Meditations on shoveling snow

Posted: Wednesday, January 20, 2010

To call the activity I engage in from mid-November through mid-April "shoveling snow" is a vast understatement, like calling whatever handheld electronic device you're always futzing around with a "phone." Or the stuff that collects at the bottom of a porto-john "honey." Or Sarah Palin "opportunistic." By the way, that's a real "honey" of a memoir she wrote, huh?

For one, my driveway is long, steep, twisty and gravel - some people (my wife) have trouble negotiating it in the middle of summer. Plus, the natural fall line ends in a drainage ditch and then some giant electrical box with a phone number to call in case the alarm goes off. Like if you've destroyed it, for instance, with an out-of-control Subaru Forester.

We also live high up on Blueberry Hill, a section of town sometimes referred to as "Snob Knob," you know, by the riff-raff who live down at sea level (we'll see who's laughing next time a tsunami hits). Point is, whatever you call our neighborhood - I like "Inspiration Point" - we're usually at or above snowline. Not only does this spell twice to three times as much snow as downtown, but ice. Lots of ice. Seriously, I slap a pair of Yak Trax onto my flip-flops just to take out the trash without doing a yard sale.

So you see, what I do - sometimes for as many hours per week as a part time job - would better be characterized as full-on winter maintenance. And for whatever reason, I view it as a measure of my masculinity. Nothing fills me with more manly pride than the sight of friends skipping carefree up and down my walk, in clogs, carrying toddlers and/or veggie platters; nothing shrivels my manhood more than those same friends asking me to borrow crampons and a cargo sled. Or slapping me with a slip-and-fall lawsuit.

What makes it tougher still is that I attack the driveway from hell - when hell freezes over -mostly with hand tools. I use no fewer than three different types of shovels, a special ice chopper, and, on some occasions, a pick-axe. By the end of last March, the apron had become so profoundly glaciated, I was swinging a splitting maul at it. This, after dumping several hundred dollars worth of rock salt, you know, to soften it up.

Of course, we do own a pretty burly nine-horsepower snow blower. And while I may enjoy Broadway show tunes, book clubs and Brad Pitt, I love running gas-powered machinery as much the next guy. There's just something so intoxicating about the smell of two-stroke exhaust - or, maybe that's the carbon monoxide poisoning talking.

The thing of it is, especially with all the rain that seems to fall right after and/or alongside the snow, I spend more time clearing the snow blower's chute and auger than the chute and auger spend clearing my driveway. Of course, snow blowers also don't work on stairs-boy did I learn that the hard way.

And on those rare occasions when the snow is actually nice and cold and powdery, there's three and a half feet of it. It's kinda like how light ice cream ceases to be light once you consume the whole carton, drowned in chocolate syrup and peanut butter (and I wonder why I get winded tying my ice skates).

Oh, what I wouldn't give for one of those huge industrial snow blowers you see the city running. Or a plow rig for the Forester - that'd be sweet. My birthday's coming up at the end of February, if any of you out there feel like in going in on one.

Until then, I'll make the most of what I have.

This will include a ton of gravel, literally. I've already spread more than a 1,000 pounds of the stuff, and it's been a really mellow winter thus far. Supposedly, that's because of El Niño, but don't they seem to blame El Niño for everything? Hard to believe there's some little Spanish kid playing havoc with global climactic patterns. If that is, in fact, the case, couldn't we just plop him in front of "Blues Clues" DVDs or something, and get back to weather as usual? Maybe give him a little Benadryl?

Anyway, I suppose I could always re-grade and pave our driveway - an excellent opportunity to rent not only a Bobcat, but also a mini-steamroller. Those things are awesome. I've also toyed with the idea of installing a tram, let people ride down for free if they spend $5 in my gift shop.

But then how would I fill my winters? Maybe Wii has a virtual snow-shoveling game. Now that's something I could get into.

• Geoff Kirsch is a Juneau resident. His column appears every other Wednesady.

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