to being the day we get together to fill local government positions, hash out the town budget and take care of other business, Town Meeting Day is a time to catch up on news, gossip and other goings-on. I am happy to say that I ran into my good friend Eugene and his pal Purly this morning, crossing the village green. I hadn’t seen them this winter and I was beginning to worry about them. They have been on an entrepreneurial streak lately, trying their hands at Vermont Hand Crafted Tenkara Rods last fall and before that they set up a booth during foliage season, attempting to sell authentic Vermont delicacies to unsuspecting visitors from Long Island and New Jersey. Neither of those ventures went quite the way Eugene and Purly had hoped but that didn’t stop them from trying something else.

Eugene and Purly do a bit of trapping and, with fur prices down, have been experimenting with their own line of fur-based apparel, specifically ladies unmentionables, which they have been calling “Beaver Fur” and finding themselves clever. I have to hand it to them, though; a couple of years ago a tour bus full of those Red Hat Ladies stopped in town and Eugene and Purly sold their entire stock in an afternoon. I’m not comfortable with the image of Red Hat Ladies wearing mink G-strings but there it is.

It turns out that Eugene and Purly were busy tanning and sewing all last summer and went to New York, back around Thanksgiving, to see their creations in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show and had been in the city ever since. When they told me this I was mighty impressed and I applauded their initiative and success, even though I had a hard time imagining these guys in the big city for any length of time at all. 

They explained to me that they did not stay because they wanted to; there were some delicate legal issues to take care of and the delay was inevitable if one knows anything about such matters. It seems there was a mix-up as the Victoria’s Secret people refused to allow Eugene and Purly’s demands to dress the models themselves, as all the big name designers do. I asked them just how they negotiated such a thing and they told me there was no negotiating about it. When I asked if I could see their agreement, Purly reached into his coat and produced an impessive stack of  court documents, with their agreement at the top of the pile.

The thing is, this is Eugene and Purly we’re dealing with here and the “agreement” was a restraining order, making it a crime for either of them to come within 10 miles of any Victoria’s Secret model, store, catalog or clothing ever again, all because Eugene and Purly asked for the same privileges accorded other top designers. Incredulous, I flipped through the stack of legal papers, searching for an explanation to this injustice, until I came to the original New York City Police Department report and and the 23 signed compalints against them and realized that, apparently, Eugene and Purly didn’t even have an appointment.

Happy March, y’all.

Peeling Birch

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Categories: Humor, nature, Rural Life, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Winter’s Back is Broken (and Mine is a Mess)

  1. Nancy A Spivey

    Oh, how wonderful of you to make me laugh so early in the morning! I really needed that, I must say. The mental images range from awe-inspiring (nature), frightening (overly heavy snow), and frigid (obvious), to hysterical (Eugene and Purly). And all in one post!

    Thank you.

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