Shoveling is my most favourite thing to do in the field. It can become almost meditative when you get a good rhythm going and quite euphoric when you look around, sweating and panting, and realise just how much of the earth you’ve moved. There are many factors that affect where a particular site’s shoveling sits on the scale of one to perfect, mainly concerning the surface to be shoveled off and the material to be shoveled.
An uneven surface catches the shovel, jars your elbows and wastes precious effort. The pinnacle, I discovered one glorious day in Haiti, is shoveling off tiles. Ignoring the odd squeak like nails down a chalkboard the shovel head slides effortlessly under whatever is to be moved. Combined with the step-pivot footwork technique perfected by volunteers in Gonaives you can clear crap from tiles in no time. The idea crap to be cleared, in my opinion, is small pieces of rubble; larger ones breaking your rhythm and smaller things like sand being too dense for a good throwing distance to the receptacle.
Today I experienced both a new surface and a new material: wet carpet and soggy drywall/plasterboard panels. Wet carpet is a fairly good shoveling surface, except that if you get the angle of the shovel head just a little on the steep side the friction is immense and your stroke stops dead. Drywall is also something of a two-sided coin. Mostly its brilliant, you can get great heaping shovelfuls and there’s just enough heft to it to be able to hurl it quite some distance quite accurately. The problem is the paper covering which sometimes holds it together causing the great heaping shovelful to be half-on-half-off. It then dangled precariously, slides further off as you struggle to save it and then usually ends up all off. Still the satisfaction is all the sweeter when your patch is finally cleared.
A fair amount of time can pass between excursions into the field for me these days so Project Minot is treating me well as this is the second time in just over a week they’ve let me outside. I’m tired and sore and smiling. I would have been any way but the tiny square of tile I found to shovel off in what was a basement bathroom just made my week.