LOCAL VIEW —The teeth of the calm—

It’s cold and very dry, 10° at 4:00 AM on December 31. If we had any snowcover it would be ten degrees colder, but we don’t. The wind was nasty two days ago but it has faded away to a sort of calm that leans on you from the northwest. That side of your face stings a little, and the brown leaves still clinging to the branches of beeches rustle slightly every now and again.

I can’t recall seeing such a huge arctic high pressure come down from Canada in quite a while. It has been years.

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The dry weather has made it possible to get some wood split and onto the porch, but at age sixty-one I sure don’t swing the eight-pound maul the way I used to. I’m a bit delicate, and swing in a gingerly fashion, as if I expect something to tear. Actually the exercise keeps bones from loosing mass, in theory, but it seems I stiffen up the same day, where I used to stiffen up worst two mornings after heavy exercise.

For some odd reason we had a brownout for an hour on Sunday afternoon. I’ve never experienced one before. We had power, but some things simply didn’t work, including the computer. The microwave would rotate a dish but not heat it. No explanation was given, that I ever heard.

All the good food over Thanksgiving and Christmas taxed my teeth, and a toothache has been souring my attitude. Two hours at the dentist yesterday ought be all the psychiatry I need, however before I was cured I wrote the following hard-to-understand sonnet, just to prove I could make a sonnet from a toothache.

When young I idealized that poetry
Was in all things, for too often youth take
For granted teeth are forever, and see
No sweat in making sonnets from a toothache.
 
It’s not so easy when you get older
And walk wincing, with one eyebrow asking
And your head tilted. I’ve not grown bolder
Or braver, when all of my multitasking
Involves avoiding a series of ouches.
 
But perhaps I did the same when I was young.
I was suppose to deliver couches
Up long staircases, and not live among
They who lounge, but then I got fired
For acting like I was already retired.

I think that sprang from some work I’m doing that involves remembering what I was up to back in 1971.  The past can be a nice place to visit, if you can’t catch a flight to Florida.

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LOCAL VIEW —Brunt Bearing—

The Christmas break is about over, in terms of brutal weather. You can tell the north is up to no good when the isobars are straight north-south all the way from high pressure in the  the Canadian Rockies to low pressure east of Greenland.

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When these surges of cold come south you look for a storm to brew up, but the storm south of us looks like it is being swept right out to sea before the cold air can catch up to it, and turn it into a blizzard. There is too much of a gap between the first cool front, with polar air behind it, and the second that indicates the arrival of the truly arctic air.

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It would be fine with me if all the storms stayed south of here, and we just saw the lakes freeze up and make for good skating.  The ski areas wouldn’t be happy, but maybe we could arrange for some flurries in the higher hills.

The problem is that, during some of these 1970’s-style winters, the arrival of the cold brings about huge surges of warm air back north. The winter of 1977-1978 springs to mind, with three blizzards, two in the east and one in Ohio. (Check out the end of the December 17 post for details of those storms.) https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2014/12/17/local-view-to-snow-or-no/

Currently it looks like the surge of the warmth will occur across the Atlantic. As a cold high pressure settles down and brings a winter cold front as far south as north Africa, with cold, east winds on the south side of the high pressure, a rebound of milder air will rush up around the top of the high pressure, and the UK Met is showing a New Year’s Day where it might be milder in Sweden than in Sicily.  (We’ll see about that.)

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I’m not sure why I’m looking at Europe. I should pay attention to what is in front of my nose, which is a opportunity created by an open winter. The last of the Thanksgiving snowstorm has melted away, and the forest floor has gone from white snows to being leafy and brown.

I could use a spell with the woods staying snow-free, to get a bit of firewood out. We’ve used up more than I planned on, with the kids home and a baby in the house. Also I don’t need the work of snow-removal, for I’m feeling in the mood to write outside of this blog, and it is making me restless. If I disappear it will be because I’ve taken a time machine back to the early 1970’s, as that is what I want to write about.

