On Shoveling Snow

We were having such a mild winter this year until I shoveled snow again this past week. While shoveling I actually enjoyed thinking back to the massive snowfall we had back in ’08. It’s a vivid memory because I wrote something about it. Perhaps you can relate to this excerpt…

I’ve just finished shoveling my driveway from another snowfall. And it took some two and half hours, second time this week. This winter has seen the most snow fall in 25 years—a real old fashioned Chicago winter, the one I remember from when I was a kid. We’re getting near the record dumps we had in the late 1970’s when we had to shovel snow off the roof. But, of course, nothing comes close to the famous 1967 snowfall when traffic was stopped in Chicago and we skied down streets with only the top of cars visible. Back then we had two feet and then some, which stopped Chicago for a week. I was a grad student then, in an apartment building and I didn’t even own a shovel and I’m not sure I even knew what a snow-blower was.

Now I have a snow blower and it works just fine. I’ve owned that snow blower for almost 30 years, replaced an engine and though bent and beat-up it works just fine—just like me. So the question is “With all this snow why haven’t I used it this winter yet?” In fact, today I made a choice not to even use it on the bottom of our driveway, which was thick with the icy stuff left by the city snowplows. It took me some 200 shovel-fulls to get that baby cleaned off. Two hundred times of lifting and heaving the snow over my shoulder. The snow on the edge of the driveway had grown to some four, even five feet at some points. I like growing my snow pile while getting exercise and “marveling” that at 66 I can still get the job done! Some guys would be found sprawled dead at the bottom of the driveway with what I did today. But I love the macho pride of doing it and then bragging to my wife the next day that I feel neither joints nor muscles aching. Of course, I top the work off by drinking a few shots of Slivovitz (plum brandy) during the course of shoveling. Oh, and I smoke a cigar while doing it. I have my old ratty jacket I wear, and if really cold, my Russian fur hat. I look like a peasant from Russia where my people came from a hundred years ago. I love it. Tradition!

But there is another reason I do it without my snow blower, if I can. Note I say, “if I can.” I’m not stupid, though I think I can hear a few snickers out there. Were the snow heavy, dense and wet I probably would start her up. I’ve done it before and that’s a different me. But I welcome the opportunity; I take pleasure in the quietness of doing it slowly over time. It’s not that I don’t have anything better to do, this is the “better” that I do when I have the time to do it. It’s an indulgence, like the Slivovitz and cigar that go with it. I enjoy myself.

And it is quiet when I am shoveling since I start early in the morning as the sun is coming up. Yes, I do. It really is quite beautiful at that time and where I live, at the top of a hill sloping downward, across a wooded lot, bordering on a park with the river running alongside it and forking around an island in the middle. The geese are getting up and starting to fly. Being outside where I live is special and a treat for me.

I “meditate” in the beginning of my shoveling as I get into the rhythm of it and, of course, I have my pattern of going this way and that way. I really love my wife, but this is one job around the house that I’ve never heard her tell me a better way to do it other then the way I do it. I do it my way, as Sinatra would sing. And sometimes, I do hear tunes in my head, think about conflicts I have, and clients I’m seeing. In solitude I’m with quite a number of people. Usually, by the time I’m getting tired I’ve solved a few situations needing resolving. Shoveling is a spiritual thing for me. It’s every bit as spiritual as many esoteric things I’ve done in my life. I think God understands this. Good work can often bring us closer to God because we’re having a real relationship with what we are doing and that quality of connectedness is what we are all seeking. Shoveling snow does that for me. And I get that driveway real clean.

Sheldon Isenberg
February 4, 2008 (adapted January 17,2012)