A Tale of Two Driveways

I used to live next door to a guy who owned a snowblower the size of a French automobile. His name was Russ and he thought I was an idiot.

“Woo! Look at all the snow,” he announced to the world at large as he stepped out onto his side porch. The neighborhood was empty, save for me wielding my blue plastic shovel. Russ figured I was a better audience than nobody.

“Mike. Mike. Mike. What do you think? Ten inches? Twelve?”

“Seven, maybe,” I replied as I paced back and forth pushing my shovel. Talking about the weather was no reason to pause in my work — especially if the person I was talking to was Russ.

“Seven? No! Ten. Probably 12 or 13,” he corrected me. “Hey. Once I’m done with my snowblower, you can use it.”

I kept shoveling. “No, thanks.”

“Really?! You’re gonna break your back doing…that…when my snowblower could do your whole driveway in five minutes?”

“I like to shovel.”

Russ snorted. “Suit yourself,” he said. The tone of his “suit yourself” could only be interpreted one way: “Suit yourself, you idiot.”

Then Russ went back inside his house. He still had to throw on a light jacket to prepare for his snowblowing adventure. Sure it was 20 degrees, but there’s no need to bundle up for  a job that takes only five minutes.

Although I would never have accepted anything from Russ, I was being honest with him. I enjoy shoveling. It’s quiet. Nothing is better at deadening noise than a fresh blanket of snow and, when I am out there, I hear little more than my shovel scraping along the asphalt. I’ve grown to find the sound lovely — not because it is an intrinsically appealing sound, but because I associate it with an appealing state of mind.

I also refuse the offers of well-meaning neighbors wielding leafblowers. Raking works for me in very much the same way shoveling does. Both tasks require a certain degree of focus but are freeing enough to let your mind wander or, in my case, go pleasantly, refreshingly blank.

That quiet mind, I’ve discovered, is often the lull before a creative storm; when I finish shoveling and get back to work, I am rarely more productive. My brain is rested and ready to go, my ideas flow with little effort, and my happiness is total.

On this particular snow shoveling day, however, my mind couldn’t get as blank as I would’ve liked. I was still delighted, however. For there, woefully underdressed and cursing under his breath, was Russ failing to get his snowblower started.

I couldn’t help myself.

“Want to borrow my shovel?”

“No!” Russ spat as he gave the cord its 20th white knuckled pull.

I wanted to say “suit yourself,” but I couldn’t do it. It is such a smug and jerky phrase, isn’t it? Regardless, I entered my house with a happy heart. I had just shoveled seven or maybe 13 inches of snow. I felt useful, rested, and vaguely fit. Better yet, I could see a pot of coffee and an afternoon of inspired writing in my immediate future.

73 Replies to “A Tale of Two Driveways”

  1. Oh, poor guy. Bless his heart. I enjoy shoveling the drive, but since I’m a Southern girl … I feel I don’t do it correctly. I try.

    1. Once upon a time my cousin — who is a Southern transplant — got caught up in a freak Florida snowstorm. Snow shovels are not a common purchase item down there, so she sent her husband out to clear the driveway with a rake. It was a very Zen approach, but not a very effective one.

      Now, if you’ll excuse me: What’s with the “Oh, poor guy” and “Bless his heart” nonsense?

  2. You are invited to come shovel our driveway ANY time. I should warn you, though, it hardly ever gets as high as 20 degrees and the snow drifts are basically impenetrable ice blocks of doom. I wish our shoveling was as idyllic as yours. I loved this post. : )

  3. I am totally with you, Mike, 100% of the way! I love raking and shoveling – very meditative in their way – and nothing disrupts that quicker than the loud motor and stinky gas smell of a leaf or snowblower! you were very disciplined to refrain from “suit yourself” 🙂 And I hope you had an inspired afternoon of writing!!!

    1. Amen, my friend.

      This, it turns out, was not the only day Russ has problems with his beloved snowblower. One time he ran over his newspaper and had to spend the next hour prying it out of the gears with a screwdriver.

      In the years I lived next door to that guy, he never once finished his driveway before I could finish mine. That’s modernity for you.

  4. You can’t help but snicker when you meet a guy like Russ. I can’t say that I’m fond of shoveling but it’s a solid excuse for helping yourself to a super-sized hot chocolate with whipped cream and marshmallows.

