There is nothing that grabs a neighborhood's attention like a man on a snowy rooftop. No one, of course, wants him to fall, but gee, wouldn't it be something to see it if he did?
That was the situation I found myself in as I ever so carefully tramped through the snow on my roof – the accumulations of two blizzards – using my shovel to steady myself. I could see a couple of neighbors peering through their windows. One, who was clearing his own driveway, stopped his shoveling to stare up at me. No one said a word in case they might distract me from my earnest and daring undertaking.
The snow on my roof was three feet thick, enough to make the rafters wheeze under the strain. I could slog only a couple of steps before needing to rebalance myself. Then I dug in with my shovel and pushed a great heaping mass of it off, taking care not to follow the snow as it cascaded off the edge and landed with a heavy thud. Every so often I did slip, but I threw myself down and clawed at the snow until I had halted my slide down the slick flume. Then I struggled to my feet and continued with my shoveling.
I considered that if I could see two neighbors watching me, there were probably several more too furtive to catch sight of. Perhaps they were communicating with each other by cellphone or wondering if they should stay on hand to make an emergency call. But I didn't dwell on these thoughts for long, because if there is one virtue that is the best friend of a man on a snowy roof, it is focus.
As I continued my labor with cautious abandon, straining against the great weight of snow, I wondered why something so darned heavy, resting on an incline, didn't just slide off of its own accord. I concluded that a snow pack is not simply a fluffy pillow of snowflakes, but rather a unified entity in its own right. Its sheer weight made it grip the shingles, holding it in place; but when I dislodged it with my shovel, it let go as if it were the thing it had wanted to do all along, and an amazing mass of it rushed down the roof and over the edge. The trick, as I mentioned before, was not to follow it.
I took two more steps, reciting "Steady, steady" to myself as I did so. Arriving at yet more snow, I dug in. A child's voice rose up from below. "Whatcha doin'?" It was a little girl, but I didn't dare take my eyes from my work. "What do you think I'm doing, Laurie?" I asked as sweetly as I could. Her response: "I don't know." OK, she had me cornered. "I'm shoveling snow, Laurie." A moment of silence, and then, "Why?" My response: "I don't know."
As we continued our conversational two-step, I wondered if the neighbors had sent Laurie over as a proxy for their desire to chat me up during my precarious labor. Laurie called up to me again. "What if you fall?"
"I'm not going to fall."
"But what if you do?"
"I don't know."
Of course, at precisely that moment I did fall. Only this time I couldn't claw at the snow, because I fell down a section of the roof I had already shoveled. And so I took a real tumble, having the presence of mind to drop my shovel before I flipped over the edge.
Fortunately, before I fell I had shoveled so much snow from the roof that it lay five feet deep against the side of the house. I landed in the snow dune, no worse for wear.
A door opened across the street. My elderly neighbor Alice. "You OK?"
"Yes, Alice. Go back inside. I'm OK."
"All right, then."
The door closed, but in Alice's last utterance I sensed the slightest note of disappointment. If things had gone differently, she could have been the one to call for help.
She may yet get her chance. At this writing, another storm is inbound.