My family lived in a Denver tract home in the 1950’s. Though the Continental Divide lay 20 miles west, I might have grown up on the Great Plains for all it mattered. While summers meant riding bikes, playing volleyball and “pool hopping” at apartment complexes, winters were my favorite season. In those pre-drought days, Denver was blessed with tons of snow.
I loved storms for two reasons: dads parked cars at the top and bottom of Dahlia Street so kids could sled safely. But, better yet, mom and I were nuts about shoveling snow, and watched weather reports with hopeful hearts.
We lived on a corner. Mom started on the sidewalk by the garage in back; I’d begin around the corner where our yard abutted the next. We shoveled toward each other, exhaling steamy clouds, dripping inside our coats. She wore a babushka; I had braids and a knit hat. Before long we shed hats and gloves and unzipped our jackets. Meeting at the corner, we’d laugh, drop onto the yard and windmill arms and legs, making snow angels. Often we were so happy that we’d shovel neighbors’ sidewalks and driveways for the fun of it.
During high school I walked three miles to the bus stop on blustery mornings, even after I had a car, and cheerfully wore ugly layers of clothes, including an unglamorous combination of sweat pants and school uniform. I didn’t care. Being outside was the point.
After grad school, I moved to the mountains for good, craving long, cold, weathery winters. I dressed for “storm skiing,” loving the near invisibility, disorientation, vertigo and battering that comes with piles of drifting, pelting, flying snow. I blended in, invisible, knowing where I belonged in the world.
Snowstorms still call me to skating ponds and ski hills, as well as to neighbors’ sidewalks and driveways. Whenever I grab a shovel, I think of mom, say thanks, and attack drifts.
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.