LOCAL VIEW —UPS AND DOWNS—

The last oppression of cold crested Saturday, with morning readings down at -1.3°  here (-18.5 Celsius.)  A sneaky arctic high pressure had bulged south behind a weak storm passing to our north, and rather than the warm-up computer models had promised, we had an extra day of cold north winds to endure.

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All day Saturday the chill winds blew from the north, and temperatures never crept out of the high teens, and in the evening temperatures again began falling, and were down to 15° (-9° Celsius) as night fell. Then they halted, as the crest of the high pressure passed over, and the wind died.  Then south winds began to blow and by dawn the temperatures had risen overnight to 25° (-4° Celsius).  As the rising sun faded into a grey smear of cloud temperatures swiftly climbed past freezing, and as church let out at noon and a mist of rain began, they passed 40°. (+5° Celsius.)

It was our first thaw in days, but the ground hadn’t had the chance to thaw, and in fact was still well below freezing. The powdery snows, packed and polished beneath the tread of tires and feet, were instantly glazed by an amazingly slippery sheen of ice.  Even as the rain grew heavier and water flowed over the tar, the layer of greasy ice persisted and even grew, as Facebook, Twitter and Cellphones went wild with reports of skidding cars and road closures.

Typical. We can’t even have a rain without making a winter-event out of it.

I had my driveway nicely covered with both sand and grit from my coal fires, but the glaze covered that so perfectly that simply walking from my parked car to the front steps was nearly impossible. I must have looked absurd, with eyes bugging, and spread palms well out from my hips, and feet far apart, attempting to shuffle up the slightest incline, and only winning briefly before slowly sliding back.  I had to walk through the front garden, where the snow crunched under my feet, to make the front steps.

Ridiculous.  After all, the air temperatures were over forty, and the rain was so warm it didn’t freeze at all on twigs or the windshields of parked cars, yet still the earth remembered the cold.

The air brought messages of hope, but earth
Remembered the cold. Mild rain froze on streets
And made walking a joke, a laughing mirth
Where a man of pompous dignity greets
A snuff-nosed grandmother all waggle-kneed
As she walks clinging to window boxes.
They proceed like drunks, with the cautious speed
Of snails. It’s a good fate for two foxes,
For they have looked at messages of hope
With icy regard. They live for their pensions
Which they endured cold for, and cannot cope
With warm messages. It creates tensions
When into a world that only knows cold
Comes word of worlds that are warm, spoken bold.

 Obviously my response was to write a sonnet, for it was just as obvious being responsible, and doing what was on my “to do” list, would be tantamount to suicide. I had planned to restock the porch with firewood, but to walk with arms full of wood over such a treacherous surface would be unthinkable. So I thought up a sonnet instead.

Soon the rain was heavier, and it was unthinkable to go out in that, but my goats don’t care what I think, so I had to go feed them. I slithered out and headed off. The roads had been heavily salted and were bare in most places, but here and there the rain had washed the salt away and a new glaze had formed, and made my truck act in a way that made my hair stand on end.

I stopped in at the local market on my way, where a surprising number of people gathered to gossip about how terrible the driving was. It made me scratch my head a little. If the driving was so terrible, why did they do it to go to the market? I didn’t ask, for the answer was obvious. The “Big Game” was approaching, and they were not going to miss the game to drive to the market for cigarettes. (Addiction is a terrible thing, but the things people will do to avoid withdrawal-symptoms can bolster ones belief in the power of the human spirit….If only that power could be channeled towards good.) (Of course, not all were there for cigarettes. Some were there for beer, or snacks, or, in a few cases, the addiction may have been to the market’s gossip, itself.)

I continued from there to the gossip of my goats. They were muttering to themselves, huddled under the barn, trying to figure out what their human is up to.

I’ve stopped giving them hay, because they waste 95% of it. They nose through it, tossing it aside for the stray blackberry leaf. And once the tossed-aside hay has touched the mud, they sneer at it. They are surprisingly fussy, and I’ve known farmers who, after feeding their goats, pick up all the tossed-aside hay and feed it to their cows, who have no problem with it. But I have no cows, so the hay is wasted. And then the goats are so hungry that they, having wasted their hay, bust out to eat the bark off the neighbor’s expensive flowering crab apples, or bust into the barn to eat a rare and valuable 1939 copy of Life Magazine.

