WILSON: Snow removal: Battle of the lake effect

Snow has fallen – and fallen – and fallen. This is not an uncommon sight in the middle of the winter at the Center of the Universe (as our part of Michigan should be referred). The prevailing winds blow across Lake Michigan, collecting moisture which collides with the cold land mass, and the cursed phenomenon known as “lake effect” piles up on everyone’s driveway.

When this occurs, weather prognosticators quit referring to the fluffy white stuff in terms of “inches of accumulation,” but with more meaningful phrases such as “Snow Emergency – Stay Off the Roads” and (my personal favorite) “Snowpocalypse.” Priorities shift to a concern over the availability of hot chocolate. Sales of snow shovels and Ibuprofen increase at equal rates.

If, and when, the snowfall appears to taper off, an army of snow combating warriors will emerge from the warmth of their bunkers and prepare to take on the onslaught of “accumulation” that has over powered the driveways and sidewalks of the neighborhood.

It is easy to tell which of the snow-fighting neighbors are new to the Battle of Lake Effect. These are the ill-equipped, poorly prepared, and completely underdressed troops. Their weapon of choice is a mere snow shovel purchased at the discount store. Their uniform consisted of a light coat, thin gloves, and street shoes (the same ensemble they wear to the office).

Their fighting technique is to foolishly run outside, toss a few shovels full of white fluff in a pile next to the drive, then beat a hasty retreat to the warmth of the indoors – all while mumbling under their breath about the joys of living in Michigan in the winter time.

Those who have been in this fight for a few years are a little better equipped. Their weapon of choice is a snow shovel with an ergonomic handle to lessen back strain and a coated surface for easy release when tossing the egregious white stuff to the side of the drive. Their uniform includes boots, gloves, and a coat that can hold back the first waves of biting wind and frigid cold. Their fighting technique is to toss a half dozen shovels full of snow, stand up straight in an attempt to shift their back into some place near where it should be, and then resume to toss another few shovels full – all while promising to never complain again about how hot it gets in August.

Snow Troopers that have weathered more winters than they care to count are the best equipped, most prepared, and fully capable of standing strong against the elements. Their favorite weapon is a Snow Chucker 6000, capable of throwing piles of snow a half mile in any direction.

Their uniform is carefully selected insulated boots (good to some temperature below zero that no one wants to test), gloves that hold back cold and moisture (again, no one wants to test that particular degree of frigidness), long johns, flannel shirts, and coveralls that create a force shield against the cold of Michigan winters. Their fighting technique is to hit the electric start on the Snow Chucker, power the exhaust chute in the desired direction, then grab tight on the controls as the snow chucker does all the work – all while laughing at their neighbors that have yet to invest in the power of snow chuckery.

As the battle winds down, the combatants maintain parade rest at the end of each driveway, waiting for the inevitable – the coming of the snow plow that will clear the street and clog the freshly cleared drive aprons with a wall of snow rubble. This is the time for checking out each other’s equipment and bragging.  First-timers stare in awe at the vast array of snow chucking gear. Guys that just purchased their first snow chucker brag about the width and breadth of the intake, the velocity and distance of the discharge, and the size of their engine. The seasoned veterans brag about how long they’ve had their equipment, how much power it still has, and how they keep their tool ready for action.

Once spring stakes its claim and the winter retreats, these same warriors will change weapons and uniforms – ready to do battle with crabgrass, gophers and drought plagued fescue. The fight never ends, and is never truly won.

Larry Wilson is a mostly lifelong resident of Niles. His essays stem from experiences, compilations and recollections from friends and family. He can be reached at wflw@hotmail.com.

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