OK, show of hands: who has shoveled enough snow?
Come on, get ’em up. I refuse to believe that I am the only one. And please, no homespun Downeast folk wisdom.
“You call this snow? We can still see the windows on our house! Longfellow wrote ‘The Song Of Hiawatha’ in deeper snow than this, barefoot. With no coat on. Before all the folks from away moved in. L.L. Bean wouldn’t even have the long sleeve shirts out yet.” Cue the old guy at the potbelly stove hitting a spittoon from 20 feet away. Barefoot. With no coat on.
Don’t get me wrong. I like snow. I like making snow angels and snowmen, snow forts and snowball fights. I used to dream of white Thanksgivings and got quite a few growing up in Michigan. In college I caught a ride home for turkey day with a girl who had just gotten her first car, and judging from her driving, her first license. We had about 16 inches fall on us in the 70 miles between Detroit and Lansing, where she spun a 570 that landed us straddling the center line, facing the oncoming traffic, if there had been any. Nobody else was stupid enough to be on the highway. We ended up getting 27 inches that day. We lived. I never rode with her again.
Snow shoveling is the problem, not snow. This last snowfall wasn’t even that bad, but for some reason, I hit my personal wall. It took the form of chilling (“chilling” – see what I did there?) flashbacks to long winter days with the wind blowing through my threadbare coat as I wielded a comically over-sized shovel, my fingers and feet frostbitten. Apparently, I was Oliver Twist as a child.
Fantasies of workhouses in Victorian London notwithstanding, an unscientific but oddly satisfying analysis has yielded a few theories about why I hit that wall.
One: shoveling is like exposure to pollen. Some people can take more, some less, but sooner or later, everybody hits his limit. This winter I hit mine. The downside of this scenario is that you can’t take a pill that will clear your driveway like it was your sinuses.
The other scenario sounds crazy until you think about it. Then it sounds really crazy. However, it must be true because it came to me as a vision while I was trying to remove the chunky stuff blocking the entire width of my drive. This is the worst part of digging out. It’s an unavoidable side effect of city snow plows’ heroic work clearing the streets; no amount of gratitude can make it fun to get rid of. Anyway, here is the idea: snow shoveling is God’s way of asking if you really want to live in a place that has snow.
On that day it seemed there was an amused, but loving supreme being watching me wrestling tectonic plate-sized pieces of ice and asking, “Seriously? You know this will be going on for three more months, right? Five, if you live in The County. It’s not like this is a secret. I do winter every year.”
I was thinking, “Whatever happened to global warming? Shouldn’t Portland be more like Miami at this point?”
“It’s complicated. Anyway, have fun playing with your shovel. Did I mention there is no snow here? Well, no shoveling. The snow parts like the Red Sea when you walk through it, because it’s, you know, heaven.”
All kidding aside, the snow does bring out a side of Maine that I really love: neighborliness. In general, people seem more helpful here than other places I’ve lived, but it really shows up in winter. You often see passersby stopping to push cars stuck in snow banks. When I got in a traffic accident recently (no injuries), many people stopped to help, even if it was just the offer of a warm car to sit in while we waited for the EMS unit that would check us out.
In an earlier column I expressed surprise and gratitude for the neighbor who used his snow blower to clear my drive. I thought that was pretty remarkable. It was remarkable, but either we are extraordinarily lucky, or that particular good Samaritanship is a Maine thing. During this last snowfall, in a new neighborhood where we haven’t even gotten to know our neighbors, the lady across the street simply walked her snow blower across the street and did our house. Also, just like our last neighbor, she shrugged off any attempts at thanks, almost as if my gratitude was embarrassing. She told me not to be silly, it was fun.
There is only one possible explanation: there is a patron saint – St. Olaf of Husqvarna, perhaps? – who travels the world seeking out the noblest of the noble, people who never hit a wall about doing what is necessary to live in a beautiful northern state. When he finds them, he endows them with the tools to go out and perform their good works. It explains so much, especially why I have always resisted getting a snow blower myself.
I’m not worthy.
Mike Langworthy, an attorney, former stand-up comic and longtime television writer, now lives in Scarborough and is fascinated by all things Maine. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @mikelangworthy.