A Cup of Coffee with Attorney Mark Western


We love that our attorneys and staff have diverse interests in the communities they serve. Here is a great short read from Attorney Mark Western who writes for the Mountrail County Promoter. It is republished here with their permission. Enjoy! 

Thinking About Driveways and Snow Blowing

We are deep into the winter 2022-23, both literally and figuratively, and anyone who reads this has presumably dealt with all of the recent snow in some way.  I am not the first or the last to suggest that we as North Dakotans have a special kind of hardiness to annually wage a losing war with Old Man Winter.  Along with a snow blower or tractor, North Dakotans often have as many different types for snow shovels as the Eskimos have names for snow.  Each type of snow shovel has a different purpose; to push, to stack, to chip, to lift, or to finesse. 

Personally, I hate snow blowing in windy conditions more than anything.  As I type this column, I can still feel the throbbing cold in my fingers and the sting of the snow blown onto my face from last night's snow blowing adventures.  I do not like to snow blow, but I like an icy and lousy driveway even less.   

Shakespeare wrote eloquently of the seven ages of man and Dante wrote equally eloquently about the seven circles of Hell.  It is with that spirit that I hope today’s submission will be considered to be part of the canon of works describing the essence of life in our time.  I believe most North Dakota driveways go through seven stages every winter.   Permit me to explain:

Stage One, Pre-Winter

During this stage, the driveway is in all its late-autumn glory.  The driveway is clear of leaves, its borders are a perfect rectangle or trapezoid, and the surface is as flat as a griddle frying my morning bacon.  The first stage of driveways is almost always the happiest.  All of the neighbors’ driveways look the same; free of snow and debris.   The snowblower is serviced and there is a container of ice remover ready to go.  This stage is akin to warmups before a basketball or football game.

Stage Two, Early Winter Perfection

At the beginning of the winter, usually after the first couple of snowfalls, it is easy to keep the driveway immaculate.  In this stage, the average or normal snow pusher resolves that unlike every previous year, the driveway will remain perfect all winter long.  The snow pusher immediately resolves to shovel all of the ridges from the city snowplow; sidewalks and walkways are kept free of any drifts and no footprints can be found anywhere.  The sidewalks and walkways are at least two full snowblower widths and will often reach onto the grass on either side.

Prior to pulling into the driveway after work, school, or a trip to the store, the snow pusher will promptly push all snow from the entire driveway to ensure no ridges, no packed snow, and no tire tracks.  This stage is not unlike the phenomenon of overflowing gyms during the first two weeks of January each year.  Some regions of the country refer to this stage as the "Hallmark Christmas Movie" stage.  

Stage Three, Light Footprints and Tire Tracks.

After a couple more snowfalls, the snow pusher's vigilance begins to wane.  On the drive home after a day's snowfall of a few inches, the snow pusher decides that "a little snow on the driveway isn't so bad."  They drive over the snow, park the car in the garage and resolve to push all of the snow away in the morning, or maybe the evening of the next day.  After snow blowing, light tire tracks and footprints can be seen.  Meanwhile, the vigilant snow pusher continues to seek perfection.  The normal snow pusher and the vigilant snow pusher quietly resent each other for their selfish choices. 

Stage Four, "It's Good Enough."

Once the weather gets colder or windier, fatigue begins to rear its weary head.  The normal snow pusher will only do what is necessary to ensure that vehicles can come and go without getting stuck.  The ridges from the city snowplow become icy and incredibly dense.  Unless the normal snow pusher invests in a blowtorch, it is impossible to  keep the driveway free of snowpack and ridges.  The size of the driveway shrinks several feet on either side because of dense drifts and the walkways and sidewalks are now only the width of one pass with the snowblower.  The resentment between the normal snow pusher and vigilant snow pusher silently grows. 

Occasionally, the vigilant snow pusher will take the family out for a drive after the snow blowing to check up on who is keeping up with winter and who is slacking.  The normal snow pusher, who is relaxing and holding a mug of apple cider in the living room, can see the vigilant snow pusher drive by and grow more upset when the vigilant snow pusher slows down and points at several driveways.  Both mutter under their breaths to describe the others’ unwise snow removal choices. 

Stage Five, Chipping Away At Winter.

Invariably, there will be a late winter heatwave in the thirties or forties; the stir craziness and boredom of sitting inside for weeks on end brings the snow pusher outside again.  At this point, the normal snow pusher realizes that there four to six inches of hardpack have accumulated on the driveway and the ridge at the end of the driveway is akin to a large speedbump or a small butte.  

The snow pusher resolves spend an entire weeknight or a Saturday afternoon chipping away several weeks of snow chunks and complacency.   The neighbor who has been vigilant all winter long looks down his nose upon this change of heart.  Stage five usually lasts until the next big snowstorm.

Stage Six, "It Can Wait Until Spring."

In late winter/early spring, after the second freak snowstorm that dumps extremely wet and slushy snow will arrive and after two minutes of attempting to shovel, the snow pusher throws up his hands in defeat.  Unless the snow pusher owns a tractor or Bobcat, it is nearly impossible to remove slush.  It is too thick to go through the snow blower and too heavy to shovel.  Usually, the accumulation melts away in the next week.  Or until the next freak snowstorm.    

Stage Seven, Melting, Springtime and a Clean Driveway Again.

Springtime!  The relieved snow pusher can watch the track team run down the city streets in leggings and stocking hats, the geese and ducks can be seen in “V” pattern high above the house, and the gophers and squirrels can play happily in the muddy yard. The snowpack, ridges, and tire tracks of the previous winter have melted away and are little more than a bad memory.  With a sigh of relief, the snow pusher leans on the open garage door and congratulates himself for having a perfect driveway and resolves to never let things get away again.  Until next winter.

Mark Western