Commentary

Editor’s Notebook: Heavy lifting at the end of the driveway

January 19, 2022 5:49 am
A ground-level view of a snowbank

A ground-level view of the snowbank at the end of the driveway. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)

I spent most of Monday morning clearing snow from the driveway. As much as I don’t want that to be read as a complaint, the truth is I don’t much care for shoveling and have nothing to gain by claiming otherwise.

Granted, there’s some instant gratification to be had. Like a mowed lawn, a driveway cleared of snow has beautiful lines and it projects order. But the labor required for such a fleeting and subjective bit of pleasure feels slightly criminal – and that’s before the big plow speeds by to deliver a fresh load of misery.

The heavy, slushy, dirty snow churned up by plow trucks and sprayed across the space where driveway meets road is the straw that breaks the weary shoveler’s back. One minute he stands victorious on hard earth cleared of accumulation, and the next he is on his knees, arms stretched skyward in agony, as the transportation department leviathan rumbles past.

The shoveler demands to know why, why such a fate, but the answer goes unheard. The only sound is that of metal scraping pavement, streets being cleared of ice and snow.

I must decide whether to exist in a constant state of conflict – real or imagined – with the human world outside of my clan or assume until proven otherwise that every stranger is a partner in this fragile global cooperative.

Years ago, a 75-year-old New Hampshire man was charged with disorderly conduct for standing in front of a plow truck to prevent the clearing of snow near his driveway. According to news reports at the time, the man said he didn’t understand what he had done wrong. He was just trying to shovel out the end of his driveway, a citizen pursuing a clear path in a free land. The charges were later dropped.

In the realm of raw emotion, that seasonal act of defiance is understandable. But civilization requires the individual to accept that occasional inconvenience is part of the package. We wait in orderly queues, pay our taxes, and peacefully re-clear the ends of our driveways not because we are a subjugated population but because we know, not without flashes of frustration, what living in a society demands of us.

A commitment to cooperation and other principles of community is vital, and so it seems to me that disconnectedness is at the heart of much of what ails us now. If I knew the person driving the plow, if we exchanged pleasantries at the market or in the lobby of the bank downtown, if I knew just a little bit about him, maybe I would simply smile and wave as he passed. Maybe I would silently offer thanks to my plow-driving fellow citizen as I trudged to the end of the driveway.

But I can‘t get to know everybody, and not just because I have a tendency to keep to myself. So that means I must decide whether to exist in a constant state of conflict – real or imagined – with the human world outside of my clan or assume until proven otherwise that every stranger is a partner in this fragile global cooperative. It’s important – and not only for my sanity and blood pressure – that I give everybody the benefit of the doubt for as long as I can. 

I’m not very good at it yet, especially when it snows and my back is sore, but I find something like solace in the awareness of my own selfishness. I don’t know how to stop it, but over the years I’ve gotten better at recognizing its presence. 

“Just to live in New England in winter,” E.B. White writes, “is a full-time job.” These days I’m tempted to add an ellipsis: “Just to live … is a full-time job.” The practice of community has never felt more important, more urgent.

So I offer my thanks and gratitude to some of the stars of the wide cooperative – the nurses and teachers, supermarket cashiers and restaurant wait staff, town clerks and the people who deliver all of those packages.

And I warmly tip my cap to the driver of the plow, which once again announces its approach just as I begin untying my snow-caked boots in the mudroom.

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Dana Wormald
Dana Wormald

Dana Wormald, a lifelong resident of New Hampshire, has been a newspaper editor for more than 25 years. He began his career on the Concord Monitor’s news desk in 1995 and later spent more than a decade at the New Hampshire Union Leader. In 2014, he returned to the Monitor to serve as opinion editor, a position he held until being named editor of the Bulletin.

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