UNPACKING THE BACKPACK – Shovel

I shovel.

This weekend Denver woke, finally, to several inches of snow which had accumulated all night and continued through the early morning. Because the wonderful white flakes fell on a weekend during winter break from school, there was no need to debate the granting of snow days for school districts. And, with so many people on vacation, city plows were free to clear the streets. So, as the kids slept, and the buses stayed nestled in their lot, I sipped my coffee and skimmed the paper while warming up and preparing for the task that awaited – shoveling the driveway and the sidewalks.

On each snowy winter morning, the scene is always the same. With my snow pants and boots, my heaviest coat and gloves, a bit of chapstick, and a giddy sense of anticipation, I stand on the garage stairs as the door slowly rises on command, and I get the first glimpse of the powder just across the garage threshold. It’s always a bit different than it looked from the upstairs window. And as I step forward and push the first little path to check the depth, the weight, the water level, I always smile to see the darkness of the wet concrete reveal itself.

I don’t understand people who don’t shovel. What happened to shoveling? For as long as I can remember, shoveling is just something you do, like mowing the grass, getting the mail, and cleaning the dishes. But in many ways it’s so much more. It’ll certainly get your blood pumping, even as it brings a deep sense of calm and repose. The world just seems more alive at that time. Maybe it’s the brightness across the drives, lawns, trees, and sky that accentuates angles you hadn’t noticed before. At the same time, the calm muffled air relaxes the world and slows its pace. As the paths are cleared and the driveway comes into view, there’s a sense of order and accomplishment in a job well done.

Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that last winter for the first time in my adult life, I bought a snow blower. It was during that stretch of spring snowstorms which dumped more than a foot over a couple days, and my wife and I decided it was finally time to rely on a bit of technology to assist in clearing the hundreds of feet of concrete in front of our home. We always shovel the driveway for our retired neighbor, as well as the short stretch of common drive that leads to the street. With all that square footage to handle, the possibility of two feet of powder motivated our purchase. And looking back, I don’t regret it a minute.

When we first moved into our townhouse eighteen years ago, our neighborhood seemed to care more about the responsibility and the opportunity that a snowfall provided. My neighbor and I across the way would be out soon enough working on the common drive and trying to clear it before too many cars packed the snow down, perpetuating the time it would take to melt later. Of course, we always cleared the sidewalks and made a path for the mailman as well. As the kids grew, it always became a family affair, with each taking shifts and sections. And that second cup of coffee or hot chocolate was so much better after coming in from a round of shoveling.

These days I still shovel, but I mostly take care of the common drive and the sidewalks alone. Most of the other driveways remain covered in snow, with either cars buried, or deep tracks from when the owner just tramped out through the snow to the car and drove away. And the peace that comes from shoveling is missed by all the people who take the weather event to spend even more time in front of their televisions or computers or phones. Kids don’t seem to wander the streets anymore with shovels slung over their shoulders looking for some quick cash, or simply the chance to help an older resident. And the general consensus seems to be that if the car can drive over the snow, there’s no reason to move it out of the way.

But, for me, there is still a reason. The reason is, simply, I shovel. Because that’s what you do. When it snows, you shovel.

Michael P. Mazenko is a writer, educator, & school administrator in Greenwood Village. He blogs at A Teacher’s View and can be found on Twitter @mmazenko. You can email him at mmazenko@gmail.com