Michael Wolf
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Ode to a Snow Shovel
Last edited - 2023/03/11

Since the snow is finally melting in a warm rain shower, I want to take a little bit of time to appreciate a metal-and-plastic friend that has been with me through the past few strenuous, but fortunately not disasterous, weeks. Last year's winter storm brought down numerous trees, trapping my then-pregnant wife and I behind downed electric lines. This storm, perhaps due to the weeding-of-the-weak trees in 2022, simply brought an unusual amount of snow to the Sierra Nevadas. It was a blessing for us that we only got half a meter of accumulation. Other parts of the county had three times as much and are still without power or a way to get out of their homes. Regardless, the little blue snow shovel for whom this post is dedicated became my companion. It felt the anxiety in my grip and the exhaustion in my lifts in these drought-breaking, but inconvenient blizzards.

I've mentioned some of the preparations I'd been able to make in the light of the winter of 2022. I had a backup battery system installed, got a generator, figured out the gas fireplace, acquired more chainsaws, and found better wet-weather clothing. The one thing I didn't pull the trigger on throughout the warm months was a snowblower. Only the truly old timers could recall a time of blizzards. So I watched the weather carefully when the forecast called for snow. I was able to setup everything I needed when the power inevitably went out. So when it did go out, even when the battery backup frustratingly failed to kick on, I was ready to kick on the fireplace and supply power as needed. But I have a terrible time sitting still even when the armchair by the fireplace is so inviting. So whenever I had a break from childcare, I grabbed my blue shovel and made a dent in the snow.

Blue shovel is an heirloom. The unbranded ergonomic aluminum handle and stress-mottled plastic scoop had been with my parents since I was shoveling a little suburban driveway growing up. My mother has informed me that there used to be a metal strip at the end. Given that I can't remember any such attachment, this shovel really has some age. It may even be older than yours truly. When my parents moved across the country, it came along with them. It was deposited in my garage as part of the division of their ever-hoarded possessions across our households. There it sat, idle for over a year, until I called it into service on February 24th.

This blue shovel is outclassed for general digging-and-scooping activities. I didn't use it for gravel redistribution, compost turning, raised bed excavation, or invasive bush removal. It didn't touch dirt or charcoal or muddy spillways. While my other shovels got a nice sharpening early this year in preparation for an early planting season, blue shovel got its sharpening done in the battlefield. But in just a few days of restless lane-clearing, I'd gotten in more hours on blue shovel's felt grip than the entire summer's weeding with a spade. I tried using it's sturdier cousins. When scooping down the driveway with a partner, I'd often try out using a square shovel. It cut through ice better, sure, but it was exhausting. I sought the agility of blue shovel and made my comrade wield the back-breaker.

Left, my lovely blue shovel with its scoop edge all jagged through frequent scraping on ice and asphalt. Right, a spade hand-sharpened by an amateur (me)

As I went out, repeatedly clearing the same 300 feet of driveway, the blue shovel sustained some damage. For each chapter in my Dune audiobook, a little bit more of the scraping edge wore off. Slowly, the scoop would get more wobble. But even the breaks I took retightening the screws to the handle were meditative. It kicked butt and would continue to do so as long as I was willing to put in the effort. And now looking at the decidedly shabby shovel I can't help but think of ways to reinforce it to prepare it for next year. How could I not? It's been around since I was a kid and it's still helping me clear snow off a sagging roof, getting my neighbor's car unstuck, and being my crutch as I stumble through the glittering white landscape.

Are there better-designed shovels out there? Absolutely. Will I be getting another sturdier shovel before next winter? Doubtless. But blue shovel kept my mind off the storm. It dug me out of ruts physically and mentally. It got me tired enough to put my feet up by the fire, close my eyes, and fall asleep.

Additional Odes

The snow was beautiful, but the first sun to shine upon the trees was felicity