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McCallum: Shoveling The Roof

I’ve just shoveled my porch roof for the first time this winter - after glancing through the large bedroom window overlooking the expanse of flattish hip roof and noticing the snow level at an astonishing three feet. Clearly, I was so busy shoveling paths at ground level I let the roof get away from me.Fortified with coffee, I suit up in longjohns, heavy pants, high boots, upper body layers, a neck warmer, hat, jacket and heavy gloves to face the subzero morning. And that’s the easy part.

Next, I climb through the bedroom window with a sturdy snow shovel, binoculars and a cell phone tucked into a coat pocket. The phone is just in case, the binoculars for admiring the view. Once outside on this silent winter morning, I can see my neighbor’s high meadow to the west. There’s no trace of human or animal tracks on its blanket of snow now, yet last night it echoed with coyote song. In the distance beyond is the hulk of the local ski mountain with its pattern of white trails cutting down grey forested slopes.

There’s something satisfying about manual labor. In summer, turning the overgrown yard into a clipped green expanse of lawn with each pass of the mower gives me a sense of accomplishment more powerful than merely working at my desk. And so it is with clearing the roof. Each careful swipe of the wide shovel down to the edge of the roof is rewarded by the soft thud of snow hitting the ground. And as more of the roof appears above, piles of snow below swell into solid drifts that I’ll have to deal with later.

This winter there are daily news reports of roof collapse due to back-to-back blizzards across the nation. Agricultural buildings are at especially high risk, and many of our grand old barns have fallen under the weight of too much snow. Saturated snow weighs approximately twenty-five pounds per cubic foot, so it’s no wonder that the old structures sag and ultimately fall, often taking livestock with them – never mind another piece of our collective history.

My little porch roof would likely do just fine even if I couldn’t clear it. With the snow dry and powdery, the water content and resulting weight has been on the lighter side of estimates for calculating snow load. But the simple physical activity, million dollar view and early morning sun help me prepare for whatever Mother Nature decides to serve up next.

Mary McCallum is a freelance writer and former prison librarian who now works with Vermont elders.
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