Roof shoveling awaits its Olympic call

So far, this has been a great season for one of my favorite winter sports: roof shoveling. Though the snowfall was slight in January, December and February gave us plenty of powder and just enough ice and wind to keep it interesting up there.
A lot of folks — meaning my father in Florida — think roof shoveling is one step above bull riding on the DAS scale. (DAS, of course, being the official scale for determining “Dangerous and Stupid” activities.) When my father and I are chatting on the phone and I mention that I have just spent an invigorating hour on the roof, it’s pretty clear that he would prefer I was about to go base jumping. Base jumping, for those of you who do not participate in activities that score high on the DAS scale, is when you leap with a parachute from a tall, fixed object, such as a skyscraper or Shaquille O’Neal.
Now, I should note that although I am an avid roof shoveler, I am not a suicidal one. There are two kinds of roofs on my house, and I climb atop only one set: the roofs above the porches. Our house here in Lincoln is an old Victorian with slate roofs and a 12-by-12 pitch. I use a roof rake to take the snow off those higher parts of the house. But I do climb out the second story windows to shovel the snow off the roof on the screened porch and the glass porch. I do this because it’s great cardiovascular exercise and because the porch roofs bend like cooked macaroni if I don’t. It would really put a damper on the season if one collapsed under the weight of a winter’s worth of snow.
One of these porches faces Quaker Street, a busy street in the village. Consequently, it is not uncommon for people to pass by when I am shoveling snow off that roof and shout up their greetings. Often they suggest that when I am done with my roof I can take care of theirs. Serious roof shovelers jump at this sort of invitation, especially if it comes from someone who lives in an old house with steep roofs, gables and gingerbread trim. Gables and gingerbread make for challenging territory. A roof shoveler can fall from great heights (ITAL)and (END ITAL) wind up disfigured on the way down.
In any case, if the number of people who will watch me shovel my roof is an indication of the activity’s potential as a spectator sport, then NASCAR had better be worried. Roof shoveling and car racing have a lot in common, in that both revolve around hours of boredom punctuated by moments of terror. Certainly when one of my neighbors is shoveling off a roof, I’ll watch.
The closest I’ve come to tumbling off my roof was the time I had an ice jam in the valley just above the screened porch. I was standing on that roof and banging away with an ax at the glacier above me, when I slipped and slid to the edge of the roof. The scary part wasn’t that I almost flew like a ski jumper. I had already shoveled so much snow off the roof that I would have fallen a whopping three feet into the giant snow bank below me. The scary part was the ax. I launched it into the air when I slipped, and it conked me on the head on its way back to earth. Fortunately, I was beaned by the blunt side, not the sharp side, and so today I share Frankenstein’s high forehead but not his scar.
Nevertheless, roof shoveling is probably not yet ready for its place on the Olympic schedule, even if it does have a very high DAS. What we need to do is combine roof shoveling and base jumping — or, perhaps, combine roof shoveling and a slippery skyscraper. Then we have ourselves a real sport.
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Special note from Chris’s lawyer: “Chris is not seriously advocating or recommending that readers ever climb out on their roofs. In fact, don’t do it. I mean it. Stay inside. Or on the ground. But don’t even think of actually climbing out a window onto a roof.”
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on February 17, 2008.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.