Huckleberry, our red side-by-side four-wheeler, sits idling in our snowy driveway. My dad sits behind the steering wheel, and I climb in the passenger side. There’s 6 inches of new snow and it’s time to plow. My dad has just finished plowing our parking area and the neighbor’s driveway and we’re heading out to plow Wrangell’s bike/walking path.
The spruce and hemlocks are dressed in thick snow making the road look like a holiday postcard. A half mile from here, the bike/walking path starts—or ends—depending on how you look at it, at the turnoff to the fishcamp on Shoemaker Loop Road. From there, the path runs three miles toward town to the 2-mile pullout just before my cousin’s gingerbread house and City Park. After that the path connects with the city’s sidewalk system.
My dad plows snow for our community because he loves our community.
He’s lived here all his life and Wrangell is home. He’s 81 years old, and he’s used to being active, having spent his life as a commercial fisherman, working in the sawmill, and working for the Forest Service. He’s an outdoors person. He purchased a plow when he bought the Huckleberry with the goal of plowing our driveway all winter. Soon, though, he was also plowing the neighbor’s driveway and a nurse’s driveway down the road. He also keeps the fire hydrants plowed and accessible on our road.
Dear Firemen, we try to keep the hydrants on our road plowed because we appreciate all you do for our community.
Where the bike/walking path begins, my dad sets the plow down and shifts to low gear. Snow rolls up easily in front of the plow and then disperses on the sides. After fifty yards I turn around to check the plow job then turn toward my dad giving him a thumbs up. We plow until we arrive at the first pullout next to the ocean. My dad maneuvers Huckleberry and starts shoving large swathes of snow. It takes a while to clear the large parking area. After we’re finished, it’s off to plowing the path again. We stop to plow the Rainbow Falls trail parking area. This trail is used by hikers every day, no matter the weather, but often it’s not plowed unless we do it.
Before my dad bought the Huckleberry, we’d drive by the bike/walking path in the winter and notice impassible berms, the slop and slush, ruts and ice and snow piled high. We Wrangellites are walkers. Wrangell is the one of most walking, biking, and running friendly places in Southeast. We know what’s good for us. You get better sleep if you run past the rock man and the crabber setting pots out front. Running in Wrangell’s rain releases endorphins and improves memory and helps your immune system. Just ten minutes of walking along the oceanside with a view of whales and seals reduces anxiety. We should rename our path the Happy Path or the Wisdom Path.
Dear Stroller, a walk on the walking path reduces blood pressure and stress hormones. Take ten minutes. Breath deep. Enjoy. And don’t slip.
A half hour of plowing snow in the Huckleberry has the same benefits of strolling along the path. There’s something about riding in a four-wheeler that’s like riding in an open skiff. I have the easy job as the passenger. I watch for traffic, and my dad and I stay present with each other, enjoying the snow-covered salmonberry bushes and the rhythm of the job.
We plow up the hill to Prescott Beach, though it’s not officially named after us, it’s the beach my siblings and I grew up on, now bordered by Shoemaker Bay’s breakwater and the city’s RV park. The idea of plowing the bike/walking path came from my dad. He wanted to do something useful. Now with the threat of Covid-19, being useful can also be dangerous. Our normal indoor gathering in winter is no longer an option. I needed to keep my dad safe, but he still needed an activity that made him feel productive. Snowplowing with the Huckleberry was the answer.
We push snow along the path by the old airplane pullout, then past where we used to live when I was a kid, then along past a cousin’s house, past a treacherous curve, and my ex-husband’s house, and the florists’ house, and a log house, and the old mink farm. In this section, another four-wheeler keeps it plowed so we lift our plow and drive on through. A dog walker is heading our way and we slow down to a crawl. As we pass, the dog walker scoots over. We wave as we go by.
Dear Dog Walker, thank you for the holiday card we received from you in the mail. The glitter and the greeting warm our winter days. It’s nice to be appreciated!
We often don’t know how the things we do affects our community. At Christmas, my dad received a card from a local family who thanked him for keeping the walking path plowed. Our neighbor gifts my dad fuel for the Huckleberry. Recently, I read Alaska Writer Laureate, Heather Lende’s book Of Bears and Ballots about her love of Haines and serving her community on Haines’ assembly. It takes fortitude to serve in local politics. There are many ways to love your community. I’ll stick to plowing snow.
Since my dad started plowing, we’ve only received one complaint from a cross-country skier who didn’t like it that we plowed the path, an objection he voiced on our local Community Board on Facebook. The whole town came to my dad’s defense, thanking him.
Plowing the bike/walking path has become a community effort. This winter, more small plows are helping, and we’ve even noticed most of the parking areas were plowed by a bigger truck. The last snowfall, though, we couldn’t keep up and the Huckleberry broke down, needing a couple repairs. Someone stepped in, but we don’t know who they were.
What you do to express your love for your community is up to you. Showing how much you love your community can be a plow full of snow shoved off the side of a walking path. Having a clear path provides winter beach and trail access, keeps us talking to our neighbors while social distancing, and keeps us problem solving, and dreaming, and imaging what our community can be. We plow to keep us walking together in these dark times. So, if you see a red side-by-side four-wheeler plowing snow in Wrangell, honk your horn and wave. It’s probably me and my dad in the Huckleberry.
• Wrangell writer and artist Vivian Faith Prescott writes “Planet Alaska: Sharing our Stories” with her daughter, Yéilk’ Vivian Mork. It appears twice per month in the Capital City Weekly.