For my brother-in-law, @MikeBarre who, upon reading my essay, “Autumn Alchemy” looked forward in his enviable New England sense of irony to my next piece, “30 below knee deep in the driveway shoveling” snow. I hope that I haven’t let him down here and apologize for not only subordinating his crafty title to subtitle but for the tardy production. It took a second polar vortex to stimulate.
I’ve been a sleep ten hours. Ten long hours maybe more yet, it feels like twenty-four in winter.
Exhaustion will do that. Winter will do that. It fools you like a Saharan summer – stark, dry, endless.
During another long dark night a new storm brewed. In my sleep I heard the wind as the storm strengthened. It’s no sixth sense. I hear the toll of my Maine wind bells and chimes; their noise sharp in the dead winter silence.
Suddenly, a crash; a clamor that in another season would’ve opened my eyes, raised my head, stirred me to investigate but not tonight because I know my perimeter. It’s securely hazardous, void of life.
The three foot long, half foot thick icicles that formed from the melting snow of my roof yesterday have snapped from the broken wooden gutters; crashing off the walls to the icy snow covered ground.
It’s a sharp racket. It stings the ears, stirs hibernation but I can’t move. In my trance I feel the next sharp audible snap is closer. It’s the framework of this old house resisting the blow from a tremendous wind gust that tries to tear it from its fieldstone foundation. Sharp racket squared but, my eyes will not open.
It’s not my eyes, it’s my body. It’s a fatigue and unless the roof caves in on my upstairs coffin of a bed, there’s no impetus to move. Yet, stirred, I try to squeeze my hands, raise my arms, and bend my knees upward, toward the ceiling. As I fail, I attempt to bend my knees – meeting my heels and toes. With every motion my rigid muscles radiate anguish, my brain sends a message to retreat and seek another option. I roll to one side.
There on my left shoulder, I feel close to the edge of the bed. I don’t need to see it. It’s a sense; a feel like a parched mouth that salivates at a whiff of water when one is at the edge of an oasis. Pain is distracted by goals, even a goal as simple as falling out of this bed.
Pain also has a memory and I now recall yesterday in the pulsating ache of my palms. There was a goal that needed achieved. Coming from my coma, I recall that I had to remove that translucent, thick glaze of ice from the concrete steps that lead into my wooden oasis, my house.
The heat of the attic; that, expensive gas heat that keeps my oasis from freezing, it escapes to the attic, warming mice and melting inches of snow from the roof. The melt runs down the shingles momentarily escaping the inevitable death freeze as it rolls off the roof. And, in dry, frozen air, the water loses the race, congealing into an elongated spike; that, suspends in time, agonizingly suspended in what seems dead time.
However a few fortunate atoms make it to earth, dripping along the backs of those less fortunate, they explode into a microcosmic molecular splash of freedom. Momentarily atoms split, joining the spare oxygen. They all gasp in the bad company of each other in a violent dripping explosion on concrete. It resembles a translucent blood splatter. Then, it reforms into deadly ice upon my door steps.
Science is treacherous. I’m confident that it must minimize most of life’s enjoyment to a scintilla.
But for now, it has created a cruel invisible prank at my door – a bilateral trick that lies in wait no matter ones direction. A bobby trap as one escapes the dead chill outside or the toasty, parched atmosphere inside.
I indict winter for maliciousness. I hold more than icy doorsteps as evidence. I present my plant life as well. They die inside or out. The difference simply lies in the process; that is, death is quicker outside than inside. Nature asks, “Which would you prefer?”
Naturally humans are sturdier, reasoned and nature knows it. I’m reminded by the reflection of my ghostly image in the window as I look out upon the science brewing at my doorstep. But for the drip, drip, drip falling before my eyes, the steps are stealthily glaciated, encased for the season’s annual dance sensation – the quick slip. The slip that breaks a wrist or ankle, strains a back, cracks a skull or worse, a lawsuit.
Thus I reasoned with nature, claw hammer in hand, I beat the shit out of that ice. I took the whole frustrating pent up polar vortex out on that goddamn ice. With every swing I felt the ice fight back in stinging shards that rocketed off my face, legs, and hands. It was no match though for my fury.
I beat the shit out of it right then and there. Groceries tossed in the front yard snow, the orange juice, creamer, milk and bacon watched my fury. The window flower boxes of frozen over Christmas pine cones and branches stared quietly at my joy in each angry swing. That’s right I had a goal and now my hands paid for achieving it.
They say misery loves company. Well my back and legs join in that woeful celebration. They vibrate with ache from achieving freedom for my wife’s car from a driveway of snow. The pulsating twinge reminds me of each and every shovel stroke, as I stooped an hour clearing the driveway. It all resonates now through my brain as I lay here on my side.
I might have slept longer sure. But it was neither the snapping icicles nor the crack of the house’s framework at fault. No, it was the fear and anger of dreams tearing me from sleep and back to reality.
The imaginary request of some invisible boss to work on a door entry to a commercial building filled with the working poor, who fill floor after floor of office space and anonymous cubicles. They needed to get through that doorway and up to their daytime dungeons.
Did I ask myself in this contrived dream why I was laboring like a maintenance man when I have little skill in such endeavor? No, it was a fucking dream. It was an anxiety driven fucking dream of an often inept and bullied childhood smashing into the present of my life’s winter maturation which is stamped with some expiration date.
As I often do, I felt a different pain in my slumber. As I gazed up curious to see why I felt annoyance, I saw office workers tossing ice cubes down at me as I knelt at the doorway fiddling with some stripping, some monotonous repairs.
They’re the working poor bullies picking on the working poor slob, me. I’ve lived this scene in a sense. However instead of a lit string of firecrackers laid across my sleeping body in the work truck of my youth, these are imaginary hellions hurling ice from their three story heights of momentary supremacy.
Ice cubes are then followed by bucket after bucket of ice tumbling from the windows; torturous, gleeful faces peek from behind the buckets, as they plummet toward my face.
I snap to my feet to recognize and remember those faces which I will obliterate when I … wake up in the confused anger of my dark bedroom, gray steel snow sky glaring that excruciating glare through the drapes.
My eyes are slits but I recognize the faint white dancing dust, its snow. Within the time my eyes can open, the playful, teasing dance of snow has accelerated to a freefall.
What a cruel alarm clock. My knees painfully catch my roll from the heights of my bed to the red pine floor below. My brain had a goal and my legs, my arms; my body complied in the nick of time.
On my feet, my senses carry me downstairs to that drink of water, smell of coffee and taste of fig preserves. I’m living on coffee, fig preserves, and the fury that this season brings as I pursue survival or die trying each and every day. Now who dare say that I’m not goal oriented?