Cabin fever, though the woods are snowless.
Cabin fever, though the days are fair.
Cabin fever, and it shows I grow less
Wise with time. Age makes me unaware.
 
Now my cabin is my flinching body,
That cringes from invigorating gales,
But my spirit still is hip, wild and gaudy
And longs to grip ropes and set winter sails.
 
“Let me out of here!” My restless spirit
Paces past eye-windows of discontent.
My songs creak and quaver, and I can hear it
And hush, and wonder where a lifetime went.
 
“What’s the point?” The answer is grim and clear.
Beethoven wrote best when he couldn’t hear.

ARCTIC SEA-ICE RECOVERY –Sneak Attack onto Europe–

The last two weeks has been interesting to watch, though the growth and extent of the ice is fairly normal. Here are the extent maps from December 12 (to the left) and December 27 (to the right).

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As Hudson Bay and the Bering Strait have frozen up, most of the growth in ice from now on has little to do with the Arctic. You could almost call it cosmetic. It will be occurring in the Pacific, or the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River, or the Baltic Sea, and therefore will be fleeting, and have little to do with the Arctic Sea itself, which is what all the fuss is about in the summer.

I tend to watch the arctic ice-thickness maps, which can give you an idea where the ice is moving. It moves far more than many imagine. For example, hundreds of square miles of thicker ice that had been lodged north of Franz Josef Land was shifted west by storms and crashed into the north coast of Svalbard, over the past month. This created a sort of polynya of open water where the ice had been by Franz Josef Land, which swiftly froze over and became thin ice.

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If this large body of ice continued to move west it might be flushed south through Fram Strait, which could create a situation much like occurred in 2007, when the thick ice was flushed south of the Pole, leaving the Pole with a thin skim of ice as summer approached, and, because the thin ice melted easily, the people who assume the icecap is in a “Death Spiral” had something to hype. (The main difference between now and 2007 is that there is much more thick ice north of Canada now.)

Watching the thickness maps allows you to see where the ice is piling up and where it is thinning, and gives you a rough idea on the total volume of ice up there.  There are many interesting processes occurring that you seldom read about.  For example, the same strong winds that blew the ice away from Franz Josef Land also blew the ice away from the south coast of the Kara Sea, and you can see that ice as thin blue lines of thicker ice now out in the middle of the Kara Sea.

Ice really piles up on the west coast of Baffin Bay, and grinds southeast along that coast and then along the coast of Labrador towards the North Atlantic. Ice also can pile up on the south and east coast of Hudson Bay, while the north coast can see polnyas form, so that even though the north was the first to freeze and the south was the last to freeze, by spring the south has thicker ice than the north. Lastly, ice can be seen piling up just west of the Bering Strait on the north coast of Russia; last year this ice was piled up 20 feet thick there by spring.

Watching the thickness maps brings many surprises, especially when storms wrack the ice. In the dead of winter, with temperatures at -40°, I have seen leads of open water form that are scores of miles across and hundreds of miles across. The open water freezes to thin ice almost immediately, but sometimes you can still see signs of that thinner ice months later. In a similar manner storms had a lot to do with the build up of thicker ice north of Canada.

At times the thick ice can crumble and be spread out into open waters, and mess up all sorts of neat calculations in the process. Where a cold current often sinks when it meets a warmer current, and more saline waters want to sink beneath more brackish waters, it is physically impossible for the ice to sink, and it bobs merrily onwards on top, often significantly chilling both the temperatures of the surface waters and the air, until it melts away. Therefore a strong wind transporting ice south can alter temperature maps with startling speed.

I imagine there are times when such alterations make a difference in the forecasts generated by computer models. They may even explain why the models utterly failed to foresee the cold that slumped south onto Europe recently. Just as it only takes a single pebble to start an avalanche, a single miscalculation can mess up a computer model.

Although the models did not see the cold coming, Joseph D’Aleo and Joe Bastardi on their blogs at the Weatherbell site did say we should be on guard for cold waves to hit Europe, as the autumnal patterns were similar to years in the past that saw cold waves hit Europe. They didn’t explain how it was going to happen in a step-by-step way, so I watched very carefully to see if I could see the steps as they occurred.

