LOCAL VIEW—FLYING SQUIRRELS

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(Click map to enlarge and clarify)

Last week’s storm has finally drifted up off the upper, right hand corner of the map, and the weak storm that followed it is has floated up to Labrador, with its cold front dangling down off-shore to a weak low in Georgia. That weak low will be invigorated by the first low plunging down through the Great Lakes and second low in the Mississippi Valley, and the merging low pressures are expected explode into a gale off shore.

All week long there has been worry and fret about the strength and track of a gale that doesn’t even exist. On Monday it looked like we could get a foot of snow, but by Tuesday it seemed the storm would go out to sea. Often the European model differed from the American GFS model which differed from the Canadian JEM model. Joe Bastardi pointed out where the models tended to go wrong, and what to look for and be wary of, and held a view all his own.

I was wary anyway, as the ghost of the Pacific hurricane Ana is in the Mississippi Valley, and I’ve always noticed such meteorological “ghosts” tend to add energy to storms. It is one of those cases where a sixty mile difference in where a storm forms and tracks makes a huge difference in the local weather. Considering the storm hasn’t even formed, the skill of forecasters is taxed to the limit.

Then last night’s computer models came out with a solution I wasn’t looking for at all. Rather than a single storm there would be two. This divides the energy and weakens the effects (until the two storms combine north of here, up in the Canadian Maritimes.   We might get  howling northwest winds after the storm passes, but the storm itself would be more diffused, with lighter east and northeast winds as it approached, which would be less likely to drag down cold air and make snow, and we’d be more likely to get cold rain.  Maine might get buried in snow, but we would dodge the bullet. (Maybe.)

That would be fine with me. I’m not ready for snow.  I still have potatoes to dig, and with the clocks changing next week it will be dark when the parents pick up their children at my farm-childcare, so I need to prepare to have bright fires out in the pasture for the children to gather around, with the emphasis of our childcare on the outdoors, as it is. Our kids tend to head home smelling of smoke, but have experiences children at institutional childcares miss, such as roasting potatoes in a fire, and learning to be careful near flames.

In a way I was helped by the last nor’easter, as it blew down a dead tree, which smashed into another dead tree as it fell, snapping the second tree’s trunk and making a sort of jumble I need to clean up in order to clear a much used path. That will supply some free wood.

However it also created an interruption, as the second dead tree turned out to be hollow. A member of the staff tapped on the side of the trunk, as this can bring life that was hiding within out, and sure enough, the faces of flying squirrels appeared above. We had no camera, but this picture gives you an idea how their faces look. (Photo credit: http://photovide.com/flying-squirrels/ )

Flying-Squirrels-2 Flying squirrels are quite common, but seldom seen because they are nocturnal, which is why they have such huge eyes. Most people don’t even know they are around, until they get into an attic and start gnawing everything they can get hold of, including electrical wiring, in which case people do not find their big eyes cute. (Photo credit: http://www.zappwildlife.com/flying-squirrels-athens-ga/ )

Flying Squirrels 3insulation-damage

However when they are out in the woods where they belong, they are definitely appealing creatures, if you ever see one.

I’d been telling the kids they were out there, because there were signs. I’d point out that the  pine cones were stripped of their scales, and were reduced to nothing but a central spike, and that beneath certain branches there were drifts of pine cone scales. Or I might find an owl pellet, and open the oval of fur to show the bones and teeth, and speak of dark events in the dead of night. However for the most part this was just a fairy tale told by the old coot who  watches over them. Small kids live in a dream, and fairy tales are real and reality is a fairy tale, in many ways. In some ways that may be a sort of wisdom, for reality does contain some strange marvels, such as a squirrel that glides from tree to tree in the moonlight.

Flying Squirrel 2 MM278_3

(Photo credit http://www.zappwildlife.com/flying-squirrels-athens-ga/ )

The forest is very alive at night, with many creatures preferring starlight to daylight. Besides owls, flying squirrels need to be wary of foxes and raccoons and skunks, as, like many rodents, they are near the bottom of the food chain. However an old foe, which only recently has returned to this area because it fur was so valuable that it was hunted to local extinction, is the American Marten, which is as at home in the trees as any squirrel. When I recently saw one early in the morning I thought it was a squirrel at first, and then did a double take.