  5. Nothing like exercise–in any form–to get the mind working and the creativity flowing. In fact, many of my writing ideas come to me while I’m working out. Unfortunately, that means I have to stop my workout to quickly jot down the thought, but I guess that’s a small price to pay for productivity.

    1. Strange, but my ideas never come while I’m doing something physical, only after. It’s as if my body is telling my brain, “He doesn’t exercise enough as it is. Don’t interrupt him until he’s done, OK?”

  6. I love shoveling the driveway too. Correction, most of the driveway. The last part of the driveway where the snowplows create a thick wall of ice makes me crazy and I lose all my meditative zen. I leave that part for others to do now…. Happy shoveling, Mike!

    1. I hear you, Letizia. Even I can’t quite bring myself to enjoy that part of the snow removal process. So I usually start at that end of the driveway to get the icy unpleasantness out the way.

      Once it’s removed, I can get my Zen on.

  7. That’s a lovely story about snow shovelling, Mike. No one around here is that optimistic and would be grabbing that snow blower. My rellies in Edmonton are even less enthusiastic. I might share this post with them hee hee!

  8. I’m another rake-loving, shovel-loving kindred spirit. The quiet beauty of fresh snow or colorful fallen leaves is completely spoiled by the loud blare and smelly output of snow blowers and leaf blowers. That being said, after say, a heavy March snow, I’m happy to have a little help from my snow-blower wielding neighbors.

    1. Ah, a kindred spirit!

      And I hear you. Like every task, there is a tipping point between meditative and grueling. My Zen-like state rarely emerges when the snow level nears 18 inches. Or if the wind cuts me like a knife. And wet snow isn’t much fun either, is it?

  9. Gosh, I imagined that you might yoke up some of your rodent buddies and have them tug a tiny plow across the driveway.
    Seriously, be nicer to Russ. Your wife will appreciate his affinity for the snowblower if you are ever on a book tour during a blizzard!

    1. For shame, Cathy! I would never turn a rodent into a beast of burden! Those little fellows have a rough enough life as it is!

      As for Russ, he is no longer a thorn in my side. He and his awful family moved to England about five years ago. As far as I’m concerned, that’s still too close.

  10. There are many times when the simple is better than the complex. And, a rare moment of a quiet mind is a remarkable thing.
    Also, it can help you be more buff.

  11. I can see how you would enjoy shoveling. It seems very soothing. Mindless, yet productive, and therapeutic. I believe I would enjoy raking leaves. I would also enjoy skimming the stuff out of a swimming pool, if I had a swimming pool. But shoveling snow would destroy my spine. Unless I had a toy shovel, like the kind you get with kids’ sand pails. I could probably do okay with that. But that probably wouldn’t be all that effective.

    Also, Russ really sounds like an idiot.

    1. It’s funny you mention pool skimming. When I was a little guy, I used to do that all the time at my grandmother’s house. The task didn’t relax me, though, it was a symptom of my neatness obsession.

      “Gah! A leaf in the pool!” the young me would shout.

      You get the picture. Not relaxing at all. Raking and shoveling on the other hand? Bliss.

  12. Love the story, but hate snow, shoveling snow and paying others to shovel snow for me!! Most of MY neighbors also have snow blowers, but I’ve yet to have the opportunity to say “No, thanks!” to any of them.

  13. I was so hoping that your story would end that way, Mike!

    Your shoveling is my laundry folding—but DON’T tell my family, please, or I’ll be buried alive in socks!

  14. I USED to like snow……I grew up in Kentucky where we had one or two good snow falls a winter. Just enough to have fun, get out of school and sled down hill with so man layers of clothes on you could barely walk. THEN, I moved to Michigan (for hubby’s job, not by choice) where it snowed in October and you may not see grass again until March. 😦 I remember the early mornings and shoveling the driveway….it is peaceful and quiet. We never bought a snowblower…… But if I never see another snowflake I will be good with that!
    My hubby is from Texas (where we live now) and he called his sister after we got home from the hardware store and said, “Well…I bought my first snow shovel today! Can you believe it? There is a snowshovel in my garage??” She has never let him forget it either. Fortunately we only lived there four winters. When people asked him how a Texas boy ended up in MI, he would say, “I’m lost!” ha ha ha!

