Constable: Snow shovelers hit the wall like marathoners do, but we keep going, too

  • Palatine's Marc Janiak, who is originally from New Hampshire and is used to shoveling snow, clears his driveway Wednesday.

      Palatine's Marc Janiak, who is originally from New Hampshire and is used to shoveling snow, clears his driveway Wednesday. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Sherry Swistowicz of Elgin clears her sister-in-law's driveway as snow continues to fall Wednesday in Elgin.

      Sherry Swistowicz of Elgin clears her sister-in-law's driveway as snow continues to fall Wednesday in Elgin. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Posted2/3/2022 5:20 AM

If the snow doesn't know when to quit today, I might change my mind. But I look at inches of snow the same way runners look at marathon miles.

At the 4-inch mark Wednesday, my shovel and I had yet to even work up a sweat clearing the sidewalk in front of our house.


"I can do this all day long," I thought.

I got into a nice rhythm, maintaining a slow and steady pace. I learned the shoveling technique from my farmer dad, who taught me that pacing yourself is the key to scooping corn or soybeans out of a grain bin.

And, because of all the dust, I always wore a tightfitting mask covering my mouth and nose, so a K-95 seems perfectly normal to me. Also, snow is lighter, the shoveling is quieter without the rattling of an auger, and you don't have to worry about the occasional mouse or rat lurking about.

Dad, who was an excellent athlete, looked at scooping as if it were a dance. I have to sing it a bit slower than Tag Team in that Geico commercial with the ice cream, but "Scoop, there it is" provides a nice accompaniment to my snow shoveling. And, as it does with COVID-19, my mask shields my neighbors from whatever comes out of my mouth.

I shoveled after blizzards dropped 20 inches of snow in January 1979 and 1999, and nearly that much exactly seven years ago. Those snows taught me that a marathon runner and I both hit "the wall" during our endeavors. After 8 to 10 inches, I want to take off my gloves, hat, boots, coat and mask, and plop down on the couch for a spell. Not having that luxury after our worst blizzards, I powered on and discovered that I got a second wind about inch 15. Just as marathon runners are inspired by the people jogging along beside them, I got energy from neighbors who kept shoveling.

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After the 21.6 inches of snow at the start of the new year in 1999, our neighborhood was united by 9 a.m. with that same selfless spirit shown by folks at a barn-raising. Working as a team, we cleared the sidewalks on both sides of the street. We cleared a path to the door of older residents, who came to the door to thank us. A family who had immigrated from Nigeria couldn't stop smiling as we shoveled a path for the compact car stuck in their driveway and explained that their kids could make snowballs, snow forts and snowmen.

That is something that separates blizzards, which can be deadly and cause massive power outages and other hardships, from other natural disasters such as tornadoes, floods or wildfires. After a heavy snowfall, there is a run on shovels, salt and generators at local stores. But there also is a demand for sleds. What other deadly natural phenomenon inspires kids (and adults) to play? Wildfires don't encourage weenie roasts, and most people don't install a diving board in their flooded basement. A massive snowfall mirrors the five stages of grief by starting with denial, but after anger, bargaining, depression, we juice up acceptance by adding fun.

Snow is magical because it temporarily hides our flaws. In addition to covering fast-food containers, dog droppings, cigarette butts and other trash, snow masks our human disagreements. When we join together to dig a car out of a drift, we don't know if the driver voted for Trump or Biden, if the man wearing the face mask is a transgender activist, or if the woman providing the jumper cables has a sign in her front yard reading "Pro Life, Pro God, Pro Gun" or "Politicians are temporary, Wu-Tang is forever."

For most of us in the suburbs, Wednesday's snow wasn't that big of a deal. I actually got a little snow envy earlier this month, when our son, Ben, texted us from Boston on a day that city got hit with 2 feet of snow: "Three hours after it stopped snowing, my car was clear. Chicago has prepped me well."

If nothing else, shoveling snow breaks up the monotony of two years of pandemic by providing morning exercise and an afternoon repeat. Even with less than a foot of snow, I've got work to do in the next couple of days. Snow still blankets the pavement under our basketball hoop, and the temperature might rise above freezing by Sunday.

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