American Marten am_marten(Photo credit: http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/45531.html )

When I’m walking in the woods, pointing at various signs and telling tales of how a flying squirrel can escape a marten when a red squirrel can’t, because they can leap into the air and glide to another tree, the children sometimes roll their eyes, as if I’m telling another one of my tall tales. I can hardly blame then. (One boy once confronted me with his hands on his hips and announced, “My Dad says there is no such thing as walking trees!”) However I find that introducing a bit Tolkien wonder increases a forest’s enchantment, (and it also keeps kids from running off, if they think there might be a few orcs about.)

When they realized there was actually such a thing as flying squirrels, it made a bit of extra trouble for me, as they wanted to take their parents to the tree, rap the trunk with a stick, and have the two faces of the two squirrels peer out from above.  (At first the squirrels emerged and scampered about looking alarmed, by by the tenth time they only poked their heads out, and I think I detected some irritation in their faces.) What’s more, the parents wanted to see as well, even after a long day’s work.  They seemed to  forget I’d also had a long day’s work, and might want them to skedaddle and let me go put my feet up.

However I’ve got to admit it is a fine sight to see a parent and their child walking hand in hand, when the sun is so low it sits on the horizon and sends long stripes of gold beneath the boughs and between the trucks of the pines. I can’t help smiling, and thinking that maybe my childcare does some good, after all, and is something more than a predatory way of squeezing scarce cash from the skinny wallets of overworked parents half my age.

 

SIBERIAN SNOW-COVER UPDATE

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Snow-cover on October 28, available at Rutgers site at:  http://climate.rutgers.edu/snowcover/chart_daily.php?ui_year=2014&ui_day=301&ui_set=0

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Snow-cover on Oct 28, available from NOAA site at:  http://www.natice.noaa.gov/pub/ims/ims_gif/ARCHIVE/NHem/2014/ims2014301.gif

Over on his excellent blog at Weatherbell, Joe Bastardi today noted that we are now up among the top three on terms of world-wide snow-cover, at this date, early in the season. Not only is most of Russia covered, but a lot of Canada and Alaska as well.

Then he did something I lack the time to do, which was to check the history.  (It is important to see what the “precedent” is, before you fool about with the word “unprecedented.”) It is also helpful to know what the past shows us, in terms of what happened on other occasions. It hints at what to expect.

What Joe found surprised me, for he found some winters that started out like gang-busters, in terms of world-wide snowfall, and then backed off and became unimpressive winters. He also found winters that began with little snowfall that were late-starters, and became severe later.

This throws a monkey wrench into the works of my idea that snowfall is a feedback, and that a lot of snow in Siberia creates an Asian high pressure of sinking, cold air that creates more ice and snow, and therefore more cold, in a sort of vicious cycle.

Unfortunately I don’t have the maps of the winters that disprove my theory, and therefore can’t study what the heck went on during those years. When I’m rich I’ll hire some eager, young go-for to look all that stuff up for me.

However Joe also mentioned that one of the top three years, in terms of snowfall on October world-wide on October 29, was 1976.  There’s that year again. The winter of 1976-1977 was the worst, in terms of cold, and in terms of sea-ice along the east coast of the USA, that I can remember. So…we definitely shouldn’t lower our guard.

COOL PICTURE—3 ECLIPSES

Cool Picture BusySun_slifer_960

It seems to me that some pictures deserve to be passed around the web. This picture by Doyle Slifer is one of them.

Three objects are eclipsing the the sun. First is the small airplane. Second is the streams of clouds. Third is the moon. (There is a fourth thing you can’t see; namely, specks of dirt on my computer screen.)

