I finally left the farm today for the first time since ice and snow blanketed us last week. I love my wife and kids, but it was nice to see someone besides them for a change. The checkout lady at Kroger was probably wondering why I was beaming at her.
We could have stayed put longer without any danger of going hungry. The old lady who owned the property before us was stranded for two weeks after the Great Tennessee Flood of 2010, so Chareva makes it a habit to keep a few weeks’ worth of canned and dried food on hand. We also have neighbors who can pick us up at the highway in front of our property. Chareva hitched a ride with one of them last week.
My first attempt to escape was on Friday. Yes, that would mean attempting to drive my compact car up the same icy driveway my girls have been speeding down on their sleds. No, it doesn’t make sense … but keep in mind I’m a male, which means I’m prone to occasional bouts of inexplicable stupidity. I believe my theory revolved around the weight of the car crushing its way through the ice. Something like that. It seemed plausible at the time.
Our driveway is like an elongated U. It slopes down steeply from the house to the creek, runs almost level across the front pastures, then slopes up again to the highway. I crept down the ice-covered driveway in a low gear, then put the car in drive and tried to pick up a bit of momentum as I approached the slope up to the highway.
I managed to get about two-thirds up the slope before the tires started spinning. Then the car began sliding backwards. I tried turning the wheel to control the direction of the slide, which made no difference whatsoever. That’s when I realized that sliding backwards in a car down a steep, icy driveway is … well, let’s just say it’s a special feeling.
There’s a steep drop into a big pit off the left side of the driveway – the pit is county land, not ours. As the front of the car began drifting left, I comforted myself with the knowledge that when cars roll down an embankment, they don’t explode nearly as easily as Hollywood movies would lead you to believe. Then the momentum of the downward slide seemed to pull the car straight – if you can call sliding backwards going straight.
As I reached the almost-level section of the driveway, I decided I should turn around. In retrospect, I have no idea why. Perhaps having failed to climb the steep slope up to the highway, I thought it would be a good idea to try the even steeper slope up to the house. That would give me another chance to slide backwards – maybe even right off the bridge over the creek. A 10-foot drop down to a rocky creek bed would give me another opportunity to prove that cars do not, in fact, explode as easily as Hollywood movies would lead you to believe.
Anyway, turning around would require backing into the pasture. There are gullies running along the driveway in some areas, but the ground is almost level with the driveway in others. Unfortunately, the gullies had disguised themselves by filling up with snow. I tried to remember where the flattest area was, then turned the wheel and backed into the pasture.
I remembered wrong. The back wheels rolled through the gully because of all that nice momentum I’d picked up while sliding backwards from up near the highway. But the front wheels – also known as “the drive wheels” — parked themselves in the low ground. Since I’m a male and therefore prone to occasional bouts of inexplicable stupidity, I of course spent the next several minutes trying to prove the theory (which all males believe to some degree) that if I constantly shifted between drive and reverse, I could rock the wheels out of an icy, snowy pit and go on my merry way.
After I trudged my way up the house, I made a careful analysis of the situation. The root cause of my troubles, as far as I could tell, was that my driveway was covered with a thick sheet of ice. So the solution was obvious: get rid of the ice.
Even though we live in the south, we own snow shovels. They’re made of plastic. I quickly learned that plastic is completely ineffective for removing ice. I also learned that if you stomp on plastic in an attempt to drive it into ice, the plastic breaks apart and the ice doesn’t.
The previous owner left behind a whole slew of old tools, including two pick-axes. I have no idea what she planned to do with one pick-axe, much less two, but it occurred to me that a tool that bangs through coal can probably bang through ice. I went to the garage and chose the lighter of the two. Sara decided to join me and grabbed a garden hoe.
The first few whacks looked promising. The ice broke apart in decent-sized chunks. Then we hit thicker, more solid ice. I banged away at it with the pick-axe, all the while developing deeper and deeper respect for my great-grandfather Naughton, an Irish immigrant who began working in coals mines in his teens. How the heck did he swing one of these things all day, every day?
The best we could do was take chips from the ice. So when my hands began to swell from the impact, we gave up and called it a day.
On Saturday, the temperature was above freezing for the first time nearly a week, and the forecast called for rain all day. I figured the rain probably wouldn’t melt the layer of ice, but might loosen it up enough for me to chip it away. So after a few hours of steady rain, I told Chareva I was going ice-chipping again, even though I’d get soaked out there.
She triumphantly announced that she’d long ago purchased a man-sized set of rain slickers for just such an occasion – pants with suspenders, jacket and hood. They’re bright yellow, and when I put them on over my jeans and hooded sweatshirt, I looked like a mutant canary from a ‘50s horror movie. As I walked past the new chicks in the basement, they all cowered at the other end of their trough.
