Shoveling Snow
tom walsh


It snowed yesterday--two feet of the stuff, in less than twelve hours.  It was pretty awesome watching it come down, and it was beautiful to wake up to this morning.  Of course, there was another side to it--it blocked everything off, and we had quite a lot of shoveling to do this morning: even though we had gone out twice yesterday to shovel what had already fallen, we still had well over a foot of it to clear today.

We still shovel snow.  Our driveway and walkway are short enough so that it takes less than an hour to clear them completely, even with the extra stuff that the snowplow deposits where the two ways meet the street.  We have no desire at all to buy a snow thrower or blower or whatever you want to call it--we still enjoy shoveling snow.

When I asked my twelve-year-old stepdaughter to help shovel yesterday, she said "I'm not gonna shovel that stuff.  It's too much work!"  When she found out that refusing to help with a household responsibility meant that she was going to lose a household privilege or two, though, she was more than eager to help with the "horrible chore."  So she and I went out to shovel the eight inches or so that had already fallen, and--lo and behold--we had a blast!  She enjoyed herself doing the shoveling--the snow was still falling and our heads were soon covered with white helmets, and it was a lot of fun.  She didn't even want to come inside when I was ready to, and we ended up shoveling a lot more than I had intended.

And this morning when we got up, she volunteered to go out and help me clear out my car, which had been completely covered by the two feet of snow and completely blocked in by a four-foot wall of snow left by the snow plows.  Once again, we had a lot of fun, and we had that fun together.

My wife and I regularly go out to shovel snow or rake leaves or sweep up together, and we do a lot of other things together, the "old-fashioned" way.  

When we first bought the home we're living in, I went and bought one of the old-fashioned lawn mowers--the push kind that has no motor.  It's great--I enjoy the feeling of mowing with it, and I know that I'm not polluting, either with pollutants or with noise.  The first time I used it, our neighbor from across the street yelled over to let us know that he had a gas-powered lawn mower if we wanted to borrow it.  It was a generous offer, but he was missing the point.

Power mowers and snow blowers are fine--they do the job well and quickly, but I often wonder if people realize what they're missing when they choose to use them.  They make a lot of noise, so it's impossible to communicate with others while you're working--unless you want to yell at each other over the sound of the engine.  I also miss the feel of the work itself--pushing the shovel into the snow, lifting and throwing, or pushing the mower through the grass, or raking up the leaves and lifting up the piles to put into bags.  I feel much more a part of the work when I don't have a power engine between me and it, and I enjoy it much more.

Clearing out my car this morning took about twenty minutes, and Jess and I were able to talk the whole time about how awesome the snow was, and how much fun it was going to be to play in it.  After we finished with the car, we noticed a woman in her car having a hard time getting around the corner in front of our house, so we cleared the snow off the street, just to be neighborly.  And this girl who just the afternoon before had said that she didn't want to shovel snow helped out enthusiastically.  Had we gone out there with a snow blower, we wouldn't have shared an experience.  We might have gotten the job done a bit sooner, but the five or ten minutes we would have gained wouldn't have been worth the loss of the experience of helping each other out, working together towards a common goal.

A few autumns ago, I was out running one day.  I passed a house where a man was out on his lawn with one of those gas-powered contraptions that blow leaves, and he was clearing the leaves in front of his house pretty quickly.  Someone else was on the other side of the lawn, putting leaves into bags.  They were doing the same task, but they certainly weren't sharing it.  The blower was noisy and it made conversation impossible.  As I ran on, I passed another house soon, and a father and his two daughters were outside with rakes, raking up the leaves in the "old-fashioned" way.  They were enjoying themselves--laughing and joking and working together.  There was no roar of an engine to block their communication with each other, and it was a great scene to see.  I felt bad for the people in the first yard--they had bought into the idea that quicker is better, and they had lost the possibility of sharing quality time working together.

I hope that I never get so caught up in saving time or doing things in the most expedient way possible that I lose the ability to enjoy the work I do, whatever it may be.  Somehow, we've come to see any task or chore as negative, and it has to be done in the quickest way possible.  But what are we losing in the process of speeding things up?  What's wrong with taking our time, relaxing, and enjoying the task at hand?  Shoveling snow?  Raking leaves?  Mowing the lawn?  I enjoy all of those tasks, and I make sure that I give myself enough time to do them well and have fun in the process.  Most tasks are only dreadful if we see them with dread, and I hope that I never lose the ability to enjoy jobs like these.


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