Above and to the left of the small plane is a group of sunspots on the surface of the sun itself.  As the sun rotated, these large sunspots swung around and pointed right at the Earth, in some ways like the barrel of a gun. There is always the possibility the spot will shoot a solar flare right at us, which can mess up our electronics in various ways.  A flare measuring “X-17″ knocked out the electricity in Sweden in 2003. So far the largest this family of spots has produced is an “X-1″, and I think the nervous will exhale in relief as this swings away from us and vanishes around the backside of the sun. By the time the sun rotates around again the spots will likely be gone, or greatly reduced.

This group of spots are the largest of the current cycle, and demonstrate that even a “Quiet Sun” can occasionally make a big group. In some ways this is annoying, for once you get back in history our only records of sunspots are those that can be seen with the naked eye.

In the pre-telescope-era records from China, (the records somehow preserved from the zeal of the Red Guard, during Mao’s insane attempt to erase the past with the “Cultural Revolution”,) there are records of sunspots so large they were clearly seen when the sun was a low, orange disc, partially obscured by dust. Some assumed these historical events hinted at very active sunspot cycles,  but now we see they can occur during quiet times.

 

THE LIMPING SUN

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It has always fascinated me how much warmer it is on the autumnal side of the Winter Solstice, and how much colder it is after the Solstice. I tend to look at the sun and say, “The sun is as low now as it is in X.”  I do this especially in the spring, when it seems the snow will never melt, but the sun is getting higher and more powerful.

After a quarter century of putting up with this sort of muttering, my wife now rolls her eyes, and occasionally asks me why I can’t enjoy the present without comparing it to something else.

However I can’t seem to help myself. Today I’ll look out across the nut-colored landscape of Oak Autumn, check my almanac, and say something like, “Today is ten and a half hours long, the same as it is on February 13, when the world would be white and all the ponds frozen.”  My wife might then ask me if I have so much free time I can check almanacs, and I will hurry off, because if I leak out that I have free time she might ask for help with some task. Even after a quarter century I haven’t taught that woman how to loaf, though I’m still working on it.

The dwindling sunshine hits home around Halloween. I think it spooks northern people and makes them a little crazy, which is why we have the strange holiday “Halloween” now. (The opposite craziness, in the Spring, is “April Fools Day”.)  In pagan times, in Ireland, people thought the spirits of the dead began to walk abroad in the early evenings, and hid indoors with an offering placed outside their front doors to placate the dead. If they did have to go out into the dusk they would disguise their identity by wearing a mask. St. Patrick apparently felt this was nonsense, and to show that Christians were not afraid he sent little children out in the dark to eat the offerings at other people’s porches. (I’m not exactly sure how the little children came to wear masks.)

Though New England gets much colder than Ireland, we are further south and our days don’t get as short, but it still is distressing how swiftly the sun gets wan and weak in October. The days are nearly an hour and a half shorter at the end of the month than they were at the start. The fiery brilliance of the sugar maple’s flaming foliage has given way to the muted browns of the oaks,  and the green cornstalks have turned brown and rustle crisply in the windy fields. The summer birds have all gone and the dawns are more silent, and alien birds from the north are passing through.

The drenching nor’easter we got at the end of last week is remembered, as the fallen leaves are still wet below the surface of their drifts and piles, despite dry northwest winds as the storm slowly moved off. The low, limping sun simply has lost its power to dry things.  I remember, from back in the days when I made a bundle of money by raking up other people’s leaves, that a fall rain made the job far heavier and harder. Leaves took a long time to dry, before the first snow, whereas they dried swiftly after the last snow melted, because the sun is so much higher, and the days are three hours longer, in April.

Even as a strong young man this might have given me a reason to loaf, but with five kids I needed the money, and therefore raked leaves in the fall. Now I do have a reason to loaf, for I don’t get paid a cent for raking my own leaves, however my wife seems to think leaves look bad. I think they look lovely, and in any case, they’ll soon be hidden by snow.  (I don’t much care about the grass being killed beneath the leaves, for my dog has done a pretty good job of killing it already.)  However females seem to judge the character of a man by the color of his lawn, so I’ll likely get started raking the lawn, any day now….unless we get an early snow. There is always hope.

