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Feb 20, 2003 to Feb 6, 2013

Shovel Thoughts


I’ve been shoveling out driveways and sidewalks most of my life. With the exception of a few years in Florida and DC, grabbing a shovel and clearing snow has been a part of my winter routine.

Shoveling provides time to think about shoveling.

The type of snow matters. Light powder is easily removed but often blows around and stings the face. Heavy, wet snow is a chore to remove, but it usually stays in place while I move it. Following forecasts to know what sort of snow to expect is a starting point.

The quantity of snow matters. A light dusting might be ignored, but a heavy storm requires some strategy. Do I go out periodically like the plows and do continual cleanup throughout the storm, or is it better to wait until it is over and the totality of the shoveling can be assessed? Again, watching radar and reading weather discussion updates can help.

There are some math puzzles. Will the snow weigh more later as it melts? Or it it the same amount of snow to remove regardless of timing? Where should piles be created?

There are issues of technology. While I dream of having a self-melting driveway, I’m also a bit of a snow removal purist. I’ve used snowblowers but don’t really like them. I don’t hire a plow to dig me out. I tend to avoid salt and snow melt chemicals, too, except in extreme conditions.

Some storms allow for pushing of snow around. Others require more serious digging and lifting.

There is the laziness factor. Perhaps it will warm up and melt itself? Maybe a kindly neighbor will go the extra mile and do a bit extra?

I know some people who never shovel. They barrel. Whatever snow they are in they gun it and go. The snow hardens and ices up, creating quite a bumpy obstacle for others.

Into all of these thoughts and calculations is yet another layer - town plowing. It makes little sense to dig out just to have the driveway refilled by street plows moments later. Watching the plows and knowing when to strike is part of the shoveler’s strategizing.

In our times, we favor clean streets and sidewalks. In the late 1800’s, we wanted clean sidewalks, but the streets were best if they had a good layer of thickly packed snow for sleighs to slide on. There was no plow. We had a roller to pack it all down. And without snow plows, it was easier to keep the sidewalks clear as there was no street debris dumped at the end of the driveway.

My strategy these days is to begin by parking closer to the road than I’d normally do, so that I have less driveway to dig out after a storm. I wait for plows to make their mess, then start clearing things with a shovel.

If the plow-dumped end of the driveway isn’t too hard, I’ll save it for last. If it seems difficult, I’ll start with it. Most of this debris is left near the road, but moved out of the driveway.

The rest of the driveway requires numerous back and forth passes with a shovel. I try to throw as much of this snow up against the house, where it is more likely to melt quickly. I also try to put snow in other part of the yard where it is likely to get the most sun.

I’ve become a bit more obsessive about keeping the driveway cleared after storms than I used to. This is mostly so the cumulative effect of ignoring work to be done doesn’t take a toll later in the season.

One side effect of keeping the snow clear is that thin layers of ice seem more likely. Snow can provide firm footing and some “grip” that ice usually fails to provide.

In the last year or two, I’ve wondered about how much more shoveling will be required in my lifetime. Will climate changes reduce my workload? What would it be like to have New England winters without shoveling?

I expect that I’ll dig out from many winter storms in the future.

If you have any snow clearing tips or stories to share, add ‘em below.

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