Back in the suburbs south of Chicago, just about every kid’s first jobs are mowing lawns and shoveling snow. These are obviously seasonal gigs – jobs parents, retirees, and wealthy neighbors don’t want to do – or cannot do themselves.
Let’s take snow shoveling first. What kind of work is it?
Snow comes at any time, day or night, and often just keeps coming. Work conditions can be nasty – very cold, very wet, very windy, and very dark. One tool is required – or at least that’s how it was done long ago, when I was in the snow-removal industry.
Snow can be very heavy, especially if it’s wet and you’re making a long throw. Mostly, you work alone. Sometimes, by the time you reach the end of the sidewalk or driveway, snow has re-covered your starting point, erasing evidence of your work. Start over.
Shoveling snow can be hazardous. Besides freezing fingers and toes, pulling muscles and throwing your back out of alignment, there’s a high risk of slipping and falling on ice.
You may take this as evidence that I’m nuts: I loved shoveling snow. For me, this chore still evokes joy. Of course, living in Arizona does limit opportunities to partake.
Do you like to work alone? You could be a known war criminal and if you told officials set to capture you that “I’m going out to shovel snow,” you would probably be spared at least until you finished the job and enjoyed a hot cup of coffee. Isn’t it wonderful to know that you’ve got at least one safe hiding place in the world?
What a beautiful setting for being alone. The air is cold and crisp. Wearing heavy clothes, hats, and scarves makes you feel insulated from the world. It’s quiet – snow keeps noisy things away and seems to soak up what little sound dares disturb the peace. Once you get going, the loudest sound around is your breathing. There’s peace in listening to your breathing. I particularly loved shoveling at night, because it’s quietest then.
And the most beautiful. During the day, new snow hides imperfections in the view, covering them in white. You see shapes then instead of details. At night, you hardly see even the shapes. You see the light reflecting off the snow. Once your eyes adjust, there’s plenty of light to see by.
Many wonderful poems have been written about the beauty of snow – they don’t write as many poems about office cubicles.
Shoveling snow is perfect mindless work. Over and over, repeating the same motion. This kind of repetitive physical labor calms the mind. The rhythm puts my monkey mind to sleep. Thoughts come slower and seem clearer somehow. They linger awhile. Sometimes, thinking stops. There’s just doing. Nowadays, we pay the guru to teach us how to reach this state. Try shoveling snow.
If you don’t work from a good plan, you can shovel yourself into a corner and make your life quite difficult. You have to take careful note of the weather and the snow itself. How many inches are coming? How quickly? When will this snow melt, clearing a spot for our next round? Which way is the wind blowing? How hard? What kind of snow am I dealing with? Then you have to mentally move the snow into piles, making sure it will fit, minimizing the effort necessary to get it there. Being smart counts when it comes to shoveling snow.
Ah, the rhythm of shoveling! The shovel hitting pavement, biting into the snow. The snow crunching in response. The shovel scraping across the icy drive. The momentary quiet as the snow flies towards the pile. The snow landing as you reload your shovel. Your breathing. The sound of whatever song you’re playing in your head to keep the beat.
When you finish, you know it. You see it. You can rest proudly. The world is free to move about again – it’s safe for family and neighbors.
Now go on inside and get a nice cup of hot chocolate – you’ve earned it!
Thanks for reading this little piece from “Choosing Joy at Work.” We just got home from a lovely piano concert, where we shared a conversation with a pianist who hates snow. It seemed just the time to resurect this message about the joy of snow!