The problem with an early snow involves our pigs. I don’t have winter quarters for them, and snow and cold means that a lot that goes into feeding them goes into keeping their body heat hot. After all, they are pink things running about stark naked. Therefore I’d best get them to market. I’d do it, but I have to rake leaves. However I have trouble raking leaves when I’m so worried about those poor pigs. (“There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza…”)

The above map shows the last storm leaving, but a new storm coming. We were suppose to get a nice, mild spell, according to the forecasts based on computer models, but once again Joe Bastardi and Joseph D’Aleo said otherwise on their blogs at Weatherbell, and once again they have beat the world’s biggest computers with mere brains. Brains may not be able to beat computers at chess, but brains do much better than computers playing the game of chaos, which is what weather and humanity amount to.

The computers now show the low crossing the Great Lakes will dig in and deepen, as it arrives at the Atlantic. What is left of Hurricane Ana, a mere impulse barely able to dent the isobars as it penetrates high pressure crossing the Rockies, will dive southeast and add energy to the east coast trough, and another nor’easter will form this Saturday. It may suck enough cold air down behind it to create some snow.

Sigh. I was planning to avoid telling my wife about this forecast, but the blasted, tweeting, newfangled Facebook alerted her. Now I’ll have to both rake leaves and get pigs to the market. It’s either that, or go out and purchase a good Halloween mask.

Bears have it better. They hibernate.

 

 

A SVALBARD THAW

The high pressure that was lingering over the Pole, and making things look a little like a textbook “Polar Cell” (which in theory would be like a Hadley Cell or Ferrel Cell), is sagging south over Siberia, and debunking theory once again.  It is putting me in the mood to pick up my textbook and set it sailing like a Frisbee out the window.

DMI2 1026 mslp_latest.big

The departure of the high pressure is allowing the North Atlantic gale to surge milder air north over Scandinavia. Sometimes such surges run into a brick wall, and one can envision a front must exist, however in this case the temperature map suggests it is flowing right along, and crossing the Pole on the Eurasian side.

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The Laptev Sea has all but completely frozen over, as the cold air passed over and down into Siberia, however I imagine the freeze will now slow, due to the warmer air riding north. The area above 80 degrees is now well above normal.

DMI2 1026 meanT_2014

This air is well below the freezing point of salt water in many places, however the refreeze will slow, and in places like Svalbard, where it is above freezing, the freezing must halt.

I’ve seen these warm flows invade the Pole in the dead of winter, and they often result in a Svalbard thaw because they often originate in the Atlantic.  Because the air is mild it often rises at the Pole, and can fuel polar low pressure which defies the textbook existence of a “Polar Cell.”  The cell, if it exists, has traveled down to Siberia.  In this case it is down in Eastern Siberia, where a Maue Map from Weatherbell shows temperatures down near minus thirty.

DMI2 1016 cmc_t2m_asia_1

You can see the mild invasion as a sort of thorn-shape, from left to right at the top of the map.  It will be squeezed south by cold high pressure from Canada, and in turn will push the cold air in Siberia east across the pacific towards Alaska. This is enough like the “short-cut cross-polar-flow of 1976-1977″ to make me raise an eyebrow, though it is still too early to speak of a “winter pattern”, I think.

Watching the movement of low pressure around and across the Pole the past year is causing me to rethink a lot of my assumptions. It is really rough, when you are self-taught, because some things you think you have learned can turn out to be pretty much dead wrong. If I was a young meteorologist I would definitely latch on to a weatherman of the old school, such as Joseph D’Aleo or Joe Bastardi, because they could correct false assumptions faster than you do on your own. (Of course, when I was young I had the insolent attitude “don’t trust anyone over thirty” and had to learn things the hard way, but “do as I say and not as I do.”)

One thing I am starting to think I am dead wrong about is the make-up of a zonal flow as opposed to a meridianal flow.  I’ll likely devote a post to this topic at a later date, but will say my preconceptions simply don’t jive with the reality of a positive versus a negative AO.  When my theory says there should be a low pressure at the Pole there is in fact a blocking high.  It puts me in the mood to rumple up all my past posts and trash them.

