tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

A real snow day

We had a foot of snow last night. In some places it drifted and the snow is two feet or more deep. It is the first real snow we have had this winter. Of course, the weather professionals had been predicting a snow storm, so everyone was ready. I am sure that if you took an inventory of everyone’s pantry this weekend, you would find them typically stocked with soups and noodles and a varity of ready-to-heat meals.

In our house, we don’t pay too much attention to the weatherman. When I was in college I took an introduction to meteorology course. The professor told us that if every day you simply predicted that the weather tomorrow will be the same as it is today, you would be right 60 percent of the time. The professor further told us that with all of our technology and scientific knowledge, weather forecasting is correct about 80 percent of the time. In other words, all that Doppler radar and other stuff only improves our weather forecasting by about 20 percent.

Nonetheless, as people talked about the on-coming storm all week, there was a sense of surprise about it all. We have had a relatively mild winter so far and I think most of us really expected to get through the season without any substantial snow shoveling. Perhaps most of us have secretly embraced the near-term benefits of global warming. But, of course, we shouldn’t be surprised about a snow storm. This is the last week of February in Minnesota. If it doesn’t snow here, then it probably isn’t going to snow anywhere. The state high school tournaments are getting underway. That’s a sure signal that the real snowy season in Minnesota has begun. The records apparently indicated that March, in fact, is the snowiest month of the year.

I drove to church this morning and the street out in front of my house was a mess. I don’t really expect it to be plowed until Tuesday or Wednesday. I think it is amazing that it takes three days to plow all the city’s streets. It’s not like snow plowing should be a rare occurrence around here. It snows every winter. I am told the big Canadian cities get their streets plowed in a day.

As I was driving around this morning, you could feel the testosterone in the air. There were men in parkas everywhere maneuvering snow blowers over the sidewalks and driveways. Any Minnesota man takes great pride in his snow blower. The bigger the better. A man really feels like something when he can shoot a steady stream of frozen snow 15 feet in the air. I especially like the snow blowers with headlights. I once saw a snow blower that had a protective plastic casing for the operator to stand in; this machine had three headlights and chains on the wheels!

You always know when a man is feeling good about his snow blower because he gladly plows more sidewalk that his own. He keeps walking right down the sidewalk, clearing a path in front of two or three neighbor’s houses on each side of his own. The price of gas, which seems so outrageous when filling your car’s gas tank, doesn’t seem so important when it comes to keeping the snow blower operating.

People help each other out in the aftermath of a snowstorm. A car gets stuck in a drift of snow and its common for a whole crew of guys to get behind the trunk of that car and help the driver get back on his or her way. Maybe these are situations where we truly are left to our own devices. You can’t call the police or an ambulance when you get stuck in the snow. You have to rely on your neighbor. And around here anyway, the neighbors almost always seem to be there.

Then there’s me. I don’t have a working snow blower. I own an electric snow blower but the small plastic key required to make it work has been lost. I know I can write the manufacturer and get another one, but with the snow being so mild this winter I haven’t gotten around to it. So I am left to dig my way out of this snowfall with a shovel. I have one of those ergonomically designed shovels with a bend in the handle. It is supposed to be easier on the back.

I laugh as I look around me and see all my neighbors plowing with their noisy, gasoline-powered snow blowers. In a neighborhood that has a reputation as home to more environmentalists per square mile than any neighborhood east of Oregon, I am the last person who would call himself an environmentalist. And yet I’m the guy using the shovel.

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