When you live in a place that occasionally gets a lot of snow, you have to learn to choose your battles and fight them wisely. There are neighbours with pristine sidewalks and driveways, their snow shovels grating against nearly-bare concrete late at night even if the snow is still falling. There are houses where the only sign of habitation is a set of deep dents leading to or from the front door. There are the fortunate few with gas-powered snow-munching machines that can liberate the house from a blizzard in half an hour.
And then there’s me. I do pragmatic, good-as-it-needs-to-be shovelling, plus a little extra now and then to tidy things up. There’s a path to the mailbox and a short run of driveway, enough to get the car out of the garage and onto the road and away, and anything more than that is a bonus. The driveway is critical to my lifestyle, because all of my extracurricular activities are in remote corners of the city where it’s impractical to just jump on a bus — especially if one is hauling a saxophone, or a set of skis.
Now, let me tell you about the plow.
It’s hard driving down a back alley right after a heavy snowfall. I have snow tires, but if the snow is deep enough it can still bog the car down. You have to either make your own road by carefully driving down the alley to the street, or you have to negotiate the ruts left by cars that have already ventured out. Drivers lose traction and spin their wheels, turning the snow to ice. Not fun.
This makes it a mixed blessing when the front road is clear and the city starts working on the alleys. Guess where all that freshly-plowed alley snow ends up?
Right. In. My. Nice. Clean. Driveway.
Wednesday night I go out to band practice, usually leaving sometime between 6:00 and 6:30 and driving across the city with my gear for a 7:30 downbeat. Wednesday afternoon as I got off the bus from work, I noticed that the alley just east of my street was now clear. The plow was on its way.
I debated getting the car out of the garage and driving it around to the front street to avoid being trapped by the windrows scraped up by the plow, but I had a hunch. I assembled my gear for band practice, put on the kettle, and sat down with a book and a cup of tea. Sure enough, about 20 minutes into my tea party, the rumble of a large diesel engine could be heard. I glanced out the back window and saw a tall orange-yellow machine loosening the alley ruts and pushing snow and ice around.
I finished my tea, grabbed my house keys and winter coat, and got to it. Sure enough, there was now a mountain range of snowy peaks all the way down both sides of the alley, and neighbours were coming out to clean up the mess. People arriving home from work just stopped their cars in the alley, rolling their eyes and swearing as they climbed over the gigantic speed bumps that blocked ingress to their garages.
I chopped and scooped and dumped, and relaxed. It was just after 5 p.m., and there was no danger of being late for rehearsal; in fact, by the time the last load was dumped in my back yard there was still half an hour to spare.
What’s interesting about this is that I had spent a considerable amount of time that week worrying about being trapped by the plow. It couldn’t be avoided and couldn’t be controlled, only anticipated and worked around. You can’t dig out before it comes, and when it does come you have to get out there and get to work.
A lot of projects are like that: There’s a sequence that has to be followed, prerequisites that have to be met. You could spend time worrying about something, I suppose, but it’s kind of pointless if there’s nothing you can do about it yet.
What I did have, though, was a clear plan. I had to wait for my driveway to get plowed in before I could clear it again. I knew which shovels to grab to do the work quickly and easily. I knew the best places to deposit the snow.
So, make your plan and then wait for the plow.
And enjoy that tea.