One thing I’m highly dubious ever exists is a textbook Polar Cell.  Or they don’t exist when the PDO phase is opposite the AMO phase.  Or some such thing.  I have a lot to learn, but have learned the idea of “cells” is way, way, way too simplified, especially at the Pole.

DMI2 1026 bc07

SIBERIAN SNOWS BREEDING BITTER COLD

Siberian snow Nov 2 ecmwf_snowdepth_russia_41__4_(1)

 

(CLICK MAP TO CLARIFY AND ENLARGE) The above map jumped out at me as I prowled the web for news. I found it among the heaps of information Joseph D’Aleo provides at his blog at Weatherbell, and is one of the thousands of maps Dr. Ryan Maue provides at that site. It shows the snow-cover in Siberia building to cover most of Russia by November 2.

This is a lot of snow for this early in the winter, and does not bode well for all northern lands.  Snow-cover allows Siberia to lose heat through radiational cooling, and the area “produces” cold, pressing down as high pressure which then then moves outwards in all directions. The earlier the snow-pack forms, the earlier pools of extreme cold can be created. Already temperatures in east Siberia are touching that magic number of minus forty, where both Fahrenheit and Celsius agree. (The Maue-made temperature-map below is in Fahrenheit.)

Siberia 2 cmc_t2m_asia_1 (click to enlarge)

Freezing temperatures (below 32 Fahrenheit) are shown where sky blue turns to pink, and extend from Finland to Manchuria. Where Fahrenheit temperatures change from above zero to below zero (-18 Celsius) are shown by the deep blue areas within the pink turning to gray. When the gray blackens and then turns back to sky blue again, in the very center of the cold, we are seeing temperatures of minus forty.

These areas will enlarge as winter comes on, for Siberia experiences the coldest temperatures seen in the northern hemisphere, and can get down to minus seventy. The Arctic Ocean cannot get so cold, due to the warmer water under the ice, and only gets down to minus fifty on rare occasions due to Siberian air pouring north (and more rarely Canadian cold pouring north.)

This early in the dark days there is still open water along the Siberian coasts, and the temperature contrast is huge. The unfrozen water heats the air to plus thirty as the air over the land is minus thirty, and this sixty degree difference results in a Land-Breeze, with cold air sinking and rushing out over the sea, as the air over the sea rises. This swiftly freezes the sea, but also pushes the new ice north towards the Arctic basin, especially in the Laptev Sea.

The cold air also pushes east over the Pacific,  cooling its waters, and south into China and west into Europe, cooling lakes that, until they freeze over, remember the summer’s warmth and act like small radiators.  Once they freeze over, and once the Siberian coastline freezes over, the cold becomes more able to expand.  To have this process well underway in October is not a good sign.

You can see the warming effect of the sea on the Pacific coast, and north of Scandinavia, and to a lesser degree over the Laptev Sea.  This effect will diminish as the ice builds.  Ice seldom forms north of Scandinavia, due to tendrils of the Gulf stream, but the freeze-up of the Pacific coast is amazing, and extends out for miles. The arctic coast freezes up early, but the winds off Siberia can be so strong that ice is pushed away from land, and slightly warmer water up-wells as surface water is pushed north, and polynyas if open water can form even when temperatures are fifty below, especially in the Laptev Sea.

What I watch for is a cross-polar-flow, which brings the Siberian air to Canada and Alaska.  Though this air is warmed to some degree as it crosses the relatively mild ice on the Arctic Sea,  the warming can be a thin layer at the surface, with the bulk of air entering North America as a frowning Siberian high. This then gets even colder over the American tundra, especially as the northern Canadian Great Lakes, (Greater Slave, Lesser Slave, Bear, and Winnipeg) freeze over in October, and even more when Hudson Bay freezes over later in October into November.  The earlier the lakes and bays freeze the earlier nasty cold can build, and come howling south, and clash with moist air coming up from the Gulf of Mexico, and breed our blizzards.

