In 20 years of snowplowing, Dennis Smith has endured dry Novembers and even Decembers when a white Christmas wasn’t in the cards, but he stumbled into new territory when he turned to Mica Peak last Tuesday and found it bare.
The peak, after all, is Spokane Valley’s Punxsutawney Phil. Snow’s white shadow leaves the peak and it’s planting season. We stop plowing snow and start plowing soil.
Smith has three plow trucks gathering frost in a snowless parking lot. There’s no winter work for the crew that digs and prunes for Smith’s business, LM Landscaping, during the other three seasons of the year. And that skiff of snow that hit ground by week’s end was really nothing more than a dusting more suited for Mother’s Day than December.
At Valley Mission Park, hay bales encircle Russian olive trees along the steep slopes usually buzzing with sledding children on Christmas break. At the top of the hill, there’s a flattened streak of grass where someone tested last Thursday’s scant winter’s dusting, followed by a brown skid.
It could be time to add a few caveats to the Mica Peak planting rule, like you must be able to wear shorts and a T-shirt at the same time before breaking ground, suggested Bill Coyle, owner of the Plant Land garden shop. Coyle and his wife, Jan, moved to Spokane from California several years ago, searching for tougher winters. But this year, even the usually ski-able acreage of their Pleasant Prairie home is bare grass. The Coyles used to stay open through Christmas out of greed, he said, but there’s really no sense to it. Closing gives him a break from the question everyone always asks.
“People ask me all the time, ‘Is it OK to plant?’ ” Coyle said. “Planting season ends when you can’t dig anymore and that’s not just because of hard ground: ‘My back hurts and I can’t dig anymore. I can’t bend over and I can’t dig anymore.’ “
Oh, the ground is hard, said Sam Carpenter, of L77, a snowboarding shop in Spokane Valley. And snowboarders in denial about the near-bare ground at local ski hills are paying dearly.
“There’s die-hards that are still going out there. We’ve been surprised,” Carpenter said. “We’ve had people come in the shop bleeding. I’m not kidding. One kid ripped half his coat up. Helmets are not a bad idea.”
On Fridays the workshop at L77 resembles a MASH unit, with deeply gouged snowboards lined up for the shredder’s equivalent of a skin graft. Deep grooves are welded shut with hard plastic.
Carpenter’s own board was gashed by the sharp edge of a culvert at Mt. Spokane, he said.
Stories are swapped at L77 about crashes and scrapes with rocks and stumps and talk turns to what ritualistic sacrifice might rip open the clouds like a gray piñata.
Some superstitious remedy might be in order.
At Smith’s business, where the plows still sit idle, the owner is done with sure bets and rules of thumb.
He’s printing up fliers. Smith could be pruning trees late this month.
"There he is, the Clown Prince of Spokane."
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