LOCAL VIEW —Boiling Maple Sap—

Sugar Shack DSC00379-1024x768 (Picture of sugar shack from http://hurryhillfarm.org/?attachment_id=332 )

Today was the first day I noticed my energy was even remotely like it was before I got clobbered by walking pneumonia. Having around a tenth of my ordinary energy felt so wonderful I was a hundred times as happy. Does that make sense? No, but it is typical for humans.  And I’ve known it since I was a teeny bopper:

It felt mysterious to be on the rebound. There was a magic in the air, simply because I was able to appreciate things again. Not only that, but a lot that I had been disgruntled by no longer gruntled me.  For example, the long winter had worn me down, and it might have taken me two trips to carry ten logs into the fire, where I once could stagger in with all ten at once, and it irked me to be older and slower. Now it might take me ten trips, but I’m as happy as a clam whistling Dixie. Does that make sense? No, but I’m enjoying life a lot more.

The worst part of being ill was to have the interest fade from everything. I have always felt Creation is full of beauty, yet people are strangely blind to it, and walk right by what could make them perfectly happy, always in a hurry to crave some distant thing they may never reach, but illness made me unable to practice what I preach. The light faded from things, and then came back again.

For example, as I drove the gang-of-six to kindergarten each day I noticed a flock of turkeys by the side of the road on the way. In my depressed state they were just annoying birds, liable to fly out into my way, be struck by the van, traumatize the kids by getting splatted, and make me feel guilty for the rest of the day. I’d slow and swerve well away from the side of the road, but they made the morning just a hair harder, and who needs that? And the stupid birds never learned. The next day they were in the same place, making my life a little harder, just a headache and a nuisance.

Then today, what a difference! Suddenly I was noticing the iridescence on the feathers in the morning sun, a ruby-bronze hue shimmering atop the deep brown feathers. I was also wondering over the size of the flock. There were ten birds, and, as a mother turkey usually only has around 10-12 chicks, that is a great survival rate. Most winters foxes and coyotes pick them off, one by one, and by spring you will only see a flock of two or three. (Sometimes two mothers will combine their troops, and a flock can start out as large as 24, and still shrink down to two or three.)  However this winter, with the snow so deep and powdery, foxes and coyotes couldn’t creep lightly over solid crust, and their floundering couldn’t get close before the turkeys would explode into flight and escape.

Suddenly the turkeys were a window into the winter woods, rather than an annoying bird making my day harder.  I found myself wondering what the turkeys found to eat, and also pictured the gaunt fox, starving, looking at the fat birds roosting up on branches longingly, and then snuffling deep down into the powder snow, hungry for a single mouse.

I haven’t seen any foxes yet this spring. Usually when they get hungry my chickens vanish. Maybe the foxes didn’t make it to spring. However I did make it, and so did my chickens.

We adopted a new chicken at the start of the winter. People tend to move from places that do allow  chickens to places that don’t, or children who pleaded to have cute chicks decide they don’t like grown chickens, and someone has to take in the orphaned hen, so we do. I mighht have thought I was all done with chickens four years ago, (when a very clever vixen managed to bring up her cubs on my hens), but somehow I always wind up with more chickens. However this particular refugee was especially traumatized, the sole survivor of a coop fire. Besides a damaged foot, a side effect of post-traumatic stress was that it utterly ceased laying eggs.  It was basically a useless bird, and I’m not sure why I didn’t just eat it. It was a bizarre looking, exotic type, with no comb, and a ring of fluff around its neck that looked like it was designed by Dr. Seuss. It was bigger than the other hens, but was bullied by them, so I had to make an extra effort to make sure it got food and water. Last week I was thinking I shouldn’t bother with the blasted thing, and muttered it only survived because I was too busy shoveling snow to deal with it, though I sure could have used some chicken soup as I first came down with my cold a couple of weeks ago. (Once I went to bed my wife did make a chicken soup, which may have been what cured me.)

In any case, as I got around to collecting eggs for the first time in a while today I found a new nest, away from the others, holding eggs as blue as a robin’s eggs. I showed them to the children at the childcare, telling them you know it has been a cold winter when the hens start laying blue eggs, but they said the eggs were blue because Easter is coming.

They were not all that interested in eggs, as their focus has been on maple sugar. The older kids have told the younger ones how delicious sugar-in-snow is, so I am sort of stuck with doing it. Last week it was just one more thankless task to grumble about, but this mysterious Monday the wonder awoke.

