Tuesday morning, five a.m. I awaken to a gust of canyon wind rustling the panes. Our bedroom window reveals downy snow glistening from quaking aspen branches. I slip quietly out of bed so as not to awaken my wife, and then check the outdoor thermometer, which hangs beneath an eave. Two degrees.
Though an early riser, I admit my first impulse is to return to bed. Instead, I dress by moonlight in long underwear, lined jeans, heavy wool socks, and a thick flannel shirt. After brewing a hot cup of tea, I add to my attire a down vest, wool hat and scarf, and two layers of gloves. Then I venture outside.
The area we cleared last night now has four or five inches of freshly-fallen snow. The air is glacial; the stars are numerous and bright. In this pre-dawn hour, I retrieve a shovel and get to work. The walkway, long and narrow, contains several stairs. I begin with those. Push, lift, cast. This rhythm encourages thought. I remind myself that in this dry region of northern Utah, ample snowpack promises ample water come spring.
I envision red-veined sorrel leaves emerging from snow-covered berms, yellow crocuses poking through near-dormant earth. Within twenty minutes, snowbanks line the edge of the walkway. A path is clear.
The driveway to the street is much longer and broader, and flanked on either side by snow-covered shrubs. Deer cut across it last night leaving hoofprints, reminders that night creatures traverse our homestead. I follow these tracks to an icy stream before returning to my task.
This amount of snow will take about an hour to clear if the town snowplow truck doesn’t come along and deposit slush at the foot of the drive. I could allow that possibility to cause stress. I could worry that it will snow again soon, this time more heavily than last. I could fret with imaginings of my future self, thirty or forty years hence (I’m now fifty-three), too frail to shovel snow.
Instead, I remind myself that what I have is this moment of ethereal beauty: faint ribbons of indigo appear in the eastern sky, stalactites of ice decorate the eaves of our home, a flurry of wind sends hoarfrost shimmering round the willow. I clear a single vertical path from garage door to street. This technique facilitates shoveling horizontally by creating a lip of snow under which to position the shovel. Push, lift, cast. These brisk motions warm my muscles. I hang my vest on the firewood rack.
Over the years, countless well-intentioned folk have suggested that we purchase a snowblower. “It’ll make your life easier” has been their refrain.
Would it accomplish that goal? No doubt it would make snow removal easier. But at what cost? I’d need to earn money to buy, maintain, and eventually replace the machine. Given our finances, that would not contribute to ease, only replace one form of labor with another.
By limiting the amount of money I spend, I protect the amount of time I have to work as a homesteader. That’s the work I prefer.
Even if a snowblower assisted in overall ease, that would not be my goal. I do not want to live a sedentary life. I like moving my limbs, feel joy in being agile and strong. Push, lift, cast. My heart rate increases. My brain remarks sensations around me and in me. My lungs delight in the fresh morning air.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) snowblowers add high levels of localized pollutants to the environment (https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-09/documents/banks.pdf). I’d rather not inhale or cause other living creatures to inhale these toxins.
The air I do imbibe on this two-degree morning feels restorative. So do the surrounding mountains, which, thankfully, I do not need to shovel, but which, in their powdery coating remind me of the stollen bread we recently made. I cast the last shovelful of snow onto a mound, and then head indoors for a slice.
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