2024-02-20 4 min read



I cut my shoveling teeth on the south side of Donner Lake, a few miles east of what Wikipedia claims is the fourth-snowiest weather station in the United States. My lease at the time stipulated that I not use metal shovels on the asphalt driveway – a ridiculous restriction, I thought, but I followed it anyway. Ever since then I’ve used the same variety of red, wooden-handled, plastic-scooped snow shovel, which is actually marketed as a “grain scoop” and which I try to use in a single continuous motion, starting on the ground and then ending in the air, flinging (if conditions are right) a breadbox-sized load of snow towards a more appropriate resting location. 

Assuming your wagon train isn’t stranded there, the snow-shoveling conditions on Donner Lake are wonderful. A storm might bring one or two feet overnight, enough to really sink your grain scoop into, and giving you an opportunity to preface your upwards-flinging motions with downwards-chopping motions, both to break the mass of snow up into smaller chunks and also, later, to create nice vertical edges around the area you’ve cleared. If you’re really lucky and it’s been a heavy snow season, you might even get the chance to cut stairs – a project that for me results in slightly less back strain and allows for slightly more artistry than clearing a walkway.

In New York City, where I live now, property owners are responsible for clearing snow from the sidewalk in front of their properties. For a few years I rented a third-floor apartment in Bed Stuy; there was a bus stop on the corner directly in front of our front door, and I was dismayed and embarrassed at our landlord’s apparent disinterest in clearing the snow, which would melt and then re-freeze into a hard sheet. I would leave my apartment in shame, often squeezing past someone sitting on the one dry surface in sight – our tiny stoop. When we eventually moved a ten-minute bike ride to the south, I bought a new grain scoop for myself and for the past seven winters have relished every opportunity I’ve gotten to shovel our little sidewalk. It’s a moment outside; it gives the morning rhythm; it’s three or four dry strides for anyone walking past our home.

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