When push comes to shovel

My husband and i long ago agreed to weather our snowy winters without a snow blower. We reasoned that one physically fit individual, working steadily, can clear our short double driveway and sidewalk of a six-inch snowfall in less than an hour - and grab a great workout in the bargain.

But we don't concur so easily on when shoveling is best done. Ken is an optimistic pragmatist, ever hopeful that next week will be warmer and the snow will melt by itself -- despite the Alberta clipper in the forecast. His motto is, "If the car can get through it, why scoop it?" Moreover, he's a naturalist who sees beauty in a fresh, clean blanket of snow unsullied by plows, blowers, or shovels.

My perfectionism, meanwhile, manifests itself in a desire for prompt action and a fondness for bare concrete. On occasion I've even suggested we shovel midstorm, knowing that those three inches last night, topped by four this morning, will feel like 10 this afternoon.

But the driveway and yard are Ken's domestic domain -and he wears the muscles in this family, to boot. So despite his live-and-let-melt philosophy, he hefts far more slushy tonnage per annum than I do. Usually I just monitor his progress from the kitchen window, a potato-peeling oversight committee of one.

After one recent storm, he tarried until the weather grew warm and then cooled again. The snow was now sticky and heavy. It clung stubbornly to the shovel as he swiveled and dumped the snow after each scoop. He had to whack the shovel against the fence to dislodge the load. The exercise seemed to be a lesson about unwarranted optimism, but I refrained from pointing this out. Dinner was my department, the driveway his.

During our most recent snowstorm, however, my husband was out of town. Ironically, I found myself empowered by his absence, eager to prove myself equal to the task of shoveling.

I discovered the homely, slightly arrhythmic scrape, scrape, scrape of my shovel to be a soothing antidote to the drone of a neighbor's snow blower. Warming to my task, I marched the shovel across the driveway in a desultory tango, ejecting its load as I propelled it skyward like a spinning skating partner, then guiding it gracefully, during its descent, into our next swath across concrete. What mastery I felt in this humble maneuver!

As I worked, I likened this shimmering, shin-deep winter fluff to a lush, overgrown summer lawn. I marveled that all this whiteness would turn to green again, come spring. I was reminded how, in summertime, the neighbor's power mower similarly contrasts with the soft whir of our rotary grass-cutter. (Our yard, planted mostly to shrubbery, boasts a lawn as diminutive as our driveway.)

As I tired, late in my task, I launched my forearm higher with the front of my thigh to boost each shovelful onto the rising bank.

As I paused (more and more frequently) to gaze admiringly at the space I d cleared all by myself, I realized that shoveling snow, like mowing grass, is satisfying because one can see where one has been. I was puzzled that Ken didn't enjoy it more.

But then, as I accelerated eagerly down the homestretch of sidewalk, a sudden gust of wind snagged my hoisted scoopful in midflight, where it disintegrated and whooshed whimsically back at me, as if laughing in my face.

I wondered what was so funny. Then I saw it -the city plow - rumbling down our street, the snow in its slow, inexorable path peeling pliantly out to each side like a parting of the frozen waters. In seconds, the end of our driveway was plugged with hundreds of little leaden white boulders, like the aftermath of some scale-model Midwestern avalanche.

Stunned, I beheld it. Then I sighed. Then I went inside.

I'm still waiting for it to melt on its own.

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