March 4, 2019 by Jean
For most of my life, my preferred form of exercise has been walking. I got into the walking habit early. We lived close enough to school to walk there, and my parents often sent me on errands that involved walking to the corner mailbox or to nearby stores. I have a vivid memory of walking with my mother when I was four to the railroad station in the center of the city where presidential candidate Dwight Eisenhower was giving a campaign speech. As a six-year-old, I can remember scurrying to keep up with my older brother and his teenage friends on a Saturday morning as we walked to the public library about a mile from our house. When I was ten, our family moved from the rented apartment we had been living in for most of my life to a single-family home on the outskirts of the city. Things were pretty tight in the family car on moving day, so I volunteered to walk the two miles to the new house (with one of my friends for company). In high school, when after-school activities kept me from getting the school bus, I would walk the three miles home. During one summer of my weight-conscious adolescence, a friend and I had a weekly ritual of walking two miles to a local ice-cream shop, indulging in ice cream sundaes, and then walking the two miles home.
My love of walking has continue in adulthood. During my twenty-five years teaching at Gettysburg College, I walked to work on most days – even when I lived more than a mile from campus. During the good-weather months in Maine, I love getting out first thing in the morning to take a 2-4 mile walk around the back roads of my rural neighborhood.
But there are many months in Maine when the weather is not good for this kind of exercise; during winter, icy roads are not safe for walking. Fortunately, the Maine winter provides an alternative exercise program. The primary source of heat for my house in winter is a wood stove in the basement, with a chimney that comes up through the center of the original house. Wood heat is wonderfully cozy and comfortable, but it is also labor-intensive. The old joke is that wood warms you four times: once when you cut it, once when you split it, once when you stack it, and once when you burn it. I don’t cut or split my own firewood, but I do stack it. This year, the firewood supplier delivered four cords from a big dump truck into my driveway in late September. (A cord is a stack of wood 4’x4’x8’, or 128 cubic feet.) For the next six weeks, I spent 6-8 hours a week loading split logs from the pile in my driveway into my wheelbarrow and then unloading them into the racks I use for stacking. Most of my wood gets stacked outside first, where it dries for anywhere from two months to more than a year before it gets moved indoors, first to storage racks in a basement room under my new addition and then to racks near the wood stove. I normally have the wood stove burning from December through March; and during those months, I will need to refill the racks by the stove once every 5-7 days. Hauling and stacking wood provides a good aerobic and weight-bearing workout.
On days when I’m not moving wood, I pursue my alternate form of winter exercise, snow shoveling. We haven’t had any big winter snow storms (12” or more) this year. Instead, Mother Nature has nickeled and dimed us with frequent 3”-6” snow falls, most of which have ended with a period of rain followed by a flash freeze. The result has been an icy mess. Although my dirt road and driveway get plowed by a neighbor, I spend 2-4 hours shoveling after each snow, beginning with the front deck, front and back entries and walkways, and stairs down to the driveway, then digging my car out of the space where I tuck it away out of the path of the plow. I usually wait until the second day after a storm to shovel the walkways around the front of the house to the heat pump and then to shovel the back-garden walkway and back deck.
Snow shoveling not only provides a full-body workout that gets your heart rate up and exercises all the major muscle groups, it is also a great conditioning program. At the beginning of the season, shoveling the snow is mostly a matter of pushing the snow to the side with the shovel – easy, but the shoveling gets harder as the season advances. By January, each shovel-full of snow must be lifted and thrown over the top of the snowbank. By March, in the absence of significant melting between storms, those few inches here and few inches there have added up to many feet. The snowbanks are now taller than I am, and I’ve developed fancy moves with lots of muscle behind them to throw the snow up over my head and off to the other side of the icy walls of snow at the top of my driveway. It’s no longer possible for the plow to push back those hard-packed snow banks, which means that the amount of shoveling required to get my car out of its storm slot and to open up the top of the driveway enough to turn the car around keeps increasing.
Happily, it’s March and I can see spring on the horizon. When today’s snow ended about noon, the sun came out and the temperature shot up close to forty. It was a beautiful afternoon to be outside basking in the warmth of an almost-spring sun and listening to birds sing as I shoveled. Daylight Savings Time begins next weekend, and the spring equinox is just over two weeks away. As the spring sun gets stronger, the snow will begin to melt and crocuses will appear. Maybe by the end of the month, I’ll be able to go out for a walk.