AN OPEN WINTER CLOSES

AN OPEN WINTER CLOSES

It is a snowy night. I’m home from a “Yankee Swap,” which was fun, as was driving home through swirling flakes along unsanded, pure-white country roads. Since stomping the snow off my feet by the front door, I have slouched by the computer and spent some time perusing my favorite weather-sites, checking the radar as a storm bloomed as it cruised up the coast. We only have had around three inches with this one, but night has gone very white, and I have the strong sense that our “open winter” is over.

Last winter was one of the most open winters I can remember, and I enjoyed it greatly. There was an unreal early snowstorm, two feet of white in late October, when I hadn’t even finished raking the leaves, but that snow fell so early it swiftly melted away, and then we really never developed much of a snow pack after that. January’s scarce snowfalls were so light that I could snow-blow in sixth gear, practically running behind my snow-blower.

Down in Boston they had only 9.3 inches last winter. That made it the second least snowy winter since snowfall records began to be kept in 1890. In the winter of 1936-37 Boston only had 9.0 inches.

All in all, open winters are quite rare this far north. So of course some blamed Global Warming for last winter, which caused me to make scoffing noises. I have become politically incorrect about that topic, because I simply know too much weather history to swallow the statement that something which occurred once in the winter of 1936-37 and a second time during the winter of 2011-12 was due to Global Warming the second time it happened, but not the first. Also the winter of 2010-11 had 81 inches of snow in Boston, which made it one of the snowiest winters in the past 120 years. Lastly, records show the planet hasn’t warmed at all, over the past 16 years.

All in all, I am becoming an old grouch, I fear. I do not take kindly to young whippersnappers coming home from a couple of classes at college and telling me I don’t know much about the weather, when I’ve never liked being indoors, and have worked outside much of my sixty years. Even without my old brain, my old bones know more about the weather, and are better at predicting some storms with their aches, than billion dollar super-computers are.

When I get grouchy it helps to go for a walk, and last winter was nice, for you never needed to wade through snow. Even up here in the hills of Southern New Hampshire east of Mount Monadnock, the snow only got to be around six inches deep, for a few days in January.

Of course it made it a bit harder to keep the kids happy at our childcare at the farm. Most winters I build them an igloo, and take them sledding, but last October’s igloo melted away in a matter of days. We did get a lot of sledding in with a small amount of snow, however often the packed snow on the hillside was a bit brown, and the bottom of the plastic sleds were scoured by scratches from running over leaves, twigs, acorns and patches of sand. This year our new sleds are around twice as fast, when slid down hills beside last year’s sleds. (I guess “waxing scratched sled bottoms” ought be added to my endless list of chores.)

I can remember plenty of winters that started out snowless, or had a thin, early snow-cover washed away by a warm winter sou’easter’s rain, however that often leads to the best skating when the midwinter cold arrives.

I remember one winter that actually set a record, here in New Hampshire, for “latest first snow.” There was a drought, and it neither rained or snowed from mid December until around January 12, even as the weather grew colder and colder. (Without checking I’d guess it occurred in the 1990’s, as my boys were still small.) Skuffing through the carpets of brown leaves in the woods in January, I saw things ordinarily hidden under snow, which I’d never seen before.

For example, up here you notice December’s roads become bumpier and bumpier, until some years they are like roller coasters, due to the formation of “frost heaves.” Sometimes these lumps subside in the spring, with little distortion of the tar, but other times there is a complete collapse of the lump into the dreaded “pot hole.” However you can never see what is going on, for it is happening below the tar. However you can see what happens when the same thing happens where there are no roads, especially when there is no blanket of snow to keep the forest floor warm. The ground silently heaves up in the bitter cold, and then spears of ice called “candle ice” thrust upwards through the leaf litter. Such a surface is very odd to walk over, for there’s a lot of air between the spears of ice in a frost heave, and you can leave crunching footprints six inches deep.

An even better part of open winters is the black ice that forms on the ponds and lakes. That makes for the smoothest, best skating, and also allows you to peer downwards to the chilled world under the ice. Unfortunately such peering and observing causes my wife great worry, for she finds it hard to believe ice is safe when you can see water moving beneath your feet. Even when I point out bubbles frozen in the black ice, a foot beneath the surface, she feels nervous.

I don’t blame her. Children, and even some adults, can be very foolish when it comes to walking on unsafe ice. Every year the newspapers report some fool has driven a car out and plunged through. Small children are especially unaware of the danger involved, and you have to be extremely careful when others entrust their children to you. You have to also be extremely careful with your own children, and even your own self.

