FORT KENT, Maine — Is there any more terrifying, soul-crushing, disheartening sound than that of a “click” followed by dead silence when turning the ignition key?
And is there any worse time to hear a vehicle’s death rattle than while seated on one’s tractor at 4:30 a.m., when there is someone stuck in more than a foot of new snow in the driveway and in need of a tow?
Welcome to winter 2017 on Rusty Metal Farm, where it’s shaping up to be a banner season and the only reason I am not filing a change-of-address form to The Bahamas is — as so often the case — thanks to my neighbors and friends.
To date, I’ve managed to survive 36 Maine winters more or less unscathed. But let’s be honest, the last four or five have taken it pretty easy on us up here in the north.
Sure, it has been cold, and, yes, we’ve gotten snow, but I don’t think I’m alone in feeling Mother Nature has been lulling us into a false sense of security ever since she walloped us with the record snows of 2008.
Remember that year? Anyone who lived north of Bangor certainly does.
That’s the year we received up to 17 inches of new snow on March 21, bringing the seasonal snow total to a record-breaking 182.5 inches.
While we are a ways off from breaking any records in the north, we are getting some significant snow up here this season.
According to data from the National Weather Service in Caribou, at the end of 2007 there was 70.5 inches of snow on the ground.
By the end of 2016, we were just 9 inches shy of that amount with significant snows forecast in the coming days.
According to the most recent NWS data on its website, the 41.2 inches of snowfall recorded at Caribou last month was well above the 18.3 inch average and made December the seventh snowiest on record for northern Maine.
In Bangor, the recorded 18.4 inches of snow was 4 inches above the average snowfall for the month.
As 2017 dawned, snow depths in the north ranged from 20 to 30, 10 to 20 inches in central Maine and 1 to 5 inches Down East.
“We may be on pace for that record setting year,” Francis Kredensor, meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said this week. “But each season has its own personality, if you will, and we can be on pace now but have a two to three week dry spell that tanks our chances of setting any new records.”
With plenty of snow to play on around Maine, I say bring on that dry spell.
At least until the part needed for my tractor is in and installed.
In the meantime, there are those amazing friends and neighbors I
mentioned — the same ones who have been with me since the death at the start of 2008 of my husband Patrick, who took care of all things snow related.
Since then, I’ve managed to take control of some of the snow removal. And
when it’s operational, I hop on the Rusty Metal Farm tractor that has a rear-mounted snowblower powerful enough to shoot snow almost to Caribou.
But last week, after arriving home from a holiday trip out West, I never thought to do a tractor pre-check as the first of a major winter storm snowflakes began falling.
So it was then, at the pre-dawn hours, that I found myself working its ignition key with no results.
Let me just say now, if cussing could power farm implements, I’d need never purchase diesel fuel again.
Luckily, my neighbor Bob has a tractor just like mine — only his actually started — and despite the early hour was awake and ready to come to the rescue.
He quickly got the stuck driver unstuck and on his way, then completed several passes in my driveway so I could get out if needed.
Later that day, another neighbor appeared in his full-size pickup with plow, followed by his son on a large tractor equipped with a bucket, to dig me out of what in some areas was nearly 3 feet of wet, heavy drifted snow.
While the driveway was getting taken care of, I turned my attention to the Rusty Metal Sled Dog Kennel and spent a considerable amount of time digging dog houses out of the snow with the help of two other friends.
Shall we talk about roofs?
There’s a lot of snow overhead, and the NWS is issuing warnings about snow loads and dangers of collapsing roofs.
In fact, just Thursday morning the snow load brought down the municipal bandstand in Fort Fairfield.
Between hired contractors and volunteer help, it’s looking like the roofs of Rusty Metal Farm — and there are a lot of roofs, thanks to Patrick’s affinity for constructing outbuildings — will be cleared.
With any luck, before the next significant snowfall, the tractor will be operational thanks to the mechanical skills of yet another neighbor.
So, looking ahead, I am feeling reasonably confident I can deal with whatever winter Mother Nature decides to throw at us and comfort myself that it’s only 11 weeks until the first day of spring.
Of course, that 17-inch blizzard that broke the records in 2008 hit on the first day of spring. Never let it be said Mother Nature has no sense of humor.
Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award-winning writer and photographer, who writes part time for Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.