We had a big snowstorm recently—a real lollapalooza, about 28 inches. Strong winds accompanied it, so when I went out to shovel afterward, some of the drifts were more than 3 feet deep.
However, the same wind, forced through a narrow opening between the house and the woodpile, had scoured out valleys and arroyos where the ground was almost bare. It occurred to me that while a straight line is the shortest distance between two points, in these circumstances, it might not be the best route.
So I tried contour shoveling, clearing a way to the composter, the propane tank, and the woodpile by taking the path of least resistance; shoveling 20 linear feet of 2-inch-deep snow is easier than lifting 10 linear feet of snow that’s 40 inches deep.
Yes, it took longer, but in the end, my back was less sore than it would have been after bulldozing straight through the drifts. It also helped me to see the snowscape better: its voluptuous curves, how it glittered in direct sunlight, its ultramarine gloom in the shadows.
The result was a meandering trail that looped around the highest ridges and mesas, then doubled back toward the target, shoveling in cursive, not block letters. It was what a mathematician might call an elegant solution.