  15. Did he keel over from a pull-cord-induced heart attack? 😀

    I know what you mean.There’s a lot of data to support your empirical findings. Exercise improves mood, increases blood flow/oxygen to the brain, and can create a meditative state when repetitive. Other than that, it’s just plain fun to be outside and playing around in the snow!

    Do me a favor and send some of that white stuff (we’ll take the clear liquid form, too) to California. We’re in the middle of a drought and need it badly.

  16. I sooooo know what you mean!!! There’s something about doing methodical physical work that gives my brain enough of a break from mundane non-stop thought, for the real gems of thoughts of creativity to sneak in again, aghhh, those moments are gold dust!!! Great reminder MIke, I should create them more…who needs to wait for 7 inches (or 13 or whatever….) of snow? I love old fashioned tools – they never let you down:-) Hugs, Harula xxx

  17. I’m the shoveler of snow in our family. The temperatures are more often than not below 20 and the snow and ice has been deep this year but I would agree. The shovelling of snow is somehow quite calming and I do feel much better afterward however I am getting older and it is getting more difficult. This year I acquired a snow elf. After the first snow I went outside to shovel and found it already done. The cars were cleaned off, the driveway was done, the walkway was done and so was the next door neighbour’s. It turns out that my new downstairs neighbour loves to shovel snow and uses any excuse to be outside in the winter. I hope he never moves out.

  18. I love this…this could be anyone who lived next door to “that type” of neighbor. Love those little victories when simple and cheap beats top of the line, state of the art…anything.

    Each of us have our own way of achieving that “zen” time with ourselves. For Rick, it’s mowing the lawn. He actually puts on headphones so that he doesn’t get interrupted…and I pity the person who stupidly tries.

    For me…I like to clean house.

    1. Man over machine stories are always wonderful. If only John Henry didn’t die in the end. I loved that guy.

      God bless your husband. I hate hate hate mowing the lawn. There’s the noise, of course, but also the heat. And the grass clippings sticking to my sweaty self. And all that grass dust you breathe in. It’s maybe the worst job in the world for me.

      Howabout a trade? If your husband cuts my lawn, I’ll rake your leaves.

      1. I completely understand on the hot sweaty, grass sticking to you aspect of lawn mowing. It really surprises me how some people don’t mind dirty work at all…at least he cleans up well after he’s done. And our lawn does look very nice.

        No deal on the trade…palm trees leave very few leaves but if we lived in snow, he’d trade shoveling snow for lawn mowing any day!

  19. At times, one wonders why jerks like Russ exist. But then the light bulb comes on – ah, so we can write inspirational, funny, poetic pieces like this one. On one level, it’s about shoveling the snow and enjoying the peace and pull of exercise of the mind and the soul. On another level, it’s about putting arrogant, clueless people in their place on paper, at least, since next door, they can’t hear our tempered remarks, what with their obnoxious snow and leafblowers. On a third level, I would like it if, when Russ says sardonically, ‘Suit me,’ that you go into your warm cozy house (where the hot chocolate and shortbread cookies are waiting for you) and return to him with a clown suit.
    Suit him, indeed.
    Thanks for the 6 a.m. smile.

    1. I believe all pests are put on this earth for a reason.

      Perhaps they are here to serve as inspiration for blog posts, as you say. Or maybe they are here to teach us patience and to love our fellow man.

      Or, maybe — just maybe — they exist so we can relish the experience of watching them pull up stakes and move to England. Russ did that about five years ago and seeing him go made up for everything he did when he was next door.

  20. I really enjoyed that,m particularly the ending. I opened the post at exactly the right time, having one of my many rests during a housework day. While many people are out celebrating Australia Day I am at home anticipating next week’s visitors. But while I have no snow to shovel there is a similar pleasure to be had from polishing furniture and seeing the wood respond to some Cedar Oil and a bit of elbow grease while your mind floats free.

    1. Dusting and polishing the furniture was My Job when I was growing up. While I would’ve rather been out in the woods hammering things to trees (back then I was an avid fort builder, you see) I learned to enjoy the work.

      My point is, I get it. Finding pleasure in such necessary tasks is a great gift, I think.

  21. Well, I’m not so sure how I would feel about shoveling snow (fear of cold weather) but I definitely know what you mean about raking. It clears my mind in the most satisfying way and leaves room for all sorts of new, wonderful things.

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