Friday, March 2, 2012

The art of shoveling

This evening I had the distinct pleasure of being able to shovel a driveway.  You read that right: pleasure.  There are two yard work activities I will always have a fondness for: shoveling snow and raking leaves.  Mowing the lawn and whatever you do in springtime can shove it.  This year we were robbed of winter.  I got to do very few of the things I planned: sled in my backyard, ice skate on the pond nearby, bury my dog in snow and watch her shake it off.  But one thing I did end up doing multiple times was a good old fashioned shoveling, even though in almost every case if I had waited a day or two all the snow would have disappeared.

One of the many things I love about winter is the joy that comes in shared suffering.  The bitter winds blowing in your face and the icy sidewalk threatening to knock you off your feet are a reminder that we are all in this together.  We all face the same perils.  And when you make it safely home to curl up under a blanket with a steaming cup of cocoa (or better yet brandy and apple cider) you are reminded that we all enjoy the same comforts (the brandy thing may not be universal).  Winter brings us together.  It gives us something to gripe about and bond over.

And when the snow falls thick we all know what to do.  As the flakes quietly lay themselves down, we quietly lace up our boots, don our hats and gloves and grab that shovel.  There may be some grumbling, but otherwise nothing breaks the silence but the scraping of shovel on sidewalk (or the roar of a snow blower if that’s your thing).  It’s a duty.  Some folks may neglect to upkeep their homes, or take out their trash or what have you, but nobody neglects moving that snow.  When the snow comes we get the job done.

To me it’s therapeutic.  Everything is blanketed in snow, and I can restore order.  Clear out the sidewalks, clear out the path.   It’s one little thing I can control.  And it’s peaceful.  Something about the snow as it falls just deadens the air and kills all sound.  It’s so easy to feel when you’re shoveling that there is no place else in the world but the little bubble of snow you exist in.

And tonight nothing existed but snow.  It was the thick heavy wet kind that sticks to everything like glue.  Every branch fully frosted.  Every surface with an inch of the white stuff on it.  You look around and the world is mono-chromatic.  But it’s not a black and white photograph.  The white isn’t white, it’s that slight yellow of a streetlight’s illumination.  A little human intrusion as we try to clear out from winter's grasp the little surfaces that we consider our own.  That which we hold onto to make it through the cold.

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