Clay

Mount Vesuvius

Mount Vesuvius

This story is merely descriptive of the type of soil we had at our old home.  I haven’t spent much time working on the suggestions y’all gave me earlier, although I have given them a lot of thought and have ideas on how to proceed on all but one of them.

I have turned Princess’s suggestion over to Hestia, and she has done some work on it.  I have to admit that she has an … interesting … writing style.

I’m not feeling at all well tonight.  Bit of a cold and/or flu I’m afraid.  Internet sterilized huggles to y’all.  Take care.

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Clay

Clay is one of the three principle types of soil.  I am not certain what the other two types are, as no examples exist within dozens of miles of my backyard.

Clay is useful for a variety of purposes.  For the gardener, good use can be made of clay provided it has first been purchased from a store in its kiln-hardened variety.  For example, pots made from clay are useful for keeping plants in.  Additionally, statues made from clay can be attractive and versatile.  Examples of this use can be found in the Louvre in the sculptures of Michelangelo, and, more domestically, in the local Wal-Mart as the material used to construct lawn gnomes.

Clay that lies in the soil, however, is evil.

The Encyclopedia of the Columbia University Press supports this assertion, and has very little good to say about clay with respect the agricultural endeavors.  To quote…

Excessively clayey soils, however, are exceedingly difficult to cultivate.  Their stiffness presents resistance to implements, impedes the growth of the plants, and prevents free circulation of air around the roots.  They are cold and sticky in wet weather, while in dry weather they bake hard and crack.  Clods form very often in clayey soils.

The article goes on to say that improvements can be made with lime, chalk, or organic matter, and that some plants can actually manage to survive in the stuff provided they were allowed to spend their childhood with more mothering soils.  Furthermore, the most amazing thing that I learned from the article is that “clayey” is actually a word.

To summarize though, to gardeners wishing to create a garden starting from seed, clay sucks.

Despite the encyclopedia’s belated attempt to put a positive light on the matter, my wife, the garden fanatic, has absolutely nothing good to say on the subject of clay.  I am absolutely 100% in agreement with her on this issue.  We hate clay.  We loath it, despise it, and detest it.

Where we differ, unfortunately, is in the ways we wish to deal with it.  I, personally, find that videogames, reading, and sleep are absolutely marvelous for managing virtually all aspects of the clay dilemma.  My wife, however, seems to believe that forty-pound bags of topsoil, humus, and sterilized poop are a far better solution.

I suppose the difference in opinion stems from the question of what one’s ultimate objective is, and my wife has made my ultimate objective clear from her perspective in no uncertain terms.  My ultimate objective from my perspective doesn’t count; I’m just a husband.

We buy most of our topsoil at the local Home Depot.  By decree, for the first four years in our home I was not allowed to leave the store without carrying out at least ten bags of the stuff.  This adds up to 400 pounds of dirt that had to be brought home with every number 10 nail purchased.

This would not have been such a problem if it weren’t for the fact that each of the forty-pound bags actually had to be put somewhere.  My wife did not seem inclined to just to let it remain in the bags to be artfully arranged in piles on top of the grass.

So this meant that we had to dig holes for it.

The process goes like this:

My wife first picks out an area of healthy, easy to mow grass for a garden bed.  She then stakes it out carefully with little strings and sticks.  She double checks all of her distances with a measure tape, and then does one final bit of research to ensure that the sunlight in the area is proper for the kind of plants she wishes to sow there.  Then she hands me a shovel.

The sod must come out first.  In many gardening magazines, the horticulture expert takes a sharp instrument, stabs the ground all around the marked up lines, and then simply rolls up yards of sod into a tube like an architect rolling up his skyscraper layouts.

The only conclusion I can reach is that these gardening magazines are either tampering with the photographs or that sod that grows in “clayey” soils does not respond to the same rules of reality.  The biggest roll of sod I’ve ever got out of the ground could more easily be measured in inches rather than yards.  And invariably, the small hunk of sod I do manage to pull up has a four to ten pound clump of clay leached to it.

An hour our so after I’ve begun, after several days worth of muscle-tearing labor, the sod is finally removed, exposing the clay beneath.  This clay either is to be amended with various nutrients and forty-pound bags of sterilized poop, or is simply removed entirely.  My wife usually chooses the latter option.

