Winter has come knocking at our door again. I know for sure because the temperature was in the teens which is a good first sign. But the real way I know is that the plow guy came and set the snow posts along our lane and the driveway. If you live in the south you may not ever have to know what a snow post does. What it is, is about a four foot high wooden stick that a really big burly guy wearing a filed coat sticks into the ground along your plow route at regular intervals. He uses some kind of tool to make a hole and some other mallet thing to give it a whack so it sits snugly in the hole he has made. And what it does, is mark the route for him when the snow is falling and there are two foot drifts obliterating the driveway. These things are a staple in Vermont. By March we will have run over a couple of them, and the wind will have taken out a couple more. But in November they all come and stand silent sentry waiting to do their work.
We live on a curvy hill road that doesn’t get any town services so we have to hire our own plow service. These are the guys who sell us beautiful nursery plants in the summer and Christmas trees in December. They take care of lawns and watch houses for the second home owners, and they keep us all moving in the winter. Now it often snows a little bit every day up here when this thing gets into full swing. So of course they have a plan. They come when there are about three inches on the ground and they they come again every three or four hours until it stops. During the big winter storms which usually start in the afternoon and continue deep into the night, they fill up their thermoses and sometimes never get to bed starting another round just after finishing their first. There is often a little something in the mug with the coffee. But they are practically alone out there, and their trucks weigh about a ton, so they are pretty safe. Maybe your lane has a bit of a curve in the snow that wasn’t there before, but only when it has been snowing all night and who could blame the guy all alone with nothing but his Ipod, maybe a dog asleep on the seat beside him, and the occasional coyote or red fox?
These guys have big hearts. A few weeks ago the signs went up in the Post Office. There are long walls covered with butcher paper and pens hanging by a string alongside. The sign next to the blank paper says “Please sign up if you or someone you know needs plowing this winter” Then there is a place for a name and an address. A week or so later someone draws calendar boxes underneath each name and address. The boxes say Nov 1-Nov 15, Nov 15-Nov 30 and on through the end of April. Then after another few days the plow guys come in and sign up for various weeks and various addresses until the whole thing is full. Once it has been full for another week or so somebody takes it down, because now it is in the hands of the guys. So if you have a ninety year old neighbor you sign her up and she only every knows that her road gets plowed. She doesn’t know who signed her up or does the plowing and she never gets a bill. The idea is anonymity for anyone who prefers it. But a lot of these folks will wander out and meet their plow guy. And our guy, Kevin tells us that his old folks keep him in a steady supply of thermoses filled with soup, and bags of cookies and at least one older gentlemen often tosses a full bottle of scotch through his window. Since the plow guys often bring along their truck dog, the dogs get soup bones and pigs ears to keep them happy too.
You don’t have to be old to qualify either. If you are out of work or just down on your luck, you sign yourself up and nobody ever says a word. Some of us add a little extra onto our payments every month to cover our neighbors who need the help and anyway some of the extra gas costs the plow guys take on. And we know that if we ever get into trouble those same neighbors, even the ones with whom we have had long rancorous land disputes, (which are as common up here as snow, but that’s another story), will chip in and cover us. November is dark and the coming winter will be long. But by golly New Englanders are a hardy bunch and we take care of our own.
Oh and God bless those plow guys. Long may they drive….