Monday, January 5, 2015

More not fun in the snow

Yesterday I mentioned a little stuck-in-the-snow episode which wasn't a major problem but also wasn't a heck of a lot of fun.

I was magnanimous about my mom's little mishap. "It's just one of the things that happens in the winter," I said.
Mom's snowdrift.

I could afford to be magnanimous because it wasn't me who had been so silly as to drive into a snowdrift and get stuck.
Snow is deceptive. There's a four-foot deep roadside ditch in there.

I recognized the danger of smugness even as I was being smug, and as usual, I threw caution to the wind and smugged right along.

And it caught up with me this morning.

First, a bit about snowdrifts. Most of the snow we presently have on the ground here at the ranch (southwest corner of the Nebraska Panhandle) came 12 days ago on Christmas. Nine inches of very fine, very soft, very white holiday cheer. We've had a smidgen more since, but not much. What we have had since Christmas Day is a lot of sub-zero, Arctic temperatures. Since December 25 the daytime high has averaged 20 degrees and the overnight low minus 12 degrees. Fahrenheit. For the metrical types, that's an average high of minus 6.66 (ruh-roh) and an average low of minus 24.44. Centigrade. Or Celsius.

(This afternoon temps soared to 50 degrees Fahrenheit as warm air moved through the region. Woo-hoo!)

The cold was (and is), well, cold. But we've had very little wind, so the cold was bearable. And once you become acclimatized to Arctic temperatures, they become normal. No big deal.

On the other hand, the cold allowed the snow to remain in its freshly-fallen state, light, fine, and powdery. So when a north wind came up yesterday afternoon, all that snow moved along with the breeze, forming drifts. As drifts form under these conditions, the pressure of the wind and the force of gravity cause the snow grains to pack tightly. Snow drifts are seldom soft and fluffy. They're usually quite solid, and sometimes quite hard. The outside of the drift forms a dense crust, which can often bear a surprising amount of weight. Some snow drifts, in fact, can support the weight of a car or pickup truck. For a few moments. Followed by a sudden sinking feeling in the pit of the driver's stomach as the vehicle breaks through the crust and becomes well and truly stuck.

So back to my smuggishness and its metaphysical consequence.

As usual this morning I set off to check cattle. The calves and cows are separated by several miles. The calves were fine and little was changed in their hay meadow pasture. As I drove down the hill toward the entrance to the south pasture I gave it a good look, knowing there could be some new snowdrifts.
What I saw from the road. Looks the same as yesterday. It's not.

Everything looked the same as the day before, so I flipped into four-high and turned into the pasture. I crossed the auto gate and headed down the trail road. For about 50 feet. Then came the sudden sinking feeling.
The scene of the disaster. This is six hours post-mishap, after sunshine and 50 degree temps (yay!) had shrunk the drift.

I quickly flipped to four-low and gently reversed. Almost made it, too. Unfortunately, where yesterday the snow depth on the trail road had been six inches, today it was up to 30 inches in places. Too deep for a small pickup, four-wheel drive or no.

This wasn't, as they say, my first rodeo, so I fended off the impulse to "rock it out," shut off the motor, and reached behind the seat for my trusty folding shovel.
E-tool, folded, one each.

The folding shovel, or E-tool (entrenching tool) as it's known in the military, is a godsend in such situations. It's light but sturdy, articulated, and folds into a very small package. It can be employed as a spade, with the blade straight.
E-tool extended as spade.

It can also be used as a mattock with the blade locked at 90 degrees.
E-tool with blade locked at 90 degrees.

The mattock configuration is perfect for digging out of a snowdrift.

It took a good bit of effort but after only about five minutes I'd dug a pair of parallel trenches behind the pickup tires, through the deep snow, and up on to bare ground. I refolded the shovel, fired up, and backed out. Easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy. As my English friends say. Rarely. But sometimes.

Having paid my debt to the universe, absolved (for the moment) of criminal smugging, I drove away with a song in my heart. It feels really good to extract yourself from a predicament without having to call for help.

Which is a bit smug, isn't it?

Kittens still love tolerate me.
Gratuitous kitten shot.

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