Digging in clay, as might be guess from the encyclopedia definition, is a nightmare.  It is heavy stuff, hard to cut through, and must be loaded into wheelbarrows and carted off along with the sod to be dumped elsewhere.

Eventually, this creates another problem.  What, actually, are we to do with all this clay?  While I haven’t tried it, I strongly suspect that Home Depot will not accept it in some kind of a soil exchange program.  It can’t be sold on eBay to people with clay-deprived gardens, as the postage would be murderous.

So we just pile it.

The first place we piled it was in building a hill for our waterfall.  This was fine for a while, but we realized that it may have been a little too fine when the waterfall started looking less like a gentle, natural spring bursting forth from the earth and more like Mount Vesuvius.

The next place we stowed it was behind the garage.  This location remained viable a lot longer, and the impressive mound of clay-laced dirt could actually be seen by sightseers as being intentional.  The problem here occurred when my wife actually started deliberately to plant clay-friendly plants on this mound, and was reluctant to have me continue to unload additional wheelbarrows full of the heavy stuff on top of them.

So lately, I’ve resorted to dumping the stuff in the least conspicuous remaining places in our backyard that I can find.  If the digging continues, some of our neighbors will be mystified to find miniature Mount Vesuvei popping up in their own gardens.

The latter, fortunately, is unlikely.  We have finally just about run out of clay.  Virtually our entire back yard down to three feet is now composed of topsoil, humus, and sterilized poop, carted from Home Depot in forty-pound bags, ten at a time.

It is, on reflection, an astounding feat, similar in scale if not quite in notoriety to the building of the Great Pyramids.

Now there is an idea I wish I had thought of earlier.  If only I had taken the clay and baked it into bricks on my barbeque grill, we could now be selling tickets to the tenth wonder of the world: the great, clay-composed pyramid of the suburbs, soaring majestically into the sky, with bits of sod still clinging to it in an artistically arranged manner.

On reflection, though, I doubt that my wife would have gone for the idea.  It would have taken up way too much garden space.

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The Gardenist’s Manifesto

weedsAnother article for Laments of the Gardener’s Husband.  I was inspired to post this after Hesiod’s reading last night.  I think this one more or less speaks for itself.
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The Gardenist’s Manifesto

Not long after we were married, my wife was sorting through some of our paperwork down in our basement, when she came across a sample of some of my writing in one of my old notebooks.

“Honey,” she asked.  “What’s this?”

I glanced over at the entry in the notebook.  I shrugged.

“It was just some notes for a book I was planning to write about ten years ago.”

She sat down on the basement steps and read the entry more thoroughly, her mouth gradually becoming more agape.

“Is this the way you really feel about gardening?” she asked, with a trace of shock in her voice.

I looked over her shoulder at the notes more closely.  I had to admit, at first glance, the writings appeared to be those of a man who was seriously unbalanced.

The lettering was small, and obviously scribbled in hast with violent, deeply embedded hand strokes.  It went on for about two pages in a dark red ink, and there were very few punctuation marks.

“Well, that was a while ago,” I said, a little uncomfortably.  “It’s much different when I garden with you, darling.”

“You can’t have changed that much,” she said, shaking her head.  “I mean, this says that you detest it.  This talks about wanting to use napalm and toxic waste as fertilizer.  This compares mowing the lawn to Nazi Germany.  There’s no way you can convince me that your feelings have changed that much since you married me.”

This was unexpectedly putting me on the spot.

“Well, it’s better now.  You’re in charge.  Besides, I didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing back then.”

“But this compares plant cultivation to genocide!”

“That was probably a bit of an overstatement, I admit.  You have to understand that I wrote that entry after a particularly bad weeding experience.”

The problem was that gardening did (and still does, to an extent) motivate me to wax eloquent.  I find nothing motivates me to greater levels of expressive verbiage than a good, tough, outdoor scuffle with the weeds.

The entry my wife was referring to occurred after a particularly inspiring encounter.

I used to live in a house that had a normal, suburban backyard.  Things grew back there; evil things; things that would not die.  Things that would go out of their way to hurt me in any way they could.  I would enter the backyard fearfully, armed with the most lethal looking implements I could find (blade saws, crowbars, wire cutters.  I didn’t own many actual tools bought from the gardening section of the hardware store), and viciously attack anything that didn’t look familiar: in other words, anything that wasn’t grass.

