I saw a car roof going down the street this week. Just a black roof, zipping along like some hulky drone. Somewhere beneath it, I assumed, was the rest of the car - behind a Himalaya-like snowbank. Oh, here came the whole car now, clearly visible where it passed through an intersection. Then it was gone again, just the roof gliding on down the avenue.
That's how high the snow banks are after this week's nearly back-to-back-to-back-to-back snowfalls. Two to 4 inches. Three to 5. Three to 7. Day, night, day. Yadda, yadda, yadda.
"Uncle, uncle!" cried a buddy of mine in a text Wednesday morning. "I'm running out of places to put snow."
The nearly constant dumps in recent days had us plotting strategy: Do we blow snow in mid-storm after just 4 or 5 inches have fallen? Or do we wait until the storm is over the next morning and blow all 8 inches at once? People in other parts of the country have no idea how mentally draining these decisions are for those of us holed up here in the North.
I walked past the homes of a couple neighbors out shoveling on Wednesday afternoon. One was lamenting that she lived on a street that always is among the last to get cleared by city plows. Her driveway was immaculate. The second woman was out shoveling her short but steep drive. She pointed to her crossover vehicle parked down the street.
"I couldn't even get the car up here," she said.
She tossed another heaping shovelful high onto the bank alongside her drive. Her young son was playing behind her.
"And I have to get him out to Spirit Mountain for practice tonight," she said.
Look. We know where we live. It snows here. We have shovels and pushers and big poly scoops and snow-throwers and snowblowers. We have roof rakes to pull the snow down from on high. We know how to use these things, and we're happy to pitch in to help the neighbors when they need it - because they've done the same for us.
But this last siege almost brought us to our knees. It had us thinking. About Phoenix. About Belize. Even Des Moines.
Amazingly, for all our whimpering, this isn't anything like a record snowfall year - yet. As of Wednesday, we were at just under 68 inches for the season, and average is 58 inches at this point. We average 86 inches of snow per winter in Duluth, with a record of 135.4 inches in the winter of 1995-96. Raise your hand if you remember that winter of 1995-96. Oh - you can't raise your hand because of an old shoveling injury to your rotator cuff that year? Sorry.
Our streets and driveways and sidewalks are now tunnels. Like voles and shrews, we scurry around in these ivory hallways, peering out from behind head-high heaps of white, looking for oncoming vehicles. What must these alabaster runways look like to second-graders walking home from school? No wonder they return to their hometown 30 years later and think, "The snow was a lot higher when we were kids."
I don't know why these labyrinths in cornfields are such a big deal in the fall. Just wait three months and walk out your back door.
But we know this. When the latest storm quits toying with us and heads for the U.P., the sun comes out, and it is flat gorgeous here. We grab downhill skis or cross-country skis or snowshoes or snowmobiles, and we go play in the whiteness.
Somewhere along the way, we stop. We look out over the geometric plates of ice on Lake Superior or the serpentine white of the frozen St. Louis River and think, "What a cool place to live."
Sam Cook is a freelance columnist for the Duluth News Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook at facebook.com/SamCook.