African Garden + work

The Zen of Snow Shoveling

In Advance of the Aching Arm (with apologies to Marcel Duchamp)

People ask me how I stay in shape all winter, when I don't belong to a gym, yet I live in such a cold and snow-covered place. My secret for avoiding the Jan Ullrich syndrome is a cheap form of exercise, snow shoveling. Despite my complaints in previous years, I actually rather like it. In addition to a good aerobic and strength training workout, shoveling frees my mind to wander. Like Carol (of May Dreams Gardens ) when she mows, I get ideas for posts while shoveling.
The first thing about shoveling is having the proper shovel, the importance of which Christopher of Outside Clyde recently learned. I like a shovel with a sliding soft grip on the shaft of the handle,

but I need a clean, sharp edge on the head. The second important part of shoveling is dressing for it. It is a workout, so workout clothes are essential. The first layer should be something that wicks away moisture, such as Coolmax® type fabrics. I have long-sleeved exercise tops I wear with a fleece sweatshirt over that. When it's very cold, I wear yoga pants underneath jeans. Two pairs of socks help keep the feet warm. Mittens keep hands warmer than gloves. Then top it with a coat and a hat or earmuffs.
Before heading outside, I drink some water and stretch a bit. Authorities argue whether it is better to stretch before working out, or warming up first and then stretching. Because I don't want to go in and out too much, I just do the stretch first. I always wear a watch, because it is easy to shovel too long once I get in the zone. I try to come in after 30 minutes, or 15 minutes in the bitter cold (below 20F/-7C).
I try to shovel before driving on the snow-covered driveway, as it is best not to do so or to walk on the snow. Instead, I shovel a space to walk, so as not to compact the snow. There are those (VIS for instance) who believe that is unnecessary, and that people who try to clean the surface completely are merely suffering from some form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. They are mistaken. There's nothing pathological about wanting to avoid having ice patches on one's drive or walkway. I can't imagine trying to shovel a gravel driveway, as the Purdys at Cold Climate Gardening have to do. Concrete, asphalt, or permeable pavers are much easier to shovel.
There is also debate about whether to shovel as it snows, or wait until it stops. I believe in doing it as it snows so that there is less to shovel at one time. When that's not possible, it is best to slice off a layer of the snow, then come back and get the rest.

This is particularly important when the snow is wet and heavy, what we in Chicagoland call "heart-attack snow." It is advised that snow be pushed rather than thrown, but let's face it, sometimes you just have to throw. The key is to use the legs to lift and never to throw and twist at the same time.
When shoveling the driveway, I like to start in the middle and shovel snow to either side. This is not always possible if there is a strong wind, in which case one should shovel with the wind. Otherwise, it's like sticking your face in a snowcone maker. The wind will also quickly return what you have shoveled back onto the shoveled surface. If there are gardens or plants lining the walk or driveway, it is best to try to evenly distribute the snow on them, or, if possible, put the snow somewhere else. I try not to pile snow on the front garden, but the beds lining the driveway tend to get buried.
Some people advise applying non-stick cooking spray or WD40 to the shovel head before shoveling, to keep the snow from sticking. I have done that, and it helps a bit, but, ultimately, the snow will stick to the shovel.

Scraping it out works, but I prefer the boot method.

I lift the shovel slightly and give it a bit of a kick. Most of the snow then flies off. I can't recommend this method, as there is the possibility of injury, unless you have steel-toed boots.
Finally, once the driveway and walk are cleared, I apply a plant and pet friendly ice melting product to any ice patches.

I can't help it if I feel a bit smug surveying my clean surfaces when the neighbors' driveways are still a snowy mess. It's so peaceful and serene to move snow methodically and completely in a quiet world dampened down with the beauty of snow.

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The Zen of Snow Shoveling + work