ScoopingOut

ScoopingOut
The activity’s more ritual than work, more sacred than secular. Some neighbors don’t bother, just driving through the slushy to leave later frozen tire tracks likely to stay around until Spring. I’m up earlier these mornings, rising with a deep sense of purpose for a change. Even if we’re not driving anywhere, I want the sidewalks and the drive cleared by eight o’clock.

My old boots, misshapen by long summer ladder hours, sweated through and mink oil improved at least a hundred times, fit me poorly now and cripple me should I hike anywhere in them. I’ve warmed them by the fire to loosen them up enough to fit. They’re plenty fine enough to keep the snow separated from my socks. I clump out the door, carrying Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat under one arm. In her youth, she was a snow cat, a dedicated snowflake chaser returning with ice pills all along her underbelly. Now, she cowers in the corner as the garage door rises, then huddles along a front porch edge as I set to my chore.

I own no snow shovel and never have.
Instead, a short-handled scoop shovel with uneven edge suffices. I start working outward, garage to street, and finish the first line in three hefts, leaving few trailings behind me. I’m shoving more than shoveling, saving the discard until the scoop overflows. I paint three lines before cleaning out the debris left between, creating one pristine, yard-wide line, grey black against the otherwise undisturbed snow.

Now, I go lateral, working across the drive rather than take more long, three scoop runs toward the road. I can make a pass in one scoop this way, and fancy myself having resolved a geometry problem, though the driveway looks like a football field from this angle. Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat cries, sniffing along the back door before resuming her huddle on the front porch after too-daintily tip-toeing across the walk. The snow stopped falling just as I began and the temperature slips back above freezing again. My head, unaccustomed to the stocking hat, feels wrapped in batting. My layers begin betraying me as I break first sweat.

I’ve learned from decades of experience that I must just then keep my head down and continue. The seeming football field beside me will shrink soon enough, though my mighty scoop shovel will seem smaller than a teaspoon for a time. Of all the sacraments, this one needs no thinking, for the head cannot possibly understand. My shoulders awaken from nine months of hibernation. My back aches appreciatively. The slush sticks to the scoop unless I slam it down at the end of each row. Even then, some stuff always seems to stick. It is the nature of the material, not any shortcoming in my technique. I dare not take personally mere inefficiency.

A neighbor roughly spins through his driveway and takes to the roadway, not yet plowed. I find no newspaper buried beneath this rough blanket. I notice that my rows have gone crooked to the world, leaving an oddly-angled leading edge, and I move to slice off the extrusion to get back more closely to plumb before I reach the road. Almost half way there now and the motion has resorted to muscle memory. Who remembers where I learned it? I only know that it’s as natural as breathing, this holding the shovel, waist level in my right hand, and quickly striding along the cut edge, then turning around to catch the overflow on a second or third crumb-gathering pass.

I am for the duration in some essential part of my element. I am not carving scoop by scoop through feet of snow as I have before. I am not minding the gravel beneath, for this drive is asphalt-paved and regularly surfaced. The egg tooth irregularity along the business edge of the shovel seems no encumbrance here. The tool perfectly satisfies the job. I am more witness than operator.

Too soon, always too soon, the driveway’s clear and I consider extending this settlement out into the street, though the snowplow will soon erase my diligence. I do not want this timeless moment to end. It has befriended me. I spatula off the final few waffle footprints remaining on the surface and head for the short front walk and porch landing. Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat takes umbrage, crying and cowering deeper into the siding. The concrete seems slipperier underneath and that egg tooth imperfection along the shovel’s edge gouges and scrapes here. The space constrains me and I turn uncharastically deliberate, crocheting a delicate edge with an dull blade.

I feel rich as Midas opening my carefully prepared cache of ice melt. I load the Ortho Whirligig with the small grains and walk the vast expanse of my newly claimed territory, broadcasting a fine trail of grit before me. I don’t really need this icing on this cake, but I use at most a cup or two and the finish work wants this small genuflection before I go.

I linger in the garage, door still open to the morning, and remove my cardboard boots there, whacking off the snow and salt, and breathe in the moist freshness while Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat trolls around the entry door. She’s an old lady now, preferring the hearth to the snowy heath. I guess I could sit here, removing slightly sweaty layers for the rest of the morning, reveling in one fine accomplishment. But I have real work to do, much of it involving no more of me than a single eye and my three functioning typing fingers. I, too, will take to the hearth chair and wish The Muse well as she braves the unsettled roads to her feral formal job. I guess I’ll just stay home today.

Last month, The Muse suggested that I should buy a snow shovel or two and I even side-tracked on a couple of hardware store visits to check the supply and price. I felt the usual strong aversion to buying anything new, but some other repelling force nudged me around the display. I could not have explained it until today, for even yesterday afternoon I felt near panic at not having satisfied The Muse’s suggestion. But circumstances prevented me from half-mindlessly heading off this small blizzard with an ineffective eleventh hour purchase. When the driveway looked the length of a football field this morning, before the muscle memory kicked in, I felt a puff of remorse, like a rogue breeze off of the conifer hillside. It soon passed.

Now I remember. Those tools I inherited so long ago helped to make me the man I’ve become, and only ritual and sacrament serve to remind me of my own sufficiency. The advertisements will entice, sure. The Muse will never really understand. “Just wait until we really get dumped on,” she’ll exclaim, for nobody, not even her, has ever partaken of this particular host. It faintly smells of coal smoke, distant across decades now, and snow freshness, lighter than the air it fell through. There’s an anchor with a chain of infinite length I sometimes forget I’m attached to. It has a scoop shovel handle on one end of it.

©2015 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved











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