I had written that particular entry after I did battle with a particularly nasty green thing with hollow stalks back by the woodpile.  I attacked it for hours, hacking, chopping, pulling, and yanking until I thought I had beat it back into reasonable submission.

And three days, literally, only three short days later, I returned to the backyard to find the nasty green thing with hollow stalks had returned exactly as it was before.

And, as I stared at it, horrified, it laughed at me.

Such occurrences tend to inspire one to great fits of poetic violence.

The problem, surprisingly, is that I like plants too much.  The only reason I considered the nasty green thing to be nasty was because I had to find a way to kill it.  And the only reason I had to kill it was that all of the yards in my suburb had to have the same homogeneous collections of “esthetically pleasing” plants.

Should I have encountered the nasty green thing on, say, a nature walk, I might not have seen it as nasty at all.  In fact, I may even have become friends with it.

But the nasty green thing was not “pretty.”  It was invasive, which is just another way of saying that it had evolved to survive just about anything, including a sweaty, cursing man attacking it with sharp woodshop tools.

So, my standpoint (at the time), was that gardening was the practice of replacing ugly plants with a strong will to live with delicate, pretty plants that require constant praise and coddling.  We attack any ugly interlopers with scissors, with poisons, and with nasty blades.

In addition, we do this by government decree (actually by city ordinance).  We must inflict these horrors, whether we choose to or not.

Therefore, gardening, (so it seemed to me back then), was more about inflicting death than cultivating life.  Those few plants that were chosen to survive were the exception, not the rule.

Moreover, even the chosen plants were kept only as beautiful slaves.  Grass, for example, could not be allowed to achieve the length that nature had intended for it to have.  It was not allowed to grow to the point where it could bear seed, thereby eliminating its right to reproduce.  Instead, we cut it weekly with vicious, twisting blades.  Bushes and other plants had established “kill zones”: areas beyond which they may not cross, lest noisy, vicious hedge trimmers attack them: sharp blades of electric death.

You see, it isn’t that I hated gardening.  It’s more that I hated killing.  And gardening to me (back then) was little more than vicious genocide combined with enforced conformity.

So to survive the emotional trauma, I buried my feelings.  I became vicious.  Anything that wasn’t grass must DIE.  Not only just die, but also die quickly and never return.

So I sought out ever-stronger poisons–ever-sharper and more lethal blades.  Gardening would be more than mere weeding; it would become massive, wholesale extermination.  For, the quicker the death–the more permanent the damage–the less pain I would continuously have to inflict.

So…uh…

Well, that was ten years ago.  I am completely over those feelings now.

Honest.  I really am.

Because…uh… because things are much better at this house.  Our garden now is in more of a “natural” balance, so the weeds are told by the “chosen” plants that they are not welcome in their neighborhood.  So, for the large part, weeds do not prosper.  The few interlopers that do manage to find their way into our precious, fertile soil are eliminated by my wife, who ruthlessly rips them out by their life-giving roots.

And, as someone else does the killing, I feel somewhat less guilt.

My job is only to now mostly to haul around bags of dirt, to dig holes, and to enforce conformity.

No!  I meant that I simply cut the lawn, trim the hedges, and keep the flowers from becoming too unwieldy.

And I am allowed to plant some more of the chosen plants from time to time.  Bringing in new life is a good thing, isn’t it?

Now, I must end this column, for the time has come for me to trim the hedges, and to ensure that few brave, distinctive branches are neatly tidied up so that each individual bush looks exactly the same as all of the others.

And it’s better this way.

Really, it is.

After all, the government has decreed that it must be so.

Driveway De-Greenery

This particular article was the first I wrote for the, “Laments of the Gardener’s Husband,” series.  I had always dreamed of writing a, “Gardening for People Who Hate Gardening,” type book.  Like all the articles I wrote for this series, it is very much based in fact.  Basically, the articles use a new literary style known in the non-writer’s world as, “bitching.”  Many writers consider this a high art form.  I may not be an expert at it, but I’m pretty damned good, if I must say so myself.

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Driveway De-Greenery

It was a hot and muggy morning, and I had just finished mowing the front lawn. This is an easy and mindless enough task, and as I passed from the front yard to the back, I took advantage of the trip to let the mower take a whack at the crabgrass growing out of the cracks in our driveway. The driveway was now about thirty percent green by this point, and I felt the least I could do was attempt to keep the weeds growing at a decent height.

