We’ve been hit with another major snowstorm, another day out of school that Rachel doesn’t have to make up because seniors must graduate on a predetermined day regardless of when the official school year ends. Of course, I don’t get paid if I don’t work, but I don’t mind the occasional unexpected day off.
Prior to any snow storm the atmosphere at school is electric. Teachers start pooling their storm forecast data as soon as any storm system is merely rumored to be forming somewhere out over the mountains of Colorado. Collectively, many days before the storm, they are already finalizing their forecast. Still, right up until the eve of the storm, they enjoy keeping the excitement alive by speculating about when the storm will hit, how much it will bring. The public view upheld by teachers is that they all want to work, instead of getting the day off, and no one wants to extend the school year, they say, even though the end of the year is months off and the day they could have off is tomorrow. Privately, throughout the two or three teaching days leading up to the storm, however, they are planning their day off and this is evident by the predominant free and easy mood in the building.
Of course, sometimes the storm doesn’t arrive, or it arrives as mostly rain, or at the wrong time and the roads are cleared just in time for the opening of school. The students know, on this unfortunate day, that they should not dare ask a question unless their hand is raised, and they should keep their heads buried in their work and try to get the directions right the first time. Do not smile or joke and do not, under any circumstances, ask for directions to be repeated.
A few days ago we had a snow storm during the school day. I was unable to shovel because I was busy working in one of the schools. Mom was home so she took it upon herself to shovel the driveway, most of it anyway. The snow was heavy and wet and some of it was packed, but Mom put her back into it and managed to get a lot done. It was still snowing when I arrived home and the driveway needed to be shoveled again, so I changed my clothes and relieved Mom. This is when I noticed that the prime shovel, the wide yellow plow, was broken. There were several assorted shovels strewn about the driveway and discarded in the snow banks—one was the metal garden spade used to edge around the lawn, but sometimes used to scrape packed snow and ice—a clear indication that no particular shovel was working well enough for Mom’s satisfaction. I could sense the loss of patience as I rounded up the shovels Mom had tried. I finished the driveway with a small but capable shovel, and later that night I shoveled again, but I missed the plow. I felt like I was bailing water out of a pool with a teaspoon.
The plow is an amazing shovel because it is ideally designed to move a massive amount of snow in one sweep. Of course, that much snow is pretty heavy, so it can also be pretty discouraging if you’re not used to it and you’re trying to clear snow that won’t move, and that’s probably what happened to Mom. The plow has other limitations. It can only plow and lift. It can’t really scrape or chop packed snow. It is so large that it has to be constructed of lightweight plastic or it would be too heavy. Attached to the insubstantial plastic is a metal edge held on by small metal rivets. If you use it to chop and scrape, the plastic will break and/or the snow and ice will jam between the metal edge and the plastic, and then no rivet known to man will hold the metal edge on. The solid metal rivets will snap like dry twigs, and that’s what I noticed when I went to use it. I put the shovel inside where the warm air could melt the jammed ice. Later I would think about how to fix it.
I give Mom a lot of credit. She worked hard and got a lot done and it wasn’t her fault; she didn’t know the limits of the mighty plow. She never trained on the plow and to her I’m sure it looked like just another shovel, but the plow is deceptive and if you want to make it work properly, get the most it has to give, it’s best to learn and practice the proper techniques on a variety of snow conditions. Mom is not a frequent snow shoveler, and while I admire her gumption, she should never have tried to maneuver the plow.
The other plow shovel (that’s right, I originally bought two) was already broken. It has been used so much that the metal rivets have been ground down flat and they finally gave out, no longer able to hold the metal edge in place. I never threw that shovel out (big surprise, right?). I knew we were getting another storm and with both plows broken I had to do something.
