Lent Project Day 8: It takes a village to shovel a sidewalk

A snowy residential intersection, with a dog at the end of a leash, looking onto the snow-covered street.
King Louie considers his route options

There’s a post on the City of Cambridge Facebook feed about how city plows are going to clean up slushy edges of the roads in residential areas to help get the melting snow to the sewer. So, of course, the good people of Cambridge are madmadmad. One guy wanted to know who he has to talk to do give the city a fine, since they waited so long to plow his street. If they can fine him, he should be able to fine them back. Another one said that his street only gets plowed on weekends and holidays. (um, ok?) One guy was butthurt that the city didn’t get to his street until the day after the snow. Since they didn’t plow his street to his satisfaction, he shouldn’t have to shovel his sidewalk to their satisfaction.

I know, you don’t go to the Comments Section to see the best of humanity. Sometimes the entertainment value is high, especially if you can refrain from taking it personally or getting goaded into a virtual monkeyslap fight. But on this occasion, the voice of reason showed up – a rare thing in the Comments Section: Just because someone else is bad at their job doesn’t mean you should be.

And there it is. If you’re constantly trying to find ways to reduce yourself to the least you can possibly be, that’s a terrible way to live. Because really, how is not shoveling your sidewalk sticking it to the city. It’s just making it harder for your neighbours to get around, when the opportunity to get out is already slim. I walk Louie every day and certainly, there are some houses who shovel conscientiously every time. And there are others who don’t appear to own a shovel. And sometimes it does make me pretty mad – I’m someone without any serious mobility issues, but there are seniors in our ‘hood. There is a school a few doors down and parents walking their kids, pushing strollers. I take umbrage on their behalf.

“Common sense is seeing things as they are and doing things as they ought to be” – Harriet Beecher Stowe

There seems to be a decided lack of common sense that goes on when it snows. At the beginning of the season, it’s the people who forget that they live in Canada, and the dusting of snow puts them into full blown winter driving amnesia (And often, the race to kiss pole or the back of the car in front of them) Then, it’s the plow angst (even though there is a map of the plowing priorities) and the people who say that the other end of their street is better maintained than their side is. And why doesn’t the city just plow sidewalks. They do that everywhere in Fergus or Woodstock or Montreal or wherever the angry winter-hater used to live. And then it maybe even devolves into the questionable ethics of the city council. These are the same people who are madmadmad about how high their taxes are, and they’re not getting good value for their money owed or paid.

I get it, winter is hard. Winter in the time of cholera COVID is harder.

I see it in my own house. The first snowfall, my gentlemen will shovel the whole (shared) driveway. If the next snowfall the neighbours don’t reciprocate, then the area that we shovel gets clipped to the part that we need to get out of the driveway, and they can figure out their own. At one point this winter, the neighbours (who rent the house as an AirBnB) had about 4 inches of solid ice. And when a “guest” tried to park in a way that would have blocked us, my gentleman associate went out, puffed up to his (very large) biggest, and said “You can’t park like that”. They moved, but they got themselves stuck in the (unshoveled) snow on their side. Not our problem, though, right?

I’ve been thinking about why we’ve drawn that line in the… uh… snow.

An older woman used to live next door. When she owned the house, we took on the responsibility of shovelling all the snow every time, even her walkways to her doors. She would clean up a bit, if she could, but my menfolk did it most of the time. Her grandson came sometimes to help. Sometimes she paid us in cookies and provided dog treats for Louie. But even if she didn’t, the difference was that she was a good neighbour. She spoke to us every time she saw us. She loved my family as an extension of hers. We sat together between the houses during the summer, drinking frosty beverages. She asked about my parents and my sister, and her daughter still brings us treats at Christmas. The current neighbour doesn’t mow the lawn. Doesn’t shovel the sidewalk. Doesn’t clean up the broken bits of the dead tree on his side that fall into our yard (And we heave them back into his yard. Or, I do). One of the tennants says hello sometimes. I don’t even know what his name is. On the other side of our house is a younger couple with 3 small kids. If the woman is outside playing with her kids in the snow, and she’s shoveling, she’ll do our frontage, too. As we do if we get out first. Her kids ask about the plants in my garden, and whether my son (who’s in his 20’s) can come out to play with them. They sell us chocolate from their school fundraisers and they run to our yard to greet us when they hear us outside. It’s pretty great.

The good news, maybe, is that the neighbours on the shared-driveway side have sold the house. We hope for the best for our new neighbours. But the dance will start afresh next winter – we will shovel first. Hopefully by then we know what the relationship looks like, and it’s been fostered by enough summer conversation that we don’t keep a tally on who’s shoveling more.

Back to the wintery streets of Cambridge, though. Only a month from Lunar Spring, friends. *sigh*.

This Lent, may I foster good relationships more than I wring my hands about the scoresheet. And, yaknow, if you don’t want people to think you’re a selfish asshole, don’t act like a selfish asshole.*

Extra Credit:

I’ve created landing pages for the last 2 years of Lent Project. You can access them from the Reflections Projects option in the menu bar. Happy reading, friends!

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