I am careful because when I was young and foolish I fell through the ice on several occasions. I was wise enough to be foolish in shallow water, but on one occation the water was chest deep and the air temperature was around zero, and by the time I’d run home all my clothing was crackling and creaking and clunking like armor, and I was shuddering with shivers. That taught me a lot, the hard way.

(In actual fact, I think the most dangerous time is spring, when you are used to ambling over the ice you have long trusted, but that ice is gradually thinning under your feet.)

In the late fall and early winter, when the ice is just forming, there seems to be a natural caution and distrust, regarding the safety of ice. Of course, children three and younger simply cannot be trusted near thin ice, (but you also can’t trust them near open water, or at the edge of cliffs, or by surf on beaches, either.) However by age four and five little children have usually fallen and skinned their knees enough to wise up, and become ever so slightly careful when approaching new situations. However this is not to say they won’t venture out to test ice that is most definitely not safe.

I witnessed this a week ago, when I saw one little boy, aged five, leading two sidekicks aged four towards the farm pond at our childcare. I immediately suspected trouble, for this particular five-year-old does not take kindly to bossy grown-ups, and rules have never stopped him from learning for himself, the hard way. (All children know it is against our rules to be by that pond without adult supervision even in the summer, when the frogs are all but irresistible, and approaching that pond without adult supervision is especially against-the-rules in winter, even when the ice on the pond is so thick an elephant could cross it.) However this little five-year-old finds rules offensive. If he could write poetry he’d likely say,

“I’m tired of you and your stupid, old laws
For if there weren’t rules there wouldn’t be flaws.”

Therefore as soon as I saw him leading his two sidekicks astray I went lickety-split across the pasture, but as I neared I wondered to myself if I should intervene. For an old grouch, I’m surprisingly liberal, in my own way. We don’t want to be repressive, do we? Is it not politically correct to be permissive?

I decided to button my lip and see what happened, and what happened was the five year old got to the edge of the ice and slid one foot out. Then he gradually put his weight on that foot, until his full weight of perhaps forty pounds was on that foot, and then he slid his second foot away from land. Amazingly the ice, which was only a half-inch thick, didn’t break. He looked back at his pals with an expression of sheer delight, and exclaimed, “It is safe!” Then he turned towards deeper waters, and slid his foot further out, from ice over only an inch of water, towards ice over deeper waters.

If it had been my own son I would have let him edge out until the water was a little deeper, perhaps even thigh deep, hoping the ice would break and he’d learn as I learned, The Hard Way. However, as it was another man’s son, and as that man is not a fellow I’d trifle with unless I wanted a two-by-four landed across my ear, I decided, “The heck with permissiveness.”

I put on my fiercest face, and bellowed in my most deep voice, “What are you doing?”

I’m not sure if asking a question constitutes child abuse. It probably does, these days.

In the old days you’d put a naughty boy over your knee and spank him, but such ape-like behavior has long been discarded. We child-care-professionals are not even allowed to send a child to a “Time Out,” any more. We are instead told to “redirect the child’s attention.”

Well, bellowing certainly got the child’s attention. It also got the attention of every other little child. Every little head swiveled, as I continued, in my deep bellow, “That ice is too thin! That water is deep and cold! It would be HORRIBLE if you fell through! It is AGAINST THE RULES. You are REDIRECTED! Go over to that stump and investigate the lichen!”

Guilty but glowering, and shooting me a sideways glare, the tyke slunk over to the stump. (Never a word of thanks for saving his life, nor for introducing him to the wonders of lichen.)

I would, if I could, introduce him to other wonders: The wonders of walking on black ice when it gets a little thicker, and perhaps even (with the required parental permission slip, of course,) to a so-called “sport” called “stunning.”

Actually it is a “survival skill,” from back in the days when boys could be helpful if they brought home a bit of extra meat for the table.

You can actually go out on black ice when it is only an inch thick, if you are a boy and weigh less than eighty pounds. It does tend to flex and crackle, however, providing no other boy comes out with you, you can get away with it. You carry a stout, short branch with you, and a light hatchet, and look for life under the ice. Fish are sluggish in the cold water, and, staying where it is shallow, you can sometimes see a slow fish below you. Or you can have friends stamp loudly along the shore, and suddenly see a muskrat or even bachelor-beaver come swimming out under the ice, which always gives your heart a lurch, no matter how many times you have seen the dark shape come gliding towards you, under the ice.

