I recently gave my wife a multiple choice test on why I am so fanatical about keeping our driveway clear of snow and ice.
Here are the choices:
- So that it looks as good or better than the neighbors’;
- To prevent slips and trips and possible lawsuits;
- To make it easier to drive out onto the street;
- All of the above.
She guessed “a” correctly, but that’s because she knows me.
After all, one of my favorite quotes is “it’s more important to look good than to feel good.”
For hikes and other outdoor ventures I once dressed in old, shabby clothing. It seemed like people didn’t think I knew what I was doing. I put on an Arcteryx jacket and they immediately recognized my outdoor prowess.
But I digress.
We’re talking about keeping driveways snow and ice-free with chippers, scrapers, shovels, chemicals, blowtorches and flame throwers. Okay, I exaggerate. I haven’t seen blowtorches and flamethrowers, yet. But I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see one of my neighbors out in the middle of night with a hair dryer going over every inch of his 500-square-foot driveway.
The only reason I will admit to being a driveway lunatic is that I know there are others here in my neighborhood and throughout the Eagle River-Chugiak area who are equally smitten, or worse. I haven’t seen any of them running around catching snowflakes before they hit the ground, but that wouldn’t surprise me either.
It’s easy to profile driveway fanatics. They’re generally north of 60 years and retired. No one else has as much time to spend on such a borderline useless pursuit. They follow weather forecasts the way doctors monitor Intensive Care Unit (ICU) patients’ vital signs. To the second they know (and it sounds like I’m talking about people other than myself) when the weather will break and when their Expert-level snow removal operation should commence.
Yes, there are levels of snow removal competence:
- Novice – You repeatedly drive over the snow, pack it down and wait until Spring to chip away gigantic slabs of ice;
- Apprentice – You don’t own a snow blower and generally hand your kids shovels. They haphazardly push it to the side and sometimes out onto the street;
- Journeyman – You have a small one-stage snow blower and try to get to the driveway as soon as you can, which might be in a couple of days, or even a week;
- Expert – You own a top of the line, eight-gear, three-stage snow blower with halogen lights that Alaska Railroad track-clearing crews eye with envy. Walmart keeps a separate pallet of Ice Melt chemicals just for you.
Keeping cars off the driveway:
This is one of the biggest challenges of maintaining a pristine winter driveway: Trying to keep people from driving over fresh snow on one’s driveway (that immediately solidifies into rock-hard tracks) is like putting a steak in the middle of a room and not expecting the dog to go after it. Fresh snow on a driveway is a magnet. I think people want to see their tire tracks.
People also like to turn around in my driveway. I once thought there might be something annotated on an Eagle River map showing my driveway as a designated “turnaround area.”
After giving him a big tip, I finally convinced our newspaper carrier to leave the paper at the bottom of the driveway when there was fresh snow on it. I haven’t done as well with my wife, who seems to have places to go and people to see nearly every day.
After she drives out I immediately grab my scraper and furtively remove the tracks. I try to keep the driveway clear so that she doesn’t create new tracks upon her return.
After the snow storm has passed and people have had a chance to ply their snow removal skills, I’ll drive through the neighborhood on a comparison run. Driveways that show black are the true test.
I have a neighbor whose driveway is always in the black – and his driveway is huge. He is definitely in the Expert class. I sometimes beat him in speed – in getting the task done quicker. But his driveway always shows more black than mine. I think he deploys more chemicals, but I fear that chemicals put the lawn edges at risk. Lawns are another obsession that I won’t go into now. I’d like to keep things simple for the psychologist and only deal with one obsession at a time.
I believe that I’ve seen State Department of Transportation (DOT) vehicles parked at the Expert’s house. I think he offers them advice on street and road clearing.
Before one of our big snowfalls this winter both of my snow blowers broke. I felt empty, bereft. It was an acute sense of anxiety that can only be compared to the way young people feel when they can’t find their iPhones. Thankfully, John at Eagle River Small Engine Repair got me back in business in only a few hours and in doing so, realigned my universe.
Mother Nature is capricious, willful and relentless. It will bring snow until April and perhaps even May. But I am obsessed, and I’m not alone. There are others out there.
Editor’s Note: Frank E. Baker is a member of the ECHO News team, an avid and highly experienced outdooorsman and a freelance writer living in Eagle River. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.