It did not work, of course. Crabgrass grows wide and flat, and despite my labors, my efforts were little more effective then a barber trying to cut a man’s hair with a ceiling fan.

“I really suppose it’s time I do something about this,” I thought.

I should explain that, at our home, our driveway doubles in function as our deck. We live in a middle-class, residential neighborhood, and our dwelling, which charitably could be called a “starter home,” does not have a capacious back yard. My wife is a frantic gardener, and has filled the small space with everything from roses to raspberries–from sage to sunflowers. Additionally, at her urging, she encouraged me to dig a small pond near the house, which she reminded me, repeatedly, that was something that I always wanted.

Therefore, due of a lack of space, our deck furniture rests in our driveway, with great, healthy mounds of crabgrass growing beneath it.

While my wife loves gardening, my personal attraction to the hobby goes no further then trimming the weeds just enough to keep the neighbors from lynching me. Still, I like eating on our deck, such as it is, and I have to admit that crabgrass, while tenacious and resourceful, is not overly attractive and should be probably be eliminated.

This was not my first attempt to deal with the problem. The previous year I had purchased some monstrously expensive stuff for filling the driveway cracks. Crabgrass admittedly does not grow where I applied this compound, but an even more enthusiastic weed with little round leaves has found a couple of places within it to make a homestead.

And the year before that, I had done some Internet research and went outside armed with a spray bottle of vinegar. This action was reasonably effective, and I was able to repeat my treatments twice before recoiling at the brink of tears at the thought of ever having to do it again.

The problem is that applying the vinegar with a small spray bottle to forty feet of driveway is tedious, backbreaking work. Also, one doesn’t just spray the stuff and watch the weedy little bastards scream in pain and die. It took days before the grass’ healthy, green tufts even assumed the brownish sheen that characterizes the grass on most of the rest of our lawn.

I like instant gratification. My ideal solution to most weeding issues would involve Agent Orange, napalm, and a blowtorch. Additionally, plutonium, while outrageously expensive and hard to find in gardening supply stores outside of former Soviet block countries, would likely be ideal in assuring that the stuff would never grow back.

Unfortunately, I dislike being attacked by mutant birds and squirrels as much as the next man. Additionally, I don’t relish the idea of having to wear an isolation suit in order to enjoy my deck, such as it is. So, it was with little optimism that I went to the local gardening store in search of an alternative solution.

“I have crabgrass in my driveway. I’d like it to die and never come back.”

The gardening lady suggested vinegar. I was polite and did not throttle her.

“I’m thinking something more permanent and dangerously lethal. What else could you suggest?”

Gardening people have this disdainful way of looking at people like me. They really can’t understand the thinking of the non-gardener. Gardening people are the kind of people who appreciate dirt, and are in the profession because they love to garden and can’t imagine life without it.

Dirt however does not spend a lot of time mucking up my imagination. I prefer to let dirt rest in its chosen spot. Live and let live, so to speak.

To some gardeners, this makes me the enemy, and I don’t feel this is fair. I like gardens; I really do. I don’t even mind the concept of organic gardening. I just wish there were ways of doing it that did not involve the need for periodic intensive chiropractic help.

I love my wife far more than I dislike gardening, however. So I desperately wanted some sympathy and a way to kill the crabgrass that didn’t involve days of sweaty labor.

I went home with a product that the lady said was new out this spring. It promised to kill everything that doesn’t walk, crawl, or fly. I would need to reapply it yearly, so it was not as effective as plutonium would be, but sacrifices sometimes need to be made in the name of environmental safety.

The garden lady was insistent in emphasizing that we would not be able to plant anything in the area where this was applied. I was tempted to explain that we weren’t planning to plant potatoes in our driveway cracks for a least the next couple of years, but I refrained.

She also emphasized not to spray it, but to just mix it with water in a bucket and pour it into my driveway cracks with a cup. The bottle itself recommends using a watering can. This is fine. I later went out and bought one specifically for this purpose, and emblazoned it with the words “Ridiculously toxic! Do not use for anything at all!”

Additionally, the product (which, to my disappointment, was not festooned with skulls and crossbones) indicated that I should wear safety goggles and do everything short of burning my clothing to sterilize them after use.

This statement filled me with hope. While it wouldn’t be as satisfying to apply as a blowtorch would be, it was at least gratifying to know that I would, in some small measure, be taking my life into my hands when I applied it.