What you then do is clout the surface of the ice with your stick, just above the fish or swimming mammal. The clout must be quite hard, but not too hard. You should make a spiderweb of cracks, but not smash so hard that the ice disintegrates and you fall through and are drenched to the waist. This clout will stun your prey, and you then busily hack a hole in the ice with your hatchet and grab your prey before it revives. Then you kill it, clean it, and are a hero at home for bringing home meat, and perhaps a pelt you can sell.

Of course, if you are not into supplying your own table with meat, and prefer supermarkets, you can just creep out over the thin ice and see the creatures beneath, without stunning them. (I only mention the survival skill of “stunning” in case you are ever in a survival situation.) Besides the fish and mammals you can see through the ice, there are all sorts of smaller critters. The turtles and frogs have gone to sleep in the mud, but in the brown tea of water crawfish crawl and dragonfly larvae creep, leeches inchworm along and specks too small to identify jiggle like bright motes in the water. It’s likely safer to wait until the ice is two and half inches thick, or three, or four, (my wife would say eighteen,) but it is fairly safe at all times, as long as you stick to the shallows, and such innocent adventuring can entertain a whole crowd of children, who press red noses against the ice and gaze down as eagerly as they do at a toy store’s front windows.

Then it snows, and abruptly the window is slammed closed. The skating, which is never as sleek and smooth and free as it is on the black ice of a vast lake, suddenly involves shoveling off snow to make a small rink. Walking through rustling woodland leaves turns into wading through snow, and eventually trudging through crunching crust.

And this has now happened. We shall have no black ice this year, which you can walk across. Already the world has whitened, (which is not a bad thing during these darkest of days.) However the whole world of an open winter has shut down. And I feel in my bones it will be a long time before the ponds are open again. Into my mind’s eye comes the vision of whitetail deer with haunted eyes, wading through chest deep powder, and myself, with similar eyes, opening the heating bill. But that…..is a different tale for a different day.

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Growing Shadows

Upon his retirement, my grandfather started to plan for his exit from Earth. He was an amazingly practical and pragmatic man, and had no apparent fear of death. Death just was just a final detail down on the bottom of a long list. So he attended to all the other details, including the item, “Write your memoirs.” Then, after he was done all these details, something unexpected happened. He didn’t die. Age seventy past, and then age eighty, and things he thought he was done with, such as painting his house, had to be done yet again. With a bit of a smile he told me, “It’s downright inconvenient when you don’t die.” Yet he went right on being practical and pragmatic, until his end finally came at age ninety.

I admired him greatly, especially because I was not very good at practicality or pragmatism. However I somewhat smugly decided I had something poetic he lacked. I was of the opinion that being a poet involved having your head in the clouds, and that explained why I was messy. However, after he died, I came across his memoirs, and noticed that at the end he had to attach a postscript. After all, when you live a quarter century after you finish your memoirs, you’ve a bit of explaining to do.

In his pragmatic manner he capsualized, in a few pages, things I also had  lived through, agonized over, and had written drifts of unreadable howlings about, such as his son’s (my father’s) divorce. To me, his summary of our family tragedy was too simplistic. However it also exemplified the beauty of the man. Unlike me, he accepted the given.

However the first line of that postscript struck me as amazingly beautiful. As a man in his eighties, adding onto a memoir he wrote at age sixty-five, he had to come up with some sort of introduction, to mark the passage of time and explain his current situation. He chose three words, before moving on to more pragmatic details. They were, simply, “The shadows lengthen.”

As a writer I had to shake my head over the perfection of such simplicity, but as a grandson I was irked. For some reason I want to know more. I want to pry, to poke into the inner parts of the man, to see how he struggled with life.

For some reason his generation of New Englanders simply didn’t bother others much with the details of their struggles. They might give you the essence of their struggle, the conclusion they concluded, but they skipped the gory details. I think explaining angst was deemed bad manners. They served you the sirloin, and didn’t bother you with details of how the cow bellowed during the butchering.

Anyway, now it is my turn to get older and face retirement and attempt to clean up my mess, before departing, and as winter came on this year and the days grew shorter I kept recalling my grandfather’s three words, “The shadows lengthen.”

Because I spend much time outside, running a Childcare that stresses children playing in forests and fields, I had a rare chance to observe the ways the shadows grow longer, even at noon, and how the dimming daylight shortened, until parents dropped off their children in daybreak’s dusk and picked them up in pitch dark, long after sunset.

