It’s happened to all of us: we finally get our driveway cleared, and suddenly we hear it coming from down the street—for me, it’s usually accompanied by the Stones’ "Sympathy for the Devil."

BY EDNOR THERRIAULT

 

Each fall, as the leaves begin to turn, and the smell of burnt dog hair tells me the baseboard heaters have come on, I go out to the garage to shut off the lawn sprinkler system. I gather the rakes to carry them back to the shed where I’ll swap them for the snow shovels. It’s a grim task. It feels like the Bataan Death March, this depressing ritual that signals the end of summer.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate winter completely. If you’re a regular reader of this fine publication you may have caught my snowboarding piece from last year. And my injuries have healed completely, thanks for asking. Snow can be fun: there’s tubing, sledding, throwing snowballs and building snow individuals. I also simply enjoy looking at it from the comfort of my cozy home, gazing at the soft beauty of a sparkling fresh snowfall.

I wasn’t thinking such thoughts last fall as I rattled the rakes into the corner of the shed and grabbed the pair of battered snow shovels. I like snow; I hate shoveling it. I found myself rooting for climate change to somehow divert all precipitation away from my part of the state until May. I could feel the muscles in my lower back already tweaking just a bit, preliminary baby spasms that signaled several months of Bengay, Icy Hot, and enough moaning, grunting and whimpering to cause Siri to alert the authorities that I’m filming dirty movies in my living room.

Sure, I like to pull into a cleared driveway and climb the steps of a snow-free front porch as much as the next guy, but it’s like that old Louis Jordan song, “What’s the Use of Getting Sober (When You’re Gonna Get Drunk Again).” I might spend an hour or more shoveling a few tons of Satan’s dandruff off our driveway and front porch, only to go inside and crack a bottle of adult reward just as the radio tells me another “snowpocalypse” or “blizzardmageddon” or “graupelpalooza” is bearing down on us. I might consider moving to Florida if it weren’t for the giant pythons and crazy people.

As with many tasks in my life, pleasant and otherwise, I turn to music to help get me through. It might seem weird, but when it comes to the drudgery of shoveling snow, I’m oddly comforted and motivated by seemingly counterproductive songs pounding through my earbuds, not some Beach Boys jingle-jangle to take my mind off the situation. My shoveling playlist—entitled “%#?&! Snow”—includes such driveway-clearing anthems as “Working in the Coal Mine,” “Sixteen Tons” and “Take This Job and Shove It.”

One January, I was so entranced by Neil Young’s guitar solo on “Cortez the Killer” that I finished the driveway and went on to shovel the backyard.

Music helps ease the burden of shoveling, but there’s an evil lurking out there beyond the driveway, a malignant soul-crusher that can send me into a shovel- slinging, beanie-tossing tantrum of blood-spitting rage. I’m talking, of course, about the snowplow.

It’s happened to all of us: we finally get our driveway cleared, and suddenly we hear it coming from down the street—for me, it’s usually accompanied by the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.”Your stomach drops, and you choke back a couple of sobs as you hear the roar of the engine, the scrape of the blade. The sickening whoosh grows louder as a breaking wave of filthy snow is hurled from the road, burying every parked car in a berm of slush and shoving a massive foothill of Beelzebub’s Bisquick onto the foot of the driveway you’ve just finished clearing.

Even though this is the same person you’ll later thank for making sure you can get to work, and your kids safely make it to school, at this moment we hate the snowplow driver. Snow shovelers wouldn’t like this guy even if the plow left a trail of candy canes and 30-year-old scotch. If you live in the Northern Rockies and park on the street, having to dig your vehicle out of a man-made snowbank is probably the second most popular excuse for being late on a winter workday, right after the Fresh Powder Flu.

A couple of years ago, my neighbor across the street bought a snow blower—a big, gas-powered beast that chewed the snow off his driveway like a starved sheep on an overgrown lawn. It looked like fun. It also looked expensive, and I am what some might call “thrifty.” My neighbor is a good guy, and we’ve loaned each other tools and things over the years.

Surely he’d watched me over here struggling with the shovel, slipping and falling on the icy concrete, shaking my fist at the sky and cursing the snowflakes while they filled in the spots I’d already shoveled. He may also have heard me singing the refrain from “Sympathy” as the snowplow approached. Surely he’d want to offer up his powerful snow-throwing machine and end my suffering. But I lacked the pride and patience to wait for him to make the offer, so I trudged across the road one day after an apocalyptic snow dump and knocked on his door.

“Hey, Joel,” I said, “I was just wondering if you ever returned my lawn mower you borrowed last summer.”

He looked at me like I had an ear growing out of my forehead. “Your lawnmower? Yeah, I even put it in your shed, remember? Back in that corner by the rakes.”

The rakes. To his credit, he offered me the snow blower and didn’t even ask about the frozen tears on my cheek.

Ednor Therriault is a writer and musician from Missoula, Montana, and frequently travels the state to report on the weird and curious.