Adrift at sea in a snowdrift, but not on the chain gang
Another winter is almost past, and I haven’t installed snow chains on one vehicle here at Clear Creek Ranch. I am NOT complaining – but my wife might, if we do get snowed in any time soon. She will claim I somehow fouled the ranch’s karma, tracked mud on our feng shui, or dissed the weather gods at the very least.
We both remember the first snowfall at our little cabin in the woods. It snowed all night. We awoke to an eerie silence. The world was white beneath a smoke-gray sky. Rabbit tracks crisscrossed the field below our deck. A titmouse, its feathers fluffed against the cold, perched on our window box.
“It’s a winter wonderland,” my wife said. “A wonderland where the power is out. We should have bought those chains last week in town.”
That was a recurring theme as I attempted to cook pancakes directly on the lid of our wood stove. It was a dining experience not to be repeated, although traces remain to this day, in the right light.
My wife voiced stark Jack Londonesque images: ice floes, log jams, frostbite and boiled shoe leather for dinner. It didn’t help that we’d fallen asleep the night before while watching Jack Nicholson in “The Shining.” Which, if you have to axe, concerns a snowbound couple.
“Jack Nicholson’s character thought he was a writer, too,” I said with a leer.
“There are plenty of people who sell chains,” my wife said, thrusting the classifieds between us for protection.
I was disappointed to find that no one delivered. The only possibility nearby was The Chain Guy, about three miles up the hill from us.
Having had less-than-perfect experiences with The Pump Guy, The Pond Guy, The Chainsaw Guy, The Electrician Guy and The Solar Guy, my wife lobbied for a business with a more imaginative name, but they were all higher up in snow country.
I warmed up the truck and we slid down our long driveway and followed icy grooves along our private road out to the county highway. The Chain Guy was at an elevation about 1,500 feet higher than our place.
Generally speaking, for every 1,000 foot increase in elevation, the air temperature drops 3 degrees. This can have a profound effect on snowfall. Soon the snowdrifts dwarfed the truck. I caught a glimpse of The Chain Guy’s sign as we “high-centered” and the truck wheels began to spin uselessly.
The Chain Guy sign stood at the base of a steep driveway. The same sign also advertised “The Dry Firewood Guy,” “The Trash Hauling Guy” and “The Stable Shoveling Guy.” From the tumbledown shack above, the ominous strains of “Dueling Banjos” wafted down to us through the crisp, cool air. I trudged uphill to visit the inbred entrepreneurs on what I was sure was to be the last day of my life.
Fifteen minutes and several hundred dollars later, we backed out onto the county road on our new set of tire chains. By then the sun and the traffic had done their work, and the road was passable. I spent 45 minutes on my back in the mud removing the chains and stowing them in the toolbox, where they remain to this day. They celebrated their 16th anniversary rusting away in the toolbox last December.
I tell anyone who’ll listen that I survive snowstorms the way I did during my formative years on the beach in Southern California. Nobody drives through snowstorms in Los Angeles, you say?
Well, nobody does at Clear Creek Ranch either.
Mike Drummond is a Nevada County writer whose column appears on Tuesday. You can write him in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945; or e-mail him at
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