Back on December 12 we were seeing south winds bring warm air flooding north over Scandinavia, as the Atlantic storms veered north towards the Pole. A lot of Barents Sea was above freezing. Cold air was exiting the Arctic down the east coast of Greenland.

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This pattern continued on December 14

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And peaked around December 17

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By December 19 the storms were no longer heading up to the Pole, but were moving east along the north coast of Russia. Barents Sea was cooling down, and to the east of the storm cold Siberian air was drawn up over the Arctic Sea and then dragged back west, and the milder Atlantic air lost its influence over the Pole.

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By December 21 the new storm track had the east winds to its north starting to drag cold air back towards Scandinavia. The following Atlantic Gale didn’t bring such a flood of warmth north.

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By December 24 the new storm track had penetrated weakly to the Pacific side of the Pole, and chilled Pacific air was being drawn over the Pole, but was too cold to warm the Pole much, and the cold air over the Pole was heading south to Scandinavia, and below freezing temperatures seeped down the coast of Norway.

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By the 26th of December the cold was building over the Pole, and the strongest low pressure was east of Scandinavia, transporting Siberian air back west over its top towards a Barents Sea that was now far colder, especially to its north. The Pole was as cold as it ever gets, except on rare occasions, and the weight of that dense air was spreading out, including down towards Europe.

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Today we see the following North Atlantic low is weak, without a surge of southerly winds, and the isobars hint of a discharge straight from the Pole to Scandinavia and areas further south.

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This afternoon’s map shows the weak low bringing snow to Britain and the cold continuing to press south over Europe.

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The computer models didn’t see this cold coming, even a few days ago, but now much of western Europe is below normal. As this cold continues to press south it is likely create elongated high pressure west to east. There may be a warm-up over Scandinavia as winds turn west to the north of the high pressure, but east winds to the south of the cold high pressure will bring very cold Siberian air further and further towards the Mediterranean, and a southern storm track will bring snows to Italy and perhaps even the north coast of Africa, before the cold is moderated.

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However I have no business talking about Africa in a post about the Arctic, so I’ll just show the graph of temperatures north of 80 degrees latitude, which informs us the arctic is loaded with midwinter cold, and has plenty to spare.

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Besides dumping cold down on Europe, some is being dumped south into Canada and the western USA.  The thing to remember is that not only the Pole creates cold, but all areas of Tundra and Taiga generate cold as well, during these shortest of days. Better look for where you left your mittens.

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(These maps are created by Dr. Ryan Maue at the Weatherbell site.)

 

LOCAL VIEW —Christmas Bluebirds—

We are experiencing a truly kindly spell of late December weather, if you are an old coot like me, and have grown less fond of cold with time.

Not that I can’t remember being young and hot, and walking with a girl I was trying not to fall in love with, (and failing), and being warm through and through, though it was so cold the snow on the road squeaked as we walked over it. Also I can remember being desperate for snow, for I was running a lunch-counter at a cross-country ski area. However those are memories, and the reality is the present, and the Christmas present was mildness for an old coot, this year

What was really remarkable was a finger of warmth that reached the tops of the hills where I lived, but not the valleys. Indeed it was 43° atop Mount Washington, at 6000 feet, and only 40° at sea-level at the coast at Portsmouth. It was 39° in the Merrimack River Valley at Manchester 40 miles to our east, and 38° close to the Connecticut River in Keene 40 miles to our west, while here temperatures spiked up to near 60°. (57° in Jaffrey, 7 miles to our west.)

You can dimly see the finger of warmth in this temperature map, poking up into south-central New Hampshire (and also all the way north to Burlington, Vermont):

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On Christmas morning the sun came out and the breeze felt like April’s. Because we had the stoves going before the warmth came north, it was actually hot in the old house. I stepped out onto the porch and instantly remembered a Christmas back in my youth (1965?) when it was so mild I was running around outside flying a new toy helicopter barefoot.  I dedcided to stay outside to enjoy the mildness, figuring it wouldn’t last, as a front had come through to bring us our sunshine and clearing.

