Eva Murray

Snow Day on Matinicus

Posted:  Sunday, February 14, 2016 - 5:45pm

It was an odd storm, that’s for sure. There was no guarantee that we’d get anything. All the forecasters offered the same disclaimer about how just a slight shift of the “trough” between two low-pressure systems would dump the load on the next town over.

Our experience, out here surrounded by sea, is that so often our fluffy white hopes are foiled by the warming power of all this salt water, and we get a gritty muck while others get the “Currier and Ives.” How many snowy days on the mainland have proven to be just the mess called “wintry mix” for us, universally bad for power lines, dirt roads, small aircraft and any attempt at playing outside?

Not this time. As it happened, our little island was directly under the darker blue center of the blob on the radar, which for a while resembled, ironically, the boot of Italy. The folks on Facebook had some fun with that. Mediterranean weather this was not.

There is no way to take a truly accurate measurement of snowfall on Matinicus short of building a special sheltered instrument, because here, the wind is most always a factor. Even so, the consensus was a rough couple of feet. A ruler stuck in a flat area (not a snowdrift) near the powerhouse on Saturday afternoon read 24 inches.

This place looks good in snow, but the reality is that just like anywhere, a heavy snowfall creates a lot of work. A photograph of an old telephone-company truck buried in snow, with only the word “Telecom” peeking over the drift, tempted me to post it with the title “There will be no Telecom today.” But people believe too much on the Internet and goodness knows what sort of rumors would get started about our “predicament.” The phones are fine.

There was no way to get a vehicle out of our driveway through the drift, so in pack boots and gaiters my husband and I post-holed out though thigh-high snow and climbed over the drift made by Danny’s plow to get into the road, where we could walk comfortably to the powerhouse, about ¾ of a mile toward the harbor. Well, comfortably except for the sharp wind and snow in our faces; we ended up holding our snow shovels in front of us as wind-breaks until we got around the corner into some lee. Now, two snow-encrusted knuckleheads walking down the road in a snowstorm lugging big metal grain-scoop shovels

might seem like the height of foolishness, but we got to hear the chickadees.

Yeah; out there in the middle of the storm, we were listening to songbirds.

We came across a young fisherman in a pickup truck, quite stuck. I suppose to him, two random pedestrians lugging shovels was a welcome sight, if somewhat inexplicable. With a pan of stove ashes and some shoveling and a push we got him dislodged, but his dog had no interest in climbing into the cab, and next thing we knew we came across the foolish dog, stuck but good himself, in a snowdrift beside the road. No doubt he had leapt behind it but with nowhere to get a running start back there, could not leap back out over the drift. Paul shoveled him out and sent him on his merry way.

Outside the powerhouse, Paul saw three brilliant red cardinals, and not far from there, another chickadee.

Danny came along with the plow truck, so we talked with him for a few minutes. When he asked if we wanted a lift, we at first we said, “No, we’re fine.” The look on his face was basically, “OK, you’re insane,” so we gratefully accepted the ride as he plowed back up the hill. “Who the hell in their right mind walks home in a snowstorm when they could ride?”

The weather did provide a few reminders of how short the line is between neighborly wintertime togetherness and real trouble in isolation. Shortly after I came through the door my phone rang and a worried voice asked, rather urgently, “What do you do for frostbite?” Thankfully it wasn’t really frostbite, but the painful pre-freezing experience we sometimes call “frost-nip.” The neighbor with the frozen fingers was fine, but it wasn’t fun.

Not long after that, another phone call, this time from Danny who called from his house. He’d walked home from quite some distance away, his truck stuck, and describing himself as “freezing like an icicle.” His other truck didn’t want to start but he’s a good mechanic and he got the other one going enough to drive down and pull the plow truck out of the drift. He called looking for Clayton who was working with the tractor-mounted snow blower, out of sight somewhere. Nobody was really sure where Clayton and the tractor were. After two stuck trucks, one stuck dog, and two painfully cold people, we were all conscious of the misery that could result from being broke down off by yourself somewhere. One of our Ski Patrollers was going to set out on cross-country skis and have a look around, and called to have us turn on our VHF radio as he meant to carry his, but the deep snow was too fluffy to really ski on. He started out his long road with a walk-behind snow blower, and thankfully Clayton turned up before we really had up a search party. He was hale and hearty, moving snow, and wearing a T-shirt in the cab of the tractor. “Who the hell in their right mind goes out to plow snow in a T-shirt?” That heated cab really is something.

The next morning, the sun was out, the wind was screeching, everybody was turning to the work at hand. Some vehicles are still buried, but the propane and the post office and the school and the powerhouse and the two cows are getting shoveled out, and that snow-blower on the tractor will make sure the airstrip is ready as soon as the wind subsides enough for the flying service to make the trip. All is well.

Eva Murray lives on Matinicus

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