Shovelling Smart

Call me crazy, but I kind of like shovelling snow.

Given my advanced age and generally sedentary lifestyle, it would probably be wiser to delegate that task to some neighbourhood kid.

But with a driveway roughly the size of Taylor Field, at today’s market rates for child labour it would probably cost the equivalent of a new iPod to get someone to take on the task.

My own career as a snow-removal engineer began in the Ozzie and Harriet era, when an ambitious kid with a shovel could quickly earn enough for the essentials of life – a small Coke, an Archie comic and a couple of red Twizzlers.

If memory serves correctly – which it occasionally does – the first shovel I used commercially was actually made of wood, not metal or one of today’s miracle polymers.

Wikipedia assures me the Iron Age was well upon us even then, so that wooden shovel may be one of those romantic reconstructions to which we geezers are prone.

One thing is certain, though – over the decades, I have shovelled countless metric tonnes of snow.

I have blazed trails through virgin prairie snowscapes. I have disinterred many a vehicle from its snowy tomb in snowbelt cities such as Ottawa and Montreal.

I have manhandled the heavy wet drifts of Charlottetown after storms that caused the CBC weathercaster to declare, “The mainland has been cut off by a blizzard. Again.”

Now, while the snow gods have been unusually generous toward the Yukon this year, this is still a Sahara compared to some Canadian places where winter storms are of biblical proportion.

The most memorable was the doozy that descended on Winnipeg the night of Thursday, March 3, 1966. By Friday afternoon, the city had simply ground to a halt.

Not only did that epic dump bring a major urban centre to its knees for days, it also buried $385,000 worth of gold that Ken Leishman, the Flying Bandit, had stolen from the Winnipeg airport three days earlier.

I earned my chops as a snow removalist that weekend. It took no fewer than five separate shovellings to finally clear the sidewalk in front of my Kennedy Street boarding house.

By the fifth outing, the banks were so high it was all but impossible to hoist the stuff to the top – using the time-honoured method learned in childhood: Push. Lift. Toss. Repeat.

I admit, I have never been famous for upper-body strength. When those Archie comics were promoting the Charles Atlas course in body-building, I opted for the Sea Monkeys and the X-ray glasses instead.

As a result, I have the delts, pecs and lats of … well, someone who types for a living.

So all those metric tonnes I’ve hoisted over the years have caused their share of anguish, no matter how much I actually enjoy the act of shovelling.

To my utmost chagrin, two weeks ago I made a shocking discovery.

I’ve been doing it all wrong. I have been shovelling stupid.

This realization came via of my next-door neighbor, Phil.

Phil is a pretty smart guy; smart enough to be a lawyer, at least. He’s also the ideal neighbour, the kind who owns precisely the right tool for the task at hand and is always willing to share it.

Among those tools is an array of snow shovels in many different sizes and configurations, which lean casually against the side of his house in silent invitation to help oneself.

After an overnight snowfall – fortunately, the light, feathery variety – I headed out to do battle, armed with a shovel resembling a giant melon baller with one flat edge.

“Here, try this,” said Phil, handing me a sleek, wide contraption that looked like the belly blade of a city plow.

It was a recent addition to his shovel fleet, which he uses to clear off the community skating rink. He’s that kind of neighbour.

I pushed a wide swath through the untouched snow. Nice. Smooth. Light.

When I reached the snowbank, I braced for the lift and toss. That bladeful of feathery flakes weighed as much as a trio of Sumo wrestlers. I grunted. My back muscles screamed. Veins popped up over my capacious forehead. But I managed the lift.

“Don’t lift,” counselled Phil in his gentle, neighbourly way.

That day I learned the secret: Push firmly. Ram the load into the base of the bank. Put the shovel into reverse. Repeat.

Once the driveway is clear, use the melon baller or other small device of choice, to remove the residual snow from the edge of the bank.

By jingo, it worked.

That massive driveway practically cleared itself. Half the time, a quarter of the strain.

Now that I’m a convert to shovelling smart, I’m even willing to give seminars to other geezers who are still lifting and tossing.

But it’ll cost ya. An Archie comic and a small Coke, at least.

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