One wonder is how the trees draw the sap up. There are no leaves evaporating water at the top, creating a partial vacuum to suck sap upwards. The maple, without a heart or any sort of pump, or obvious valves (such as our veins have), must lift hundreds of pounds of sap to topmost twigs over sixty feet up in the sky. I’ve read various theories speaking of stuff like “capillary action,” but I find it hard to imagine capillary action could draw a liquid up that high, even in the finest tube, without the sheer weight of the liquid above creating a downward flow. However maples don’t care; they just do it.

The little kids don’t care either. They seem a little skeptical when I talk about sap rising, but when I drill the hole and insert the tap, and they see the clear sap immediately start dripping out, their eyes get very round. The softhearted want to know if it hurts the maple, and I say it is only a little prick, like they might get picking blackberries, and the tree will quickly heal the scratch, and the sap will stop (which is actually a concern of commercial tappers, and is why they make sure their taps are boiled clean of any residue from the prior year, as such residue will hold chemical signals that may hurry-up the healing.)

I am not in it for the money, and use an old-fashioned bucket. The children immediately want to taste the sap, apparently expecting maple syrup to pour from the tree. I let them taste the sap, and they can detect the faint sugar content, (which my jaded taste-buds can’t notice anymore).

Then we boil the sap, which is the most expensive part of the operation, and takes the most time, and involves paying careful attention or you wind up with a pot holding burned, black carbon (which I have managed to do more often than I like to confess).  (I have other things to do. Some spring I hope to arrange things to a situation where I can just sit and watch sap boil, but I haven’t managed that yet.)

It is interesting to note that the Indians apparently did little boiling. Mostly they allowed the sap to freeze, and threw out the ice. It has been cold enough this spring to allow me to throw out a lot of ice, and it works. The liquid that remains has a far more concentrated level of sugar.

It is also interesting to note that there was a cultural divide, among Indians, as to whether maple sugar was desirable or not. Not far south of here sugar maples apparently grew scarce, as the Medieval Warm Period made it too warm for such trees to grow further south. The Abernaki made maple sugar, and included it in their trail mix, but further to the south the Massachusetts Tribe sneered at people who ate sugar, especially the English, and when the English tried to trade them cane-sugar the Massachusetts didn’t want any.

As the cold conditions of the Little Ice Age set in it was largely the Puritan settlers that transplanted sugar maples down to the southern coasts of New England. They grew along roads and in what amounted to orchards, and as late at the 1830’s Henry Thoreau expressed surprise when he spotted one in the Massachusetts woods. (It may have been a survivor from the cold period before the Medieval Warm Period).

Now that conditions are warmer sugar maples have a rough time further south, as their sap starts rising several times right in the middle of winter, which causes problems, and can cause trees to sicken and die. You may hear this is a result of “Global Warming”, but actually it is due to the end of the Little Ice Age. Sugar maples require a cold winter. They grow all the way down to Georgia, but up in mountains that stay without thaws through January.

Believe it or not, I do babble about such things with little children, because they are full of questions and wonder, when I do something like throw away the ice on the top of the bucket. I suppose some of it goes in one ear and out the other, but I also know they experience tapping maples, boiling sap, and winding up with ambrosia.

The boiling is the most expencive part of the operation, and as farmers around here were generally poor they used to use wood from their own farms. Now the operations have become amazingly high-tech, with wonderful inventiveness involved. A few weekends, (including last weekend, and perhaps next weekend), are called “Maple Weekends” and farmers welcome people onto their farms to see their sugar shacks, (as they can sell a lot of maple syrup, maple sugar, maple-walnut ice-cream, and even maple furniture, to visitors).

I like to visit them to see their innovations. The plumbing gets more and more complex, and some farms have piping that run from the trees all the way to the boiling vat. The sap is heated on its way in, and the smoke and steam leaving the operation is only lukewarm. Efficiency is everything, and sone farmers are now using some sort of reverse osmosis I don’t even pretend to understand, before they start to boil the sap.

I study this stuff because, when my novel starts to make money, I want to build a toy sugar shack on this toy farm, to entertain the children with.  However for now I am embarassingly primative, compared to other farmers. I boil sap in a kitchen pit, on a fire, and my wife has to keep an eye on me to keep me from using her better pots.

I used to just boil the sap on a campfire. The syrup tended to have a smokey flavor, which was barely detectable when I used maple wood, and interesting when I used pine.

I’ve grown lazier with age, and now use the propane burner for an external turkey fryer. (You were likely wondering how I’d work the subject back to turkeys.)

