It’s just another late February day in Boynton Beach, Fla. As I write these words, collapsed in a deck chair, palm trees dance in a gentle breeze, almost in perfect sync with the bobbing noodles the aerobics enthusiasts ride in a spacious, heated pool.
It’s an idyllic scene, a tonic for a teacher in the dog days of winter, almost as Zen-like as shoveling two feet of New Hampshire snow off my deck.
I know, but just stick with me here. I love my mother-in-law and my visits to the tropical paradise she calls home. I woke up recently to an additional helping of February snow, to that eerie late-winter silence punctuated by the grating racket of plow scraping pavement. You know, 82 and sunny ain’t bad, but if I need rejuvenation, give me a shovel so I can attack a snow-covered deck.
I start with the railing, where two or three inches rest like fluff on a lamb’s back. And like an experienced groomer with shears, I start at the bottom and gently scrape the white stuff to the side, leaving a smooth, icy patina that will quickly evaporate in the morning sun.
The next step differs, depending on the amount I need to shovel. A few weeks ago, the snow piled up to my waist. I almost hated to disturb the frozen formations that nature had sculpted in her studio. But I needed to discover what I was in for, the moves required to get the job done. And just as importantly, to establish the rhythm that leads to a transcendent place of peace.
It’s the light variety. My warm breath could blow a quarter of an inch off at a time. But even light snow gets heavy when mounds of it are chucked off the side of the deck. I determine that four shovels-full get me to the bottom. A lot of work, to be sure, but evenly distributed so as not to aggravate my lower back.
I methodically dig and scoop, dig and scoop, row after row, until half the deck’s surface is visible. How long did that take? I leave my watch inside. Time is of no consequence when my state of being enters another dimension.
Now the best part, and I don’t wait until the deck is completely shorn. I start at one end and gently push the edge of the shovel across the deck, lifting shavings as I go, then finally pushing them off at the opposite end. Up one row and down the next, like mowing the lawn, but much more satisfying—no gas fumes, no gnats flying up my nose, just one naked row after another of wet, gleaming planks, resting in stark contrast to the as yet undisturbed white fortresses nearby.
I’ve strained my back more than once digging my car out of plow-created igloos. I’d rather watch a “Gilligan’s Island” marathon than scrape an icy windshield ever again. But there’s something vaguely Tibetan about shoveling off my deck in the bowels of winter, something contented retirees in south Florida could probably never understand.
John Edmondson is a teacher in Hampstead.