Archive for December 12th, 2008

Shoveling Water

Today is the last day of classes, and a one half snow day.  Last night the first big winter storm of the season hit, and it was the kind of storm I hate.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I love snow.  Winter is a beautiful season, skiing is an almost religious experience, and living in the Maine woods is exhilirating.  But we live on a dirt road, and our driveway is wide.  Moreover, the road heads down a hill, so in winter if I don’t have my winter tires on, I’m often stuck.   Yesterday I had those tires put on, and I was excited that snow was finally on the way.  We’d be back in our winter wonderland (nothing against the woods in summer!), with Mt. Titcomb, the local ski spot, which relies mostly on natural snow, getting close to opening.  Snow is coming!

I went to bed happy, as I saw the snow come down.  Like a kid, I was planning how much fun I’d have at home with the boys if it were a snow day.  So I made sure the generator had gas in case of a power outage, and was in a great mood at bed time.   There’s something about snow that can push aside the otherwise dreary daily routine.

When I woke up at 5:50 I headed to the phone to call the cancellation line.  There I got the bad news: we would have classes today, starting at noon.   Then I looked outside.  Slush.  Yuck.  Rain falling on slush.  Double yuck.  Huge puddles standing beside our house.  Triple yuck.  Our basement hasn’t flooded yet, but how much can it take?

Alas, no day home with the boys.  Ryan’s school was canceled but he and Dana headed to day care.  I had to go shovel.  For an hour and a half I shoveled water.  Some snow was mixed in, but it was heavy and wet.  The snowblower helped a little, but we have a wide driveway.  I became totally drenched.  Shoes, socks, jeans…it was raining on me as I often waded in water, trying to clear the slush.

If I lived down south aways, I’d just figure that the slush would melt.  But temperatures are predicted to fall tonight to near zero.  That means the slush will freeze.  We are going to get ice.  I couldn’t get all the puddles of water away.  But if the snow and slush weren’t cleared, it would be horrible.   And, of course, the deck.  We don’t use it much in winter, but I don’t want a foot of ice at the bottom.  At least I got a good work out in today!

I think this is a record; two blog posts in a row about my personal life, rather than focused on politics, economics, philosophy or something else.   But shoveling is a time when my mind works in a different ways.  It’s monotonous and difficult (especially wet snow…or really, chunky water), and yet despite the rain and grey, it’s usually beautiful in its own way.  (There’s an old Ray Stevens song in my head now…’everything is beautiful, in it’s own way…)

When it rains, it’s no work.  You just let the water run its course and trust the drainage systems.  And, of course, if one relies on well water as we do, it assures a steady water supply.  When it snows, the work is real, but doesn’t take long.  For bad storms there’s the snow blower, but usually shoveling is a good work out, and I love the crisp feel of tossing clean white snow aside.   But mix the two, and things are bad.  Ice forms, power gets knocked out, the snow is super heavy, and being out shoveling is to get drenched in water as cold as that of the north Atlantic.

Life is sort of that way too.  When things are going normally, there’s no work.  You just get into a routine and let things run their course.  When there is a clear and obvious problem, there’s work.  It can be personal, professional, relational, but if a problem emerges, one can identify it and work on it.  And that’s satisfying.  Problem solving gives a sense of accomplishment, just like looking at a newly cleared driveway and thinking, “ah, my work paid off.”

But sometimes we have to shovel water.  Life seems a bit off.  The routine may be too dull, there’s no excitement or pizzazz.   There’s no problem really to solve, but the routine is unsatisfying.   The snow is saturated, it needs to be removed.

We can avoid it.  We can find distractions.  There’s consumerism, alcohol, drugs, television, and the internet.  One can lose oneself in a cause or ideology.   Some distractions are even quite virtuous: work out, read a good novel, or do work around the house.   And, to be sure, distractions — especially the virtuous ones — have a place in life.  But when life is really in a point of boredom, the ‘quiet desperation’ of the modern world, where it feels like existence rather than life, the work is the hardest.

We have to examine ourselves and our habits, and change what is blocking us from doing what we need to.  We have to reach out to friends, develop creative new approaches, and shatter old patterns of thought.  I’ve always thought that a good way to know what’s going on inside me is to look at what is around me, that my external circumstances give me hints about what I need internally.   As I was shoveling today I realized that during this hyper busy semester I’ve felt a bit disconnected.   Not unhappy.  No big problems.  Just too caught up in routine and daily trivia.  So busy that life has been one task after another, with my blog my creative release.    That’s not enough.  Life is beautiful, life has meaning.  It’s not meant to be whittled away in routine and little tasks.  It’s Christmas time, time for joy.   I need to look inside, appreciate the people and circumstances around me, and shovel water.