The Edge of Winter

March 7th and my driveway is filled with snow. Four days ago, we had a nor’easter and I was one of the poor unfortunates on the road as the storm hit Vermont. That morning, snow had been falling as I left Bristol. Precipitation changed from snow to sleet to rain, as I drove north. Nothing was falling on Burlington.

But I wasn’t fooled. I knew that hazardous conditions awaited me on my drive home. Anticipating that the roads I usually take would be slick with snow and ice, I chose to drive down Route 7. It is a major road, I reasoned, and would be plowed. Also, given that the lanes are wide and have shoulders, it would feel like a safer drive. Shelburne/Hinesburg Road, Silver Street, and Bristol Road – roads on my regular route – are narrow, winding, curvy, bounded by ditches; and there are few places to pull over. I prefer sliding into a shoulder or guardrail, pulling into a store parking lot or someone’s driveway, anything that would give me the opportunity to back up and back out instead of getting stuck in a ditch.

As I drove home, precipitation went from nothing to sprinkles of rain, to sleet, to snow. The roads were dry, then wet, then icy, then slick, then just plain scary. I became part of a caterpillar of vehicles creeping along as the storm presented its mighty self. My expectations of road conditions turned out to be accurate, somewhat. Much of Route 7 had been plowed. Yet because the storm was in progress, the road was quickly covered with icy snow. Still, the width of the road gave me confidence that I had a chance should something go wrong.

An illustration of what could have happened played out before me. The driver ahead of me had braked, then stopped. An SUV sat facing east, horizontally, across north- and southbound lanes. I assumed the vehicle had lost traction and slid into oncoming traffic. As we waited, the vehicle backed onto the shoulder on the southbound side. The driver in front of me stopped alongside the vehicle, perhaps asking if the SUV driver needed help, then moved along. As passed, I saw the young man sitting there with a placid look on his face. I imagined that he was content to stop for a while and gather himself together. I know I would have been.

We drove for miles in whiteout conditions. For long stretches as I headed south, I saw the car in front of me, and a white wall beyond. In the northbound lane, a stream of yellow and silver pairs of eyes emerged from the snow-fog. The image reminded me of tired coalminers ascending from the depths. It isn’t a logical analogy, but I can’t shake it. The cars looked exhausted.

The snow danced a relentless and mesmerizing paso doble with the wind. The hypnotic waves shed icy layers onto windshields and windows. I lost track of where I was. I thought I was close to Vergennes, when I hadn’t yet gotten out of Ferrisburg.

At one point I looked up and there was a bright spot in the sky. Clouds had given way, showing a circle of blue, in the distance. For the duration of the drive, I believed that I would round a curve and the sun would be shining and the roads would be clear.

This never happened. The brightness remained far away.

When I got home, I was trembling so badly my shaking fingers could barely pull off my boots. It had taken me 90 minutes to complete a 45-minute drive, but I had made it. I texted my son to tell him that I’d had an icy, treacherous drive home but that I had arrived home without incident. I wanted someone to know that I was alive.

It is the edge of winter. March came in with 40 to 60 degree temperatures, then showed us that nature is in charge and spring is a long way away.

“I hate winter,” some part of me in the left side of my brain spoke up as I was writing this. I get it. I also know that it doesn’t matter how I feel about winter. And anyway, how can you hate a force of nature?

When I really think about it, I realize that it isn’t winter that bothers me. It is what winter signifies. Snow and ice are actually quite lovely when you can look at them without fearing for your life or what you are going to have to do to clear your driveway or deck, or protect your house; or when you don’t have to think about how you are going to survive a usually innocuous drive home.

My street was a snow-clogged path when I finally reached it. No one had plowed. Hours after the storm had stopped, the road remained thick with white. Days after the storm, my driveway remains unplowed and another storm is headed our way.

At the edge of winter, I am planning for next winter. I will find another company to plow my driveway (my current guy is unreliable, probably making more money working for towns).

Maybe I’ll buy a snow blower. Are they heavy, I wonder? Do they cost a lot of money? How much gas do they use?

Should I hire someone to shovel my deck?

Maybe I will move to a warmer climate.

Next winter. It is the edge of winter. The land is covered in white with winter-blackened vegetation peeking up hopefully, anticipating spring. I am thinking of next winter while living on the edge of this one.

Winter is always coming even when it hasn’t yet left.