Snow fell yesterday in the city in which you live, and like all new snow after weeks of no-snow, it transformed the ugly into the beautiful. Goodbye, brownish clots of street-worn slush. Hello, soft white velvet.
At night, when the snow that has fallen all day ceases to fall and the streetlights come on and the moon rises, the snow sparkles. The dark air sparkles, too.
There were endless warnings last night about bad driving conditions, freezing rain and sleet earlier in the day now overlaid with a deceptive four inches of new snow, and you would have stayed home except that you had to teach an evening workshop just outside the city borders.
So out you went in your giant men’s boots and the mittens your mother gave you for Christmas last year, the ones that everyone covets because they’re fleece-lined wool and so pretty and so warm. You checked the trunk to make sure that the miniature shovel and jumper cables and extra blanket were in there, because
even though there was no chance you would possibly get stuck anywhere you couldn’t walk a few yards and be at someone’s warm house, you like to pretend you’re a pioneer.
You got to the house where the workshop was being held, but you were early, so you kept driving. Around and around unfamiliar streets you drove, slowly, so that you could take it all in.
The lamplit windows and the snow-laden pines in front of them.
The dark cat trotting through the snow at the side of the road.
The streetlights that gave off that yellowish glow that they always do at night in fresh snow.
The unplowed side streets with the single set of tire ruts that every car, no matter what direction it was going, followed.
The couple holding hands and laughing as they broke a path through a small field.
Dog Forest, where you sometimes take your dog so he can run up and down hills and you can tromp through the woods and where neither of you has to pause at the end of blocks to watch for cars.
You taught the workshop and then walked outside into the sparkling air. This was the first time you had worn your giant men’s snowboots since you broke your leg a couple of months ago. They felt great. Your leg felt great too. Almost great, anyway. Good. Pretty good. Good enough to shovel, anyway, which you were secretly longing to do.
You got in the car and meandered quietly back home, hoping that your youthful companion had stayed put while you were teaching and had decided against hauling herself out, shovel in hand. You hoped that when you got home you would find her where you’d left her, sitting on the couch and catching up on one of the several shows she’s addicted to, every episode of which features a gruesome murder and the quirky-but-dedicated team of investigators who solves it.
Sure enough, nothing had changed about either the snow or the youthful companion. This made you so happy. For the first time since the broken leg, you could go out and shovel.
Everyone has a method for shoveling snow. You like to begin with the front steps and sidewalk. If the snow’s not too deep you push the shovel –a bright yellow spring steel snow shovel, thanks– straight ahead of you down the middle of the walkway and sidewalk. Then, from the cleared middle, you shovel short perpendicular sweeps all the way to either side.
You get into a rhythm and don’t break it except to lean on the shovel every once in a while and look up at the dark sparkling night. You love the ache in your back and the ache in your legs and the way your heart beats hard when you shovel.
There’s an etiquette to city shoveling.
You need to clear every bit of your own property, but it’s good form to shovel beyond that into your neighbors’ territory, too. Not too far. Maybe a few feet. Enough so that they know you’re not being selfish and trying to get away with as little shoveling as possible.
With neighbors much older than you, though, neighbors like your 90-year-old neighbor, it’s a little more complicated. Good manners demand that you shovel a few feet beyond your own border, but should you continue on and shovel her entire sidewalk? Her steps?
This is a tricky question. At first it seems obvious: of course you should shovel your neighbor’s entire sidewalk. She’s 90 years old, for God’s sake! But your neighbor is deeply independent and likes to take care of her own house and yard. You’ve often seen her out shoveling her driveway and weeding her lawn.
And there was that one day last summer when you went bursting out your back door to investigate the intensely annoying thock, thock, thock sound you kept hearing, only to find her, at 90, hatcheting down some of the buckthorn on her side of the fence because it was starting to intrude on your side of the fence and she “didn’t want to annoy you.”
Back to the snow. You can tell that the hired shoveling crew who clears her sidewalks has already been by, so you settle for the token-good-manners additional three feet.
A tall man turns the corner at the end of the block and comes walking toward you. You’re shoveling your steps now. Damn, it feels good to be out shoveling. To be doing physical work, the kind of work you love, as opposed to the kind of work that exists all in your head and exhausts you from the inside out.
You give the tall man a big smile when he passes by and he gives you one back and says hello in what you decide is a Middle Eastern accent of some sort.
You’re both happy to be the only ones out, late at night, in the sparkling air of the sparkling snow.
the snow has taken me in
to know the time of snow, to live
inside a world so quiet
is all a shimmering. Some evenings
when quite alone
I turn off every light
and watch the snow
enjoy the dark, moving lushly
through spiky air,
finding more time
than when I stretch myself
my father’s father. Oh yes,
a sparkling choir, there surely is,
and dark ice air
through which we fall.
(Snow, by Kevin Hart)