Wednesday, October 29, 2008

SNOW: The Case For It and the Case Against It

And now a guest column from the Prof, my dear husband:

FOR—There is no denying it, the stuff is pretty in a wholesome, clean baby, fluffy kitten sort of way. I have seen 3 inches of fresh snow cover up the horrid remains of a month-long midwinter breakup like a clean bottom sheet covers up the worst mattress stains. It even smells fresh – not like the in-your-nose way that a thunderstorm does, but rather so softly, like a tentative Chopin nocturne. And in the ultimate testament to the possibilities of evolution, the boreal forest ecosystems nurture themselves on the seasonal snowpack in a life-giving thermodynamic Dance of the Hours.

Acoustically, snow is again a wonder substance. It is eery(sp) to wake up in camp in the morning and find all the noises strongly damped by five inches of snow where there was none the afternoon before. Someone seems to have gagged the squirrels, and the monotonous highway whine of tires that kept you awake last night is now just a whisper of places you haven’t seen. And the Leatherman you accidently left out overnight has disappeared just as efficiently as the raven’s cries.

And then there is skiing. Ah yes, skiing! The infinite wonders of physics adapt crystalline water to the vagaries of ski base, producing a ski/snow interface that is balls-to-the-walls, gut-wrenching, gonzo, totally tubular. Well… if said snow is on a steeply sloping surface, that is.

AGAINST—Snow feels COLD, no dodging the fact. And it is not just that winter is cold anyway. Actual contact with winter’s snow brings out the real meaning of the phrase “butt cold”. For example. Sometimes I get up to “check the stars” as men are sometimes wont to do (a rural living experience only, I’m afraid) in the middle of the night. My version of this sport typically involves a quick jaunt across the deck in bare feet, summer or winter. Let me tell you, the trip is a vastly different experience when there are 4 in. of fluffy new snow. The old dogs cool down mighty quick as those flakes melt like bacon grease on a hot grill. One gets down to business real quickly! No dawdling to actually check the stars. No way, no how!

And then there is that darn downside to the slipperiness thing. Due to an under-regarded phenomenon known as “regelation” (whose derivation is well beyond the scope of this course), ice and snow get a LOT more slippery when subjected to high pressure. Ever wonder how ponderous glaciers can move or why ice skates glide so fast? Works with shoes too, sometimes, wouldn’t ya know. And bare feet on the deck, too. Not to mention car tires. (I warned you not to mention them).

DENOUEMENT— White, clean, wholesome. Cold, slick and dangerous. How to reconcile such disparate properties of a single substance? In Alaska, one tends to be in the FOR camp, at least for most of the winter. Or else why in the world would one live here? “Outsiders” (that is, Lesser 48’ers, those that hail from outside the “Last Frontier”) frequently fall in the AGAINST camp. Not all, mind you. There are several Outsiders that think they are in the FOR camp, but that is because they do not have to live the FOR life 24/7 for 6 months. And then there are those Outside who truly prefer flakes over snakes (as do we). This group rightly comprises honorary Alaskans, even if their values are a bit skewed.
And then there is this last group—the AGAINSTERS-- who only like their flakes frosted and drenched with a dose of cow squeezings over the whole mess. No time for snowblowers and roof rakes for them, they have a golf date with the front 18. The only thing slowing them down is that bowl of increasingly soggy flakes.
I’ll take my flaky problems over theirs any day.

No comments: