by Yule Heibel on January 7, 2005

It snowed today, which is a relatively unusual meteorological occurence in Victoria, British Columbia. It snowed for most of the day, in fact, which means that I am eating my words — the ones that said, around the Winter Solstice, “Oh, it won’t get colder, it will just [finally] start getting ligher.”

Twice my kids went out to shovel the sidewalk: once in the morning, and again in the afternoon. We live on a corner, so we had two sidewalks to clear. Very, very few other neighbours shovelled sidewalks, and when I went to the grocery store, I saw almost no bare pavement in fair Fairfield.

I think that not clearing your sidewalk is indicative of an extremely anti-social attitude. (But there are at least two ways to think about this, too [wait for it]). By and large, Victorians think snow is so rare that it’s bound to melt away within 24 hours, …and typically it does, which makes shovelling the walkways redundant. However, the weather has been very off-ish lately, and my cursory examination of 3 or 4 different online weather sites gives almost radically different forecasts (as well as reports of current conditions) for Victoria. Yesterday, for example, CBC insisted it was cold and snowing in Victoria, but it was actually warm-ish (relatively speaking) and raining. Currently, some online sites say that we’re in for more snow, as well as freezing temperatures overnight, followed by ice and snow in the days to come. Admittedly, that’s the most extreme view, and it’s probably not fully accurate. However, none of the sites reported (or predicted) that it’s going to get warm enough to melt, really and truly, all that snow (and we got quite a bit) from the sidewalks, …and if it gets colder, the wet slushy snow will freeze to ice. It’s already the case that wherever pedestrians have been walking, little ice-packs have formed beneath the pressure of their bodyweight, and those icepacks will stay and make sidewalks tricky for the elderly and for joggers.

I sometimes think Victoria is made up of the elderly and joggers — the former move alone or in pairs, the latter typically move in packs.

After my kids went out this morning to clear the sidewalk (and our 5-foot long driveway — ah, the joy of a city lot), a couple of neighbours also appeared to clear the public paths bordering their lands. But it continued to snow throughout the day, and as seasoned veterans of filthy weather, we knew that come 4 pm, prior to darkness, someone would have to clear the sidewalks again. So my son went out and shovelled a second time. That’s what you do, right?

Not around here.

My son remarked that in Massachusetts, long-term friendships were formed with neighbours over the course of snowshovelling, sometimes in spite of the din from gas-powered snow-throwers. The taciturn New Englander could be a chatty fellow, and I literally met some neighbours for the first time because of our sidewalk battles with ice and snow. We would discuss technique, compare snow shovel technology, critique the different plowing techniques of the snow jockeys cruising the street, ponder the merits of perhaps buying a communal neighbourhood snow-thrower to share for the winter, and ponder the pros and cons of different outdoor gear.

In other words, exigency made a bond between people.

Which reminded me of a book by Heinrich Kupffer, who subsequently appears to have evolved into an advocate for homeschooling. Hmmm, who would (not?, duh) have thought? Who wouldn’t have realised that there’s a connection? From what I remember of Kupffer’s 1984 book, Der Faschismus und das Menschenbild in der deutschen P


jr January 8, 2005 at 9:10 am

I’ve had this (probably self-generated) quandry about shoveling the sidewalks. Someone once told me that if you shovel your walk and someone slips and falls while using it you can be sued but if you don’t shovel it then it’s their fault. Common tasks make common relationships especially when you can talk about the neighbor that wont shovel the walk.

Kate S. January 8, 2005 at 3:05 pm

The tremendous snowfall we have experienced this winter has been responsible for lifting us up over the hump of hostility with our neighbors, whose only contact thus far was kicking our too-friendly dog and glares.

Now when we’re out there shoveling and snowblowing, we’ll catch brief eye contact followed by shrugs that say: “What’r ya gonna do?” “It’s gotta be done,” and “That’s livin’ in Alaska for ya.”

So I’m grateful for the snowfall besides the humbling aesthetics of its beauty and insulative qualities protecting our plumbing, now it’s responsible for bringing us closer to the middle philosophy of neighbor-ing.

Like you said.

Yule Heibel January 10, 2005 at 7:56 pm

That story about being liable for damages if someone hurts him/herself on your cleared sidewalk vs. not being liable if s/he does so on your uncleared sidewalk strikes me as an urban myth, JR, or if not a myth, at least something that maybe happened a couple of times in very special circumstances, but has since evolved into legendary “truth.” I’ve heard it, too. In Massachusetts. Not in Canada, where people perhaps aren’t as litigious. But I can’t quite believe that it’s both true and supportable in a court of law. But it’s true that you can dish about the neighbour who won’t shovel if the rest of you are out there, haha! 😉

However, JR, you’re in palmy Florida, you lucky dog, so you’ve clearly found a perfect solution for this problem! The family of a friend of my daughter’s goes to Mexico for the month of January: they pull the kids out of school, take homework along, the dad’s a contractor and he takes the month off, the mom does something independent I guess, and they spend the month at resorts. Ah.

Kate, I can’t even begin to imagine being locked into winter for the length of time that you are in Alaska, and yeah, it must make for some bonding if you live there. Has to, I should think. The coldest places I’ve ever lived were Winnipeg, Montreal, and Boston. Well, Munich and Berlin could get pretty cold, but nothing really beats Winnipeg in that list. Gah.

Now, I’m a total weather-wimp. I can’t stand extreme weather, and don’t like that it’s extreme weather we all (N.America & Europe, and the rest of the world) seem to have been getting. (Well, on the N. American East Coast, it’s “extremely” mild, but somehow I can’t believe that will last.) The sidewalks in Victoria — the ones that people didn’t clear — have all frozen over, of course. Taking a walk is kinda tricky now. At the same time, you see people using “ice melt” (various chemical concoctions) on their sidewalks, then breaking the stuff up and clearing it, so it’s not the case that they’re completely full of ill will. But they’re stupid. If they’d cleared the paths immediately (once, twice, maybe three times, while the snow was fresh and soft), they wouldn’t now have to use god-knows-what chemicals (and salt), which will all go into the storm drains, and straight into the sea, to get the ice off the sidewalks.

It’s been very very dark this winter (I think November was the rainiest ever in 50 years or something), the sun is still coming up real late (and going down real early), and now on top of it, it’s cold. Naturally speaking, I think we should all be hibernating, but instead we’re supposed to be having a bushy-tailed start to a “new year” (whatever that means), with magazine headlines, scanned at the grocery story, bleating about “new starts” and such. New starts? New starts? Why this constant exhortation to start over? Start what over? Growing kneecaps? Getting a brain? Sheesh. I just want to go back to bed!

Anonymous September 2, 2005 at 3:43 pm

nice to be seen

Anonymous September 2, 2005 at 3:55 pm

nice to be seen

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