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By January 18, 2013November 7th, 2016Adventures

“The first fall of snow is not only an event; it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found?”

~ J.B.Priestley

I once read, in a book by Farley Mowat, that there are dozens of words in the Inuit language for snow. When everyone in our little northern town awoke last Sunday morning to find almost two feet of the magical stuff drifting about the yard and blowing up and under the eaves, we had only one word for it. Finally!

It’s been a disappointing winter in the village where we live, mild for the most part, and without any real snow. There have been a few minor flurries, and once a thin sheet of mealy ice covered the ground for a few days, but in a place where good snowfalls are measured in double digits and a prudent man keeps a snow shovel in the back of the truck as well as on the back porch (so he can get to the truck), it’s been a very unsatisfactory season. The gift of snow seemed to produce a communal sigh of relief. Winter had finally come.

“Hey honey, how much did we get?” I pestered Lisa for the third time in as many minutes as I struggled into wool bibs and began lacing up my insulated boots. “Have you heard anything yet?”

“You’ve already asked me five times,” she said, tuning the radio dial to WCCO, the old-fashion and reliable AM station we listen to when something important happens. I couldn’t wait around for the news, however, I was too anxious to get outside.

The morning was magic, and it stopped me in my tracks; a thick white blanket covered our world and softened every edge of it. The limbs on the ancient white pine that shelters our home were bowed under their heavy load, and thousands of diamonds seem to hang in the air, swirling and twisting in the dying wind. The quiet was palpable and demanded the silence and thoughtful respect of a cathedral. The yard was immaculate and trackless, and as the sun gained strength, a riot of cobalt shadows crisscrossed the virginal whiteness. The bells from the church at the end of the block began to peal, and sounded crystalline as they called the town faithful to their worship. When the choir’s first song erupted onto the still morning, it seemed to be a celebration, as if the collective burden of global warming had been communally lifted from every member of the congregation.

I stood in the middle of our driveway and leaned on my snow shovel, drinking my second cup of coffee. I was trying to take in the measure of the day when Tommy stumbled out of the house in her snowsuit and rolled off the back porch like a drunken beetle. “It looks like Christmas!” She squealed picking herself up, snowflakes hanging from her eyelashes. “Just like Christmas!”

Like my daughter and I, not everyone in town worshiped indoors, and soon the sound of snow blowers began to drift through the village. It was distant at first, like the low hum of honeybees around a hive, but built steadily into the growl of a dogfight. An intoxicating and comforting haze of two-cycle exhaust settled over the neighborhood. If testosterone has a smell, it’s two-cycle exhaust.

Where I live men project their identity with the vehicle they drive, the make and size of their snow blower, chainsaw, and bird dog. While some may compensate for a lack of confidence or ability by owning the newest and biggest (but, not necessarily the best) this is considered bad form in my neighborhood. Additionally, while it’s acceptable for a man to have several bird dogs, or to own more than one chainsaw (if you make your living with them), the general consensus is that one snow blower is enough. I don’t own any.

I’ve come to the conclusion, as with certain other aspects of my life, that while size is certainly important, having the right tool for the job, and knowing how to work with it is what’s most valuable. Being a non-conformist from birth (I was born breached and remain left-handed), and a minimalist by choice (I’m usually broke), I decided long ago that all I needed to free my family from the clutches of any winter storm was a good pair of choppers and a shovel. I don’t own a snow blower for the same reason that I still split my firewood by hand; I appreciate the process, like the exercise, and feel like I’ve accomplished something worthwhile when I’m finished. While I do own a chainsaw, if I had the time and my own woodlot, I’d surely be tempted to cut my firewood with a crosscut and buck saw.

Even though I consider it a badge of honor not to own a snow blower, I have to admit that I was overwhelmed by the task at hand. I questioned the wisdom of my stubbornness, and in a moment of weakness, called out to my neighbor, Joe, who had beaten me outside and had a clear jump on finishing his chore ahead of me.

After the usual exchange of greetings and a discussion of the storm’s merits, I offered my confession. “This could all be gone in just a few days’ time,” I began, “I wonder if it’s really worth the time and trouble to shovel.”

“What trouble?” He asked. “It’s fun to get outside and clean off the driveway!”

It was in that instant that I had an epiphany; a man’s character is defined by how he responds to a heavy snowfall. “Yeah, you’re right,” I answered, “and, thanks!”

My friend looked at me curiously because I’d just thanked him for something so obvious; a simple fact that he assumed everyone knew. I started shoveling.