Category: maine

Things I’ve Learned about Snow Since Moving to Maine

I’ve always been a fan of snow. Still am, even on days right after I’ve had to snow blow for an hour or so. We get plenty of the white stuff here in Maine, and having dealt with it and homeownership for a decade or so now, I thought it might be interesting to go over some of the things I’ve learned about dealing with snow since I moved up here.

First off, it’s got a life cycle. The best time to deal with snow is right after it’s fallen. It’s still fluffy and beautiful then. Wait for a day or two, and it starts to compact down. The sun melts it, and if you’re in Maine, anything that melts in the winter must freeze in the night. If you don’t do a good job keeping your driveway and steps and the sidewalk absolutely clear of snow, then they’re going to turn into a skating rink. And that skating rink might take a month or more to melt. During that melting process? It’s just going to get more slippery, and you’ll wish you’d gone out to clear off the snow right after it had come down.

Second, there are definitely types of snow. Fluffy snow is the easiest to handle. It’s light and doesn’t protest to being flung around with abandon. Then again, it makes terrible snowmen. For that, you want the temperatures to be warmer when it’s snowing. That gets you the good packing snow you’ll need to create anything you want to hang around for a while. (Waiting for the snow to melt some doesn’t do the same thing. You just wind up with fluffy snow covered by a crusty layer of ice. The colder it is when it snows, the more snow you get. This is because fluffy snow accumulates faster than dense snow. Same amount of precipitation, wildly different snow totals.

Driving in the snow isn’t terribly difficult as long as you take your time and watch out for curves. Give yourself a wide cushion around your vehicle. Remember it’s going to take you a longer time to stop than it would otherwise. Sadly, many other people on the road will forget this, especially if they have four wheel drive. It will also be complicated by the fact that the more snow you get, the higher the snow banks become. The higher they get, the less you can see when leaving your driveway. That’s a bad thing.

“Plowed roads” don’t necessarily mean “bare roads.” In Maine, they get most of the snow off the road, but there’s usually an inch or so left until the sun and the salt have done their job. If I waited for the roads to be completely clear after a storm before I went out, I’d be waiting a few days.

Snow is a great insulator. Ideally, you pile it up against the foundation of your house. It keeps the wind out and the warmth in. I’ve been having issues in my bathroom with the pipes freezing, so today when I was out clearing the driveway, I made sure to pile a bunch of snow next to my bathroom wall. I’ll be surprised if the problem persists. (Until the snow melts, that is.)

Snow is heavy. Get enough of it, and your house can have issues, so you’ll want to think about getting a roof rake. This is basically a scoop with a loooooong handle. You stand on the ground and rake the snow down off your roof so that your roof doesn’t collapse. I usually don’t worry about this until there’s a foot or so on my roof, or if I know it’s going to rain. (Yes, we do get rain in the winter here in Maine. Now and then.) Rain + snow = heaviest snow. Wait for that slush to freeze and you’ve got serious issues on your hand.

Snow also insulates ice, meaning if you’re walking across a snow-covered pond in Maine, the ice might be much thinner than you’d assume. It doesn’t matter if the temperature was 20 below. Give that ice a good coat of snow, and it might still be dangerous. This does not keep people from driving snowmobiles or even trucks out onto the lakes. Then again, not all people are sensible.

To really enjoy snow, you need to have a good plan in place for how to deal with it. The first winter we lived here, we had a bad system. We tried to plow it with our lawn tractor. It makes sense in theory, but you only get one real shot to create snow banks. Push the fluffy stuff into piles, and it turns into bitter hard mounds of ice. Trying to push fluffy snow into bitter piles of ice doesn’t go well for a lawn tractor. It doesn’t have enough oomph behind it to get the job done.

That first winter we got hammered with snow. Life was pretty rough. As soon as we had a snow blower? Life got so much better. That said, there’s a learning curve with a blower as well. Knowing when to do it, how to approach it, and how to keep the blower from going through shear pins. (They’re set up so that the auger cuts through a metal pin that keeps it in moving if it encounters anything that might overwhelm the engine, like big branches or shards of ice. This is good, because it keeps you from ruining your blower. It’s bad, because replacing those pins is mighty tricky and cold at 6am on a winter morning. So you want to avoid it if possible.)