I went out, pulled out what crabgrass I could by hand, and applied my lethal concoction on the stubborn remains while cackling with glee.

Two days later, the stuff was dead. All of it. Instead of healthy green tufts of crabgrass jutting from every crack, I had unhealthy, dead tufts of crabgrass jutting from every crack. My fantasy of watching it crumble to dust and blow away seemed a trifle unrealistic. Even though dead, it still took hours of backbreaking work to finish off the job.

Eventually though, with enough pleading, I hope to talk my wife into letting me buy a blowtorch for things like this. With the proper tools, I really think that I can learn to enjoy this gardening stuff!

The Rototiller

This is another story from my, “Laments of the Gardener’s Husband,” series.  These articles give a very good insight on precisely how not to do things.

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The Rototiller

220px-Jean-Baptiste_François_Joseph_de_Sade_

Inventor of the Rototiller

When my wife and I moved into our first home together in the autumn of the year 2000, our backyard was a simple, rectangular green patch of grass.  To me, this looked perfectly normal.  Our new backyard looked like the backyard of virtually every other home in the city I grew up in: safe, easy to mow, and very suburban.

My wife, however, did not grow up in the suburbs, and to her our new backyard looked anything but normal.  It looked drab.  It looked stark.  It looked like a great, green, empty blank canvas, ready for her to paint on great, sharp strokes of roses, a touch of pointillism in the form of raspberries, and various, colorful dabs of spice plants, patio blocks, and statuary.  In short, she saw a grand, blank masterpiece, needing only a little attention to bring out its full potential.

But the other thing she saw was a profound lack of privacy.

And my wife likes privacy.

Like all of the other homes in our neighborhood, a metal fence surrounded our backyard, and this fence, like all of the other fences in our neighborhood, was mandated to be boring by city ordinance.  The ordinance decrees that these fences must be no more than five feet high and built of simple chain-links and aluminum poles.  Most importantly, the ordinance decrees that the fence must not impede in any way the ability of your neighbors to spy on you.

Fortunately (from my wife’s perspective, anyway), there exists a loophole in this charter, and this loophole manifests itself in the form of a plant called a bush.  Bushes are permitted by the rules of the city, and no height restrictions exist for them.  So, before we even finished filling out the three and a half foot high stack of papers consigning our souls to the mortgage gods, my wife had ordered twenty-eight Columnaris bushes from an on-line gardening supply catalog.

The bushes arrived shortly after we moved in, and being somewhat concerned about the amount of time they could comfortably survive in paper bags, my wife decided that we should plant them immediately.

Now, I had spent a fair time gardening with my wife, and even I knew the basic formula for planting something the size of a single bush by this time.  Essentially, it involved digging a hole far larger than what I would have thought necessary, adding a handful of something that smells horrible, mixing in at least one (or more likely two) forty-pound bags of something from the garden store, plopping in the plant, burying it, stomping on the ground around it, and then treating it to enough water for it to survive indefinitely even if the great dustbowl of the 1930s were to repeat itself the following week.

The rules for mass quantities of plants are different.  For this, the easiest solution involves a gizmo called a rototiller.  A rototiller is a noisy, gas-powered device with spinning blades designed to break up patches of earth.

While I am generally never very enthusiastic about yard work, having the opportunity to use a loud, destructive, potentially lethal piece of machinery goes a long way toward making the idea sound more appealing to me.  I was therefore looking somewhat forward to this task, which is something I was of yet too inexperienced to recognize as a very bad sign.

There are two types of rototillers: front-end and self-propelled rear-tine.  Rear-tine tillers are the top of the line.  They allow you easily to break through sod for spring garden preparation.  They are designed for digging, and they do the job effectively.

A front-end tiller is a simpler invention that was developed by a gentleman by the name of Donatien Alphonse François de Sade in the middle seventeen hundreds; a man who was later promoted to Marquis for his efforts in this endeavor.  In this design, the front of the tiller has a set of wheels behind the tines, so you can tilt the whole machine back and roll it onto your soil.  Once there, it effectively “walks” through the soil on the rotating tines.

This design is fine if you have a soft, pre-dug garden with loose, easily broken soil.  In other words, it does a good job of tilling soils that do not really need to be tilled.

Trying to use a front-end tiller on sod-laden, hard-packed clay is exactly the kind of thing that gave the Marquis his chuckles.

