The weather report says it’s supposed to go down to 8 degrees tomorrow (that’s about -13 for those of you who use Celsius) and I just went out to insulate the garden hose faucets. We don’t have to do that very often in North Carolina. Despite the cold, there’s no snow around and my driveway is bare. Oddly enough, I wish it would snow.
I’m probably going to receive comments questioning my sanity for this, but the truth is that I like to shovel snow. Whoa, that was quick…four comments waiting for moderation already. I’m serious. For me, shoveling snow is almost a cathartic experience and it’s always been that way.
When I was young, I used to get up at three AM in the winter to take care of our driveway and the driveways of two neighbors. I had a venerable Gravely two wheel tractor that I salvaged from a junk yard and spent a summer rebuilding. With a plow blade mounted on the front and chains on the tires it did a credible job of pushing snow and contributed substantially to my personal finances.
But beyond giving me a winter income, I also learned to appreciate the almost spiritual purity formed from the combination of snow and biting cold. I’m sitting in a warm living room right now but, if I close my eyes and drift back in time, I can conjure up the sensations I felt as I stood behind that plow.
I don’t remember many mild winters from my youth. I suppose those are filed away as uncommon occurrences not worth the time to index. The winters I remember were frigid and the blowing snow stung as it pelted whatever small patches of skin weren’t covered with clothing. I remember my eyes burning when I blinked and, even though I wore thick gloves, my fingers would go numb as the heat slowly seeped away through the cloth.
That’s when it would happen. Just as the pain from the cold became almost too much to bear, it disappeared and I was lost in the silence of the night. Sound seems to travel further in the winter and there’s a crispness to it. In the cold at four AM, I could hear with a clarity I’ve never experienced at any other time. It wasn’t just my hearing that was amplified, it was my thoughts too.
The cold acted like an insulator against distraction. As I walked behind that plow, pushing the snow into neat piles, I could think about anything I wanted without interruption. It was absolute purity of thought.
After I left home, I didn’t need a tractor to plow the snow. My driveways were never that long. I simply used a snow shovel. I liked to wait until it was late in the evening to shovel the driveway. Linda never understood why I would put my coat and gloves on at nine-thirty at night to go shovel snow. I did it so that I could find that magical place of perfect thought. The place where the crisp sound of the shovel scraping across the driveway provided the cadence that kept the reflections and ideas in time with each other. Push, lift, empty. It was an automatic process that left your mind free to muse unencumbered.
We returned to the south seven years ago and it’s been that long since I’ve had to do anything other than occasional and minimal shoveling of my driveway. I miss it and I wonder how many good thoughts and ideas have skipped by me as a result. Maybe that’s why I made Providence a winter world.
My son posted a meme on facebook a few days ago. It said:
For the most part, that’s true. But, if it didn’t come attached to the likelihood of divorce, there’s a very real chance I might be the one exception.
It’ll be cold for the next few days and I think that I might head out for a walk around nine-thirty each evening. It won’t be quite the same without the snow, but the sound should still be crisp. Maybe I’ll catch a glimpse of that magical place of perfect thought.
P.S. To my northern friends who will undoubtedly be offering to let me come up and shovel their driveways, please note that I’ll be glad to…as long as the offer is accompanied by a first class, round trip airline ticket and an iron clad guarantee that when I’m finished there will be a Papa John’s pizza waiting for me on the kitchen table.