To shovel snow is an unavoidable activity for those living in the Arctic. But is it fun? A nuisance? A health risk? It is all that and much more!
Depending on the kind of housing you have chosen, removing ice and snow from cars, bikes, yards, sidewalks and rooftops takes up a few minutes to a couple of hours in your daily Arctic winter routine. Shovelling snow is a necessary, unavoidable activity, unless you stay confined to your room. It is loved as much as hated, taken with enthusiasm and a sporty attitude or avoided whenever possible. The mundane activity is thus frequent topic of occasional conversation, a significant market sector regarding the sale of tools and services as well as a serious health risk. And it is much more than that, as I have argued in my recent publication (see reference at the end).
Removing snow from the roof.
Keeping the entrance free for cars.
Snow heaps in the yard.
Below are examples from many online discussions and news items: “Do you like snow work?”, “Why do we have to do the snow work in the morning?”, “It was otherwise a great ploughing weather today…”, “New insights on the connection between snow work and cardiac arrest – Fiskars: Many use too big sleigh shovels”
From a sociological perspective, snow work is an opportunity for people to socialize, escape loneliness and use it as a means of distinction. When the garden freezes and disappears under a white blanket, people spend more time indoors, and a long period of increased isolation begins. Of course, it is the time of skiing and ice fishing, ice swimming and snowshoeing. But within the own plot, activities cease, and it is understood that the garden and yard become an unused space, remaining an “occasional arena”. In the suburban sprawl of Arctic and subarctic towns like Rovaniemi, this is certainly not the case. With the first proper snowfall, snow removal gear is retrieved from sheds and put into use (mostly) enthusiastically. The yard and paths to the house, perhaps the roof have to be cleared regularly and systematically in order to retain a functional plot environment over the course of up to eight months. Snow work, in Finnish lumityö, is usually a solitary activity, but entails the opportunity to socialize with neighbours, passers-by and like-minded others. This getting-together culminates when the snow plough passes through a residential area, and home owners immediately flock onto the streets to clear their entrances. This is the chance for neighbours to greet, meet and perhaps take a moment of rest before resuming shovelling.
A street through the season: before the first snowfall.
A street through the season: the first snowfall.
A street through the season: accumulating snow on the banks.
A street through the season: melting away.
In winter, when snow wipes away all gardening and tending efforts, new means of distinction are found in snow work. In the desire for acceptance by neighbours, snow shovelling follows certain principles, and the visibly continuous effort as well as its absence indicate the level of expertise as well as priority the home owner has for this activity. The ephemeral feature of the crystalline precipitation, fluctuating temperatures with alternating melting and freezing conditions, its unpredictable amounts all add to the challenge of keeping a tidy front yard – which has to be rebuilt over and over again. When spring approaches in April, the period of the ugly and unscenic begins. During this time, the melting of snow is aided by spreading it over free spaces, or with the distribution of ashes and sand on top. It is the rush to turn the winter arena into a summer bustle.
The ugly and unscenic: melting snow on the side of the road.
The ugly and unscenic: a car park has been cleared from snow and ice.
Text: Hannah Strauss-Mazzullo
All pictures courtesy of the author
Read more about my observations:
Strauss-Mazzullo, H. (2020). Shovelling snow in Finnish Lapland: Social and aesthetic perspectives on an everyday activity. Polar Record, 56(E32).