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Archive for March, 2013

Outside the Box

Part One

A week ago, a friend sent me a link to a New York Times article about embodied metaphor.  An experiment was designed that made those metaphors we use about creativity—thinking outside the box, for example—physically real.  Among other things, they built a box big enough to sit in; some folks were asked to find creative solutions to a problem while sitting inside the box, while others were outside, in a chair next to it.  When people were physically “outside the box” they were also significantly more likely to be mentally “outside the box.”

This weekend, George went away, and it snowed.  I should not be surprised; after all, it’s Canada, where the law requires that you have snow tires on your car 7 months out of every year.  So although the light is returning—the sky is bright by 6 am now—the temperature is still usually below 0° C, and various forms of precipitation continue to fall.

So, he was gone, and the snow came, in buckets, for 24 hours.  By buckets, I mean both that it was a lot of snow and also that buckets were the appropriate item for snow removal since calling it snow was a polite term.  It was really barely frozen water, not archetypal light and fluffy stuff at all. So because of the threat of imminent return to aqueous state (which I knew from experience would become ice within hours), it was imperative that I actually do something.  Hence I hied myself to the snow blower, and several hours of meditation on snow removal.

Snow removal, for those of you not conversant with this practice, begins with brooms: a push broom as well as a regular old kitchen broom.  These are excellent for clearing small amounts of light, fluffy snow from the front steps and walk.  This is a brisk and easy form of exercise, relatively pain-free.

For wetter and/or deeper snow, shovels of various kinds are helpful.  There is the classic snow shovel used to lift moderate amounts of white stuff in bounded areas. We also have a snow scoop, a large, long-handled implement that you use to push piles of snow along the ground until you can figure out how the hell to empty it.  Since I have difficulty turning over a full scoop—and since the snow often sticks—this part of the process often involves using a regular garden shovel too.  We also have a “roof rake,” used to pull down large deposits of snow so it doesn’t crush the roof.  It is also extremely effective at loosing rivers of slush onto one’s head.  Anything involving a shovel, scoop, or roof rake necessarily includes sweating, backaches, and full employment for the local chiropractor and masseuse.

Then there are the mechanical aids.  The latest addition to our house is the snow blower.  Allegedly effortless, the machine is actually quite heavy, jumps from side-to-side as you guide it, requires constant backing and dragging, and is the reason that my right hand looked like a broken bird wing for three days this week.  It does, however, remove snow.  Unfortunately, you have to remember to change the angle of the blower or else you will spew the snow onto the places you’ve just cleared.  There’s also the issue of shear bolts, called such because they shear off when the churning blades get stopped by a rock or such.  Since our driveway is rock, we have invested in many spare shear bolts.  Replacing them requiring sustained banging with a hammer and occasional slamming of the back of your hand into the shield over the blades.  Ice and band-aids are necessary complements to this activity, which is actually quite fortuitous since you can simply slap a scoop of slush on the place where you just banged yourself.

Other mechanical aids include the snowplow on our neighbour’s truck, which is good for moving large amounts of snow from the driveway, and also good for blocking access to previously hand-cleared areas and running over the clothes pole.  I have not, however, found it to be effective for the decks and walkways.   The advantage of this form of snow transfer is that it can be done with a cup of hot tea in hand while on the couch.

We also have recourse occasionally to hiring a front-end loader.  This occurs when the snow is so deep that those same neighbours can’t make it down the drive.  I have asked George to consider putting one of these on his Christmas list, as it not only clears the snow but actually puts it someplace where you don’t have to crawl over it the next day.  The only draw back is that those garden beds probably won’t thaw until July.

There are de-icing materials too, which are usually in heavy bags that must be hauled down the walk and up the drive.  (See above references to required medical support.) We have tried the following: ashes from the woodstove, ashes from the fireplace, sand purchased in bags, sand left over from construction, dirt dug out of the far back garden (I put a stop to THAT one!), beet sugar leavings (packaged as organic and non-toxic), bird seed, some kind of white flaky stuff that’s not supposed to hurt the environment, and clay cat litter.

I learned today that some people, as soon as the temperature starts to rise, put their sprinklers on and use the water to melt the snow.  (This is a fine example of thinking outside the box, if you ask me.)

There are also the unconventional items that are particularly useful for breaking up the sheet of ice that is now our driveway.  These include a garden shovel with a point, a garden shovel without a point, a pick-axe, the heel of one’s boot, any large log, and—I saw this today when I looked out the window at George—an REI hiking stick wielded like a spear.

As you can see, we are beginning to think outside the box.  But if we were truly creative, I think that we might stop fighting it and simply invest in a Zamboni.  With the driveway as a skating rink and the road as a luge run, we could repackage Heart’s Rest as a winter resort.

Part Two

I wrote the above several months ago.  It didn’t seem done, so I set it aside; when I came across it this week, I sent it over to George and asked him to read it.  He told me it was interesting but lacked the bit at the end where I wrap it all together and make some pithy spiritual comment.

That was Thursday.  Early Friday morning, George headed out to a two-day Presbytery meeting several hours away, leaving just as the first flakes began to fall.  Watching the sky, I made mental plans to go cross-country skiing on Saturday.  But within a few hours, we had a full-on blizzard: passes closed, planes cancelled, driving treacherous.  And, because it’s been hovering just around zero, the snow was that thick wet slop, inches and inches of white cement.

When it stopped this morning, I headed out the door with Nadine, our live-in administrator and resident artist.  I had earlier used the broom to clear the steps at the hermitage—they were wet and slushy and I could just shoot the stuff out into the back yard.  But the front steps of the main house required the shovel, the front walkway needed the scoop, and nothing but the snow blower could clear the drive and back area.  We took turns with the various implements and—an hour and a half later—retired broken and exhausted.  The shear bolts were done in, too.  All the while, I thought about what I was learning spiritually.

So in response to George’s comments, I’ve got some reflections on snow removal, and also a request.  First the reflections:

  • It is embarrassing to see how many rules I have about doing something the “right” way.  Doing a task with someone else provides me with great opportunity for reflection on the rigidness of my character.
  • It is much easier to do hard work when you’re working with someone else.   It’s not just about less work, it’s that my resistance to undertaking a difficult task is weakened by having a partner.
  • These first two items counter each other.  It is good for the character to be grateful for the second and conscious of the first.
  • Some things simply need to be done.  It helps not to think too much about whether I want to do them or not.
  • And finally, I don’t have to find meaning in everything.  Life is simply life, and being present to it is enough.

Now the request, which I believe is a profound reflection on my ability to think outside the box:  Next trip, can I come along too, George?