Our home is a magic box. Things disappear in it. Borrowed things, mostly. A friend's CD. A neighbor's Allen wrench. Good thing the snow shovel from next door doesn't need to come inside. I snatch it from the front porch on the snowiest day of the year.
Forget about warm winters. I may be a thermal redneck, but the global warming hoo-ha reminds me of the big bust that was Y2K. Talk to me in another 10,000 years. Meanwhile, I've got shoveling to do.
It's a Sunday morning, coming down ' as Kris Kristofferson wrote. I have a head full of pain from that last glass of beer at a Saturday-night birthday bash. Neighbor Bill's snow shovel handle is the ergonomic kind that's bent like a square-root sign. Shaped like I feel. Thankful not to have to crouch, I thrust it into the shin-high fluff for a sample scoop. Sweet. I'm a sidewalk ergonomist.
Someone already cued up this morning's scratchy soundtrack: 'Shovels on Pavement in E-minor.' Up and down the block. 'Scrrrrr-rraaape! Scritch scritch scritch!' Like the neighborhood is clearing its throat.
Wisconsinites deserve their reputation for neighborliness, but let's face it, for a quarter of the year we don't even see each other to practice it. A hard snowfall with a whole day to deal with it turns a city block into a block party.
Midwesterners traveling far from home act all tough when asked about snowstorms. 'No biggie,' we say. 'You get used to it.' In the minds of our fellow Americans, harsh weather makes Midwesterners 'stoic.' Is that good or bad?
I don't know, but here's our dirty secret: When the snow flies, we prance around in it like children in a fountain. Like we've never seen it before.
I stab the shovel into the first cut of sidewalk and notice that the couple across the street, Jay and Adrian, are carving into their own driveway. Snow shoveling, unlike most household chores, is good for a marriage. It's simple, and you can see immediate results. Adrian peers through the billowing snowflakes and shoots me one of those 'can you believe it?' smiles.
In summer I'm the scourge of our environmentally correct near east side. That's because I'm a power-mower man. No whirly-girly push mower for me. Come winter, though, I wouldn't use a snow blower if you gave me one. Not because it guzzles gas or because it growls and belches blue curtains of carbon monoxide. That's all fine with me.
A man has to know his limitations, and I know that if I owned a snow blower I wouldn't know when to stop. A Toro owner down the street etches the 30 feet of sidewalk directly in front of his house and then he stops, on a dime, exactly at the line where his neighbor's path begins. What's the point?
He has self-control. I guess that's the point. I'd keep throwing snow right past the next-door neighbor's house, and past the house after that, and on down the block, eventually disappearing over the horizon.
Machines are fun if you don't have to use them for a living. Ah, but shovels ' well, the possessor of a snow shovel is one part surgeon and one part Picasso.
I keep a long-handled scraper within reach, too. If I had an assisting nurse, I'd call for it to be placed into my hand when I get to spots of caked ice stomped into the cement by passing boots. Absent that, I trudge back to fetch it, then tackle the detail work like a dentist scraping tartar.
Back and forth, up and down the squares of pavement go the shovelers. Throughout the hood. All over the city. Across the state. Winter has dealt us a fine hand this morning.
The white silence on the ground is broken by the sound of neighbors' voices. Laughter and jokes. A city bus speeds by on a cushion of snow, as quiet as a hovercraft.
Those same voices tease me about having three teenagers, none of whom ever shovels the snow. I understand what they must think: 'Moore's kids are lazy.' So true, but I'm lazy as well.
The difference is that I see snow shoveling not as work but as an act of starting over. Something life doesn't allow too often. A new blanket of snow covers over the past, present and future. Freezes it for a moment. Then it's entirely in your hands.