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Storms, Shoveling and Snow Angels

Jeannie Patton 3/8/2013

Who’d have thought that shoveling snow in a Denver neighborhood could initiate a person into the joys of the natural world and send her off to the mountains for good?
 
My family lived in a post-World War II tract home in Denver in the 1950’s. Though the Rocky Mountain Continental Divide was right out the door, a mere 20 miles west, I might have grown up on the Great Plains for all it mattered. While summers were all about riding bikes, playing volleyball on the school lot, and, as I reached my teens, nights of “pool hopping” at apartment complexes, winters were my favorite season. I was a lucky kid; in pre-drought days, Denver was blessed with tons of snow days.
 
Winter was delirious with dramatic storms that I loved for two reasons: our dads parked cars at the top and bottom of Dahlia Street hill so the kids could sled and toboggan safely, and, better yet, my mom and I were crazy about shoveling snow, and watched weather reports with hope in our hearts.
 
We lived on a corner. Mom started on the sidewalk in the back by the garage driveway, and I’d begin around the corner at the west end where our yard abutted the next. We shoveled toward each other, lifting, shoving, tossing, beaming, exhaling steamy clouds, dripping inside our coats. She knotted a patterned babushka under her chin; I wore braids and a knit hat. Before long we'd both have shed our gloves and scarves and unzipped our jackets. When we finally met at the corner, we’d laugh at each other, drop backwards onto the yard and windmill our arms and legs, making snow angels. Often we were so happy that we’d keep on shoveling sidewalks past neighbors’ houses, clearing the driveways as we went along, and waving to passersby.
 
The older I got, the deeper my love of extreme weather grew. Through high school I insisted on walking three miles to the bus stop on blustery mornings, even when I had a car, and happily piled on unattractive layers of clothes, including the unglamorous combination of sweat pants under my school uniform. I didn’t care. Being outside was the point.
 
After the purgatory of college and graduate school, I moved to the mountains for good, loving the long, cold, weathery winters. I learned the truth of the saying that “there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing.” I dressed for “storm skiing,” and purposely sought the near invisibility, the disorientation, the vertigo and battering that comes in white-on-white piles of drifting, pelting, flying snow. I blended in, eventually identifying with the tall aspen, knowing completely where I belonged in the world.
 
Snowstorms still call me to the skating pond and the ski hill, and, just as importantly, to neighborhood sidewalks and driveways. Every time I grab a shovel, I think of mom, breathe my thanks, and attack piles and drifts. She got me started; it’s all her fault.
I entered the natural world through a side door, in the suburbs, nowhere near the Great Outdoors. Snow shoveling set the direction for my life in the real world.