A lot of people dread shoveling. I enjoy the challenge. The task has a satisfying symmetry to it. The repetitive movement is relaxing and the heavy work creates a body settling deep pressure stimulation, aiding in body awareness and sensory integration. Effort and outcome are directly linked; each shovel full is another step closer to the end. If you have the time and you put in the effort, and you have the patience to tolerate small incremental steps, you know before you even begin, little-by-little, the driveway will be shoveled. That is satisfying and fulfilling. The task has known variables and the outcome is completely predictable and within your control. And while you are shoveling, maybe it takes an hour or two, there is nothing else you have to worry about. No one is going anywhere, you don’t have to be at work, the immediate world is on pause, and you are completely free to worry about nothing else. It’s backbreaking work, but approached properly it is a thoroughly restorative experience. You might even have a chance to compete man against machine if you get out there when the neighbors start with their snow blowers. Time and again, man—with a driveway twice as long—has beaten machine.
The ping pong table was filled with tools and hardware—pliers, drill and drill bits, screw drivers, socket wrenches, metal file, C- clamps, bolts, washers and nuts. I drilled four holes through the back of each shovel, through the metal strip and through the plastic. Then I widened a portion of the hole on the metal strip side with a larger drill bit (not all the way through) so I could put a bolt through that would sit below the surface of the metal (so it wouldn’t stick out and scrape the driveway). In a dusty small plastic container I found these really short bolts I had saved over the years and luckily I located the nuts to fit. Of course it wasn’t as easy as I first thought and I cut myself on the ragged metal edge a couple of times, and the drill bit slid all over the metal, and naturally none of the bolts went through far enough the first time, and everything had to be re-drilled, but eventually I had the bolts tightly attached and all the raised edges filed down to the level of the original metal edge. Both shovels were completely fixed with their metal edges solidly attached.
Before I had finished the repair Mom had seen the hardware all over the table and wondered what I was up to. When I told her she just shook her head, asked how much a new shovel costs ($19.00) and isn’t my time worth more than the cost of a shovel. It’s true, I have a tendency to invest a lot of time and energy into projects that don’t always make monetary sense (who knows what my hourly wage would work out to be if you calculated the value of the rock wall against the hours I put into it, or the cost of a new action figure against the time it takes to surgically attach a broken arm with a tiny pin fashioned out of a piece of a paper clip). If I can fix something and make it work again, even though it would be easier to get new one, I always feel like that is what I should do. I think of myself as someone who doesn’t easily give up on things that don’t work, as long as there is something I can do about it. I’m hard on tools. I take on tough jobs so I end up pushing tools to their limits because of my limits. The plow shovels have given me all they have to give, they’ve been there through the worst of conditions and they’ve pulled me through. They’ve always matched my effort with their performance, until they were pushed too far. So it’s up to me to save them if I can, even though I could get a new one for $19.00.
This morning the driveway was deep in snow, wet and heavy and sitting on top of a layer of crunchy frozen granular material. Too much, perhaps, for the repaired plow. When they were new I would not have hesitated. Nevertheless it was time to find out if the plow could still work, even under the worst of conditions. The thin plastic flexed under the weight of the saturated snow and the icy granular material jammed repeatedly against the metal edge. I pushed as hard as I could. I had to, just to move the dense material, but I was worried that this would finally be the end of the plow. When I finished the driveway one hour later I went back and scraped down the icy layer that had softened with the rain. I was dead tired and pushed to my limit, but the mighty plow was right there beside me, staying strong every step of the way. It never faulted, never weakened and never failed to perform what I needed it to do. The bolts were tight, the metal strip firmly attached.
I placed the mighty plow in the place of honor, at the front of the rotation right beside the mudroom door, the first choice as you leave the house the next time the driveway needs shoveling. I took a nap and fell asleep thinking about this same time last year and how I couldn’t shovel the driveway because I had had my shoulder surgically repaired. I wondered at that time if I should just age more gracefully, live with my damaged shoulder and curtail my physical activity. I thought of that again with the tortuous physical therapy, the arduous process of regaining my strength. I also wondered if the repair would hold. Maybe that’s why I repaired those shovels. Nevertheless, I can tell you today, the mighty plow has lived to plow another day.