Temperatures did drop a little, but not much, and I could do my chores without gloves or a jacket.  My middle son was out with bird-watching gear, and announced by cell phone that a small gang of bluebirds, and a male and female cardinal, were by the house. I hurried, but didn’t see them, yet could hear them off in the distance, which seemed very evocative and symbolic of something just beyond my ken. (My son’s pictures:)

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There was something so summery about bluebirds and cardinals being about on Christmas morning that I decided it must be my Christmas miracle this year, and a auspicious sign.

Then I sat back to wait for the cold to return, as it surely must. A warm wave in the winter is like the water drawing down on a beach; you know the water draws back further for the bigger waves. However though the cold has rushed down to chill western cities like Denver, it is taking its time coming east: (The first map shows our Christmas storm passing well north, with us on the southern mild side, and the second map shows two days later, with the east still spared the arctic air plunging into the west.) (Click to enlarge.)

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The radar map shows snow along the battle lines between the cold west and the warm east:

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This battle line could brew up some big storms, as it works its way east, before the cold air eventually engulfs the entire USA. However for the moment we get a pause, a time of peace. The wind has died and the winter sun shines. Bluebirds are about. Obviously it is time for a sonnet.

I awoke to how wonderfully fashioned
Is a winter day, though the low sun is weak.
 
Faintly flavored, as when tea is rationed
And one sips a thin cup, one should not speak
Or one may miss the taste.   The breathless air
Is hushed; the sole birdsong is over a near
Hilltop, and is the scratchy cry of a rare
Christmas bluebird: Very faint; very clear.
 
I tell my noisy brain to be quiet.
I’m tired of its racket, and how it squints
At silence like bats in sunshine.
 
                                                    “Try it,”
Speaks the silence. “See My fingerprints
On every bough; with each breath you draw
See it takes no thought to wander in My awe.”

LOCAL VIEW —Christmas lightning—(In memory of miracles)

It is a wet and foggy Christmas eve here in New Hampshire, with the last of the Thanksgiving snow fading away in the wet, but a Christmas feel to the dark nonetheless.

The promised “Santabomb” storm has failed to develop to the promised magnitude,  but the computer models did at least see the storm tracking nearly straight north up the Mississippi River, as another tracked up the coast, and the one over the Great Lakes is developing to a degree where it is producing a bit of lightning.

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Ah!  Lightning at Christmas! Some boy up on the coast of Lake Superior is feeling blessed.

I have a soft spot for the entire subject of Christmas miracles, having experienced more than my share, and at the risk of being redundant I’ll repeat a story I told last year:

One of my most miserable pre-Christmases occurred in my boyhood, back in 1966.  My parents had separated, but divorce was rare back then, and very difficult even when both parties wanted it.  My father didn’t want it, but had vanished from the household and was fighting to save his marriage from afar, as my mother fought for freedom.  My mother felt I ought be protected from the details of their dispute, but I found it a sort of hell to have my father vanish, and have no explanation given.

This silence concerning the truth had been going on for a year and a half, and had made me a crazy boy,  and now I was thirteen and just starting to also go crazy with hormones. The misery I felt peaked during holidays, because holidays reminded me of better days, back when I was part of a happy, functioning family. During the dark days of December 1966 I found myself in a sort of private war.  It was invisible to others, but very real to me.

We had gone from being very rich to abrupt poverty, (by the standards of a wealthy suburb,) and I had no money, but had decided I would fight back and give presents even though I was broke.  I struggled to make hand-made presents for people, though my carpentry skills were undeveloped and I had no father to instruct me.  My fingers were bleeding and bandaged from my blunders.

One project had me on the verge of tears and rage.  I was endeavoring to make a pair of tiny hearts, as earrings for my mother, out of red cedar wood, but such wood splits very easily, and over and over, just when a small heart was nearly done, it would split in two and I’d have to start over. I only finished on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and trudged off to a gift shop a mile away to buy the metal fasteners that would turn the wood hearts to earrings.

