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Plowing snow by moonlight

Full moon hung high in the cold sky. Two a.m. The bright moonlight reflected from newly fallen snow. It was a golden, soft light that left mystery in dark shadows in the pine and fir forest surrounding the house and shop on the Girl Scout ranch we took care of in northern Colorado's Rocky Mountains. I ate, slipped into my insulated coveralls, shoveled the front walk clear, and then walked across the parking area and up a steep hill to the shop through 18 inches of new snow. Fifteen degrees. With the blanket of clouds having drifted away, the temperature would continue to fall.

Earlier, before dark, in falling snow, I had mounted the plow blade onto the one-ton truck, pulled the truck into the shop, and put chains on all six tires. While the last of daylight fled the mountains and snow still fell, I had walked down to the house to eat dinner; to write; to see my family; to sleep, perchance to dream.

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In moonlight, I shoveled snow from the concrete outside the shop. I didn't want to pack snow as I backed out the truck, since packed snow is harder to clear.

Then I backed the truck out of the shop and left it running while I gathered tools. The engine had now warmed enough that the heater warmed the cab. I peeled off the coveralls and put them on the passenger's side. Bulky clothes make it harder to move, and I moved a lot while I plowed.

I plowed the parking area in front of the shop first. I backed the truck, turned the blade to shed snow to the right, dropped the blade to the ground, and pushed. Snow shed right and some scattered down the hill straight in front of me at the end of my run. I backed up and did it again. Six times.

Then to the road past the house and down to the lodges and tent sites. Our roads are traffic-packed, decomposed red granite gravel and dirt. Last spring's work - when I'd pulled protruding rocks from the road and smoothed the road with the blade behind the tractor, then followed up with a rake and shovel - paid off when I began to plow. Most of the places that had jarred blade, truck, and me last winter because of protruding rocks were now smooth. I could drive the truck faster and throw snow farther from the road. In some places, I couldn't have pulled protruding rocks without uprooting the mountain, but I knew where those blade-catching rocks were and I worked slowly there.

The second time down the long straight stretch toward Lone Pine Creek, frozen over in dark shadows of willow bush, I shut the headlights off. Snow-covered meadow stretched to my right and to my left. The blade threw snow high and to the right. Flying cascades of snow glowed in moonlight. For a while, moonlight was enough to plow by. Moonlight. Pine trees. Fir trees. Spruce. Aspen, bare of leaves for winter.

Granite ridges of huge boulders rose behind the big lodge, forest, and meadow. Elk had walked through there after most of the snow had fallen. Maybe the herd was headed toward lower ground. I would, too, if I ate wild grasses: There's less snow to paw aside before one can eat.

I stopped, got out of the truck, and peeled off more clothing. I climbed back in, turned the heater down, turned the headlights back on, and drove through building shadows, tree shadows, pushing snow aside. I plowed the parking area beside the lodge, parked the truck and shut it off, climbed out, shoveled the outdoor stairs, sweeping off snow that the shovel had missed. Somewhere on the ridge above me, a great horned owl called, and from somewhere far off another owl answered.

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I felt cold, so I left my tools and plowed enough to warm myself by the heater in the truck. Then I stopped and shoveled more, then plowed more.

Coyotes called from down the creek, probably near the trail to the homestead. The big, blue truck clicked metallic sounds, cooling down in 10-degree moonlight. Then I plowed the parking lot below the lodge - more-delicate work because the area has topsoil and grass, and it's easy to gouge the blade into that and move dirt with the snow.

The 10th time past our house, I put the truck back in the shop and closed the door behind it. I stood in the moonlight for a while, holding my coveralls, my sweater, and my water bottle. It was 4:30 a.m., and the roads were clear of snow beneath a clear sky.

I could go into the house and sleep. Or I could sing and play my guitar, or write. I could eat again. I would probably sit and look out the window at moonlight, forest, and snow and wait for the brilliance of the rising sun.