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QUINTESSENCE

Shoveling Snow


This morning I slept late, lulled into dreams by the silence of snowfall, steady and soft, drifting from a pigeon gray sky. I've just returned from a few days in southern California, exploring around The Cove in La Jolla: the ocean rolls in and the seals sun on the mossy rocks. I am struck by more than just the contrast in climates I experienced. There are "psychological seasons," traveling from one latitude and then back to a more northern one. Both locales and weather offer contemplation; both sway under the predominant rhythms of nature. Back north near the Canadian border, under a skiff of new snow, the world feels on pause, poised in the rest between beats. Down alongside the warm Pacific coast, the world felt simply mellow, a lazy metronome, beating out the steady row of the waves, the penetrating bath of sunshine.

Looking at the shovel by my door, I offer you a complete poem this morning from former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins' book "Picnic, Lightning" (1998):

SHOVELING SNOW WITH BUDDHA

In the usual iconography of the temple or the local Wok
you would never see him doing such a thing,
tossing the dry snow over the mountain
of his bare, round shoulder,
his hair tied in a knot,
a model of concentration.

Sitting is more his speed, if that is the word
for what he does, or does not do.

Even the season is wrong for him.
In all his manifestations, is it not warm and slightly humid?
Is this not implied by his serene expression,
that smile so wide it wraps itself around the waist of the universe?

But here we are, working our way down the driveway,
one shovelful at a time.
We toss the light powder into the clear air.
We feel the cold mist on our faces.
And with every heave we disappear
and become lost to each other
in these clouds of our own making,
these fountain-bursts of snow.

This is so much better than a sermon in a church,
I say out loud, but Buddha keeps on shoveling.
This is the true religion, the religion of snow,
and sunlight and winter geese barking in the sky,
I say, but he is too busy to hear me.

He has thrown himself into shoveling snow
as if it were the purpose of existence,
as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway
you could back the car down easily
and rive off into the vanities of the world
with a broken heater fan and a song on the radio.

All morning long we work side by side,
me with my commentary
and he inside the generous pocket of his silence,
until the hour is nearly noon
and the snow is piled high all around us;
then, I hear him speak.

After this, he asks,
can we go inside and play cards?

Certainly, I reply, and I will heat some milk
and bring cups of hot chocolate to the table
while you shuffle the deck,
and our boots stand dripping by the door.

Aaah, says the Buddha, lifting his eyes
and leaning for a moment on his shovel
before he drives the thin blade again
deep into the glittering white snow.

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