Between tending to the ill and stoking the fire I go out and shovel the driveway, conscious of the second half of the 18 inches still scheduled to fall. The sun’s gone done a couple of hours prior and the night is beginning to take shape: shadowy mounds of the white stuff on the drive between the street’s solitary light and the back porch’s meagre glow.
I shovel and think of the day. A cancelled yoga session. A friend with that flu going around, regretful to miss the evening’s library film showing.
I can get peace out here, as the wind blows so hard I reconsider my break admiring the briskly moving tree limbs and instead move around to the house where a potential snap of wood wouldn’t harm me. Of course I always do find solace in the wind.
I shovel and think of my life. I readjust my posture, and turn my lower hand palm down like that man at the fair this summer talked about. I was volunteering which, that day, amounted to “announcing” the next speaker at the tent and then ensuring they didn’t talk too long. It turned into listening to a talk and then being relieved by a confused volunteer, eager to begin her shift before it rightfully started. I happily left after speaking with the previous presenter, and marvelled at the way the right tool and posture can get a job done with such little effort.
Could I use my tendons to spring back the way he suggested? Could I simply grab the shovel differently and completely relieve my lower back from potential muscle pain?
I don’t actually think a thing like that, that suffering, is avoidable.
My mind shovels over recent news from home of a sudden death. I think how fortunate this person was to meet at least one (that I know of) grandchild and subsequently wonder how this could be of any consolation. Is there a sort of magic in generations overlapping one another? Do we see the futility of life through it all?
I think back of the most vivid memory I have of this person from the years that I would have seen her on a near-daily basis.
It was a day during that confusing time where sometimes my older brothers would be at home to play with all day and sometimes they would be away. Then, for long stretches at a time all of them would be home every day and we would spend those warm summer months making mud pies and avoiding yellow-jackets.
I was home alone with my mother and, looking out, I saw smoke strangely coming out of the house next door. Next we were outside across the street with the line of people and her crying and being held and then my friends didn’t live next door anymore.
Is tragedy the most we can know of each other?
I continue to shovel. It continues to snow. The section that I clear first gets piled again as I work on the back step of the driveway that I’m told “isn’t very long.” I decide against that judgement, since it’s all relative anyway, and count the centimetres of accumulation that wait for me when I get back to the other end. I knock them off of the end of the scoop with a quick shake and convert them back into inches thinking they must be more comfortable with that unit of measurement.
I think about how I could stay out here shovelling all night. Forgo sleep, be comforted by the howl of the wind through the leafless boughs. I rescind this thought and make an agreement with myself that this bodily work will replace my missed walk today, but that tomorrow I’ll be out enjoying the wintry scene.
I shovel, playing with the designs and negative space created by the snow I remove. I twist my mind around the most mathematically efficient way to shovel a driveway and regret that shovelful thrown right into an unfortunate gust of wind and subsequently blown right back into place. Each perfect flake whirling down and eventually resting in a new place on the drive.
I can’t stay out here forever.
I shovel the short walk that’s refilled itself again in my absence, rest the handle on the side of the house, ignore the accumulated layer on the handrail and shake excess snow off my shoulders, ready to go inside.