It came with a cold determination - 10 inches. There was no choice in the way it arrived. It wasn't subtle, leaving a gentle ivory calling card that suggested it might return days or weeks later. No, it came with resolve, predicted well by the meteorological prophets, a steady falling flow that left a clinging presence on trees and rooftops. Moving it would require determination, but willpower was in short supply. So I let it be. Payback came all too soon - ice dams!

I've battled these spawn of polar demons in the past. The house we lived in at the time was lacking insulation, designed by a short-sighted architect or assembled by a migratory builder from southern California. The contractor must have thought that what worked in Malibu would perform the same way here, where temperatures barely creep above the horizon like the sun. No, the snow stays.

Now I gear up for wintry onslaughts in early fall before the predicaments of mid-December when the winter solstice brings toil, not merriment. It is possible to stay ahead of the icy ridges on a roof's edge by religiously scraping every last snowflake each time it snows. This requires obsessive attention to predictions flowing from weather forecasters. There are ways of coping with the dams, some verbal or chemical, others labor intensive. Still others rely on the magic of modern electricity.

My first response to water dripping from the ceiling into a coffee cup on the kitchen table was not amazement at the intrusion of mother nature, but a few choice cuss words that had little effect on the drip, drip, plop; too late the efforts with the snow rake. Now it must be ladder, hammer and screwdriver, striving with concentrated effort to shatter icy tentacles that clutch to brittle shingles. The trip up the side of the dormer, outfitted like an alpine climber with rope and shovel, gives nothing but an exhilarating view of the neighbor's dog kennel.

Firmly tied to the chimney with last summer's water ski rope, shoveling 2-foot drifts off the higher elevations, the ice demons are finally confronted. Here it is all grunt work, slam, thud, thud, until small chunks of ice loosen and fall to the ground below. Repositioning for the next assault, the heart stops briefly when there is the slightest slither toward the edge. The rope catches and a curse follows when the hammer careens over the edge and just misses my car.

There are solutions to this recurring problem. Some involve arson; others casting oneself from the rooftop, or moving to Arizona. None of these are viable options. Cold and snow are in my DNA. Finding a contractor with expertise on the ins and outs of insulating in northern Minnesota would also be a possibility. Either way, next fall, it's wire the roof with heating coils, and when the snow starts its crawl to the roof's edge, flip a switch and watch the demons melt away.


Doug Lewandowski is a retired counselor, educator and licensed psychologist. Write to him at