Give me a shovel any old time

I can happily work until either my back or some other joint complains, telling me I should take a break.

I’d rather shovel snow than walk a treadmill. Treadmills are so boring. The scenery never changes, I can’t interact with my dogs, or even watch my neighbours moving about in their driveways.

While shovelling, the scenery shifts, there’s traffic and neighbours to observe, and between shovelfuls I can kick or bat a ball or empty French’s Mustard bottle for the pup to catch. And far from being a totally mindless activity, deciding on the best way to tackle the job changes from hour to hour as snowfall, temperature or winds alter the quality of the snow and the landscape.

Exercising on the treadmill I watch the clock like a convict waiting for the trapdoor to fall. But while shovelling, time passes quickly. So long as my fingers are warm, I can happily work until either my back or some other joint complains, telling me I should take a break.

Snow shovelling and how best to do it proved a lively topic for a CBC Morningside radio show back in the 1980s when essayist Stuart McLean gave us a peek into his private world nudged along by host Peter Gzowski.

The time was well before Mayor Mel Lastman became the butt of comedians’ jokes for calling on Canadian troops to help Toronto cope with six inches of snow added to an earlier storm’s 15 inches that paralyzed the city’s transportation system.

The morning I’m referring to McLean gave us the inside scoop on his snow shovelling technique and choice of tools.

Who knew clearing a winter walkway entertained such a variety of styles, but over the next few days rebuttal letters from engaged listeners argued for a Home Depot of wooden handled tools and how best to apply them.

The discussion, as I recall it, was limited to equipment powered by one person’s muscle and ingenuity. Ruling out motors preserved the quiet and healthful features of the enterprise.

No longer do I remember McLean’s choice of shovel – plastic, aluminum, flat, rounded? I only recall he concentrated on lifting away firm snow in precise geometric bites like bricks. No random tossing for him.

Right there McLean and I diverge. I vary my approach. One minute I’m pushing fluffy snow from the middle of the driveway to either side. Sometimes I clear a perimeter path to allow my dogs to pass each other between the front gate and the doorstep without snarling, if one is guarding a half-chewed bone stashed in his house. Maybe I’ll begin at the street to heave snowplow clumps before they freeze into a continuous row that can be separated only by first stabbing vigorously with a spade. Usually I begin along the inside of both gates in case a meter reader shows up or an ambulance must respond to a call.

Since early November, Terrace has accumulated 4.5 metres of snowfall; little wonder I feel I’ve been shovelling non-stop. I could hire a bobcat to clear my driveway to its full width and length, but for two things.

First, what advantage is a clear driveway if the streets and highway beyond are clogged, or too icy to drive? Reports of a bus stuck on the side of the highway and drivers in various parts of town being assisted out of snowbanks by helpful motorists don’t encourage me to drive.

And with one heavy snowfall following another, hiring someone to clear my driveway after each snowfall is a waste of my money, and time the machines could better use to dig out someone who must travel daily.

If marooned for a week, the worst that will happen is I’ll have to substitute powdered milk for the real stuff in my coffee, or make do with apples and oranges rather than enlivening my menu serving strawberries or grapes.

Shovelling several times a day makes for a pleasant spurt of exercise. I couldn’t imagine walking a treadmill  more than once daily.


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