By the time cruel April arrives, I’ll no doubt be sick of (or from) it, but I must confess I do enjoy shoveling snow. There is something incredibly satisfying about hard, physical work that enables you to see the progress you are making and to know when you are done for the day. There’s such a sense of purpose and accomplishment to shoveling that I have a tendency to get carried away with it.
To begin with, I like to shovel while it is still snowing. During last week’s nor’easter, I must have shoveled the driveway a half dozen times before the storm stopped. That way, I not only got more quality shoveling time in, I also had less snow to clear the morning after.
Out there with my trusty shovel in the dark and driving snow, I feel so virtuous as all my neighbors but one fire up their gas-powered snowblowers and proceed to make quick work of a chore that will take me a night and a day of penitential shoveling. Of course, it wouldn’t take quite so long if I simply restricted myself to shoveling the short driveway and even shorter front walk, but once I get going I can’t seem to stop. (Actually, I stop, winded and wheezing, about every 10 to 15 minutes, but I’m right back out there as soon as fingertips thaw.)
For years, I did just shovel the driveway, which is usually covered by cars anyway, and the front walk, which no one ever uses. Then, maybe eight or 10 years ago, I started shoveling a path diagonally across the front lawn in order to shorten the walk for the mailman. Crossing that path, I added one straight from the street to the side of the house for the oil deliveryman and the meter reader. Naturally, there is also a path from my office door to the bird feeder, where I also clear a wide swath for the ground feeders. The squirrels, moles, and mice seem to appreciate the effort as much as the juncos and jays.
About four years ago, the roof over my sun porch-cum-office began to leak, so I started shoveling a path from the bird tree to the back of the house so I could get to the ladder, which stays up all winter so I can, you guessed it, shovel the shallow roof off every time it snows. Two years ago, we added a garden shed, so in order to get to the generator and the roof rake stored there, I now shovel a long path across the back yard.
You’d think by now I would have cleared enough snow to make our humble estate navigable, but no. Since we adopted Rudy, a wonderfully willful and snow-loving Lab-Aussie mix, last Valentine’s Day, I have started shoveling a network of paths around the rear of the property and the side of the house so he can run without getting bogged down in the snow. It doesn’t work. He’ll start out bounding down a path, but then insists on striking out through the untracked snow, gloriously wallowing up to his chest in the clean, cold, white powder he loves so well. Eventually, he ends up gnawing at his snow-packed paws, but I have not yet managed to get him to understand the relationship between my warren of paths and paw pack prevention. He’s young and he’s from Tennessee.
As it happens, shoveling snow is inextricably bound up with dogs in my memory. Fifty years ago, age 10, I shoveled virtually every driveway and sidewalk on my street for a dog. Snow was heavier in those days, shovels more rudimentary, and my back, now cranky with age, still lithe and limber. I shoveled out ’59 Chrysler Imperials, Cadillac Coupe De Villes, and Ford Fairlanes the size of lobster boats for 10 hours non-stop in order to earn the $10 I needed to buy a puppy.
Cokie (from Coca-Cola) was just a blackish beagle-esque mongrel. I have no idea what she was doing in a pet shop window, but a boy wants a dog and I, snow-shoveling fool that I am, had to have her. Truth be told, she was probably all I could afford.
It’s been a lifetime now since anyone paid me to shovel snow, but the memory of the canine reward for that long ago day of wintry labor keeps me scooping and scraping happily.
Hey, look, it’s snowing again! Wake up, Rudy! We’ve got work to do.