Sunday, December 16, 2007

Think Snow...

Several years ago bumper stickers containing the phrase "Think Snow" began to appear on the vehicles of enthusiastic skiers throughout the New England area. I was not one of them. I refused to join in the collective importuning of Ullr, or any other "God of Snow" - feeling that, in a world governed by the laws of trickle-down meteorology, at least some of the white fluffy stuff that graced the ski slopes up north would inevitably also end up on my sidewalk out front. Fun sport for others (most of whom are and always will be strangers) versus hard work for me - humm, what should I choose? Others apparently agreed, for soon I saw an auto decal that began with the same annoying snow slogan but ended with the phrase "...Good, Now Think Shovel!"

These days shoveling snow is my favorite winter sport. It burns slightly less calories than cross country skiing which used to be my preferred form of snow exercise - five hundred eighteen versus six hundred ninety calories per hour according to - without the inherent danger of broken bones and hopelessly twisted limbs that the Nordic form of snow gliding offers as possible side effects. Plus you don't have to drive anywhere to do it.

When Mars and I originally took up cross country it actually used to snow a lot on free, close by, open-to-the-public places such as golf courses, public reservoirs and state parks. A morning of x-country involved thirty minutes or less of driving and two hours or more of actual skiing. As we got better at herringboning and snowplowing, the amount of ski-able local snow decreased correspondingly and the ratio of drive time to ski time reversed - then got worse.

But the white precipitation didn't stop entirely - at least at my homestead.

We live in a corner house with sidewalks along two sides of the property, a path across the front of our house, and a four-plus-car-length driveway. I have a snowblower that was purchased in 1978 as a direct result of what became known in Connecticut as "Ella's Storm" - named after our then Governor Grasso who, apparently for the first time in recorded history "shut down the state" for a couple of days in order to deal with a multi-inch dumping of snow.

This was before we skied, so all there was to do snow-wise for forty-eight hours or so was to shovel.

I don't remember how much snow there was, or how many shoveling laps around the property we did, but it was enough to convince me and a neighbor that we each needed one half interest in a machine method of snow removal. Obviously at that time I was not as entranced with the idea of manual loose-granular labor as I am now. All I was, was tired and sore - all due to my false belief that age and not physical condition should determine my ability to do things like repeatedly tossing shovelfuls of endlessly accumulating snow onto the top of a pile that, as I grew more and more tired, grew concomitantly taller, and taller.

Over the years I have had many occasions to use the snow blower. But Mars and I also have had the opportunity to get ourselves into better physical condition, beginning about twenty-five years ago when we realized that our home and work activities did not provide enough activities requiring significant manual effort.

We began with running and have added, here and there over the years, weight lifting, yoga, and other cardio stuff, including our brief career as Nordic skiers. As a result the physical discomfort, exhaustion, and resentment previously associated with activities such as snow shoveling were replaced first by a sense of relief at their absence; then by an appreciation of the benefits of the act itself (time out of doors, exercise, a sense of accomplishment); and a finally a gradual understanding that if I did more stuff like this then I wouldn't have to "exercise" as much.

The last realization was the hardest of all to accept. I had never in my upbringing made the equation between physical-exertion-type-work and exercise probably because, other than two summer jobs, I had basically never performed any of that type of labor. "Exercise" was done in a gymnasium and work was done in an office - and never the twain shall meet. Fortunately I was now in good enough condition from my "exercising" to be able to continue "exercising" every day and periodically also do some of that manual labor type stuff that didn't technically count as "exercise".

So, back during my working days, I would rise at 4:45 a.m. in order to shovel the snow so that we could be at work by 7:00 a.m. (our normal start time) and also get in my regular health club training session. Although I never totally gave this routine up until retirement, I gradually began to enjoy my pre-dawn work more than my workout

The sky was cloudless and the early morning stars were visible. The air was clean and cold - and the neighborhood around me was absolutely still. I had an (admittedly self imposed) time constraint of twenty minutes, thirty maximum, so I moved quickly. This resulted in enough generated body heat to cause my turtleneck shirt to absorb perspiration, and my stocking-hatted hair to matt down with moisture. The few cool-down stretches that I allowed myself after, and the warm shower that followed were like whipped cream and cherries on top.

On weekends I traded the solitude of early morning for the warm sunlight of the midday - and with it the opportunity to strip off my sweater and allow the natural light to supplement my man-made heat with an equal dose of externally generated warmness.

Although I actually miss them, in retirement I'm not planning on any more pre-sunrise snow shovel fests. Instead I'll have breakfast, read the comics, and wait for the sun to light the way to my exercise d'jour - right here in my own front yard.

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