These days, we’ve got it down to a science. I know when to snow blow and how to do it effectively. That lets me look forward to the snow instead of dreading it. It also helps to work for an institution that regularly cancels work because of the snow. I don’t care how many times people in warmer climes brag to me about how they don’t have to deal with the cold. They also don’t get to wake up one morning and stay in bed without having to go to work, just because it snowed. Snow days as an adult are fantastic.

Anyway. That’s not an exhaustive list. I rattled it off the top of my head as I wrote. But it’s certainly much  more than I knew about snow before coming here to Maine. I continue to love it, and I always look forward to big storms on the horizon. That said, I can see why it wouldn’t be for everyone. If you’re not properly set up for it, snow can be a really dangerous thing.

On that note, I’m going to head back to a comfy chair and maybe a video game or two. I’ve got a snow day today.


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Too. Hot. Send. Help.

One of the bestest things about Maine is the fact that it’s almost always cool here. It’ll get up into the 80s and 90s, sure, but at night, it’ll drop down into the low 60s or high 50s, and that’s all it really takes to cool off your house and leave things pleasant.

Except . . .

Every now and then, it decides it wants to stay in the 70s at night. And when it does that, I am one unhappy Bryce.

We don’t have central air conditioning. There’s just no need for it. We have a couple of window mounted units, but I typically don’t even bother with those. It’s a lot of hassle for just a few evenings’ worth of needed use. But when those hotter evenings come around, I inevitably wish I’d already installed them. Plus, we’ve now moved our bedroom over to be above the garage, and I can officially report that when it’s in the 70s outside at night, that new bedroom is hot hot hot.

Hot enough that the first thing I do when I get up in the morning is check Amazon to see how much a portable A/C unit would be. ($400) Not hot enough that I went and dropped $400 on the thing, though. (Tonight’s supposed to be worse. Maybe I’ll reconsider.)

My plan at the moment is plenty of fans, and perhaps a spray bottle by my bed. If I wake up at night and am too hot, I can spray myself down. Is this what I’ve come to? There are two things in life I dislike: being wet, and being hot. I’m just discovering that it’s better to be slightly wet and not hot than just hot. So I guess I dislike being hot more than being wet. What a discovery to make.

Do any of you out there have some ways of dealing with temperatures? I’m sure my Arizona readers are laughing themselves silly as I complain about temperatures in the 70s. That’s okay. I laugh at them when they complain about it being too “cold.”

Thank goodness it looks like tomorrow night is back to a low of 50 degrees . . .

The Perils of the Black Fly

When we moved to Maine, we were warned: watch out for the black flies!

This seemed like kind of a silly warning, honestly. Sort of like “Watch out for the green grass!” or “Beware the evils of the blue sky!” Flies are black. I’m not going to spend my life always paranoid of any ol’ black fly.

“No,” people would say. “These are different. These are tiny little flies that will bite you. They’re small.”

“You mean like biting gnats?” I’d ask.

“Nope. Black flies.”

Whatever. It was August. There were some gnats around, but nothing seemed too bad. Denisa and I dismissed it as just a bit of local flavor. Crazy Mainers and their fear of black flies.

Then May came, and we were introduced to “Black Fly Season.” Now, having been through almost 10 years here, I know better. These flies are very specific. They just go by a very generic name (probably to lull the unsuspecting into a false sense of safety). Just look at the Wikipedia page. They suck so much blood from Canadian cattle that the cows die. If that’s not serious, I don’t know what is.

Honestly, these days I’m not that worried about blood loss. It’s true that when a black fly bites you, you feel it. And when you swat them, they explode in blood. But all of that pales in comparison to the fact that some people are quite allergic to them. Not “bee sting” allergic. Black flies don’t kill you (I don’t think), but their bites swell up and itch, depending on the person. For me, they itch for days after and are a real annoyance. For my family? Tomas got bit in his ear canal five years ago or so. (His ear canal!) And his bites swell a bunch and hurt.

It was not a good few days for Tomas.

Most black flies die off by around mid July, and then life returns to normal. But if you go outside from later April until then . . . watch out.

