Waseca County Pioneer 111 W. Elm Ave.

Waseca, MN (507) 837-6767


Know when not to swerve

Drifting snow fascinates me.
Among the most noticeable phenomena are what my family has always called “snow snakes.” These happen when the wind walks snow along the length of the highway: suddenly it’s as if the air has become visible. Lines of snow slink and swerve, forming patterns that are not patterns at all. It’s hypnotizing–so much so that, if I am at the wheel, I have to compel myself to look away or risk driving off the road.
Equally fascinating is what happens when the “snakes” go airborne–for example in the wake of a semi, or on the downwind side of any barrier. In the summer, the effect is called a “dust devil,” a miniature tornado that forms just long enough to catch the eye and then dissolve.
Then there are the snow sculptures: the forms and shapes which develop as wind carries, drops, and perhaps reclaims the snow. I could watch for hours–as long as I have the luxury of being sheltered and warm–as airborne snow sweeps over and around various obstacles. It is a healthy reminder that a great deal more is always going on than we are aware of.
A similar message is sent by the lines of gray and black which develop as windblown dirt is mixed in.  The sweeps and curves and shading which occur are as hypnotizing as the snow in motion. Though they are the product of chance–of the strength and direction of the wind as modified by the swells of the landscape and any random obstacles–they seem like design. It makes me glad to be a Minnesotan:  Who cares if I have to suffer for “my” art?
Speaking of snow, I used my position as a newspaper reporter to finagle a ride in a snow plow last week. In the amicable company of Hollandale area resident–and snow plow driver–Adam Wacholz, I saw I-35 from the lofty, 9-foot-high perspective of a snow plow cab. It was a breezy day; snow drifts were attempting to form, but at least in the short term, they had little chance against a 55,000-pound tandem truck and a 12-foot-wide plow. Though not a chatterbox, Mr. Wacholz was kind and patient enough to answer my many questions. There was no escaping me as we drove his usual 26-mile circular route on the interstate, so he was what could be called a captive audience. I’m not sure what stories he has to tell about me (and my camera), but the story I have to share is on the front page of this newspaper.
Perhaps surprisingly, despite the size of the truck and its engine, the ride did not give me a sense of invulnerability. At the risk of jinxing myself, it has been…decades…since I last found myself in the ditch. Yet Mr. Wacholz shared story after story of stranded cars, and observed with stoic candidness that he regularly sees vehicles spinning out on the interstate. Though he did not say so, circumstances implied the spinouts happened because drivers were perhaps careless or inattentive as they passed his truck and its “snow cloud.” He described how, even if a collision (pretty much always from behind) seemed imminent, he knew better than to swerve, since a vehicle the size of his would crush a typical car. Still, along with the accounts of danger and potential disaster, were stories of rescued motorists, cleared highways, and long shifts successfully completed.
Mr. Wacholz and his observations reminded me that, at least figuratively, we are always subject to swirling winds, and our only choice is to plant our feet one at a time and keep moving. If we are like him, we will be persistently aware of the needs of others, and be doing what we can to provide assistance while also enjoying the ride.
So perhaps that’s why drifting snow fascinates me. It’s hypnotic, beautiful, wispy and yet startlingly persistent. It’s moving, but somehow stays in the same place. It introduces an air of uncertainty while remaining surprisingly predictable.  It opens my eyes, and my mind, while reminding me how lucky I am to be safe, warm, and surrounded by beauty. 


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