When I rented the tiller, I was ignorant of this tiller minutia, not even knowing that there was any minutia about tillers to be ignorant of.  All that we knew was that a friend of ours had rented a tiller once and could not stop praising its virtues, commenting on how quickly he was able to do the job.

So, on the afternoon that the bushes arrived, we decided to rent a tiller and found the nearest place to us that had one.  Unfortunately, this place had a ridiculous closing time of 4:30 pm, which meant that, not only did I not have time to ask questions, but that in order to get the tiller back on time, I would have exactly one hour to do the job.  My wife had to go somewhere, so she left me to it.

Between getting it home, setting it up, packing it up, and bringing it back, this left me with approximately one-half hour to till about forty feet of soil to the depth of about one or two feet.

Based on our friend’s description of the wonders of this device, I thought it would be a piece of cake.

What I didn’t know is that we had rented a tiller of the Marquis’ design.

The next half hour was, without doubt and without exaggeration, the hardest, most frustrating, and most physically torturous period of labor that I have ever spent in my entire life.

The first time I squeezed on the activation bar, the tines of the tiller struck the clay soil like the cleats of an Olympic athlete.  Within half a second, I found myself standing four feet from my starting position.  The only way I had managed to keep my footing was by performing a frantic, high goose-step that would have made Adolph Hitler proud.

“Gosh Golly Gee Willikers!” I exclaimed in shock (or words to that effect).

And then the real work began.

To get the tiller to function usefully at all, I had to use all of my strength to hold back its exuberance for racing across the lawn.  Beyond that, I seriously cannot recall how I got through that half-hour.  I have flashes of memory.  I recall extracting midsized chunks of sod from my mouth.  I remember trying to fall sideways in exhaustion, but my feet being so buried within the soil that I stood tilted at an improbable angle like a mime falling against the wind.

Mostly, I recall dirt, and straining, screaming muscles trying to hold reign on a powerful machine that I suspect, had I just let it do what it wanted, would have dragged me half way across the state within five minutes.

I managed to get through about twenty feet before I ran out of time and will to live.  The soil I worked was not cut quite to the even twenty-four inch depth that I had envisioned.  It instead varied in depth from a single inch to perhaps four-fifths of the way through the earth’s crust.

I was broken, babbling, exhausted beyond reason, and choking on both exhaust fumes and bits of sod that I had not managed to swallow completely.  I believe that the process had actually created brand new muscles for the exclusive purpose of rupturing them.  I was also a sweaty, clay-encrusted mess, and filthy beyond belief.  I was certainly not fit to drive, or even to be seen in public–but I managed to throw that contraption into the van and race back to the rental place, anyway.  I wouldn’t have cared if the experience had voided both my bladder and my bowels, and if I then had to walk through the Waldorf to return it.  I had to get that nightmarish device out of my sight.

My wife is not a cruel person.  When she returned, although I had showered and really didn’t say much comprehensible, she obviously judged from my gibbering, my convulsive sobs, and my expression of wild-eyed horror that I probably had not had an easy time of it

She let me dig the holes for the rest of the bushes with a shovel.  Bless her heart.

The Snow Blower

The following is one of my favorite stories from my “Laments of the Gardener’s Husband” series.  I wrote the series several years ago to document the life of a man who hates gardening himself but by a twist of fate managed to fall in love with a woman who loves it.

I wrote the articles, thinking to sell them to a gardening magazine at some point, only to realize that there were absolutely no magazines that met the necessary criteria.  In other words, there was simply no market for them.

This particular article is not deeply about gardening per se, but it does fit the season and it did fit the spirit of the other articles.  Everything from the series are based on true experiences, with only a little poetic license thrown in.

Anyway, read and enjoy

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The Snow Blower


Snow is beautiful, magical thing. When I awoke one morning last December after our first significant snowfall of the season, I stood at the window, mesmerized by it. It covered all of the ugly, brown death of autumn with the cleanest possible white coat. The neighborhood sparkled with white crystals. It was captivating, and the windy game the weather played with the still falling flakes was entrancing.

“Time to try out your new snow blower,” exclaimed my wife enthusiastically.

Sigh.

I immensely enjoy the spectacle of the great outdoors of winter so long as I can enjoy it from within the warm confines of the great indoors. Going outside, you see, rather spoils the effect, as it is invariably cold out there. As far as I am concerned, going outdoors in the wintertime is one of those unavoidable evils–a kind of a chilly channel through which one must travel to get from one furnace-embraced haven to another.

