In the trenches

Soaked in powder, images of Styx dancing in my head and a ski-induced smile pasted to my face, I rolled back into town on a pillow of air. The snow was still falling, and I wasn't surprised to bump into a friend sharing the sensation. But when I asked how her day was, I got a strange response.

"Out of sight!" she answered through a wide grin and flushed face. "I spent the morning shoveling."

Certain that perversion had infected Durango, I came back at her with a dumbfounded, "Shoveling?"

She just nodded and kept on walking, apparently off to the next project. I went the other way only to find my first project waiting for me. The house, walks and car were covered with enough of the white stuff to merit my own trip on the blade.

Since it started snowing this year, I'd blown off shoveling with a professional air. After all, there were more important tasks to attend to, powder and track skiing being chief among them. But my friend's face and words stuck with me. Perversion or not, that woman was riding just as high as anyone I'd seen after fresh tracks that day. She also wasn't my first friend who had gotten stoned on shoveling.

Years ago, I lived in a land of ice and snow and had frequent run-ins with a master of the blade living a couple doors down. I routinely found myself struggling to dig out the windows on our single-story home, shovel off sections of our flat roof and constantly remove the man-sized, tightly packed berm our plows stacked in front of my truck. Consistently, my neighbor would be a distant companion in these hardships, flashing a Mr. Rogers wave, pointing to his already missing berm and then bending and swinging his shovel with deft precision.

Eventually, curiosity sent me on a reconnaissance trip as I took a break from my neverending labors. To my surprise, not only was his berm nowhere to be found, but a serpentine walkway more than two blades wide mocked my efforts. Raw concrete showed beneath his meticulous channel.

I chuckled a sour-grapes laugh at his artistry before returning to my mountain. Moving snow had never been a labor of love for me, and while I felt a pang of envy, I certainly wasn't going to let it show.

After bumping into my friend the other day, I had another pang of sour grapes. But I also realized my shovel was whining for attention even though only a few inches lay on the ground. I knew if I didn't get on it quick, a layer of ice would be in my future. And as I reluctantly grabbed the grain scoop and trudged out to the drive, I recalled the look on one shovel junkie's face and the pride with which another had sculpted the entrance to his home. A piece of advice I'd gotten recently also flashed in my mind. Citing Henry David Thoreau, a friend had spoken highly of the value of doing two hours of manual labor each day. Something along the lines of "the secret to life" left his lips.

A few minutes after the first swing of the shovel, the rhythm took over, my arms started working and clarity filled my headspace. I had the drive wrapped up in no time, and serpentine paths in mind, I figured what the hell, why not tune up the walkway a little bit.

Riding on a pillow of air with a shovel-induced smile on my face, I rolled back to the office and climbed back behind the desk without any guilt. Doubtless, I would have preferred time at the Nordic Center or turns on the hill. But in a perverse, masochistic kind of way, the shovel gave me what I was needing.

I also grinned to myself knowing that swinging the shovel also has a pretty fine side benefit. Life tends to be pretty good around here when we've got some material to work with.

-Will Sands




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