Restless to battle wintry foe

January 15, 2000|By Rob Kasper

SOMETHING HAS been missing this winter. I haven't heard the sound of shovels rubbing against the sidewalk, the crack of scrapers clearing car windshields, or the early-morning voices on the radio announcing delays and cancellations.

We need some snow. The rhythms of winter life seem out of sync without it.

I am not one of those people who require snow for winter recreational purposes. I share a home with those types: skiers and snowboarders. My view is that hurling yourself down a snow-covered surface is a terrifying circumstance you should try to avoid, not one you should shell out money to experience.

No, rather than missing the opportunity to throw my body down a mountainside, this winter I have missed performing the routine domestic duties that a snowfall brings. For example, deep in my bones I believe that shoveling snow is a cleansing winter ritual that reminds you of your subservient relationship with nature.

I inherited this conviction from my father, who long ago on winter mornings used to rouse my brothers and me and send us out to clear the sidewalks before we went to school. I have been unable to convey this belief in the benign effects of early-morning snow shoveling to my sons. Instead of relying on sweat and sturdy shovels to clear their way in the world, they seem to subscribe to a passive solar point of view. They believe that if you don't get out of bed until noon, the sun will have already done most of the snow removal work for you.

This winter I have also missed the righteous joy that comes from scraping ice and snow off car windows. The art of windshield scraping is one of those once treasured but now threatened skills.

It begins with an ice-breaking stroke, usually a small incision made on the corner of the windshield. This is followed by the meltdown phase, the softening process performed in tandem with the car's ventilation system, which pushes hot air, at full blast, toward the car windows. As the car heater works on the windows, you work on pushing the snow off the car roof.

The car roof is a snow removal area that many Maryland drivers -- the slackers! -- tend to overlook.

Rooftop snow removal is important for several reasons. First, it prevents slide-down, the condition the occurs when the car starts moving and the snow mass travels down the roof, blocking the back window. Secondly, rooftop snow on your car marks you as a shirker, someone who takes shortcuts. Anytime I see a car toting rooftop snow, I keep my distance. I know that rather than taking the time to push the snow off the car with a brush or broom, the driver of that car is counting on aerodynamics, racing down the road at high speed to make the rooftop snow take flight.

In prior winters I have been shocked to see snow appearing on the roofs of vehicles driven by members of my own family. Somehow these vehicles had slipped out of our driveway before I had cleared them for takeoff. You can preach and preach about the moral and aesthetic importance of removing rooftop snow from your vehicles, but you can't be sure anyone is listening.

Anyway, once you have finished pushing the snow off your car roof, the heater will have softened the edges of your windshield incision, and weakened the grip of the ice clinging to the glass. The weakened ice can then be lifted off the windows in swift, strong strokes with a scraper. Freeing a windshield from a glacial grip can be a surprisingly satisfying experience, ripe with opportunities to compare your ice-breaking prowess with that of Admiral Byrd and other Antarctic pathfinders. Months ago, in a fit of winter readiness, I bought two new super-tough, super-sharp window scrapers. I have been waiting all winter for a chance to use those babies. Likewise, my snow shovels have been sharpened, my windshield washing reservoirs have been filled with fluid, and my basement closet runneth over with ice melt.

I feel like a soldier without a war. We need some snow. According to one forecast, there is slight chance we will get some Tuesday. I can't wait.

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