What you want to see, if you want a mild winter, is a shallow Siberian snow pack that forms late.  You don’t want to see over a foot of snow covering large areas of Siberia when it is still October.

When I was young I’d be clicking my heels and anticipating snowstorms cancelling school, but those days are long gone.

UPDATE—OCTOBER 29

Over on his excellent blog at Weatherbell, Joe Bastardi today noted that we are now up  among the top three on terms of world-wide snow-cover, at this date, early in the season. Not only is most of Russia covered, but a lot of Canada and Alaska as well.

Then he did something I lack the time to do, which was to check the history.  It is important to see what the “precedent” is, before you use the word “unprecedented.” It is also helpful to know what to expect. What Joe found surprised me, for he found some winters that started out like gang-busters, in terms of world-wide snowfall, and then backed off and became unimpressive winters. He also found winters that began with little snowfall that were late starters, and became severe later.

This throws a monkey wrench into  the works of my idea that snowfall is a feedback, and that a lot of snow creates an Asian high pressure of sinking, cold air that creates more ice and snow, and therefore more cold, in a sort of vicious cycle.

Unfortunately I don’t have the maps of the winters that disprove my theory, and therefore can’t study what the heck went on. When I’m rich I’ll hire some eager, young go-for to look all that stuff up for me.

However Joe also mentioned that one of the top three years, in terms of snowfall on October world-wide on October 29, was 1976.  There’s that year again. The winter of 1976-1977 was the worst, in terms of cold, and in terms of sea-ice along the east coast of the USA, that I can remember. So…we definitely shouldn’t lower our guard.

 

SEARCHING FOR A SILVER LINING IN A DELUGE

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(Click map to enlarge and clarify.)

Some glitch in the NOAA satellite has me unable to download the map I like, but the above map shows the situation this morning, as a nor’easter stalled south of New England, and drenched the dickens out of me.  As often is the case, the computer models failed to forecast the heavy rain, instead showing heavy rain up in Maine and down in New Jersey, but only light rain over us.  As is also often the case, Joe Bastardi and Joseph D’Aleo dusted off old-fashioned forecasting tricks, and beat the computers.  (In this case their trick was the idea of “teleconnections,” wherein a digging trough along the jet-stream in one place often results in a sympathetic response elsewhere, and specifically, a trough digging in the Pacific down the west coast of the USA should make one suspicious of flatness in the jet-stream in the east of the USA, and suspect a trough will dig there even if computer models don’t see it.)

However I had a better forecasting tool, and it involved the simple fact we had planned an “open house” at our Childcare. I think we’ve had around twenty such events, at various times of the year, and I am starting to feel hexed.  The weather is never sunny and calm, and, if not bitterly cold and blustery, is often rainy. We haven’t had an earthquake yet, but one wouldn’t surprise me. There hasn’t been a volcano in New England in over a million years, but if one blows, you can bet good money it will be on the day we hold an “open house.”

The purpose of such an event is to show off. We are proud of how kids at our Childcare are not incarcerated in some basement, and only briefly allowed out to play in a playground smaller than that allowed to criminals at the State Penitentiary.  Our kids have pastures and woods and ponds to scamper around, just as I had when I was a child. Under benevolent supervision they scrape knees and cut fingers and get muddy and learn about thorns through first-hand-experience.

It’s amazing how swiftly children learn at ages three to six. I’ve seen city-kids, accustomed to walking on flat sidewalks and incapable of walking in woods without falling down five times in a hundred yards, become country-kids, hopping from rock to rock atop a stone wall, in a mere fortnight.  It is amazing to me,  partly because I’m an old dog and can’t learn new tricks at a speed faster than a snail.

During an “open house” the children get to show their parents the landscape they have become familiar with. They get to lead their parents along the trails to “Lightning Rock” and “Autumn Woods.” Usually the landscape is very beautiful.  However how beautiful can such a landscape be during a drenching nor’easter?