I like to tell myself they’re acceptable because they keep people away who don’t really love the area. But if there were one thing I could change about my home . . . that might be it.


Just How Much Snow is Up Here in Maine?

I’ve talked with a number of you online or over the phone, and it seems many people outside of the state are wondering how much snow I’ve gotten up here in Maine. I don’t watch national news, so have there been reports Maine got buried?

We kind of have . . .

But how much snow do I have specifically? That’s hard to tell. My house is in a spot where the wind blows a lot. This means I get plenty of places with huge drifts and plenty of places where I can see bare ground. (One of these bare ground places is right on part of my driveway, which is always a perk when I have to clear it after a storm.) So I can’t say exactly how much snow I have. Parts of my lawn are easily five feet. Parts are probably only a foot or so. Overall, I’d guess there’s about three feet out there, and more is falling down now.

Last week the kids had a late start, an early dismissal, and a complete snow day. Today is another snow day, as we’re in the middle of a blizzard. Another foot or more is forecast for Wednesday into Thursday. The storms just seem to have lined up and are pouring in, one after the other. It reminds me of my first winter in Maine. Back then, I didn’t have a snow blower. That made life much more difficult. (Although the other day, my snow blower about died, which sent me into a panic. It had a bunch of frozen slush inside it, and I hadn’t realized that and tried to start it. That didn’t go well on the engine. I used a hair dryer on the thing and brought it back to normal, thankfully.)

Really, I love snow, and the more the merrier, as far as I’m concerned. We have a shed full of wood and a wood stove able to heat our house on its own, so I don’t have to worry about losing power. But I do worry about some places in the area losing power. Not everyone has that stove and that wood. So I’m very much anti-power loss. But as long as the snow stays light and fluffy, it works out okay.

Though the kids might be in school until July . . .

An Expedition to Northern Maine

We’ve lived in Maine almost 9 years, and yet somehow we’d never made a trip up to the Northern half of the state. (Bangor always felt like the Northern half of the state, but if you look at the map, it’s really pretty much right smack dab in the middle. Why haven’t we explored it?

Because it takes a long time to get there, and there hasn’t seemed like any real reason to go.

However, we did have friends move there two years ago, which was the first reason we might consider exploring the place, and then I had a library meeting scheduled in Presque Isle, which is the best sort of motivating reason to go to a place. (Getting paid to go to a place usually does that for a place.) So since our friends were also up there, I asked Denisa if she wanted to give it a shot, and she said yes.

We drove up Thursday morning and down Saturday afternoon. And as expected, it was a fairly long drive. 3.5 hours, which was still a half hour shorter than what Google thought it would take me. (And I’ll say that on the way down, it felt much shorter. Typical.) Getting to northern Maine involves driving through many trees. and little else. Once you get past Bangor, you don’t see much in the way of civilization until you get off the freeway at Houlton. Presque Isle is forty minutes north of that.

I was surprised at how much farming you see there. Lots of potato fields as opposed to the thick woods I generally associate with the state. It looked a lot more like Pennsylvania than I expected, in other words. (And they have a large Mennonite/Amish community too.)

Overall, I really liked the area. Sprawling and largely empty, which is about how I prefer my areas to be. Presque Isle had a good downtown area, with a variety of businesses. Bigger than where I live, though it’s also the one real town for miles around, so that makes sense. Sort of the hub for the area. (And they had a very tasty ice cream shop, which is important.)

But the extra two hours beyond Bangor really does make a difference. Not that it’s in the middle of nowhere. That would be more somewhere between Bangor and Houlton. (Nowhere.) So this is more the outskirts of nowhere. 🙂 But I can definitely see why people like it, and if I never had to fly anywhere or take trips off to who knows where, then I think I’d be very happy there indeed. But in the end, I think I live about as remotely as I want to live.

Nice to know there are more remote options, though.

We had a really nice time up there. Great to see old friends again. Went on a great short hike. Ate good food. Denisa and the kids saw two moose (their first moose in the wild sightings). A coworker ran into a bear on his morning job (both bear and coworker are fine). All you could ask for a quick vacation. I think we’ll be back, at the very least as we drive through to explore New Brunswick.

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