Surprising Lessons From Snow Shoveling

Icy coveSix feet walls of snow are piled up in every driveway. Blankets of snow, dimpled by who knows what, roll down to the Deer Island Thorofare. Snow fills the woods. With temperatures steadily below freezing, Stonington’s harbor has partially iced over.

Iced in fishing boatsBut the sun comes out with surprising regularity, and then everything dazzles. As long as it keeps snowing and it stays cold, the landscape will be pristine and new. It’s an alternate, icy universe and I love it. Really.

Of course, Sam’s bronchitis means that I’ve been on shovel duty. We need four paths from our back door. (We’ve given up on the front door.) One to our cars. One to the guesthouse. One to our propane tanks. And one to the garbage cans.


Snowshoveled_path_Feb2015Sam always did our snow shoveling in D.C., so I’ve never developed much of a technique. As long as the path is wide enough for two feet to tread through, who cares what it looks like.

During our several blizzards of the past two weeks, I’ve settled into a rhythm. I’ve identified my favorite shovel amongst our collection. (It’s the short one, and very light.) And I’ve figured out when the best time to start shoveling is during the 12 or 24-hour cycle of a new blizzard.

The right time is when I feel like it.

Get out too early and all that bending is for naught as the path drifts over again. Wait a little later, and your handiwork is more evident. I have figured out that the proper technique is to work backwards (on the steps, for example), shoveling to the left and then to the right to ease your back. Another trick is to shovel an approximate path and then tamp it down with your boots so the walkway is more visible.

The truth is that I’m a lousy snow shoveler and my paths are crooked and bumpy.  They do work, however. Just enough to make your way to or fro. As I’ve bent, scraped, and heaved I’ve had plenty of time to ponder this fact.

Why is it, I wonder, that I’m satisfied with sloppily shoveled paths? But I agonize over getting down what writers refer to as the shitty first draft (thank you Anne Lamott). I obsess, despite myself, about getting it right.

There is no difference between shoveling or writing. You do it the first time because it has to be done and you have to start. Then you redo it, with some effort. And redo it again, with effort. And again. Sometimes the snow is light and fluffy. Other days it’s heavy.

I will take this lesson to the keyboard.

Photos: all taken with my iPhone on walks from our house in Stonington, ME.

3 Responses to Surprising Lessons From Snow Shoveling

  1. Andy Franklin February 21, 2015 at 4:50 pm #

    We are in the middle of what has been forecast as the biggest storm in three years. We’ll probably have 18″ by Monday. I’m recovering from rotator cuff surgery so Audrey will have to do the shoveling. I’ll tell her your lessons learned and watch carefully to be sure she does it right. She’ll really appreciate that. 🙂

    • Debbie Weil February 21, 2015 at 5:01 pm #


      You are the BEST reader of this blog. Go back and look at the story you left on Sam’s post yesterday about bronchitis. It was the perfect point / counterpoint with first your comment and then A.’s.

      Watching the epic struggle between Sam the Physician and Sam the Patient has not been easy. So glad he is on the mend.

      I wish Audrey the best of luck. Get her a lightweight shovel.


  2. Winifred Neisser February 21, 2015 at 5:45 pm #

    i have to say I feel fortunate not to have to shovel this Cambridge snow. My favorite part of your essay is ” the right time is when I feel like it” but it indicates that you are not shoveling a neighborhood sidewalk. Stay strong.

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