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Dean's Blog

Getting Ready for Spring

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Winter Syrup

The winter of 2013-14 will be remembered as one of the more challenging in recent years around the country, as I am sure many of you can attest. Vermont and the Norwich campus have experienced both snow and extended cold this winter in ways reminiscent of a “good old fashioned winter.” The extended cold season has provided great opportunities for skiing, snowshoeing, snow machining, and ice fishing this year. After having been stranded in many airports and repeatedly moving snow from the drive, walks, and roofs, I am ready for some spring weather! Even the “warm” areas of the country I have visited in my travels this winter have been cold!

I recently spent the better part of a Saturday afternoon removing snow from the roofs of structures at my camp. The elevation is higher in that area and usually results in much more snow than we receive at home in Northfield, in addition to always being about five degrees colder. The difference is an advantage during the summer months, but this time of year the snow is very deep and despite my wishes for a spring melt, it required removal from the roofs. Another storm is forecast for the coming week and it looks like March will have come in like a lion and leave like an angrier lion!

My first mistake in the snow removal venture was to forget to bring the roof rake from home. Some of you may be familiar with this implement, which is a solid rake-like attachment affixed to the end of three sections (or more) of aluminum pole. The idea is to pull snow down from a roof to both reduce the weight and prevent build-up of ice and a glacier. Realizing that the job couldn’t be done without one I scoured the area hardware stores for any remaining roof rakes in inventory at the end of March. It was a somewhat futile attempt since many hardware stores and lumber yards in more rural Vermont are closed by noon on a Saturday, and the inventory of roof rakes is almost surely sold out by March with no new orders likely until next fall. I was able to convince the one remaining hardware store manager to sell me the rake they used to keep their greenhouse and out buildings clear this winter. It was missing a handle section and slightly used, but alas, I had a rake!

The remainder of the story is uneventful and provided the workout I hoped to achieve via an afternoon on snowshoes looking for moose antler drops. (That is another story for a different day.) Instead, I was treated to removing what were essentially glaciers with various strata marking the history of the winter’s snowfall, almost geological in nature. It seems that the snow was deep enough to stand on (with snow shoes) and access the edge of the roofs with a conventional shovel as well as the shortened rake. I was able to wear my snowshoes, but not how I intended that afternoon.

The picturesque scenes of snow on evergreens have faded and now have me contemplating the impending mud season. The significant snow build-up and greater than usual frost penetration (probably close to 60 inches at this point) indicate that a quick warm-up will result in significant run-off as well as a worse than usual mud season. The latter is the “fifth season” in Vermont and occurs when the frost comes out of the gravel roads that make up most of the state, resulting in mud that has literally been known to swallow a car. You don’t want to drive in these conditions if at all possible, which is why I live on paved roads in the village near campus! In some cases the roads become impassable and sections must be closed. A sure sign of spring occurring now is the posting of road signs to restrict heavy truck traffic until the thaw is completed, several months hence.

The other group that is duly concerned about the late arrival of spring is the local maple sugar/syrup producers association. With winter firmly still gripping the landscape there have not been very many, if any, days with daytime temperatures in the 40-50 degree range and nighttime temperatures below freezing. These are the ideal conditions for sap to “run” and are required for making maple syrup. This past weekend was the maple sugar association open house for most sugarhouses around the state, but the three sugar houses I passed in my travels were silent. I suppose this is a new “winter syrup” season; with no sap running the sugar houses were not boiling to produce our favorite maple treat. If you would like to learn more about this process and visit a sugarhouse on your trip to residency this June, check out the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association.

Hockey Puck Contest Update

Earlier this year I announced the annual Clements Household hockey puck contest, now in its 19th year. The prize for the CGCS student who comes closest to guessing the date the puck clears the snow pile is a pint of real Vermont maple syrup and an official Norwich University hockey puck. “Clearing the bank” means the day that I can pick the puck up from the snow and ice at 8 AM. As you may have guessed by now, the snow pile is firmly established and has reached the height of the first story in north corner, well over ten feet high. I can now walk onto the roof from the snow pile; consequently, any of the dates guessed for March are not likely to be winners this year! Mother Nature will reveal what is store in coming weeks as the spring season hopefully arrives soon!

OK, I have to load the woodstove, again ... time to get back to work!