(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)
The winter’s first real snowfall blankets the city, with more predicted, and for a moment the flakes have stopped falling. A window in the weather has opened and the time is right.
I pick up the snow shovel that is kept beside the back door this time of year and it doesn’t take long to find a rhythm. As I work my way down the driveway, the shovel slides cleanly over the concrete, scooping up mounds of the fresh white powder. Up and down the street other people have come outside, moving like dark shadows against the brightness of the snow. A few call out to a neighbor but most, like me, work silently.
The city’s big plows push up the main street, scraping against the asphalt as they clear the streets for the morning commute. I catch a glimpse of the flashing yellow lights as they speed past at the corner and then the quiet returns.
When shoveling snow, when working or exercising in any way, it’s hard not to marvel at the intricate mechanics of the human body. The heart pumps , the mind directs, the muscles obey, the bones bear weight and the process repeats so quickly and smoothly we forget that we are, at our core, a living machine. Built to work.
The cold air bites at my face and my fingers begin to ache so I stop and pull off my gloves, tucking my hands under my coat, pressing them against my stomach. My body, warmed by the exercise, comforts itself and soon I am back at work and my mind plays over people and projects and problems as I push forward, and, as always seems to happen when my hands are busy and my mind is free, there is a clarity that too often escape me indoors. I am startled when an answer, a solution or simple resolution that has been eluding me, pops suddenly into my head.
The snow sparkles like diamonds scattered over the ground in front of me, catching the reflection of the single lightbulb that hangs over the garage and I am reminded that with each shovelful I am lifting and tossing away more tiny, singular, crystals than I could ever count. But it is only the ones that catch the light for an instant and glint in the night that stand out.
It is, when you think about it, the same with ideas and and memories and shooting stars. There are more around and within us than we can ever imagine and yet we only glimpse the precious few that streak through the deep quiet of solitude and, without warning, light up the dark.
(See more of my work at my CAMera photo/travel blog)
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org