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Molnar: The Unbearable Lightness of Snow

01/23/12 7:55AM By Martha Molnar
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(Host) Now that most of Vermont has enough snow to say so, commentator Martha Molnar is contemplating her very long driveway with a mixture of what you might call 'optimistic resignation.'

(Molnar) Even now, deep into our fourth winter in Vermont, when I really should know better, the sound of the snowplow is filled with the promise of deliverance. With his big truck and plow mounted at a rakish angle, Jeff will make short order of the layers that fell, drifted and cascaded all day and night on our road.

It's really a driveway, but it's long enough for neighbors to call it our road.

When Jeff leaves, his job is done, and done well. Ted and I walk its length just for the pleasure of walking with such ease, observing the layers of snow, ice and sand in its canyon walls, as fluid and beautiful as an oil abstract. It's wonderful, as the wind picks up, to be in this protected narrow world.

The wind of course, is the beginning of the end of this world.

Maybe this time, I offer - my voice rising in a false note of hope - it will blow from the east and blow the remnants still on the road right off.

Ted reminds me that the wind never blows from the east, so it always buries the road.

Next morning, sure enough, the wind has moved the snow from the nearby fields to our road, where it gleams in monstrous drifts, hoodoos and spires.

We pile on the layers and pick up our implement of choice. My shovel is a smaller than standard version. It's bright red, with an ergonomic bent that's meant to eliminate the backache that follows the lifting and heaving of a couple of tons of snow.

Surveying the damage, we fall into our individual default modes.

Ted works up an enviable rhythm. His eyes narrow with focused concentration. Push, raise, fling, push, raise, fling.

I dig in and soon try a different angle. Perhaps if I attack from the side... or fling over my head rather than twisting each time. Maybe section the accumulation into even amounts. Then again, that's an extra and probably wasted step. So I start a tire-sized row, walk 20 feet and start in the other direction. Now I can see a beginning and an end. The issue is the middle.

It's the snow itself, I finally decide. How can what was fluff yesterday become so much tonnage? It must be perception. But then, as I recently learned, when it comes to snow, perception and fact just happen to merge seamlessly.

New fallen snow undergoes very rapid change as crystals are transformed into aggregates of ice grains. Within a few hours, snow density may double. This is followed by settling, in this case aided by wind, which reduces the spaces between the snow grains, further increasing its density.

I ponder these mysteries as I move between the leaden packs. Ted is moving faster than me, so we meet... not quite in the middle.

"Better than lifting weights in a health club," I offer.

"Next winter in Florida!" I think he yells moving uphill. But his words are carried off, sucked into a funnel of whipping air.

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