For several days we’d been in a mild flow from the south, and the snowless landscape was grey under a dull sky.  Life seemed very unfair to me.  Other boys seven hundred miles to the west had a white Christmas, as a modest low swung north to the Great Lakes, but we were on the warm side and the weathermen on all three major Boston channels had said there was no chance of a white Christmas for Boston.  The snowlessness  seemed like insult heaped onto injury to me, and while I didn’t exactly give God a tongue lashing, I was extremely pessimistic about my good deeds ever gaining me any sort of reward.

However my irascible temper lashed out against the darkness by giving gifts, which must have won me a point or two upstairs, because all of a sudden nice things started to happened to me.

When I walked into the gift shop and timidly asked for fasteners, my pout and bandaged fingers must have touched the lady who ran the shop, because she took me under her wing and proceeded to not only sell me two fasteners, but to take me to the back of her shop, (where she repaired jewelry and watches,) and showed me how to glue the fasteners to the wooden hearts, and then got me a tiny box with a cotton square on the bottom to hold my earrings, and even wrapped them for me. I walked out of there in a much better mood, with the bells on the door jingling behind me, and then stopped in my tracks.  Big, fat snowflakes were lazily drifting down from the grey sky.

As I walked home through the snow it seemed absolutely everyone was smiling. The snow was lazy and seemed harmless, but then it grew more steady and swirled, and when I arrived home my poor mother was going through one of her attacks of worry, as my older brothers had gone Christmas shopping in her car. Fortunately I only had to be a thirteen year old male soothing a 42 year old woman for a short while, before my brothers appeared through the snow with her car un-dented, and all was well.

We headed off on foot to Christmas Carols outside a church a half mile away, and for some reason, perhaps due to the snow, rather than the usual thirty people showing up a hundred-twenty-five showed up to sing in the increasingly heavy snow.  Just as we finished there was a flash of lightning, and long, deep, horizon-to-horizon roll of thunder.

As I turned to walk home, with the thunder still rolling,  a thirteen-year-girl who I secretly adored but whom I had no chance of dating, (as I was not only thirteen, and broke, but a foot shorter than she was,) glanced my way with her face awed by the thunder, and when she saw me watching her,  she smiled an abrupt smile at me that just about knocked me flat on my back in the snow.  And at that point I decided miracles actually could happen, and life might not be so bad, after all.

There was more lightning, and we had around seven inches of snow before it tapered off at midnight. The weathermen were embarrassed, but did give the freak event a name. It was dubbed “The Donner and Blitzen Storm.”  Likely it was a “vort max” that “phased” with a “frontal low,” but, as it wasn’t a huge blizzard and set no records, record books don’t mention it much.  However guys and gals over sixty, who lived between Portland Maine and Philadelphia back in 1966, all seem to remember it.  It was a Christmas miracle,  private and personal, but given to many.

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00431672.1967.9932756?journalCode=vwws20#.Urpsp9JDvkc

Christmas is a miracle, in that people give rather than grab, and even when this hard old world makes guys like me cynical, there tends to be something or another that strikes me as a miracle, each and every year.  Most of these miriacles are so personal and private that I doubt they would mean much to anyone else, but a few are worth recounting.

This year is the 100th aniversary of one that I didn’t see, but effected me because I happened to like the poetry of Wilford Owen, and studied the First World War to understand the roots of his poems.

World War One was a war that makes millions of European youths seems as suicidal as Kamikaze pilots, and, (for any youth who has the poetic temperament and desires to leave the beaten path,) to be part of a lemming-like stampede toward certain death by machine-gun fire offered ample opportunity for those youths to question the routes taken by the politically correct. Wilford Own was such a youth.

However on Christmas, 1914, the war spontaneously stopped, as there was a complete breakdown of military discipline, and the English and Germans began singing Christmas Carols together. At first it was from afar, but then they walked out into No Man’s Land and shook hands and drank together and told jokes and gave their leaders proof war is unnecessary.

