Digging into Snow Shoveling

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Old Harold thinks a lot can be told about a person by how they shovel snow. As a kid one year I noticed an elderly couple moved into a house about halfway to school. After the first snow fall, while all the other sidewalks were still covered, the old gent had already been out and shoveled. I figured the guy had been used to working, maybe a farmer retired to town. Subsequently, after every snowfall, he was out and shoveled before any kids’ footprints on their way to school. The snow was perfectly banked, and no trace was left unshoveled. I guessed the guy was used to hard work, getting things done on time and keeping things in order.

After about three feet of snow was on the ground, things started to go sideways. Going back and forth to school I noticed more than just the walk was being shoveled, he was shovelling snow off the grass, it went from one side of the yard and then back. I’m guessing now he retired without a plan and was killing time with what his body done for decades, hard work. He was like a big cat at the zoo pacing back and forth in his enclosure. By the next year, the old couple were gone. Maybe back to the country, buying a small farm to keep him happy and hopefully not the Big Farm.

Every year when the snow flies, Old Harold remembers the farmer and thinks how shoveling might uncover deeper understandings of people pushing the snow. Slow, methodical, precise-equal banks, no flakes left behind or unwasted movement. Random shoveling as though looking for buried treasure, shoveling snow one way and then the other, frantic pace, steam from the collar, frozen hands, scraps and lines of snow left behind for compaction. The guy with a snowblower who finishes his drive and sidewalk in two passes who may or may not do the neighbors or the entire street. The 60+ lady with a broom. The neighbour’s kid that fleeces your $25 whenever the snow flies, and then again after the storm. The neighbours that shovel their sidewalk enough to keep ahead of bylaw enforcement, while packing driveways with glaciers to recede in the spring. Social workers freezing in cars, watching handicapped clients get work experience. All kinds of techniques and all kinds of equipment being guided by people at the other end with varying degrees of awareness of what they’re doing or how it’s being done. Is the way you do it the right way, the only way, or do you care? How long does it take to turn it into a mindless activity?
Old Harold’s read a book a couple times “Mindfulness: an eight-week course to bring peace to a frantic world” by gurus of the mindfulness movement where you learn to enliven your senses tasting chocolate and raisons while turning off your autopilot switch. I’m guessing snow shovelling could be turned into a mindfulness exercise listening to the blade on the cement, feeling your muscles work in unison, sensations of cold air going in/steam blowing out and pushing the envelope of how long you can shovel without gloves. Maybe my old timer friend had been mindfully shoveling snow across his yard as a pioneer in the mindfulness movement, but I’m guessing not. But that’s not to say we can’t give it a go. Happy shoveling…then grass cutting and gardening. Be the master of your fate, be the captain of your soul. Do your chores as though no one is watching. Peace out. Harold.

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