My Pile: The Comfort of Snow

A winter storm roared up the Atlantic coast late yesterday afternoon, turning into a Nor’easter that left more than a foot of snow in its wake. The morning-after view of my pile from the back porch is positively bucolic. My pile is as pristine as it will ever be, and I leave it be to bask in the morning sun, the snow crystals glistening across the smooth white covering.

My pile, newly covered by a thick blanket of freshly fallen snow.

My pile, newly covered by a thick blanket of freshly fallen snow.

My preparations for the forecasted blizzard included stacking up some firewood on the back porch next to the snow shovel, lifting the wipers off the car’s windshield and poking my pile 30 times or so with the rebar rod.

Knowing that my pile will soon get a thick blanket of insulating snow, I hope that poking holes through it beforehand will give it an infusion of fresh air for the aerobic bacteria to gulp, which it can then exhale as steamy vapor breath. It’s worked before, and the exercise of plunging the bendy bar deep into my pile over and over preps me for the repetitive work of shoveling that I know lies ahead.

After clearing drifts of wind-blown snow from the porch and shoveling off enough of the driveway to back my car out in case I need to, I clomp through the virgin snow toward my pile. Wind-blown flakes flutter by, and with the wind chill it’s in the low teens. It’s still a long way til spring.

The top of my pile, pck-marked by steam vent holes.

The top of my pile later in the day. It’s already pock-marked by steam vent holes.

Peering over a deep drift of snow along the log wall, I see that my pile is pock-marked with vent holes created by steam rising and meltwater falling. I peer through a fist-size chimney to glimpse a luminous cavern. A slick white ceiling of snow a foot looms over a mat of wet straw and leaves. It’s a cozy scene in an igloo sort of way.

A peek into the open pocket of warm moist air under the dome of snow.

A peek into an open pocket of warm moist air under the dome of snow.

I decide to give my pile a further burden of snow. I want to keep it insulated from the ongoing chill and to see just how much more snow it can suck into its midst as meltwater.

It’s been the better part of a month since I’ve watered my pile with the cold hard garden hose. There have been a few good rains, but this is the first significant snowfall of the season. I know from my insertion of kitchen scraps last weekend and my prodding of the spongy mass the day before that my pile can absorb a top-dressing of snoveled snow to slow-release as water.

I slide the wide, flat shovel through the fresh snowpack along the left-side log wall, then scoop the thick sheets of snow upward and across my pile. It’s like heaving a 10-pound wedding cake over my shoulder.

I carve a path around the pile, tossing a few dozen scoops atop my pile. The rounded heap soon turns into a mini Matterhorn of chunky snow, higher than my head. I like to keep my pile high, even if it’s an artifice of snow.

Heaping my pile with more snow.

Heaping my pile with more snow, shoveled from around its base.

I calculate: Each wide-mouth scoop must hold a cubic foot of New England snow, which translates to an inch or two of rain, which … Put another way, I figure I’ve just parked 50 or so gallons of water onto my pile. Some will evaporate with the winter sun, but much will be distilled down into the pile drip by drip from the vapors rising from below.

I am glad I’d tossed down a couple Advil before heading out to shovel. I can reason throwing out my back by digging out my car. I’d have a harder time rationalizing a herniated disk caused by spoon-feeding my pile a bathtub of frozen water.

After lunch I tromp back out to the pile. A vent hole had opened up in the back right corner since morning. I haul the shovel back out and cover it with a fresh slug of snow.

I’ll be interested to see how the pile handles its bonus dousing of snow. The snow cover will insulate it, no doubt, enveloping it in a 32-degree thermal blanket. The added weight of all that wet snow will compress it further. But the slow-release of fresh water, drip by icy drip, will allow my pile to continue to percolate  over the coming days and weeks.

Exactly what goes on inside my pile until it sheds its cloak of snow will remain a mystery to me. That’s the cold comfort of snow.


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