However the leaders were such idiots they insisted the men return to their trenches and go back to killing each other, and the youth begrudgingly obeyed, and it continued for nearly four more years, by which time nearly every youth who was part of that Christmas Party in 1914 was dead or maimed.

It is the leaders who state Christmas miracles are impossible, and who obey a tedious and money-grubby logic that tallies all up onto Scrooge’s balance-sheet, and with Grinch-like eyes regard Christmas in terms of sales and profits, gained from the gift-giving of the generous, who they deem dupes and suckers.

I never could stand that sort of thinking, and likely that explains why I never have been rich in terms of filthy lucre, though I am fabulously wealthy in terms of the intangible stuff that makes poetry and Christmas like lights in the dark.

Unfortunately that lovely landscape is not a world you are likely to learn much about if you go to college to study poetry, for the sad fact is that most of the professors who teach poetry have sold out on poetry. They preferred things called “paychecks” and “tenure” and “a pension” and “health insurance” to freedom.

Not that I blame them. Poetry involves hardship, and hardship is hardest on the softhearted, and you need a soft heart to write poems. Midst your suffering you are always wishing some millionaire would make things easier for you. Unfortunately most millionaires are politically correct, and the politically correct never offer money without strings attached, and if you take their money the strings make you their marionette.

Most college professors therefore are sort of anti-Pinocchioes, for where Pinocchio began as wood and wound up a real boy, they began as real boys and wound up as puppets. They dare not offend their patrons, and it is hard to write about purity when you are basically a gigolo, and without purity poetry is false and is basically intellectualized doggerel.

Considering I have this attitude, it should be pretty obvious why I didn’t thrill college professors, or any other fatcats who try to seduce poets with money. It should be obvious why editors and publishers wanted zero to do with me, and why I wound up sleeping in my car so much. However, in retrospect, it was a blast, and I’d take sleeping in a car over sleeping in a palace any day.

I eventually got good at roughing it. This leads into a Christmas-eve-miracle that occurred towards the end of my bachelor days, when I was thrity-five and drifting through Gallup New Mexico. During the winter the unemployment rate in that area must have touched 50% at that time, but I was good at hanging around at the unemployment office to pick up spot labor, as well as collecting returnable bottles and aluminum cans, and scouring the Albertson’s parking lot for discarded green-stamps, and had a few other tricks for squeezing blood from cold stones, and could usually come up with the sixty dollars necessary to sleep in a motel unit for a week, in the winter.  However on this particular Christmas eve I only had fifty-five dollars, and rent was due.

I had already offended the owner of the motel by assuming he was a Hindu from India, when he actually was a Muslim from Pakistan. (A very funny example of foot-in-mouth-disease I won’t go into.) Then I made things worse by wishing him a “Merry Christmas,” which offends those who don’t celebrate.  Offending the man was unwise, considering he already had a reputation for giving no leeway to anyone under any condition for late rent. I did not like the prospect of telling him I was five dollars short. To be quite honest, I was fairly certain he would take great glee in proving he had nothing to do with the Christian humbug called Christmas by evicting me from my unit on Christmas Eve.

I paced back and forth outside his tiny office, looking in at the five-foot-one gentleman as he read a paper in a bright yellow picture window, thinking how humiliating it was going to be. I’d say I only had fifty-five, and attempt to ruffle the filthy lucre seductively, while stating fifty-five was better than nothing. Then he would throw a fit.  He’d demand I depart, attempting to loom and look powerful, though I was eleven inches taller. I’d likely want to put my fist through his face, but that would be an unseemly act for spiritual person like myself to do, on Christmas Eve, so I’d be meek and acquiesce instead, and move my meager belongings to my car.

“Oh well,” I thought to myself, “It is best I get this over with.”  However just then I heard a crisp noise as the wind rose, and turned to see a small ball of wadded green paper rolling across the parking lot midst a little cloud of the nosebleed dust only December deserts can gust. I already knew what the wadded paper must be, and watched in disbelief as it stopped directly in front of me. I reached down, filled with the wild hope it was a hundred, but of course it was only a five dollar bill, and exactly what I needed. (Though we may want lemonade, we get what we need, which is water.)

