January in Michigan. It’s that special time of year when we get Alberta Clippers, Polar Vortexes and snow and ice piled higher than a hippie at the hash bash. It’s the time of year that makes me wonder why my ancestors ever chose to settle in this God forsaken land.
Something else we get in Michigan in winter is ice dams. Ice dams come from the melting and refreezing of snow on the roof. A buildup of ice forms on the outer edge of the roof not allowing the water from melted snow to run off. The water that puddles behind the dam backs up under the shingles causing all sorts of problems with the roof, ceiling, and life of the homeowner.
Many years ago my young family was experiencing our first winter in our first house. I noticed that my gutters were filled with ice. I was young and dumb, and didn’t have Google to tell me that frozen gutters don’t lead to ice dams, so naturally I was terrified. I needed to clear my gutters!
The only problem, I didn’t have any idea how one goes about clearing ones gutters of ice. Remember, this was PI (pre-Internet). I could not go to You Tube University to learn how to do this the correct way. I had to figure this out on my own, like my ancestors who had decided to live in this damn place to begin with.
So, how do you break up ice? With an ice pick. But I didn’t have an ice pick. It was PI, but it wasn’t the stone ages, we had ice makers. We didn’t hack the ice for our drinks off of a block like cavemen. The closest thing I could come up with was a screw driver.
So, I climbed up my ladder with screw driver in hand to save my house, and by extension my family, from the dreaded ice dam. I started to chip away at the ice. And chip. And chip. And chip. I was getting nowhere. I needed to speed the process up. It was Saturday, and I had some serious TV watching to do. I thought I could sprinkle road salt on the gutters and melt the ice, but that would take longer than chipping with a screw driver. How else could I melt the ice? Hot water!
So, I climbed down from the ladder and went in search of a bucket. I filled a mop bucket with steaming hot water, returned to the front of the house and mounted the ladder. Ever so carefully I poured the water onto the ice-filled gutter and waited for the result. Not much happened. But…maybe…it was hard to tell. I climbed back down the ladder and headed off for more water.
The second bucket definitely made some head way with the ice buildup in the gutter. It would only take about another hundred and thirty seven buckets and I’d be back in front of the TV.
I mounted the ladder with the third bucket. I reached the top of the ladder and proceeded to swing the bucket from thigh level, where it hung at the end of my arm, up to pouring height, and lost my balance. The bucket flew from my hand and I flew off the ladder. The bucket went one direction and I went the other, landing flat on my back in the snow at the base of the ladder.
The air was driven from my lungs and I lay there like a fish out of water gasping for breath, and wondering if I had broken my back and if I’d ever walk again.
My eight-year-old son Ryan called over from where he had watched the whole scene unfold. “Hey, Dad?”
“What?” I managed between gasps.
“Did you get any of that hot water on you?”
Gasp. “No.” Gasp.
“That’s good,” Ryan said. “That would have hurt if you’d have gotten any of that hot water on you.”
Yeah. Lucky me.
Twenty minutes later I determined that I was going to live. I got up out of the snow and found my bucket. I then put it and the ladder back in the garage and went inside to watch TV.
Ironically, no ice dam ever formed. Google would have told me that iced over gutters don’t lead to ice dams and I could have avoided the whole disastrous event. Maybe if my ancestors had had Google they would have avoided moving to Michigan in the first place.
I’m now old and dumb, and I still live in Michigan. But, I live in a condo where someone else worries about ice dams. So maybe I’m not so dumb after all.
Steve Hagood is the author of Chasing the Woodstock Baby from Indigo Sea Press. Learn more at http://www.stevehagood.com