Although they have taken their sweet time in getting here, the snows of winter seem at last to have arrived in the north country, which means that the periodic rearrangement of snow in our dooryards has become the outdoor seasonal sport of necessity.
While most of us are weekend warriors who relocate the snow simply because it’s there, others do the rearranging because they are professionals and it’s their job to keep the highways clear. Mix and match the species on an uneven playing field and you get conflict.
The ritual features homeowner guy versus highway snowplow guy in a one-sided contest that the latter — in possession of more formidable toys and firepower than the former — is destined to win every time.
Most homeowners know the game. No sooner have we manhandled the snowfall du jour, topping off the task by clearing the driveway entrance, than snowplow guy comes along and sadistically refills the void. The process is repeated for hours on end, until we decide we do not wish to play any longer. We wave the white flag of surrender and slink off in defeat. Tomorrow, with a fresh perspective, we will have another go at it.
The one saving grace of the encounter lies in the presumption that snowplow guy plays no favorites on his appointed rounds. On snow-plowing days in the snow belt, anyone with a driveway leading to a plowed street or highway gets the treatment, regardless of social pecking order status. The plowed snow has to go someplace, snowplow guy seems to be telling us, and the entrance to our driveway is as good a place as any.
No problem. It is but a minor irritant to many a Mainer for whom security is the sound of a snowplow rumbling by in the middle of the night, manned by some stalwart working overtime, often in brutal conditions, so the rest of us might not be inconvenienced in our travel plans. Cleaning up his calling card at the end of the driveway on the morning after seems little enough to ask in return.
Snowplow guy knows better than most men that when it comes to plowing snow in Maine, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. His is pretty much a damned-if-he-does and damned-if-he-doesn’t situation on that score. History shows that it may have been ever so.
In January of 1928, when horse-drawn sleds were in vogue for winter transportation of farm products to market, J.D. Glidden of Frankfort wrote to the editor of the Bangor Daily News to suggest that highway crews were making a hash of things when it came to clearing snow from the Atlantic Highway, now Route 1A. The clipping, which has been in my “Snow Stuff” file for years, was sent to me by Cliff Woodman of Winterport, who had discovered it in a collection of old newspapers.
“I wish, through your valuable paper, to call the attention of the state highway commission to the manner in which the Atlantic Highway is being cleared of snow this winter,” Glidden wrote.
“Now, in the first place, there has not been enough snow at any one time so far to require its removal. Whatever disadvantage it might have been to the automobilist for a few days was more than offset by the advantage gained by the farmers who depend largely on the snow to haul their products to market, and who are taxed for their own discomfort.
“But instead of leaving the snow as it came, the snowplow scraped it all out clear down to the macadam. When the farmer who lives from two to five miles out on the rural roads where the snow has not been scraped out and the traveling is good loads his product on his sled and reaches the Atlantic Highway he finds he is up against a bad proposition.
“If it becomes necessary at any time during the remainder of the winter to run the plows over the roads, and they leave four or five inches of snow still on the roads, it might be a convenience to all concerned. But if they continue as they have done so far, I assure you the towns along the Atlantic Highway will do their own road-breaking in the future.”
The moral of the story would seem to be that one man’s curse — in this case, snow, or the lack thereof — can be another man’s blessing. Depends upon how you look at it.
BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.