New England has experienced something like a normal winter. The snow came late, but it came. Since the first of the year seasoned Yankees have settled back into their traditional grousing about the snow. The late snow had us worried, which when you think about it is like missing a toothache.
Between Michigan, Alaska, and Vermont I have lived every winter of my life in snow country. The pattern is always the same. Those few tentative early snows get us tuning up our snow machines and waxing skis. The first big storm cozies us into our wind-whipped homes, and we wake to a world transformed. The joy of whiteness lasts about halfway through your first cup of coffee when you realize you have to move it. And drive in it. You often have to move it in order to drive in it.
There are few sights in nature as fetching as a four-foot sculpted drift glistening in the morning sun. Unless it happens to be located against your garage door. As you are fetching your shovel the art of natural sculpture is lost. You find yourself wishing Mother Nature would take up watercolors.
Snowdrifts present a life-threatening situation to men of a certain age. Mine, for example. Whenever a snowstorm passes over a region there is always a death toll assigned to it.
"Three deaths have been attributed to Snowmaggedon so far this weekend." says the nightly news anchor.
They don't tell you that two of them dropped dead from heart attacks while shoveling snow, and the other froze to death next to his garage after his back went into spasm and he couldn't get up. Snow kills middle-aged men. If the four seasons were organs Winter would be the prostate.
As long as we're below the belt and speaking of death, let's talk about Pucker Factor. PF is a scale of 1 to 7 that measures the foot/pounds of pressure experienced by one's sphincter during various winter driving conditions. I won't bore you with the medical data, nor how it was gathered. Instead, here are some examples:
A Pucker Factor of 1 could be applied to the sensation of a rear wheel spinning out when accelerating from a dead stop. No big deal. Maybe you fishtail a little. Let up on the gas and all's well. PF-1 is a baseline reading for driving on snow or ice of any kind. If you're not feeling something down there, you're not paying attention. Think of it as a "ready position.”
PF-7 is another matter. Any Pucker Factor higher than 5 will put your panties in the proverbial bundle. The scale stops at 7 because that is the physical limitation of the human sphincter muscle. I'll spare you the description of what happens after that because you will never be able to un-see that image.
You've experienced something like a PF-7 if you've ever passed someone on a winter freeway and realized the left lane has not been travelled on like the right and you are skating on a sheet of black ice. It is called black ice not because it is dark, but because it is evil. You're a snow country veteran and know better than to touch the brake, or slow too quickly and send your car careening into the median in a puff of humiliation, if not injury. You also know not to speed up, which would cause the same thing. So you sit there, puckered up to the turkey neck and paralyzed. You've seen these people dispersed in ditches over the years. You've ridiculed them. You forcibly will every cell in your body not to become them.
Result: PF-7. Well done.
I only speak of this now because in a few weeks this winter will have receded into that place in our memories reserved for tooth extractions and family reunions. The beauty and challenges of winter will soon be replaced by the glories of spring, or as we call it in my part of the world, Mud Season. If the Eskimos have a dozen words for snow, New Englanders have at least that many for mud. Some of them are even printable. In Vermont March comes in like a lion that craps on your lawn and leaves.
But that's a story for next time. In the meantime, drive safely and keep it at PF-1 for good measure.