Braille Monitor                                                    January 2008

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Shoveling Snow Blind

by Robert Leslie Newman

Robert Leslie Newman shovels his driveway after the first snowfall of the year.From the Editor: I donít know anyone who really enjoys shoveling snow, but I have always done it, at least I did until the kids and I pooled our resources to give my husband a snow blower. I can report that it is perfectly possible to shovel snow while carrying a baby in a backpack, but it is easier to do so without the extra weight. It is also possible to clear walks by rolling large balls of snow with small children for a snowman. I never gave the subject of snow removal much thought until I got the following little article from Robert Lesley Newman at the end of last yearís snow season. I then checked around and discovered, as he did, that plenty of blind folks have sidestepped this rite of winter and home maintenance. No one who has been relatively inactive should race to the garage for a shovel when the snow begins to fly. Shoveling is physically demanding work, and we certainly donít want anyone to have a heart attack or strain a back proving that he or she can clear the snow from the front walk. But if you are in good physical condition and have never tried to shovel snow, here is some advice about how to do it from an expert:

Snow shovel in hand I stepped out my front door. "Brr." It was late afternoon, and the latest winter storm of ten to thirteen inches accumulation was winding down. I had stayed home from work like most of the rest of the city. Digging out after a paralyzing blizzard starts at your front door, and I wanted to get my walks and driveway cleared before the night's falling temperatures hardened the new snow.

"Wow, knee-deep!" The snow always drifted up my front steps. "This is going to be work." I breathed in the frosty air, enjoying the clean taste. "Oh well, it all starts with the first scoop." If the truth be known, I looked forward to the challenge; I was in good physical shape and enjoyed this type of chore, and clearing this snow would chalk up a mark in the responsible-homeowner column.

My first scoop was straight ahead on the top step. Lifting the blade, I began throwing left, over the waist-high bushes. Three more scoops took me down to concrete. Stepping into the cleared space and pivoting left as the blade rasped against the cement, I thought, "Might be able to get this strip in one go." I jammed the blade forward to the grass line, lifted, and pitched. I felt loose snow cascading down onto my feet. "Nope, too much." I began scooping at the right side of my trench. Two red cheeks later the entire width of the walk was clear, and I had to remove my neck scarf to keep from overheating. I repeated this drill along the short walk that ran across the front of the porch to where it met the driveway.

While I scooped and tossed, I was thinking, "Interesting, shoveling snow as a blind guy is one of those activities that usually call forth either amazement or negatives in people's heads." At a recent meeting of blind consumers I took a poll. Out of the five blind homeowners, I was the only one who regularly shoveled. Two were elderly women; one of them had shoveled when she was younger. Two were younger than me; one of the guys had no clue how it could be done, and the fifth guy had shoveled some but had orientation issues about getting lost.

If you are healthy, shoveling blind is just another alternative technique. The shovel is not only a tool for moving stuff, it's also a travel tool. Then there are your feet: just as the shovel tells you tactilely and auditorially about the surface you are clearing, your feet do the same; clear cement is different from cement that is snow-covered, which is different than grass-covered ground. Knowing when the blade is full comes from the weight and amount of resistance that you can feel through the handle. You clear an area by scooping in an overlapping pattern, just as you cover the surface when using a vacuum sweeper or wiping the kitchen table or mopping the floor.

The driveway was next. It is about ten feet wide and fifty feet from curb to garage. So, after a short rest and throwing a few snowballs, I started shoveling across the front of the garage. Here the snow was deeper, above my waist. Facing the length of the drive toward the street, I listened around, taking a read on the auditory landscape, getting oriented. To the left were the distant sounds of a busy street. Across the street and down two houses someone started a snow blower.

Starting at the right grass line, I dug in at the level of my belt buckle, pitched right, continued to cut down into the drift, widening my excavation in order to clear out the snow that slid into my deepening hole. When shoveling the average snowfall, if you viewed the snowy drive as a long ribbon, I would work back and forth across its end. Iíd start at the right side, scoop straight ahead, pitch right, take a half step left, scoop, check to the right with my foot for snow that had come off the blade and clear that, then half-step to the left and repeat my actions. At the midpoint of the ribbon width, I would begin pitching left. But todayís job had no pretty choreography. It was just dig and throw, dig and throw. So I kept at it until I detected the slant at the end of the drive as it slopes down to the street. "At last, hereís the turn." I had reached the sidewalk running across the front of my property. After opening my jacket because I was really working up some internal heat, I cleared that walk too.

"All right! Iím finished." Walking back over all that I had cleared, checking for little landslides, I heard footsteps coming from the place the snow blower guy had been working.

"Hi, I'm Daniel, your new neighbor. HeyÖ" His voice moved from side to side as he looked around. "Good job." Then he added something I had to digest before answering. "If you want, I'd be willing to blow out your drive and walks for the rest of the winter. Interested?"
Daniel, his wife Karen, and my wife Bonnie and I did have coffee and talked. Daniel admitted that his initial offer had come from an element of his upbringing. He had been taught to help the old and the handicapped. He recalled that his first view of me as a neighbor and a blind guy had been back in December, when he spotted me, long white cane in hand, walking around on the roof of my house, merrily putting up Christmas decorations. He had wanted to rush over then, but Karen had stopped him.

The upshot of our finally meeting was our mutual apologies for not having taken the time to say more than "Hi" to one another as we went our separate ways in the neighborhood; Omaha is a friendly city, but sometimes big city ways can prevent us from being as friendly as we would like. And no, I did not take him up on his offer, though we agreed I could keep the option in mind. He also said that he would be open to allowing me to help him on some upcoming project of his own.

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