I discovered, at the feed store, a hay that snobby people serve to their horses. It is compressed into large pellets, and is a blend of alfalfa and timothy, and my goats eat 95% of it. Though it is, pound for pound, three times as expensive as a bale of hay, I did the math and figured more of this stuff was winding up inside my goats, dollar for dollar.

My goats can’t do the math, and are distrustful of all changes, and are trying to figure out what I am up to. I still give them hay, but it is the stuff they already tossed aside, and I only give it to them so they will have something to toss aside. After all, winter gets boring, if you are a goat, and I don’t want to deprive them of their fun.

However they are extremely suspicious of the delicious green cubes I mix in with their grain. Not that they don’t fight among themselves to eat first, but they regard me with deep suspicion. What am I up to? They know there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Then I headed home. The thaw was starting to sink in, and rather than a glaze over packed powder, in places things were turning to deep slush. As I drove I clicked the truck radio to a sports channel, to hear news of the Big Game, and heard an absurd waste of breath about how the people of New England should respond if the local team, (the “Patriots”), lost. Oddly, it seemed another version of “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”

In my opinion, the people of New England have been served an incredible free lunch. I state this because I, as a boy, suffered through long years when New England’s Baseball, Football and Hockey teams were losers. (The Basketball team was a glorious exception to the rule.) Because I have know the suffering of thirst, I can recognize the past decade-plus as a Garden of Eden.  The football team has been especially good.  It always has winning seasons, nearly always makes the play-offs, has advanced to the semi-finals a record number of times, and now was on the verge of advancing to the American holy grail of the “Superbowl” for a record number of times.

However the group of sports commentators focused not on gratitude, but how ungratefully people should behave if the Patriots failed. (The Patriots didn’t; they clobbered their opponent, but the commentators didn’t know this yet.)

I was so disgusted I shut the radio off. To me it demonstrated how people (who are unable to do what the people they criticize do) demand too much. It doesn’t matter how superb a coach or athlete is,  or how many times they have given you the reflected glory of a championship, the day they lose the Big Game you somehow have the power, the right, and the ingratitude to throw them under the bus.

(And if you are a surgeon who has saved many lives, the day you tire, and fail to save a life, the lawyers, who have never saved a life, descend and…)

Life has its ups and downs just like the weather does. Lawyers are trying to figure out how to sue the weather, but I suspect the weather will always laugh at them.

I got home in time to stock the fires, though it was so warm we hardly needed stoves, and then headed off to see the Big Game at my Oldest Son’s house, (I gave up on paying for TV a couple years ago.) The good guys won, if you are from New England, though they have won to a degree where most of the rest of the nation despises them, preferring the “underdog”.

By Monday morning the surge of warmth was consolidating into a low to our north, which was sweeping colder air our way in its wake, first with a cold front bringing Pacific, Chinook air, but eventually with a second cold front bringing back the arctic.

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Despite the lack of Arctic air, it was still January, and temperatures dipped to 29.7° (-2.3° Celsius) last night, which meant all the slush had turned to stone, and all the rain-washed surfaces were slick ice. So I started today driving to the town garage in twilight and shoveling sand into the back of my truck and then driving to the Childcare and spreading it about the lots. Then I had to deal with getting bags of grain and hay for goats, and lastly with getting bags of coal and splitting wood and stacking it on the porch to get ready for the coming cold.  I ache. So I suppose I could call it a “down” If I so chose, however recently a number of friends have pointed out to me, pointedly, that I am darn lucky to be able to do this stuff at age sixty-one, so I guess I”ll call it an “up”.

As I worked I listened to the sports commentators on the truck radio, with the volume turned up loud so I could hear outside the truck. I had to shake my head. The same fellows who were going on and on about how unforgiving they should be, of the local team lost, were relishing the local team’s victory in a manner that can only be called “gloating.”

I have nothing against appreciating victory, however these fellows had shown their true colors in their pre-game nervousness, when they faced the prospect one always faces when playing a game: The prospect of losing. The prospect of “down”.

