An Arsenal of Shovels
It was that singular time of the year. The kids still had two weeks of freedom left before they returned to pencils and books, a noticeable number of leaves had turned yellow, Halloween candy appeared in the stores, and it became prudent to bring a thin jacket when you went out in the morning. I call it pre-autumn. It was then that I started thinking about adding to my snow-shovel arsenal, pricing out a 22-inch deep sleigh shovel to augment my 20-inch snow pusher and deep scoop shovel.
Unlike the often mindless, reflexive chore of keeping the lawn at putting-green height, snow removal is a seasonal task that is necessary because an accumulation of snow impedes movement, traps vehicles, and challenges the cat a little too much. Winter in the Northwest is five months long, and if you’re fortunate, you’ll only shovel snow for four of those.
But the sky isn’t disposed to distribute the snow evenly throughout this lengthy season. Its clouds might favour the end of November and beginning of December as their most prolific times, or they might plop it all down post-Christmas. It’s usually after shoveling five-plus inches three days in a row that Northerners check the weather in the Yucatan and dream. There’s a point in winter when you and a neighbour will be clearing the driveway simultaneously and exchange a look that acknowledges that the novelty is over for the season. The bonhomie of removing November’s first snows is long gone, as is the stoic, determined toil crucial to digging out from the first big dump. Clearing the driveway and sidewalks has now become tiresome and irksome.
There’s an obvious solution to this snowy plight and it involves the internal combustion engine. For those of you who have the disposition and the money for a snow blower or an ATV with a blade, I toast your wherewithal. These gas-powered tools certainly have a strong appeal after a couple months of physical labour in which back spasms and a cardiac event have hopefully been avoided. However, when bracing for winter in pre-autumn, manual snow removal has that rustic, Spartan charm my father used to attribute to chopping firewood, albeit from the sentimental distance of 25 years past maintaining a wood stove.
Enter the sleigh shovel, an implement fantastic for pushing deep, dry snow or maybe a small child. With its U-shaped handle it’s difficult to hoist without putting a knot in your deltoid the size of a monkey’s fist. Deep, wet snow thwarts its pushing capabilities; this is where the deep scoop shovel steps up to the plate. For moderate depths, the 20-inch snow pusher is the most versatile device since its contents can also be lifted and heaved.
Let me summarize the winter of 2011-2012: snow, snow, snow, Christmas, more snow, three days of minus-35 and then ice until April. Though a build-up of the white stuff hinders mobility, the ice it leaves behind on sidestreets and sidewalks actually harms people. Who doesn’t know a senior citizen grievously injured by slipping on ice? Slippery streets are a serious concern. So serious, in fact, that last March I saw someone I’d rather not know fall hard on the ice, but instead of internally reveling in her sudden impact, I was moved to mild sympathy. Nothing was harmed but her pride. The treacherous conditions had me considering another handy piece of winter equipment: the ice chopper.
We all need to wield something to stave off the dark grandeur of winter. A lucky few do so with irrepressible positivity or a genuine love of winter. Others hold winter at bay with $400 down-filled parkas, box sets of Breaking Bad, a hockey fetish, snowmobile excursions, boutique scotch or a 10-day vacation in the Dominican Republic. It’s yet to be seen if it can be done effectively with an array of hand-tools.
Illustration provided by Facundo Gastiazoro.