« Year in Books 2008 | Main | Book Report: To Say Nothing of the Dog »

Ice Ice Baby

So Your Humble Blogger is feeling pretty pleased with himself at present. Why? Because my purchases at the beginning of the winter have turned out to be useful. I was pretty sure the sidewalk scraper would come in handy, although I hoped it wouldn’t. But I also bought a third snow shovel, with an all-metal lightweight blade, and it turns out that the blade of the shovel is so thin that you can slide it right under that horrible sheet of ice and shove it along, breaking up the sheet into billions of pieces that (if my understanding of physics is correct) will melt faster than the sheet. Well, we’ll see. But so far it worked like I thought it would.

I grew up in the desert. I shoveled snow for the first time when I was twenty-glob, I think. I have never shoveled snow with my parents or grandparents, or with my older siblings. I assume that shoveling out the driveway is one of those things that has a correct way, which is how you do it, and a wide variety of heretical and wrong ways, such as how everybody else does it. I don’t mean the mechanics of shoveling without doing lasting damage to your back, although, you know, ow. I mean whether you start down by the street or up by the garage. Do you shovel across the driveway or along it? Do you wait to shovel until the snow has stopped (or as late as you can before a car needs to come in or out) or do you go out as soon as it becomes clear that you’ll need to shovel? And what about the salt? I don’t mean to suggest that there are absolutely correct answers to these, just that I suspect that people grow up with a Way of doing it, and that’s the only Way that makes sense, and I’m just making it up as I go along.

But there’s a question of driveway-shoveling ettiquette that I would like to consult Gentle Readers’ ideas about (Virginians, Californians and Texans are excused, although of course if you have relevant experience, please share). I live in the sort of close-in suburb that has house quite close to each other; our driveway runs along the property line, although I have to admit I’m not sure where the precise line is. As I shovel, I am heaping snow from my driveway onto their property. Not all of it, and of course it’s just landing on the snow that is already there, but still: our snow, their yard. It seems inevitable, and I don’t worry about it much.

At the end of the driveway, though, there is a massive amount of snow (piled up by the plow in rock-hard ridges) to be cleared, and there’s the sidewalk as well, which limits the available area for snowmountain. I know in Greater Boston, the habit is to make giant ice mountains in the street; we have enough space to make that unnecessary, and it’s a Bad Thing, so we don’t do it. Instead we make moderately large ice ridges over the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street, and (as that is limited), moderately large ice mountains at the corners of the driveway. And it’s much easier in terms of backbreaking labor for me to make one of those moderately large ice mountains on the far corner of our driveway, that is, on the neighbor’s lawn.

Is this incredibly rude? The only real effect is that after a day or two of warmish weather, the green lawn is revealed except for a mound of dirty grey at the corner. I have one such mound, and my neighbors have two (the one I make and the one they make by their driveway, which is on the far side of their house). Then the whole thing gets covered in snow again.

Now, my current neighbors are cool and laid-back, and grew up without substantial snow themselves, and I’m not worried at the moment about offending them. We haven’t discussed the matter, but I’m pretty sure if they were upset, they wouldn’t have cleared the sidewalk in front of our house on New Year’s Day when we were away. Which was incredibly nice of them. I scraped the ice off their sidewalk this afternoon, since I was all pleased with myself about how well my tools were working, as opposed to last year when I broke a shovel during the ice storm, and hurt my back as well. But I’m curious about the snow shoveling etiquette as a general matter, and how people learn it. Or is it just in the northern blood?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


So long as you don't shovel snow from the driveway onto the sidewalk like many of my neighbors do, dump it back into the street or otherwise make more work for someone else, I think you're good.

Although I currently fall into the 'Texan' camp, there was much snow where I grew up. But our yard was big enough that the piles along each side of the driveway fell into our own yard. From my perspective, the piles were a good thing, as we could dig snow tunnels in them.

Have you looked at the driveways of the neighbors to see how others solve this problem? I would imagine that they do as you do, but a quick survey of a couple blocks worth of driveways would probably tell you what the prevailing local norms are.

Oh, and you start up by the garage, of course. The snow shovel is in the garage, right? Why would you carry it down to the other end of the driveway, possibly wading through a foot of snow, before you start shoveling?

Hmm. The snow shovel is in the garage (or the basement) if you forgot about the onset of winter and failed to bring it out in time. Otherwise, the snow shovel is on your front porch.

Which is to say, this one may be sufficiently dependent on house layout that it's hard to generalize about.

Hm. Clearly house (and yard) layout is important; if the garage is attached to the house, the snow shovel is in the garage. If the garage is detached, then you remember to get the shovel from the garage and put it in the mud room (or front porch, which we don't have), which gives you the option of starting at the door of the house, thus making it easier for somebody to bring cocoa out to you while you work.

The advantage of wading through a foot of snow to start down at the end of the drive is to either clear the driveway area before the plow throws up a Ridge of Impenetrability, or to obliterate the Ridge of Impenetrability before you are tuckered out from shoveling a foot of snow from the driveway. On the other hand, you have to wade through a foot of snow, and then you are shoveling up-hill.

We are expecting another 5 to 10 inches tomorrow night.


Ah, the detached garage is a good point. I had not considered that in my shoveling flow chart.

Why would Virginians be excused? It snows here, though not a lot in NoVa.

Anyway, when I was growing up in NY, we usually started from the front door of the house. We shoveled the steps and the walkway from them to the sidewalk, then worked along the sidewalk and worked back from the sidewalk to the garage door. But we kept our snow shovel in the tool shed in the back yard.

It now strikes me that is a dumb place to keep it since there was no walkway that led to the garage and one had to carry the shovel across several feet of yard. So my guess is that my parents hadn't really thought this through. It is also possible that part of the goal was to make the task take long enough that our neighbor 2 doors down who had a snow blower would have reached our stretch of sidewalk and do half of it for us.

In the two winters I spent in the Old Dominion, I never needed any snow-clearing implement other than a broom. That was in Wmsbg, so they could only have old-fashioned colonial snow, not the modern stuff.


I've occasionally had to shovel as much as a foot of snow in VA - oddly, after returning to NoVA from Wmsbg - but the neighbors never particularly entered into it. Clearing snow is back-breaking labor - everyone knows that. In my estimation, neighbors who would be irritated by alien snow on their property are Picky Neighbors, not Normal Neighbors, or even Laid-Back Neighbors. Obviously, one doesn't pile snow on the sidewalks or driveways of one's neighbors to clear one's own, and I think if one were to plow the snow off the street across someone's already-shoveled driveway, another would hope that one would then plow that driveway clean again. Otherwise, I think etiquette gives way to expedience, in my mind.


Comments are closed for this entry. Usually if I close comments for an entry it's because that entry gets a disproportionate amount of spam. If you want to contact me about this entry, feel free to send me email.