A Snowy Driveway, A Dusty Mind

Posted on October 1, 2011

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Fall fell, all wrapped in chill.

I felt fall fall.

These tasks that we are seeking to engage in are many, they are few, they often overlap, or walk along opposite sides of the river.

As a boy in Chesterland, Ohio, I had the pleasure of a couple of wintertime tasks that I long for again as the air begins to chill. Now is the time to begin stocking up on wood for the fireplace. A cord or two usually carried our family through the season. It was ornamental mind you, the heater still blasted, the stove still seethed gas, but the fireplace was a nice place to curl up, listen to the sap pockets pop and crackle.

One of the tasks of boyhood was filling wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow with fresh cut wood, carting it over to the fire ring on the front porch, through the snow. Smelling the syrup and watching the sow bugs scurry for cover. I wish there were a fireplace, or a downed tree to split and stack, but alas, the city.

The other task was one that was pre technology as well. It’s pleasure no longer exists when I return home for winter holidays; it is a machinated job these days, something to partition off to a local company when the winter gets bad.

The task is that of snow shoveling our approximately forty foot long driveway and the front walk (for when company came over). We had a nice big snow shovel with a metal strip lining the end of the blade to break up the thickened and exhaust black winter ice. I’d start at the garage, swing deep to make sure I hit pavement, and drive the shovel width-wise along the driveway; clearing a three foot wide gap and tossing it into the winter dead flower gardens. I’d pivot, repeat, walking against the grain, driving like a team of ox, leaning into the shovel, a football player stance as the quadriceps and hamstrings engaged against the thick and heavy snow.

This process normally took a half hour or so. I’d do a final sweep around the edges to make it look tidy. Sometimes I would lose my pattern and have to swing the shovel into the ice, scoop and toss, clearing little three foot diameter circles, and then moving on. Many times the snow would be too heavy and fresh to simply move it like a janitor pushing papers to a corner of a room. Those times I’d come back inside with more of a sweat, an ache of the back, a burn in the upper arms.

When I had cleared the driveway and the front walkway of enough snow so that people could easily park their cars, step out of their heated cars with their nice dress shoes on for the occasion, and not have to worry about standing shin deep in snow. They knew they could wear high heels, and the rock salt I had sprinkled after I was done shoveling would have dissolved any remaining slippery spots. They could effectively walk into the party well kept and safe, enter a family room with a roaring fireplace, find their way to a bottle or a glass of warm and spiked cider, or cold and spiked eggnog, and safely imbibe. Their fear unconsciously alleviated that they wouldn’t have to worry about slipping on the ice or soaking their feet in the thick snow on their way out, when their own sense of walking straight was tipped, when the roads were safe enough and cleared enough to drive, but the trouble was lining up the key to get into the ignition.

The trouble was those days when it snowed hard when I was shoveling. I’d start by the garage and work my methodical way across the length of the driveway, carving it into a nice chessboard of cleanliness. By the time I reached the end of the drive and the apron of the street, the space in front of the garage was already two inches under snow from the fresh and heavy falling. I’d run back to the start and do a quick sweep, but again by the time I reached one end the other was a mess. The other trouble was when the snow fell heavily during the party. I couldn’t possibly be expected to be outside every hour driving away nature for the sake of the suede shoes that hadn’t been properly waterproofed or the aunt who had two too many glasses of wine, and now was sure she was ready to navigate her way outside, first for a cigarette, then for the return home, “I’m fine, really, just give me the damn keys.”

As a courtesy I might dip the cup into the bag of salt just a half hour before the guests would begin leaving, so they could at least notice the snow had been cared for in a token manner. Those nights were more entertaining. Someone would inevitably trip and fall into the fluff piled high, giggling as they were helped to their feet, hiccuping and grasping for a partner’s scarf or arm to steady. Or they’d make it safely to the car, but just blast the heat, being too cold to brush off the windshield and rearview mirrors of snow. They’d give the windshield wipers and washer fluid a try- just enough to create a little window of melted snow on frosted glass through which to see. Then they’d back up, feeling like they were going straight, but really at about a thirty degree angle, and drop the two feet off the driveway into the ditch that lined the road. Then they’d be stuck, forced to sleep over for the night, with the official confirmation that they were too drunk to drive home (of course, only if they were a good and close friend). Otherwise, they’d be given a hand pushing the car out of the ditch, asked again if they were okay. “I’m fine, just a little tired. Seriously.”

Comfortably Creepy

And all this, to say the writing has been like this for me for a decade. I’ve been trying to get to the end of the driveway, to at least set the rubber to the road, and see if I steer the ship straight or have a wild out of control skidding 360 accident and lose it all. But, the snow has felt like it won’t stop falling, so I always race back to the garage, and the job is never done. Or I wander around the driveway in abstract and nonsensical directions, and when I feel like I may be done, I look over my shoulder and realize that what I was trying to do is tangled in a sloppy mess of not even getting below the surface, not having any depth, and without depth, not exposing the core of anything.

I am not in the market for a snowblower, and will not hire a plow to come over when the snow fall hits above five inches. I will continue to plow, but be cleaner the first time, and not look back when I am done.

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