Thursday, February 20, 2020

Shoveling Snow

            Shoveling snow is a pleasure – a good thing since we live in Northern Michigan. I look forward to doing it, maybe three or four times a week. Snowfall has been light this winter, about 2-4 inches per.

            Part of the pleasure comes from the routine, which probably says more about me than it does about snow shoveling. I go back and forth pushing snow across the wide area in front of our garage. I enjoy seeing the to-do area gradually diminish and the winter’s long pile of snow grow taller. Then I move to the concrete slab, left over from the garage we tore down, which we use for overflow parking. It’s not used often, but the concrete shovels so nicely compared to the compacted gravel of the driveway area. Then I move to the thirty-yard frozen woodchip walk from the garage to the house, sometimes done with a broom but more often with a shovel. Sometimes I sweep snow off our three decks, though usually I do that when I go out to feed the birds early in the morning. Sweeping steps down to the lake is not part of my routine. I do it once in a while instead of standing around watching Kim cook my dinner. That’s called reciprocity.

            The routine includes dressing: long johns if it’s cold, a couple of layers on my upper half (though I don’t want to sweat), scarf, knit hat, warm Carhartt coat, mittens (much warmer than gloves on my Raynaud’s syndrome hands), and, of course, snow boots, which can be my “regular” or my “serious,” which I have not worn this year. The routine includes doing this in reverse order after about an hour.

            I find that, as a retiree, I need routine in my life – something to replace going to work, coming home, grading papers. Kim might delete “as a retiree” from the previous sentence, as she has observed a number of routines that I enjoy, starting with reheating leftover coffee (aka psudu, a name Kim’s mom gave it) while I check the morning news on my computer. I can’t say that this coffee gives me pleasure, but it’s usually better than the news.

            Part of the snow pleasure has to do with the lack of urgency. When I was teaching, I had a long blacktop driveway to shovel before eating breakfast and leaving for work at 7:15. Shoveling was still enjoyable, especially when I was finished, but it was not the same as it is now that I am retired. I can wait for my second cup of coffee, or wait until the wind dies down or the temperature climbs above 15 degrees. I could also wait for the sun to come out, but in Northern Michigan that might take a week or so. No matter what time I get started, I’m stepping out into a fresh new snowy world, complete with fresh tracks (Is that a fox?). I have time to pause, look around, and take a breath.

            Kim, having lived in the Upper Peninsula, taught me that it’s better to shovel several times rather than waiting until there’s two feet of unliftable snow on the ground. I don’t think I’ve ever shoveled more than twice in one day, but February is still early winter.

            Another part of the pleasure is realizing that I can still shovel snow at my age. Kim cautions me to stop if I get tired or cold, and not to lift heavy loads of snow. I reassure her, touched by the realization that she does not want me to have a heart attack.

            Perhaps most importantly, I enjoy feeling useful. There are home maintenance tasks that I know I can’t do well (carpentry, furnace cleaning, towel-folding, to name a few), but I can shovel snow for our home, for my wife, and for the guests who drop by every month or so. 

            In October Kim encouraged me to purchase a snow blower, but I declined. The wide area in front of the garage does not offer a good place to blow snow to. And besides, I see a snow blower as one more piece of equipment I will be struggling to start and maintain. I have enough of that struggle in dealing with computers, cell phones and our new printer, thank you very much, and I don’t want to look at a dead snow blower in my garage, every day proclaiming my incompetence. No, when I become overwhelmed by snow, I will hire someone else to do it.

            Meanwhile, the rhythm of my day says it’s time for coffee.


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