Bugle essay: Reflections on snowstorms and snowplowing

By Sarah CR Clark

Not long ago I started to dream about observing a “Pandemic Remembrance” week.

To be clear, I wasn’t necessarily inspired by honorable reasons, like; to honor heroic medical and essential workers. Or in awareness of vaccine inequity, or even in memory of all the people who died of Covid-19.

Snowed in

I really just wanted to erase all the things on my family’s calendar. Like we did in late March 2020.

I know, it’s not a great thing to confess. I’m not proud.

But the frantic and endless running to kids’ activities and work meetings and Target and a million other appointments was squeezing my brain. A week at home, with no schedule to chase, would surely restore my peace.

Cue the winter’s 999th “historic” snowstorm.

Suddenly, with three stormy days home from school, our weekly schedule was erased. Ash Wednesday worship services were canceled. Volleyball practice was canceled. Art classes were rescheduled. Music classes were canceled. And it was good.

For the first few hours, anyway.

It was good until the kids started getting frustrated with iPad school and began fighting with each other. And the dog discovered the clean laundry basket and kept stealing socks.

And I discovered we were quickly running out of milk. And bread. And Oreos. And there was nowhere I could hide from the kids and the dog, to eat the last Oreo in peace.

Thank heavens we weren’t actually stuck inside because of a coronavirus again. We would just be stuck until the snow plows came by.

Snowplowing the streets and community

The city of St. Paul has a fleet of 80 snow plows, which clear 1800 ‘lane miles’ of streets after every storm. The city claims that a snowfall of 6 inches or less takes about 24 hours to plow, “while snow accumulations over 6 inches can take substantially more time.”

Our most recent “historic” snowstorm (which only resulted in 18 inches or so) required back-to-back snow emergencies, resulting in overtime for a whole lot of snow plow drivers.

This winter has been no joke on snow plows here. As of March 15,  we have had 71 inches of snow (our snowiest months are yet to come).  

And if the temperatures had been just a couple degrees colder during our three winter-rainstorms, we would have added another 20 inches of snow to that. This is one of the snowiest winters for the state of Minnesota since reliable record keeping began in the 1890s.

And with each and every winter, a healthy sense of community is reinforced. We clear each other’s sidewalks, push each other’s cars out of snow banks and take each other’s kids sledding.

We sand the icy patches for one another and obsessively update each other on the newest forecast. We watch out for one another. Winter is good for bonding.

A healthy sense of community is also central to all the religions I’m aware of. It is holy to take care of one’s neighbors and an honor to tend to one’s family. We share our canned goods. We donate old clothes, computers, cars, and cash. We check in on our elderly neighbors during heat waves and power outages. We practice being anti-racist. We get the vaccines.

And the men and women driving snow plows, they plow.

Snowplowers are holy people

Our snowplow drivers are holy people doing holy work.

They make the uneven ground level and the rough, icy places like a plain. They clear the snowy paths so that the hills are made low and the drifts are lifted up out of the middle of the street.

And when the rains fall in the day, making slushy messes that freeze into ice canyons in the night, they bear the weight of our collective groans and complaints, returning to do the only thing they can in this places- spread salt and sand.

After the 999th storm fizzled, I woke up in the middle of the night when the plow went down my street. It’s an unmistakable sound; the scraping of heavy cold metal on wintery-hard concrete, the muffled flopping of thousands of pounds of snowflakes being pushed aside.

In a sleepy haze, I grinned and snuggled deeper into the down comforter, feeling warm and cared for.

Tomorrow, there would be clear streets and fresh Oreos and sunshine. Tomorrow would be a good day.

Sarah CR Clark lives in St. Anthony Park and is a regular freelance writer for the Bugle.

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