As a corollary to this, which probably does not require any further elaboration, I have never been big on shoveling snow. Thus, that autumn my wife and I had researched and purchased the best snow blower we could afford. It was an impressive thing, with horsepower that would be the envy of the neighborhood. Its most important feature, however, was that it would considerably cut down on the amount of time that I would have to spend outside.

Nevertheless, I wasn’t really exuberant about having to try the thing out that morning because it looked, as I said before, cold out there.

Still, it had to be done, so I went out, did the job, came in, and hung my wet clothes down the basement.

“So, how’d it go?” asked my wife.

“Great,” I replied. “Much better than shoveling.”

And it had been much better than shoveling. It got me inside in half the time that shoveling would have taken, and that had to be a good thing.

Calling it “great” however may have been a bit of a stretch, as I had experienced a couple of small difficulties with the process.

The first problem I had was a failure to realize that snow blowers, in fact, blow snow. While this seems obvious, what wasn’t obvious to me is the snow blowers are not always very particular about where all of the snow goes.

On a windy day in the middle of a storm, the snow tended to blow everywhere, including, unfortunately, my face.

It was singularly uncomfortable experience, and not one that I had anticipated in any way. Snow blowers have a directional nozzle that ostensibly directs the snow in the path that you want it to go. Snow, for those in the South lucky enough to be ignorant of its basic properties, is composed of all kinds of icy, bitter-cold little flakes. These flakes are not designed by nature to be aerodynamic, and while the snow blower suggested that most of them go in one direction, a strong wind can be quite persuasive and will ultimately convince a significant number of them to go in a direction totally other.

And when the direction in which the wind is blowing is toward yourself, the result is that your face will instantly be covered with wave upon wave of miserably bitter, wet, cold, white powder. You breathe it. You spit it out. You squint into it and try to keep your eyeballs from freezing. It is so cold that it causes your forehead to throb and pulsate in pain.

And there isn’t any way to avoid it. Driveways tend to go in only one of two directions, and, as the space between homes in a small suburban neighborhood can be narrow, a little wind tunnel invariably forms between them.

This means that, no matter what I did, half of the time I felt like someone was dumping gallon upon gallon of Slurpee onto my face.

This was only the first difficulty I encountered. Another difficulty arose from the very nature of powerful snow blowers. Much of the snow that the blower does manage persuade to go in the desired direction tends to go into that direction with a single-minded force. This can be a good thing if you know how to direct the flow. Should, however, you foolishly choose to direct the flow at your neighbor’s house (a natural enough inclination as there are areas where there really isn’t too many other spots to direct it), the snow tends to stick and clump upon your neighbor’s vinyl siding.

After I was finished, the neighbor’s house looked like someone had taken a giant tube of white toothpaste and gobbed it up along the side.

A third difficulty was that, for various reasons (mostly lack of foresight), I ended up directing the snow blower’s snow stream over regions that I had previously cleared. I did this simply because there was no other direction for me to target the stuff. This required me to go over some areas twice, and was thus counter-productive to my goal of getting back inside as quickly as possible.

By the time I was done, however, the driveway was beautifully free of snow.

When I reentered the house, my wife, who was waiting for me at the door, took one look at me, started to laugh, and sent me down the basement next to the cat litter to change out of my clothes. I was so coated with snow that I looked, she explained, like the Abominable Snowman. I think abominable is something of an exaggeration, but I could certainly accept that I looked like the Very Disgruntled and Uncomfortable Snowman.

And because it was still snowing, and because I am a very slow learner, I had the exact same experience a couple of hours later.

So, as a public service, I pass along the following lessons to those who are in that infinitesimally small percentage of people who will actually read these words at a time when they can actually do them some good.

First, when you use a snow blower, wear a ski mask. Yes, I know that they look stupid. Trust me on this.

Second, wear a nylon or leather coat. Cloth coats may be warm but they are snow magnets and will subject you to ridicule.

Third, when you are between two houses, aim your snow nozzle just “slightly” toward the nearest driveway edge. The snow will land safely on where the grass would be if it weren’t covered by snow, and your neighbor’s house will not look like it was spat upon by a giant with deficient oral hygiene.

Fourth, start from the center of the driveway and work outward. It’s counterintuitive, but it gets you back inside faster.

Fifth, move to Florida, so you can relax and not have to worry about the first four lessons.