These fellows are of the crowd who states “we” won, when the local team wins, but rather than “we” states “they” lost, when the local team loses. What they fail to comprehend is that what makes a great team great is that they stick together. There is no “them” on a good team, among its members. You share the “downs” along with the “ups.”

If the spectacle of grown men running about chasing a silly ball has any meaning, it is because the efforts of the athletes can teach us things that have meaning in our own lives. To me, the meaning comes from the teamwork. It comes from the fact that, in any given play or situation, some are losing and some are winning in the individual battles with opponents. Some are “up” and some are “down”. The adjustment that then is made, the way the stronger help the weaker, the way the individual talents compliment each other, is what can turn a good team to a great team.  That is what I learned to watch for and to admire, back when the idea of the local “Patriots” team winning more than it lost was but a fond dream, and I continue to watch for the same thing today, now that the fond dream has come true.

To put it in another way, if I, as an American, really believe that “United We Stand, Divided We Fall,” then I do not associate myself with winners, calling them “we,”  as I disassociate myself with losers, calling them “they.” Instead I believe we are all in this together, and are all on the same team.

I have a brother-in-law who actually does more than believe this. In the summer he is very busy running two businesses, but in the winter both businesses, (a house-painting business and an ice-cream-stand,) go through times that give him a lot of free time. He therefore joined a group of men who rush to help fellow Americans, after bad weather, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, have clobbered such people with a “down”.

Tornadoes are the most blatant and obvious “downs”, because they can hit with very little warning, and don’t care a hoot if you may have been in the middle of an “up” only minutes before. Their power is something you might want to see on film, but never first hand. (While driving cross-country this fall I passed through a forest north of Little Rock, and every tree was without a branch. It was a forest of trunks.)

People who have experienced having a tornado make absolute mincemeat of all their hopes and dreams tend to be cynical about life having an “up” side. My brother-in-law confesses that one of the nice parts of his volunteering is that the people he helps are in a state of disbelief about his arrival; they are so “down” it is hard to believe anything as “up” as fellow Americans arriving to help can possibly happen. Occasionally he will drive to get donuts for his crew, and a crowd of local people will spot the logo on the side of his truck, and spontaneously start cheering, as if he is the winning team.

However my brother-in-law does experience a lot of the “down” side of weather. The same weather that arrives up here in New Hampshire as a pleasant January Thaw may have brewed tornadoes in Alabama. What is an “up” here may be a horrible “down” there, and I am proud my brother-in-law can rush down to show them we are on the same team.

One of the worst “downs” I heard about involved a tornado that was a sort of meteorological fluke, and the people were unable to get any warning from the weather bureau that it was coming. There was a thunderstorm, and a sudden roaring like a freight train, and people had between fifteen and thirty seconds to react, before their homes were reduced to kindling.

The saddest tale he told me involved a young mother in a mobile home, who had only seconds to react but who did what the authorities advise, which is to flee, babe in arms,  to the bathroom and crouch in the bathtub. Then her home was completely destroyed. The sheet-metal roof was torn to strips like paper, even as wind propelled straws with such velocity they penetrated the sheet metal. Two by fours were twisted to splinters that stabbed the woman’s face. Concrete cinder-blocks were lifted like leaves and then slammed down, smashing the bathtub and the woman’s legs. Worst of all, her baby was sucked from her arms, and vanished into the grinding, roaring darkness.

Talk about a “down.” When they found this woman midst the wreckage she didn’t seem to care about her crushed legs. It was all, “My Baby! Find my baby!”

They did eventually find the baby. It was a half mile away, propped between the forking trunks of two shattered trees. And it was cooing and babbling and, amazingly, completely unharmed.

Talk about an “up”!  And the interesting thing about this “up” is that it had nothing to to do with the efforts of mortal humans after a natural disaster. Rather this “up” was an impossible happening within the “down” of the disaster itself.

Memo to self: Do not rely too much on logic, for “up” is found in unlikely places.

However locally the cold is coming down, We nudged up to 34.3° today, (+1.3 Celsius), but it may be the last time we are above freezing for a good, long while.

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