I’ve always had a thing about snow blowing.
For the past 30 winters, I’ve blown snow. Friends have always groaned about Chicago winters and having to deal with snow, but I’ve never minded. And when my late father-in-law gave us a new Toro snow blower 30 years ago, I proudly accepted my responsibility: now my calling in life was to blow snow, whenever and wherever I encountered it. I became like Johnny Appleseed… only Johnny Snowblower.
As soon as a snow storm abated, I’d put on my long johns, heavy jeans, turtle neck, down parka, Bears stocking cap, and my special REI Arctic-certified gloves and crank up the snow blower. Depending on the temperature, cranking it up could take 10 minutes and 20 pulls of the starter. But finally it’d start up, and the aroma of the oil-and-gas mixture would pollute the air.
Part of the allure of blowing snow is walking through the virgin, freshly fallen snow, even though the intent of my walk is to disrupt its virginity. In spite of the roar of the Toro, the smell of the oil, I still experienced a stillness, like I was the only one out there in this pristine, white landscape. And the path I created – a path cut with military precision the length of our block – did not destroy this stillness. I had simply made it safe for school kids, mail carriers and old guys to enjoy it. I had already done a good deed, and it wasn’t even 7:00 a.m.
When I turned 70, snow blowing lost some (not all) of its charm. Part of the allure of condo life was looking forward to watching a beautiful snow storm, knowing I didn’t have to put on those layers and crank up the Toro.
So what happened last year when we experienced our first big snowstorm in the condo? We were out of town! Can you believe it? How can I enjoy not snow blowing if I’m not in town to not blow snow??? Damn it!
We got back in town the day after an 8-inch blizzard. True, we still had the pleasure of looking outside at the almost-pristine snowscape, and enjoying it. Sorta. Even the grotesque electric transformer outside our window looks pristine in snow. We saw that the snow came onto our deck a few inches: enough to know we’re in Chicago, but not enough to build a snowman. And most important, we knew we could relax, open a bottle of wine, and warmly enjoy the beauty of a Chicago winter just outside our living room window.
What I miss most in the condo is going out there right after the snow stops – at midnight or 5 a.m. – and experiencing the incredibly loud quiet of the freshly fallen snow. For a few minutes even the alley behind our old house – with the trash dumpsters covered in white – looked like a winter wonderland.
I still sneak glances out at the neighborhood, to see if anyone’s cleaning off the whole block. Nobody is. I don’t hear the roar or smell the aroma of the engine, or see the plume of snow. And I don’t experience the moral superiority of being the guy who snow blows the whole block, once again making the world safe for walking.