It was with a sense of the inevitable that I watched the weather maps deteriorate, and the nor’easter develop. I know every possible way such a storm can fizzle out, for back when I was a boy I wanted such storms to explode, and cancel school. I wanted school to be cancelled because I also know every possible way a school can have nothing to do with learning and everything to do with incarceration.

My philosophy involving Childcare was encapsulated by Ernest Thompson Seton when he said, “Because I have known the torment of thirst, I would dig a well so others can drink.”

I try to make it clear to parents that, at our Childcare, their children will not be bubble-wrapped,  nor will they expected fit some “curriculum.”  Small children often don’t need our ridiculous tests, for they are constantly testing themselves and their own limits on their own, and if anything they only require our supervision to keep them from conducting some test that defies the law of gravity. (This is not to say an adult shouldn’t notice that the child is displaying signs of a shortcoming or handicap, but rather that a child is able to arrive at such a revelation on their own, under the impulses of their own natural curiosity.)

Some parents are somewhat horrified when I suggest small children should be allowed to be free. They conclude out childcare lacks an “agenda.” and that we don’t teach enough math and computer-science to three-year-old’s.   I shrug and wish them well. They have every right, as parents, to educate their children as they chose, and obviously our Childcare is not for them.

However when a parent does chose our Childcare, it indicates the parent  themselves believes that freedom, and the outdoors, and play, might not be bad things for small children. I approve of such parents, and want to encourage them by allowing them to see how our Childcare works on a sunny day when everything is working correctly. That is what I hope an open house will let them see. But, of course, it always rains.

Yesterday it didn’t just rain. A gentle rain is bearable, but this rain was nasty.  I was pretty sure the parents would veto the first part of our open house, which was to have the children show their parents our trails as the sun set. Under the glowering overcast it was already so dark it was as if the sun had set an hour earlier.

During the fit of absurd optimism that always precedes such an event, and which always assumes it will be sunny, (though it never is,) my wife and our staff had prepared a nice wandering path around the grounds, which passed all the children’s favorite landmarks. It was nearly a mile long. If that wasn’t enough, attached to the trunks of trees along the route were blown-up photocopies of pages of what currently is the children’s favorite book. And if that wasn’t enough, the staff also had illustrative props from that favorite story at various points on the path, which would allow the children to show off how well they knew the tale. However the wind was rising, driving a drizzle that swept in shrouds across a landscape growing so dark it would be impossible to read any pages affixed to trees. What parent in their right mind would bring their precious child out in such weather?

I was pretty certain the answer would be, “zero.” I felt sorry for my wife and staff for going through so much trouble. (I have little to do with such an “open house” production, beyond being ordered about, to move furniture, mow lawns, and do other jobs to “spruce up” the grounds.) (My only job during the actual “open house” was to walk with the crowd along the path, and to look like a wise old farmer, and to make sure no one took a wrong turn, and, only if necessary, to speak.)

In a glum mood, dressed in rain-gear that would do a Gloucester Fisherman proud, I was feeding the pigs and goats, who were utterly disgusted by the weather and in no mood to venture from shelter, when I glanced up and, to my astonishment, saw that all the parents were heading out with their small children into the gathering gloom.  I dumped the final food for the beasts and dashed off to play my part.

A favorite saying of my wife is, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing,” and therefore all the kids resembled Hobbit Gloucester Fishermen, however their parents resembled people snatching an hour after work to go to some event held by some school. They were inadequately dressed, though they have all heard my wife’s saying enough for it to become a sort of joke. As I reached the crowd one parent, attempting to hide from the searching mist with an umbrella, had her umbrella ripped into an inverted form by a particularly nasty gust of wind. In an ironic tone I stated, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad umbrellas,” expecting some sort of equally ironic and sarcastic retort.

Instead, to my astonishment, there was cheerful laughter.  And it went on from there. The parents actually seemed to enjoy the discomfiture of being asked to walk through a gloomy woods in a rapidly deepening nor’easter.  The children were having a blast. The only grouch in the entire group was me.  However that was acceptable, for it was quite in character for me to play the part of an old, grouchy farmer.

