Thinking five inches sufficient for a little while, the storm let up at 10 pm, as I was walking to work. It was inhaling again when I walked home at midnight, sucking snow into drifts against doors and windows, and up into the sky. As I was stamping a path to my door, my friend Ben walked out of his apartment with a shovel. “I just love shoveling,” he said.
So I joined him, snatching a shovel from beside my own door. It was flimsy blue plastic, used by the maintenance staff for the light snow we’ve come to expect this winter.
We began our work, dipping and bowing, scraping snow onto the lips of our shovels and tossing it off again, wincing as icy pellets blew back into our faces. It was thrilling to be outside so late, voices echoing off sleeping buildings. Two others joined us after a while, and we all talked a little, mostly about the futility of what we were doing; another wave of the snow would be upon us in an hour. We justified, saying that we were getting the difficult snow, the icy stuff that could only be removed if one threw one’s shoulder against the handle of the shovel, slamming it down against the sidewalk. But really, it didn’t matter if everything was covered by morning. The point of midnight shoveling is not to accomplish much. It’s something you only do once, when you’re twenty-one, and it’s February, and the first real snow of winter has come screeching across the prairie to bury your campus.
We finished at 1, having shoveled every bit of sidewalk in the apartment square; the main paths surrounding the common building, and the small ramp-like ones leading up to each door. There wasn’t much of a ceremony to putting the shovels back, to saying good night and trudging upstairs to bed. Only the storm was reverent; bowing for a moment to survey our work before hurrying to erase it before anyone else could see.