Just because the light is less, it is no less beautiful.  And, because the shadows are made by that light, they too are beautiful.  However shadows may be frightening, for they stretch out from the trees like the black bars of a jail, promising the imprisonment of winter.  However, because the children are hot-blooded and warmly dressed, they seem untroubled by the black bars of a jail, and run through the bars as unphased as ghosts passing through walls. 

I myself like winter less and less,  and likely would choose to huddle by the stove, or flee to Florida, but I’m not retired, and have doubts I ever will be.  Therefore I have to hustle to keep up with the kids, and, while never as warm as they are,  I have thermal underwear and amazing boots,  a warm hat and thick mittens, and therefore never quite suffer from hypothermia.  I also have to constantly pick up the mittens and hats the kids shed, and also deal with  them arguing that they should be allowed to take their coats off in bone chilling blasts.

It is obvious I am seeing life from a very different angle than they do.  The other day, while thinking about this, into my mind came an old Norman Rockwell picture, portraying an old man and boy raking leaves in the autumn, both looking up as Canada Geese flew over.  It is not one of his better paintings,  but makes a point. 

Around here real geese never fly over humans as low as in Rockwell’s picture.  They fear hunters in the fall, (unless they are Harvard geese on the banks of the Charles River.)  However Rockwell makes the low geese a symbol, so big it they more a blaring image than a reality.  They are big as B-52 bombers,  but the boy is looking up untroubled and serene.  The old man, however, looks a bit deranged, and looks away more than up.  The boy knows he likely has a long time before he has to fly away, but the old man knows it might be tomorrow.  For him, the shadows are lengthening.

For me, the beauty is increasing.  That is one thing I never expected, when thinking about getting old, back when I was young.  All I could imagine was what I’d be losing.  Even if I hit a home run my last time at bat like Ted Williams, it would be my last time at bat, and then I’d lose baseball.  I’d lose this and I’d lose that.  Pretty soon I’d hardly even have teeth.

However the beauty is increasing.  I rarely imagined this might occur, when young. I suppose I was simply to eager to sled and to skate, to enjoy the drab leafless time after the summer fishing is over.  I wanted to skip autumns long shadows and rush into the white of winter.  Also I wasn’t a hunter.  However now I walk the shadow-barred woods hunters walk, and see why they like hunting even when they never see a deer. 

The leaves are still lovely, even when the reds and yellows and oranges are all gone, and they are merely a magic carpet of brown, sifting and swirling about my feet in the blustering winds.  And I see much farther through the trees, without leaves in the way, and I glimpse the wild animals and birds as they glance over their shoulders, avoiding me.  And without leaves there is far more sky, filled with cirrus and cirrocumulous and high jet contrails, whispering of the weather, the battle the warm south is losing and the cold north is winning.  The high clouds speak of upper winds and jet streams, as lower scud speaks of the closest storm or front,  and I am nothing but a very observant speck amidst the huge vastness, and then suddenly I remember beauty I loved as a boy and lost as an adult.

Somehow loving the beauty of clouds,  (even to the degree where I got in trouble in school for studying clouds more than blackboards,) led me into politics, where you forget all about the clouds, (or come dangerously close to forgetting.)

In my case it had to do with the politics surrounding “Global Warming.”  I’ve avoided the indoors all my life, and consequently know a thing or two about the outdoors. Therefore I took offence at so-called “climate scientists,” who spent all their time indoors dickering with things called “models” on computers, telling me they knew more about the outdoors than I did.  However they wouldn’t come out and fight, so I had to go in and do a lot of dickering at my computer with dicks.  I did darn well,  in a world indoors of indoors called “cyber,” considering the dicks I battled had the home field advantage,  however in the end all my battling was in vain:  The voters, last election, voted for all the foolish thought I opposed. 

I don’t like being a loser, but I was one.  I felt a little like Ted Williams, because even if I did hit a home run my last time at bat, I was on a team of Red Sox that hadn’t won a pennant since 1946, and was a team getting worse.  What good is it to excel if you are on a team of losers?

So I went outside to trudge and sulk.  And what did I discover?

The clouds are still there.  Truth is still Truth.  Beauty is still Beauty.

In the end we all get old and must step aside,  and no matter how long we have been “the Champ” we are “Champ” no more.  We are losers.  The shadows lengthen.  However those shadows are due to the Light.

