Monday, January 23, 2017

The sword of Damocles, North Idaho-style

Some of you may be familiar with the Sword of Damocles, defined as "an allusion to the imminent and ever-present peril faced by those in positions of power":
According to the story, Damocles was pandering to Dionysius, his king, and exclaimed to him that Dionysius was truly fortunate as a great man of power and authority, surrounded by magnificence. In response, Dionysius offered to switch places with Damocles so that Damocles could taste that very fortune firsthand. Damocles quickly and eagerly accepted the king's proposal. Damocles sat down in the king's throne surrounded by every luxury, but Dionysius arranged that a huge sword should hang above the throne, held at the pommel only by a single hair of a horse's tail. Damocles finally begged the king that he be allowed to depart because he no longer wanted to be so fortunate, realizing that with great fortune and power comes also great danger.

For the last few days, our sub-zero temperatures have risen above freezing, resulting in slushy conditions. It also means snow has been sliding off metal roofs, often with an enormous "whoosh-WHOMP" as hundreds of pounds of snow dumps off. Obviously roofs with the steepest pitch dump first; roofs with a shallower pitch take longer and often result in long curls of snow before the weight breaks it off and it dumps to the ground.

A couple mornings ago I went out to fill the water tank behind the barn. The snow was slowly sliding off the roof, and the overhang was at least two feet.

A bunch of snow had already dumped off, burying the water tap, which I dug out.

But I was working directly under the snowy sword of Damocles. Here I'm looking up, just waiting for the snow shelf to break off and bury me.

Needless to say, while the tank was filling, I stood well away from the tap.

Fortunately I escaped the dump.

Two hours later, I heard a mighty "whoosh-WHOMP." Down came about half the snow, which completely buried the tap. I dug it out again.

It partially blocked the stall where Matilda and her calf get shelter, so I had to dig them out.

Later the rest of the snow slid off and re-buried the tap even deeper. Wheee.

Sigh. Had to dig out the tap yet again.

But this time there's no more snow. This dig-out should last awhile.

No new snow on the horizon, at least in any appreciable quantity. No more digging. (Yeah right.) No more swords of Damocles.


  1. I have to chuckle at this. I live in the UP of Michigan and have the very same situation. Going in and out of the back door of my house is an act of bravery. hoping not to get ambushed by a big chunk of ice.

    Carl in the UP

  2. A couple tall pallets covered with plywood and leaned together in an a-frame over your frost-free faucet is a quick fix that would save you a lot of shoveling...

    1. I agree - if this happens regularly, a localized shield or cover would save you some work.
      It would also protect you during rain storms the rest of the year.

  3. Same experience here. It is amazing how much weight the unsupported edges of the steel roofing can withstand.
    Montana Guy

  4. Wow!! And I thought I had cold weather problems! Here in the UK it is colder than it has been for years but nothing like you are experiencing! You guys are tough! : )
    Sue x

  5. Our barn has a gambrel roof with a very steep pitch. It doesn't hold much snow, but what it does hold eventually avalanches off, rocketing six feet out from the edge. That's why we put the entrances on the gable ends and the hydrant underneath the lean to :) So glad I don't have to dig mine out. Much less, under peril!

  6. Is it possible in good weather to move the tap further away from the building? Just wundrin... --Fred in AZ

  7. I started to say that the snow would have helped insulate the tap the second time around, but since it's an underground valve with a drain, I guess it wouldn't have mattered. Glad the snow didn't get you.

  8. *cough* rock salt mortars *cough*


  9. Or put another tap inside the building?

  10. Mountainous Central Idaho reporting - off-grid for 2.5 decades and surrounded by Natl. Forest on all sides:

    ibid every single year, over and over and over again. I disagree with the pallet suggestion as you no doubt realize that you will also be shoveling out pieces of nail-embedded wood afther the next dose of white death plummets to earth.

  11. That's the reason I wear dry wall stilts all winter.

  12. I built an 18X20 Gambrel roof shed this summer with plans to build a "greenhouse" aka enclosed rabbit hutch and chicken coop on one side. After a warm up the snow from the last big snowfall slewed off the steep side. I will still build it but with a much stronger roof and frame. Anchorage, Alaska

  13. Wow it is impressive the way you folks live up there. I have driven through Idaho as a semi driver and I really like the state.