Tom heard the faint snap of a twig. It must be, he thought, his ten-year-old son Michael shoveling clean-up behind him. But then Tom, who had been shoveling ahead all morning, stopped and turned in his tracks. The featureless plateau of snow and ice stretched into the distance, marked only by the path his shovel had made. Where was the other path?

One Man, One Shovel

Setting out in the first hours of February, the shoveling party was a father-and-son team sent off to clear snow off the driveway. Hoping to connect the sheltered garage with the distant street which had plowed by city workers the night before, Tom was bent on making the deepest push of all into the drifting snow.

Something was wrong with Michael. He was rapidly losing strength. Too short to move snow off the roof of the buried PT Cruiser, he could manage only a ten-foot strip of driveway before giving up, forcing Tom to dig out the car.

By eleven in the morning, the pair had reached a point nearly 20 feet from the garage. They had cleared off the first of two cars, along with the set of steps by the front door. Although they had piled snow high enough along the sides of the driveway to provide some shelter, fierce winds were blowing stinging snow back into their faces. Tom knew that their only hope was to keep shoveling, but Michael refused. It would be suicide, he said.

Summoning extraordinary powers, Tom pulled the terrible load by himself for another ten feet. Late in the afternoon, plowing through deep snow, a fierce jolt halted his shovel. Nearing the end of the driveway, he had come to snowplowed ridges of hard, ice-packed snow known as sastrugi as high as two and a half feet.

As the hours passed, the winds eased and the sun began to shine through the clouds. Tom now saw how hopeless his predicament was. His first thought came as a searing regret that he had not had the chance to drink a last mug of cocoa with his son. And now his left arm was aching from repeatedly scooping huge shovelfuls of heavy, wet snow.

His only chance to finish the driveway was to heap snow, scoop after scoop, onto the curb, already piled high with plowed drift. With grim determination, he slammed the shovel's blade into the icy snow and threw the load to one side, then lunged for the next. Even for a fit, healthy man, such a feat would have been barely possible; yet Tom stabbed, hefted, and lunged again.

That effort broke loose the overhanging lip of the plowed ridge. Huge slabs of snow fell onto the area of the driveway he'd just cleared. Despair overwhelmed him. He pondered slipping into the house, ending things at once rather than by heart attack or stroke. Tom was now convinced he had no chance to finish shoveling the driveway.

At that moment, a verse from poet Robert Service flashed through his mind: "Just have one more try&emdash;it's dead easy to die, It's the keeping-on-living that's hard."

The words spurred him to one last tremendous effort. What drove him onward was the knowledge that shoveling the sidewalk would satisfy city ordinances, and he could then go inside for cocoa, eventually leaving his notes in a place where friends might find them and learn of his heroism as well as his resentment toward snowblower people.

The Snowblower people. As time dragged on, he could watch as up and down the street, at random intervals, they would emerge like gophers popping out to quickly run their machines around their driveways before disappearing back into the warmth of their homes. Meanwhile, Tom was left to shovel scoop after scoop in an endless monotony of stabbing, carrying, dumping, and stabbing again.

At four o'clock, Tom finished shoveling the sidewalk. Nearing collapse due to hypothermia, overexertion, and near starvation, his physical state was deplorable. And he still had to finish the end of the driveway. "I am afraid it has cooked my chances altogether," Tom thought to himself. But he added, "I shall do my utmost to the last."

He was growing weaker by the hour. Every few minutes he was forced to stop to catch his breath and rest his aching arm. But some time after finishing the sidewalk and again attacking the snowplow drift that blocked the end of the driveway, a minor miracle occurred. Reeling after tossing one particularly heavy load to the side, he looked up to find he stood only inches away from the street!

It would take him ten minutes to clear that short distance, and then he staggered back to the garage to put the shovel away and painfully climb the stairs into the house. Now Michael rushed to the front door to embrace his long-lost leader. And from the startled look on Michael's face as he beheld the gaunt, ravaged countenance of the man staggering toward him, he knew exactly what Michael was thinking: You survived!