Shoveling Show with Billy

Shoveling snow with Billy - Alberta

Shoveling snow with Billy

I’m back in Alberta for a few weeks. It is January. Hence, I am shoveling. Last week, graders took the deep rutted ridges from the street and piled them like mini mountain ranges alongside the curbs. Then the big yellow snow pushers came back to scrape out paths so that citizens could get vehicles from their driveways into the newly cleared street and vice versa.

So it is that each of the ranges of snow-blocks culminates in a towering peak next to every driveway. See photo. This morning, I tidied up around the crusted conglomeration so that the walkway was clear, then scooped aside last night’s new dusting.

As I worked my way down the driveway, I was thinking of Billy Collins. In his “Shoveling Snow with Buddha,” Collins drifts off into meditative bliss while tossing shovelfuls alongside Buddha:

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

I wasn’t feeling quite so transcendental, but I must admit it was an amusing distraction to imagine Collins at my side, chatting breathlessly about the day he shoveled with the enlightened one. And, of course, about how Buddha famously wondered whether, after shoveling, they could go inside and play cards.

Snow is, of course, an honourable and popular topic with poets, from Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” to e.e. cummings to Sandburg. With Alberta poets it borders on obsession. I was recently re-reading an interesting anthology, Writing the Terrain: travelling through Alberta with the poets, a 2005 publication of University of Calgary Press edited by Robert Stamp.

The book collects over 100 poets’ reflections on the Alberta experience, region by region, with a slant towards poems about the physical and built environments. About one in five poems has snow in it, which is quite understandable if one considers that eight or nine months of the Alberta calendar feature snow. The poets probably restrained themselves from overdoing the snow thing.

I have three poems in the anthology, one being “Winter at the Banff School.” (Having my own material in an anthology is not my only criterion for considering a collection interesting, but it is a strong one.) It might not surprise you to find that snow appears on line nine of “Winter at the Banff School” and three times after that.

Shoveling with Buddha. Travelling with the poets. Tidying up behind the graders. We can do so much with snow, with the creative terrain that winter gives us.

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