I have lived all over the United States — from the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans, white with foam — I’ve unpacked moving boxes. In fact, you know you get around a lot when there are multiple moving stickers on the underside of your furniture. I considered it the suburban version of carbon dating.
One of the hardest things about moving can be deciphering the unwritten code of your new neighborhood as it pertains to outdoor maintenance. Primarily leaf raking and redistributing snow.
For example, in Texas when it snows, and by that a mean a smattering, maybe a quarter cup of semi-frozen precipitation gently falling from the sky, everyone freaks out. The whole city goes into lockdown. Grocery stores get picked clean of perishables, booze and ammo.
For days prior to the forecast of 32 degrees with a chance of crystallized vapor, news crews position their live trucks outside the Super Target to interview frenzied shoppers about the status of their provisions. The one thing no Texan worries about is clearing their driveway. Mainly, because no one owns, or perhaps has ever seen, a snow shovel.
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When my family lived in the Lake Tahoe region of Nevada, anyone who shoveled snow was a chump and a seasonal hater. You do not vanquish your driveway of the white stuff no matter how much Mother Nature dumped on it. To shovel your driveway means three things: 1) You aren’t a native and 2) because you aren’t a native, you don’t own a vehicle big enough to plow through and over 12-foot snowdrifts, which means 3) you must not ski because with this much new snow you should be heading to the slopes, not wasting time on driveway beautification.
As for our brief sojourn in Los Angeles, folks there get freaked out when it rains. I had a neighbor who refused to drive in the rain and another one who had NEVER driven in the rain. Earthquakes, though, didn’t bother either of them. Go figure.
Now based on these experiences, when my family moved to Kansas four years ago I was lackadaisical about snow removal. My husband still had his big “Lake Tahoe” vehicle and no Kansas snowstorm could stop that bad boy from going anywhere. (Note: ‘Bad boy’ refers to the car, not my husband, just in case anyone was getting confused.)
Little did we know our non-shoveling practices were proving confusing to the neighbors. I started to catch on when people would seek me out and volunteer to “help me” shovel my driveway. This is when I learned that in Kansas a non-shoveled driveway is sign of slothful living or that you have a heart condition that prohibits interaction with a snow shovel.
Now I consider myself an almost native because not only do I shovel my driveway with a vengeance (and I own two different kinds of shovels — one for clearing large areas and one for detail work on porches, patios and porticoes), but I’m one of those crazies that goes out mid-blizzard to get an early start on snow removal.
My lack of knowledge about Midwest snow removal etiquette was nothing compared to my leaf-raking ignorance. Once again, I must blame Texas, Los Angeles and Nevada for my stupidity. In L.A. and the Lone Star State, there are no leaves to rake. The trees never shed their green. In northern Nevada, if you rake your leaves, you’re an environmental terrorist.
There’s not even any kind of leaf pickup and forget being able to find any leaf bags. Your layer of leaves is meant to stay on your yard so it can act as a winter blanket, a snow barrier, a compost cover, until spring, when you then gently mulch the leaf refuse with your solar-powered mower.
This is my way of saying: I did not know that leaf-raking was considered a competitive sport in Greater Kansas City. I was woefully unaware that the number of brown leaf bags lining your curb was how you keep score or that there was something called “yarpet,” which is where you strive for your lawn to look like green carpet unmarred by unattractive, past-their-expiration-date crumpled leaves.
In fact, it wasn’t until a neighbor put up a makeshift leaf fence, which consisted of chicken wire strung between two stakes, that I got the hint. It took awhile. I stared at that fence for days wondering what it was all about. Thought it was yard art or maybe a weird kind of dream catcher. Finally, I had my Oprah aha moment and embraced leaf removal.
Last weekend, I filled 17 bags. Yeah, that’s right, I’m now a true Kansan and I have the yarpet to prove it.
Freelancer Sherry Kuehl writes Snarky in the Suburbs occasionally for 816. You can follow her on Facebook at Snarky in the Suburbs, on Twitter at @snarkynsuburbs and read her blog at snarkyinthesuburbs .com.