We are running out of places to put the snow.
I love snow. Truly. But the berms on the sides of our driveway have grown so high that I had to plant warning flags on the crests to keep them from being hit by passing helicopters. I chased a couple of mountaineers off of one yesterday. Fortunately, one of them dropped his copy of Into Thin Air as he scrambled away over the lunar-looking landscape, so now I’ll have something to read today as we enjoy our fourth snow day of the year. Yes, fourth. The two days before our two-week Christmas vacation were wiped away by a record-breaking snowfall and subzero temperatures, and yesterday and today have been likewise canceled in the interests of keeping staff and students safely off of the widening ice skating rinks that nature has constructed all over town where there used to be roads.
Not that I’m complaining. I need the snow days for, well, shoveling snow.
In the past three weeks, we’ve gotten over sixty inches of snow, breaking our town’s previous 24-hour snowfall record (16 inches) by a good 9 inches along the way. We’ve shoveled the driveway nearly a dozen times, and at one point Paul borrowed his dad’s roof rake to pull some of the heavily caked snow off of the roof. While Paul has done the lion’s share of the work, I’m proud to say I’ve taken a fair turn at the shovel, fighting to keep our precious forty feet of driveway clear of piled up precipitation so that our coming and going could continue unabated.
In the seven years we’ve lived in Idaho, I’ve learned a few things from winter. I’ve learned to drive on snow and ice: go slow, pump the brakes, turn into the slide, don’t panic. I’ve learned to traverse the slick expanse of a frozen parking lot with the graceful, floating movements of an ice skater, carefully maintaining my center of gravity over steady feet, knowing that any sudden motions could land me flat on my back in a most painful and unladylike position. I’ve learned which kind of gloves are good for playing in the snow and which kind are merely ornamental, useless after the chilly fall days have given way to more arctic climes.
But until this year, I was still a snow shoveling novice.
I thought I knew about shoveling. In our apartment, the landlord plowed the parking lot, and we tenants took it in turns (when we felt like it and had the spare time) to shovel the thin ribbon of sidewalk that wound from our doors to the parking area. Only now do I realize: in the world of snow shoveling, that didn’t count.
Now that we have a driveway to shovel, I’m a little better acquainted with this Northwest rite of passage that makes grown men cry and compels otherwise sane people to level firearms and hatchets at innocent snow plow drivers.
I learned that the different types of snow make a huge difference to the snow shoveler. Our first couple of feet were light and powdery snow, easy to lift, despite it’s irritating habit of leaping onto the wind and blowing back in your face instead of settling sedately down on the ground. When the weather warmed up, the snow grew heavier, more substantial, making a nice, satisfying “whump” noise as it landed and raising the shoveler’s heart rate a bit. The worse snow to shovel is the pile at the end of the driveway that the snowplow leaves in its wake. Having been partially melted and mixed up with road dirt and ice chunks from the encroaching berms, it quickly refreezes and takes on the consistency and weight of concrete, and digging it out requires a well-muscled back, a tough shovel, and a sense of humor. There is some sort of natural law at work that causes the snowplow driver to arrive at the very moment that you’ve finally finished clearing your driveway. If you know that and expect it, perhaps you won’t be the one picking up the hatchet.
I met a lot of our neighbors while out shoveling snow, because they were out doing the same. We even had one neighbor come over with his snowblower and finish up for us on a day when the load was especially heavy. Several people with four wheelers attached small plow blades to the front of them and made an attempt at clearing the street, knowing that the city plows wouldn’t come through for hours. There’s a sweet sense of camaraderie in working side by side to beat back the elements for survival (or at least for the ability to get out and go to the McDonald’s drive-thru.)
Make no mistake about it. Shoveling snow is hard work. Sweaty, difficult, back-breaking labor that is guaranteed to help you burn off the extra helpings of pumpkin pie you ate at Christmas dinner. It is one series of motions–scoop, lift, turn, throw–repeated over and over, like the programming of some factory machine. Except this machine is breathing harder than Paul Revere’s horse and soaking wet from mingled sweat and melting snow. It’s an odd sensation to be simultaneously so hot that you long to throw your scarf and parka off in a handy snowbank and so cold that you can’t even feel your fingers or the dripping end of your nose.
Yes, it’s a good workout, and probably the one thing that saved my muscles from complete atrophy over the gloriously slothful two weeks of holiday vacation. With the local authorities urging everyone who didn’t need to travel to keep the roads clear for emergency vehicles and snowplows, it was no trouble at all to devote ourselves to lazy indoor pursuits, like watching movies, playing games, and reading books. Still, thanks to the ever piling and drifting snow, I went to bed every night with a new ache in a muscle I hadn’t realized existed until the moment I used it to toss a shovel load of ice up to the top of the steadily growing white mounds flanking our drive.
Nice neighbors, beautiful snow-covered vistas, a healthy workout–it wasn’t so bad. I feel like shoveling snow was the last step of the makeover transforming this Georgia girl into a true daughter of Idaho.
But at this moment, I’d trade our car for a working snowblower.