And that is my conclusion:  It pays to get outside and see the Light.  It reminds you of something more important than winning some cyber game. 

Then, reinvigorated by the Light, you can return to your computer and wage cyber war against the darkness afflicting the ignorant.  You may be old, wizened, a mere candle in a howling gale,  but your little light has a power darkness flees.

True,  wind may blow out a candle,  but wind is from energy, which was once sunlight.  Without such energy, darkness has no breath,and such darkness alone cannot touch a candle.  But a wee candle can lift the darkness of the deepest cave.

BLESSING NEEDED

It is probably not a good thing to begin any endeavor without asking for the Lord’s blessing. However I do forget, and did forget again when I started this blog.  So of course everything has gone wrong.  Therefore I’d best be late, which is supposedly better than never.

Oh Creator of me, bless my creation.

There, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

I likely should have done that fifty or so years ago, when I first became addicted to writing. After all, it takes some nerve to create in a creation made by a perfect Creator. By creating, am I not saying creation is imperfect, and needs improving? Or perhaps I’m merely stealing some thunder from the Creator of thunder?

What I enjoy doing is likely wrong, and, if not already illegal, will be made illegal by the next religion that comes along, (in the same manner drawing-a-human-figure is illegal in certain Islamic nations.) However the primary reason the creating I enjoy will be made illegal is because it is so much fun.

Writing got me in all sorts of trouble in school, which may seem odd. Do children not go to school in order to learn how to write? However I never was writing what teachers wanted me to be writing.

This may also explain why I’ve never made any money with my writing. However fifty years is long enough. By now I’ve proven I’m not writing for the money, and henceforth I intend to roll in the dough, casting golden coins gleefully left and right.

I plan to do this through sheer luck. This may not seem a very pragmatic and organized approach to becoming filthy rich, but sheer luck has served me very well, so far in my life.

Some may wonder how I can say that, after writing for fifty years without making money at it, (or else some might say my life is an example of sheer bad luck.) However one thing this blog will attempt to do is to show that what some might call bad luck is actually great luck, (if you are a good sport about losing, and cultivate an attitude of singing in the rain.)

On the other hand, we’ve all read stories about people who win a fortune in a lottery, and their life is ruined. However I’ll likely handle my vast fortune better, after I make it through this blog. Anyway, at my age I haven’t that much life left to be ruined, so the prospect doesn’t worry me much. Lastly, if I’m ruined, I’ll just sing in the rain.

So let me get down to the details of how I, the writer, intend to scalp you, the reader, of your hard-earned coins. (I figure the least I can do is be honest about it.)

What I intend to do is to offer a fair amount of good writing for free. However there will eventually be “for sale” writing as well, and in a sly manner I intend to get people hooked into certain tales, or merely curious about what is in a Pandora’s Box, and then, for a cheap price, they will be able to download one of those new fangled e-book thingys.

I’ve read that Charles Dickens wrote many of his books as episodes, which appeared in monthly magazines. Sometimes he wasn’t sure how a book would end, as the installments appeared. This idea appeals to me, partly because I enjoy the sheer panic of a deadline, and also because I like the idea of getting paid for something that isn’t finished. I’m not the best, when it comes to finishing what I start.

In my attic I now have fifty years worth of old stuff.  This blog will be a repository of yellowing papers. Some of the writing is actually good, and some is merely interesting to historians.  I’ll include better sections of my diary, which I started on March 24, 1962.  I’ll include essays, novels, epics, so-called “fragments,” and lyrics and poetry. 

The lyrics and poetry is where the sheer luck enters in.  For many years all I had to do is say, “I have written a poem,” and there would be a mad rush towards the exits by all who knew me.  More recently I’ve had better responses.  (I don’t think I’ve changed, but rather that fashions have changed.)  However the sheer luck will involve translating my poems into various Asian languages, using the automatic translation devises now available.

Those Asian nations have huge populations, and all I need to do is have a single poem go viral, and then sell e-books of poems for ten cents a copy,   and I might just sell a billion copies, and make $100,000,000.00.  Single handedly I’ll be doing more to reverse the trade deficit than most of those clowns in Washington.

The cool thing about poetry is that you don’t have to finish anything. In fact lots of poems end in the middle.

Another cool thing is that, while those translation devises butcher prose, they actually improve most poetry. Therefore just because my poem is horrible in English is no guarantee it won’t be lovely and profound when translated into Chinese.

And there’s a billion people in China. I’ll be rich!

And you can tell people you were there at the beginning.