Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Industrial Snowblowing

A comment on one of my previous posts about snow removal in this area got me thinking about Quebec, and Canada, and misconceptions that others might have about our geography and way of life.

I remember visiting Germany and attending school with one of my girlfriends for the day.  It might have been 5th or 6th grade, and when geography class rolled around, I was grilled on the Canadian way of life.  I remember other kids asking me if I had to go to school on a skidoo (no!) and if there were polar bears in my neighbourhood (no!). There are many myths about Canada and the scope of our vast country, and I have always marveled at relatives who came to visit from Europe, asking if we could drive from Montreal to Niagara Falls for the day (no!), and if they could go bear-hunting in our backyard (I think you know the answer to that one already!)
Obviously, many myths are perpetuated about our winters, about how prohibitively cold and snowy they are.  I think New York City has had more snow than Montreal this winter, and even though that could change by say, March, or even next week, we're getting off easy so far this year.  Snowmobile season barely started when we had a big thaw, and the field you see in the distance is not even completely covered by snow.  Nonetheless, snow plows come by regularly to keep the blowing snow in check.

Our wake-up call this morning was provided by the snow-blower above.  Even if there is no snow fall, we get a lot of snow drifting when then wind conditions are right.  The snow-blower pushes the snow about 20 feet in our neighbour's field (when I say neighbour, I mean the farmer who lives at the other end of the field, about one kilometre away.  This is Quebec, after all, where the long lot land system was in full-force, but that's another story for another day).  The idea is that the snow barrier will provide a wind-break, and allow the snow drifts to form somewhere other than the road.  I can only remember one year that the snow was so high at the side of the road, that driving down our street became like driving into a snow tunnel.

Truth be told, we have a harder time driving down our own driveway than we do driving on local roads for the most part.  We have a snow-removal contractor (rodeo cowboy in summer, snow-removal contractor by winter) whose cell number is written on the blackboard in the kitchen.  We get great service from him, and there's always something extremely satisfying about watching him blow the snow from our driveway, while we're warm inside, hands wrapped around a steaming cup of tea.  Sadistic, I know, but there you have it.  Calling work and declaring you'll be late because you're waiting for the snow removal tractor to come is a valid excuse.  I should know, I use it all the time...

Joking aside, I can remember only a handful of occasions where I didn't make it to work because of the snow.  Once, I was stuck in traffic, literally plowing through snow drifts that were as high as my bumper.  I had a snow plow stuck beside me, and we were all at a stand-still.  I watched as the snow-plow driver stood on the step of his truck, and cleared the snow off his windshield wipers because they weren't keeping up.  I got off at the next exit, and drove home.  Now, I don't consider myself a quitter, but that experience taught me to quit while I'm ahead.  I don't work in essential services, so I simply turn the alarm off and pull the covers over my head and sleep in during a big snow storm.

Likewise, I work for a civilized company that values the safety of its employees.  If we gauge a snowfall as serious enough, we close the office and everyone goes home.  These days, with weather radar, it's pretty easy to tell what's going to be a major snowfall, and what's going to amount to a few flurries, although Environment Canada's been caught with their pants down a few times already this season.  We had "2 to 4" centimetres forecast in early December that turned into 40 centimetres by the time the storm ended two days later, and this proverbial "2 to 4" has become a running gag with us this season.  It can be a virtual white-out outside, and when someone asks how much snow is in the forecast, the invariable answer is..."2 to 4".

The weather is almost always on our mind.  Most Canadians I know will first ask how you are, and then launch into a commentary about the weather.  It's as much a part of us, like the polar bears, skidoos, and Tim Horton's, eh?

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