I soon discovered that the ice was a little softer than the day before, but not by much. I also discovered that water-soaked ice is particularly slippery, and that slickers are called “slickers” for a reason. Chipping away at the top of the driveway, I took a step to the side and felt my boot slide out from under me. I fell backwards onto the hill next to the driveway, which didn’t hurt because the ice covering the grass splintered and absorbed much of the impact.
Just as I was noting my good fortune for not slamming my head onto something solid, gravity gave me a little shove down the hill. The wet ice and the rain slicker took that idea and ran with it. That’s when I realized that sliding on your back down a steep, icy hill – headfirst and with a sharp pick-axe resting somewhere on your legs — well, let’s just say it’s a special feeling.
I kicked the pick-axe off my legs, then remembered that farther down the hill – and not much farther – was a hurricane fence. I stuck my arms over my head as if doing an overhead press and caught the fence with my hands. Amazingly, I didn’t sprain a wrist. My body rotated left and slid into the fence, but by then the momentum was almost down to nothing.
At that point, I decided my ice-chipping adventures were over for the day. But I still wanted to push my car out of the gully and onto the driveway, so I drafted Chareva to do the driving. I pushed and heaved and shoved, tried putting a brick and a board under the front tire, but each time I just … about … managed … to … crest … the … driveway, the tires spun and the car rolled backwards into the gully.
I was flipping through my mental dictionary, choosing the best arrangement of four-letter words to announce that I was giving up, when I was reminded of why I love living in a rural area populated with nice people who say “ya’ll” and suchlike. I looked toward the highway and saw a pickup parked up there. Some guy I’d never met before was taking baby-steps down our driveway to avoid slipping.
“You need some help pushing her up the hill?”
“It’ll never get up the hill on this ice,” I replied. “I found that out yesterday. I’m just trying to get it back up onto the driveway.”
“All right, then. I’m sure we can do that.”
I pointed to the icy, slushy, muddy mess in the gully. “I appreciate it, but we can just leave it here until tomorrow. You’re guaranteed to cover those boots in mud if you step in there.”
“Aw, I don’t care. They’re just boots.”
And with that, we gave Chareva the thumbs-up. She stepped gently on the gas, and the unknown neighbor and I pushed the car onto the driveway.
“Thank you so much for stopping to help.”
“No problem. Y’all have a nice day.”
When the rain stopped later in the afternoon, Sara and I went back out, but only managed to expose a few feet of actual driveway under the ice. By then my arms felt like lead and my hands were swollen again, so we called it quits.
Saturday night is traditionally our family outing to a local Mexican diner. We weren’t going anywhere, so Chareva whipped up a pretty tasty version of steak fajitas with black beans and Mexican fried rice. I believe even our Mexican sister-in-law would have approved.
Today the temperature was in the low 40s, but we’re due for below-freezing temperatures again Monday. I really wanted to get that ice off the driveway before Saturday’s rain freezes on top of it. So around noon I took a show shovel and a steel garden spade down to the driveway to see if the ice was getting loose. On the slope near the house, it wasn’t. But on the slope up to the highway, I was finally seeing some slushy areas.
So Chareva, Sara and I began digging down to the gravel with a combination of the garden spade, the snow shovel, and the garden hoe – Sara’s favorite weapon. After a couple hours of chipping, scraping and shoveling, we managed to expose two long tracks down to where my car was parked.
I rolled Chareva’s garden cart down to the pasture, then the four of us piled into my car and drove up the slope. Near the top, I got a little off track and the car started to slide just a bit. Then the tires found gravel and we pulled out onto the highway.
We were nearly giddy. Look, it’s the highway! It’s clear! We can go anywhere!
Anywhere was a Tractor Supply, where we bought more pig and chicken feed, then a Kroger, where we bought more people feed. I’m normally a get-in-and-get-out shopper, but today I was happy to dawdle. After a week of not leaving the farm, I was shaking off a mild case of cabin fever.
We parked my car on the almost-flat area of the driveway at home, then loaded the groceries into the garden cart to ferry them to the house. As we pulled the cart up the slope of the driveway, my boots were digging into slushy areas. So were the tires on the cart. Apparently the ice had loosed up more while we were out shopping.
So I grabbed a snow shovel and a garden spade, and Sara grabbed her hoe. While Chareva and Alana put away groceries inside, Sara and I banged and chipped and scraped and shoveled until we’d exposed one long track from the car to the top of the slope near the house.
I told her watch from off to one side in case the car decided to slide back down the driveway. “Okay,” she said. “But be careful!”
Nothing to it. No sliding backwards this time. The tires spun briefly once near the top, then caught the driveway underneath. Sara applauded as I rolled up next to the van.
I have never felt so happy to pull into my own driveway and put my car in park.
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