Anyway, my Christmas miracle that year was to be spared the scene with the landlord, and simply to pay my rent in a most nonchalant manner and walk to my tiny unit and lie down on my bed.  I would like to say I was disappointed that I lost the chance to sleep in my car on Christmas Eve, (which would have looked good on my poet’s resume), but actually I was rather relieved. If you are going to play the violins of self pity about being alone on Christmas Eve, you might as well do it snug on a warm bed.

Just then there was a banging on my door, and when I opened it a friend insisted it was wrong for me to be alone. I tried to tell him poets need time alone to be maudlin, but he absolutely insisted I come with him north to a noisy Navajo household up in Window Rock. What could I do?  I figured complying was my Christmas Present to him.  And it wasn’t so bad, once I got over the shock.

I don’t expect you to believe this story. To this day it does seem a fabrication even to me, to say a five-dollar-bill blew up to the toes of my cowboy boots just when I needed it.  It is too absurd to include in a novel.

However it also seems a fabrication to say the young soldiers in a war stopped fighting for just a day, to sing carols together, before going back to making each other extinct, back in 1914.

I myself don’t think we should need these Christmas miracles to know certain behavior is stupid, even if idiots call it “politically correct.” Life itself is the miracle. The sounds and colors of the sea are miracle enough; I don’t need the sea parted. Creation is beautiful poetry just as it is, and needs no extra adornment.

However perhaps we mortals need a tap on our shoulder every now and again to remind us that besides Creation, there is a Creator. We are like are readers who are so amazed by a novel we forget the novelist, even when he walks by, and instead sit with our noses buried in the book. We forget the novelist wrote to express himself, and therefore would like himself to get some attention.

What Christmas is about is the novelist deciding to enter his book and walk about with the characters he created. This is so bizarre that it strikes even poets as miraculous. To the politically correct it is absolutely and utterly impossible and incorrect. Like the Grinch, they would try to keep Christmas from coming, but, like the Grinch, every year they see it came.

Bad news for them, but great news for us!  Merry Christmas!!!

LOCAL VIEW —Shopping Weather—

Just a quick note to state it flurried all day both Sunday and Monday, and never amounted to more than a dusting on Sunday and a slushy half inch yesterday. Today we see the Christmas rain developing, with a low on the coast and another back in the Great Lakes.

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The radar shows the white Christmas getting pushed north of Maine, and rain here, and a wall of water starting north from the Gulf of Mexico this way for Christmas. It looks like we’ll get a green one, though the folk back in the western Great Lakes could get a whirling one.

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The imprtant thing was that it snowed as I did my Christmas shopping. I didn’t anything could get an old scrooge like me into the mood, but the falling flakes did.

LOCAL VIEW —DAYS OF LONG SHADOWS—

I spent a Saturday doing my usual Saturday chores, which include a trip to the bank and a trip to dump, which we now call the “recycling center.”  I hate recycling, because there is always some sort of slime I get on my hands as I sort stuff. I can get very haughty, in a Rodney Dangerfield sort of way, about how inconsiderate my household is when they throw stuff away.

Today some rotten potatoes somehow wound up in the recyclable paper, and someone threw out a glass bottle of Thai peanut sauce that wasn’t empty, and I got it up to my elbows, as I sorted the glass to green, brown and clear bins. However worst were my granddaughter’s diapers. Someone just chucked a bag into the back of my pick-up truck, and the bag split, and the diapers spilled out and froze to the bed of the truck in a way that required a pry-bar to remove.  It was a chance for me to be spiritual and humble, and I totally failed.

It actually was a beautiful morning, but there is always some shadow that can spoil the beauty, if you allow it to. I knew I should focus on the brighter side of life, but sometimes I just get grumpy, and feel put upon, and then it seems best to remember Rodney Dangerfield, and to make a sort of exaggeration out of my mood, and reduce it to absurdity.