I can only suppose modern parents are not the wusses and weenies I supposed they were.  I took a quick poll, to see if any had walked in the woods during a rainstorm before, and discovered not one had ever done it before. Therefore their acceptance of the situation had nothing to do with experience, or anything else that could be put down on a resume. Instead their joy seemed to be due to the fact they had never before walked through drenched trees moaning in a gale, and they found the experience refreshing.

(Nor am I talking about particularly fit young parents. Some indeed were hale and vigorous physical specimens, but others were overweight. Some were even overweight grandparents, nearly as old as I am. But all of them had a better attitude about the bad weather than I did, and all of them, to be quite frank, put me to shame.)

I can not describe how wet those woods were. A single example must suffice: The hemlock boughs that usually are ten feet above the trail were weighted down to eye-level by rain in their needles, and drenched walkers when the walkers nudged them, and the boughs sprang upwards scattering droplets. The little children, who were lower down, saw no obstruction in the path ahead, but the poor parents had to press through wet boughs that drenched them. Even as I agonized over my customers getting drenched, they themselves laughed and seemed to think the experience was enchanting.

It was so dark under the trees that the young parents couldn’t read the pages affixed to trees, however the young parents had resources I lacked when I was their age. They took out cellphones and shone them on the pages. They had only to read a few words before they children chanted the rest, because the writing was from one of those stories children get grabbed by, and make you read over and over until you feel your eyeballs might fall out.

In this particular case (and I never know why a story becomes popular with snall children, or why it just as abruptly becomes boring),  the story was “The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid Of Anything.”

In a nutshell, the story describes a lady walking through a dark forest and meeting all the parts of a scarecrow which one by one follow her through the woods, and in the end become a scarecrow that scares crows and not the little old lady. Each part of the scarecrow she meets makes a certain noise, as it follows her. For example, the pants say, “Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle.”

As we walked along the path, we came across the various props my staff had left to illustrate the tale, and eventually came across the pants. They had been hung high up, but the weight of the rain had pulled them down, so the cuffs were on the ground.  The belt was eye-level to a four-year-old. I said, “Wiggle wiggle wiggle.” The four-year-old turned and looked at me, with round eyes that said, “I have heard this story told 197 times, but now I am seeing it first hand, for myself, and IT IS REAL!!!”

All the children knew the end of the story, and towards the end of the walk discipline broke down and all the kids broke ranks and went stampeding ahead into the deepening dark, and then all began screaming, “Here it is! Here it is!  The scarecrow! The scarecrow!”

I confess I was blushing slightly at that point. I figured the parents would be muttering, “What sort of whack-job institution have I got my kid involved with?”  Instead they seemed pleased their kid was learning a story they were familiar with. (I just goes to show you that a children’s book that wasn’t around when I was young may be a tradition an d institution to a thirty-year-old parent.)

At that point, at the end of the tale, we were southwest of the hot soup and hot apple cider the staff had waiting back at the Childcare. This meant we had to walk northeast into a nor’easter, into the teeth of a growing gale, with gusts above 35 mph. I was the only one complaining, and then I stopped.

I was abruptly really glad I got dragged out of my ordinary way of being. For all my talk about how wonderful the outdoors is, it has been a while since I’ve been outside during a nor’easter that wasn’t nice and white and snowy. When I thought about it I realized a wet nor’easter is something I haven’t experienced, in the woods,  since I was as young as the parents I walked with were, over thirty years ago.

A sense of gratitude crept over me. As we arrived back at the Childcare, and enjoyed the children singing songs while being warmed by hot soup and cider (that the children helped to prepare for their parents), I felt Baby Boomers should learn a new Mantra.

(Though perhaps it is merely a remembering of what we already knew.)

Long, long ago I would say, “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.”

Now I say,  “Much is to be learned from parents under thirty, and children under seven.”

The nor’easter gave us over 4 inches of windswept rain, but it had a silver lining. Or maybe it had more than one, for NOAA has fixed the satellite glitch, and here is a map of that stalled storm, a day after it showered silver on me.

20141023B satsfc