People of the shovel

Driving back from a ski yesterday near Paul Smiths, the narrow lane of open highway was threaded with people, in clumps or standing solitary.

The were bundled up to their noses, thick gloves, layered coats.  And each of them carried that no-nonsense banner of the North Country, the snow shovel.

I’ve spent a lot of time out on the side of the road myself the last few days, shifting the white stuff from one place to the other, watching the snow plows and the sky fill in my driveway again.

As a matter of fact, the most deliberate one-on-one time I’ve spent with  my son Nicholas this week has involved the two of us wielding our shovels.

No cell phones, no TVs, no gotta-get-there-quick.  Just man (and boy) vs. nature, one shovel-load at a time.

I get it.  All this snow can be a hassle.  I have the back ache to prove it.  But I’m a winter culture guy.   I like this kind of weather and I like people who know how to cope with it and even enjoy it.

I don’t mean to be pollyana-ish, but a lot of those folks looked like they were having fun, or at least getting a breath of air, and enjoying the powerful sight of a big winter storm.

The lingering Puritan in me keeps whispering that the inconveniences and trials and burdens of this season set us apart in important ways from the flat-landers and sun-junkies who have fled our part of the world.

There is something satisfying about this kind of manual work, with success measurable and definable.

Again, I get it.  I understand the siren song that calls to the snowbirds, offering ice-free pavement in January and green lawns in February.

But those of us who stick it out here can lay claim to a stubborn contrariness  that’s worth a nod of self-congratulation.  So dig deep and hoist those shovels high.

(Slate magazine has an article about healthy snow shoveling practices, which you can find here.)

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7 Comments on “People of the shovel”

  1. I used to shovel. Then, my happiest moments were when a neighbor with a snowblower took pity on me and blew out at least one of the three driveway entrances to my house (we live on a corner and have two driveways, one semicircular). Now, I have a snowblower — a great, small but rugged thing I got at a garage sale for $75. If I had to choose between it and my car, I’d have to think about it.

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  2. Laura says:

    I agree with you, Brian, 100%! Even though it is very hard work to shovel out by hand, and I am sometimes exhausted to tears, I have this fierce love for it and absolutely refuse to seek out easier ways of coping. I want to meet this force of nature directly, with my own physical energy.

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  3. One of the first blogs I read this morning was from Austin, TX where they are enduring their week of winter and temperatures got down into the lower 20s/high teens. At the end author assured his Northern readers that he would experience the opposite torture come summer. I know. My son lives there. It can be over 100º for a month at a time. So far I’m more willing to deal with our winters than their summers and I’m with Will. My shovel is now a snowblower.

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  4. Brian says:

    “People of the Snowblower” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. As a coda to my happy talk about shoveling, I’ll confess that while driving through Warrensburg I glimpsed a guy just beginning to shovel out a VERY long driveway. He had made the tiniest dent and was standing there looking at his trapped car, which looked like a Matchbox off in the distance. Not much romance in his heart, I suspect.

    –Brian, NCPR

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  5. mervel says:

    I like shoveling it is one of the few manual tasks that I can do well and with confidence and it has a result that is actually much needed.

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  6. Mark, Saranac Lake says:

    I still shovel, just not as much as I used to. I enjoyed shoveling but it did so much damage to my back that I finally broke down and bought a snowblower about 6 years ago… and my back is so much better for it. But I don’t use it unless I have to – yesterday was only the 2nd time I had it out this year. I shovel the plow dump at the end of the driveway and I drive on it when it isn’t too deep (no, I do not own a 4 wheel drive – front wheel drive with good snow tires) I don’t enjoy the snowblowing nearly as much as the shoveling – too noisy and the fumes are not pleasant… and I feel guilty for putting just a little more carbon into the atmosphere (that statement will come back to bite me someday) which is why I try to limit how much I use it. I liked the quiet of shoveling, especially at night.

    I am with Brian – I love winter, every aspect of it including moving the snow around. I took this morning off and skied Whiteface for a few hours (I’m paying for it now with a late night at work) I’ll sneak in an early departure from the gallery in the late afternoon to get in a x-c ski on the Bloomingdale Bog RR bed when I can. I LOVE that I can DO that!… and I can, living where I do, in the middle of the Adirondacks. I live in a town that celebrates winter by building an ice palace, so being surrounded by people that really like winter probably has a bit of an influence on my attitude as well. I honestly don’t understand those that complain about winter and yet continue to live here. If you don’t like winter this is about the last place I would think you’d want to live. Oh, and I’m one of those that brags to out of town friends when my town gets to make another claim as the cold spot in the nation.

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  7. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    On a very warm day early last spring (probably April) I passed a man in Gabriels, dressed in his red flannel shirt, with a pickaxe and shovel chopping his way into his front entry after a long winter build-up of metal-roof-shed snow and ice. (The side entry to the drive was clear, of course.) I should have stopped to take a picture. When I came back through he was done; square and clean, no salt, no ice-melt. Spring in the Adirondacks.

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