What I really wanted to do was be lazy, and write poems and study weather maps, but today was the day we get and decorate the Christmas tree, and that meant I had to start a second fire in a second stove, because I seem to be the only one who knows how to lay a fire correctly. (I might have turned up the heat, but I’m in the dog-house for forgetting to order propane, and we have to be careful before the truck comes on Monday, or we will run out.)

Nearly running out of Propane gives me something else to grouse about. Having four full-grown children at home, and a baby granddaughter, means long, long showers, and all sorts of cooking in the kitchen, and an excuse to turn up the heat (the baby), and the propane tank which was 60% full sank to 10% full with amazing speed.  I don’t even know why I checked it, this morning, but when I did my eyebrows shot past my receding hairline. I knew I’d be in really big trouble if we ran out on Christmas day. So, rather than sitting back and writing a poem, I had to track down the propane people on a Saturday when no one is available. Then I discovered they’d charge $200.00 simply to show up. I decided we could wait until Monday, but that meant I had to get the wood fires going.

It is ironic that the kids wanted to go out in the woods and get a tree. They sure didn’t have that attitude when they were small. I’d try to make the event be like something you might see in a Norman Rockwell painting, but they always wondered why we didn’t just buy one like other people did. (Usually I was basically broke, after buying gifts.) I’d tell them they would remember the event fondly, but they assured me they would require therapy to recover from the scars. Bears used to be woken from hibernation and poke their heads from caves in wonder, as the kids passed in a chorus of complaints, trudging through the trees.

I remember one time it started snowing, and snowed an amazing three inches in around an hour, and my youngest was a baby wailing in a back pack, as my three-year-old somehow lost both a boot and a sock and hopped about on one foot, and just then a loud helicopter slowly passed over, and could be dimly seen up through the falling snow, and my oldest daughter, (who was thirteen and thought “family-stuff is dumb” and answered “whatever” to anything you said,) looked up and cried out, “We’re saved!  We’re saved!”

The next year I bought a tree.

But now they want to go out in the woods? They want an absurd tree, like the ones I used to get?  They speak fondly of the tree that was narrow at the bottom, and expanded like an inverted pyramid until it was wide by the ceiling? They are sentimental about the time I wove a white pine, hemlock, and spruce together to make a facsimile of a balsam fir?

Bah humbug.

All I wanted to do was study weather maps and the radar, and try to figure out why the promising mass of moisture to our south didn’t bloom into a nor’easter, but instead slid harmlessly out to sea.

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The interesting thing is that we did get a hint of the nor’easter that never happened. Where you see the thin blue bit of snow over northern Virginia in the second radar view above there was a plume of moisture from the southeast, and even far to the north in New Hampshire our sunny day suddenly saw purple scud come rolling up from the southeast, and it went from a day of bright sun and long shadows to a day softened by gray, with no shadows at all.

Not that I’d have time to write a poem about it. I had to get fires going, and then it would be rude to just sit at my computer, and not join the family to decorate the ridiculous tree my kids dragged in from the woods. I was just glad there was no nor’easter, and no shoveling to do.

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(In the second map above you can see a mass of clouds pushing past Cape Cod. That is the nor’easter-that-failed-to-be.)

I have to confess that, even though I was feeling a bit tired, and bloated from the trays of snacks and goodies that was served instead of a wholesome dinner, there was something nice about trimming the tree.

Nor can I say I didn’t write a sonnet, after the house got quiet.

The shortest days grow the longest shadows.
My pest leaps along beside me at noon
Copying but not helping. It elbows
My concentration like some thuggish goon
Blotting darkness across a bright, clear day
Otherwise made wine-like by soft blue skies
And windless air and feathered, flitting play
Of small winter birds with thin, piping cries.
 
Go away, shadow. Who invited you to come?
You turn sunshine harsh, and make me glad
Low purple rolls in from the sea to numb
And turn the winter landscape gray and sad.
 
He never answers. I cross the gray lawn
And look beside me, and see he’s gone.