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I have heard it said that shoveling snow is a rite of passage here in Canada... I just didn't expect that in 20!! I would still be earning that rite! WOW, I just cleared another 5 inches of snow this evening, and it hasn't stopped. As well, it was 5 inches that were not in the forecast.
When I was a young boy, I used to look forward to snow storms in Truro, the town in Nova Scotia where I grew up. Back in the '50s shoveling snow was a big industry in the winter time. There were few snow plows, and fewer snow blowers, especially the two-stage, eight horsepower units that are around today. So everyone shoveled snow... even Moms and Dads.
It seems like there was more snow back then, as well. We had a home on Golf Street... a modest place with no garage, attached or otherwise... and a long driveway. The winds would sweep in over the marshes to the west of us, pushed by the tidal bore and Mother Nature to form huge snow drifts right the length of the gravel surface. And because we didn't have a garage, the car would always be snowed in... that was the first thing we had to consider. How could we extricate the car, before Mom's husband, Garfield needed to leave for work. And my brother and I knew that we had to be careful not to scratch the car in the process.
For some reason the snow that blows in is packed in, not powder. This makes it almost stiff. It doesn't push with a plow... you have to 'block it' and then lift and throw the blocks back off the drive far enough that they wouldn't roll back down into the way. The hundred feet or so would be all hard-pack and the old coal shovels we used, with the short, wooden handles, could fit really large blocks. As my brother Harold and I grew up, we graduated from throwing half blocks, half shovel-fulls, to full shovel, man-sized chunks of snow.
These chunks, with the right quality of snow, could also be used to make forts and snow houses. It was important however to finish the driveway before we started building anything. We would clear the entire path of the car... and make it wide enough so that mis-calculations didn't end with the car in the snow banks. And we would make certain that there were no messy parts to the drive way... it was as smooth as if there were no snow... just a coating above the stones.
Oh, and there were rules... we couldn't pick up any stones with the snow, because we were throwing the snow onto the lawn... and the stones could end up being thrown by the mower in the summer... chipping windows. And we couldn't cut into the lawn itself... this was a really bad mistake... the edging on the lawn could not be damaged in the winter, it would take weeks to repair it and have the lawn perfect by the end of May.
As soon as we would get the drive completely cleared, it seems like clock-work that the snow plows would arrive for the street... and of course... they would push huge amounts of snow back into the mouth of the driveway. These drifts could be as much as 5 feet deep... and if the snow was at all sloppy, it was critical that the drive be opened up, wide, almost immediately. If not... there was a chance the pushed in snow would freeze... and this was a fate worse than even hell freezing over. Without the opening there, Garfield wouldn't be able to get the car in off the street at night... Ouch!
As Harold and I grew bigger and older, we realized that we were pretty good snow shovelers. We got so that we could finish our driveway quickly... and offer our services to neighbors... for money! We learned that if we got up earlier than other kids, we could get our driveway done and move to others... and earn some money. We got to know the neighbors who would pay more than others... and we fought to get there before anyone else. The bigger kids would try... and often did, but we learned to get up earlier and to shovel faster... and to do a cleaner job.
The ultimate snow shoveling job was to get on at the CNR where they shoveled big snow storms for days. And they paid more than anyone else. The rail road was big in Truro, and as we got to Junior and Senior High School, I for one used to want the money, more than the education. I could be found shoveling with guys who hadn't gone to high school and were much older than me. Funny, looking back, I didn't catch on that they were on their way to failure... I thought they were cool and onto a good thing... being strong enough to shovel snow for days at a time... and earn all that money.
Tonight as I mused through the snow I thought about those shoveling times. There is a rhythm to moving snow... one that you learn at a very young age. And if you survive the rigors of life to the point that you are in your 60's, there is a calling to shovel it. Yes, there are people who have heart attacks, and sore backs when they spend some hours shoveling snow. But as I listen to my heart during these times alone in the snow... looking at the flakes and frost in the street lights, I hear the songs of my youth with a steady beat... just another reason to stay in shape, and shovel a little snow, eh?