I don’t bother much with syrup, anymore. The best stuff is the candy. You have to keep your attention on the amber liquid boiling in the pot. If you are smart you use a candy thermometer, and wait until the boiling syrup gets to around 235 degrees. (I’m not smart, and judge by how drops look when dropped into cold water.) Then you take it from the heat, and let it cool. When smart people see the temperatures down to around 175 (and I can touch the pan for a second but not two seconds) you start to stir the stuff. In essence you whisk it without a whisk. It goes from amber and clear to milky, as crystals form. Once it starts to look dry, rather than liquid, You spread it out onto a sheet of wax paper, about a half inch thick. (Or put it into molds the shape of maple leaves, if you must.) Cut it into squares, like fudge, before it is cool, because kids will want it before it is cool.

The amazing thing about this candy is how much better it tastes than stuff you get in stores. Not that the stuff from stores isn’t delicious, but like anything else maple sugar loses a little flavor, as time passes. (If you have some maple syrup that has been sitting in the back of your refrigerator since last year, and you compare it with maple syrup from this year, you will see what I mean.)

I ask you, which would you rather eat?  Broccoli you picked from your own garden just before dinner, or broccoli grown in California, picked a week ago, and refrigerated, and shipped at top speed to your table.  The answer is easy. Fresh picked stuff is so much better that even in the inner city you will see planters growing broccoli on rooftops.

It is very difficult to grow maple trees on planters on rooftops. However, in the exact same way, fresh maple candy is far better than stale stuff.  If possible, one should journey to the farms where they are making it.

To be honest, fresh maple candy is so delicious I find it difficult to share any of it with the children at my Childcare. This is especially true because once they taste it they want seconds and thirds and fourths, and don’t care if I get any at all. It is only because I am spiritual I allow them even a crumb. Then they unionize and mug me and don’t leave me even a crumb.

It is for this reason I make certain to set aside a little for myself (and my wife) before we even start.

ARCTIC SEA ICE —A second maximum—

This is a little interesting, mainly because it kerpows a custard pie into the face of the overly-serious reporters who where making drama of a “low maximum”. a few weeks back.

I quiet honestly have a hard time even noticing the dire reports of shrinking sea-ice any more, because the media seems impervious to facts. I used to get all excited, and worked very hard to alert them to the data they seemed unaware of. I have since decided they could care less. They are paid to report a certain view, and their job is to seek molehills, and make mountains out of them.

I was made aware of the reports of the “unprecedented” minimum by certain people tugging on my sleeve, and yawned at the hubbub. Mostly to calm down the people tugging at my sleeve, I did post about how the “extent” measured by the “maximum” doesn’t include areas such as the Great Lakes and Chesepeke and Delaware Bays, and how when a pattern is not “Zonal” but is “Meridianal”, it is waters far from the arctic that freeze over, even as the arctic is invaded by relatively “mild” sub-zero air, and freezes less.

The fact of the matter is that the cruelest winters in sub-polar areas often involve milder-than-normal temperatures at the Pole. (By “milder” I mean they can get up as high as -15° Celsius, rather than dipping below -40°.) However winter covers a huge area of the northern hemisphere, at its peak, and the coldest temperatures are almost never on the Pole, which is “warmed” by an Arctic Sea with salt water at roughly -1.8° Celsius under the ice. The coldest temperatures are over the Tundra of Siberia, and sometimes Alaska and Canada, where temperatures can drop below -60° Celsius. There were even a few occasions last February when it was colder on my back porch, in southern New Hampshire, than it was on the North Pole, as Boston experienced its snowiest and second-coldest February since records began being kept, just after the Cival War, (1868).

In order to measure the true extent of a winter you would need to measure the totality, and allow your eyes to roam across the entirety of the northern hemisphere. Yes, Boston was very cold, but the Rocky Mountains were milder than normal. Yes, Spain was colder, but what about the Ukraine? What you usually discover, when you look at the big picture, is that everything averages out. The difference between one winter and another is measured in tenths of a degree, which is an amount so small you cannot really see it on your back-porch thermometer, and you only notice it when it is the difference between frost or no frost on your tomatoes.

The one thing you would not want to do is look at a small area, and use it to make grand pronouncements about the entire planet. Or you wouldn’t want to do it unless you were an irresponsible journalist who wanted to sell newspapers with tabloid sensationalism.  In that case you would look for a molehill to make a mountain out of.  For example, look at the temperatures north of 80 degrees latitude, last winter. (The red line is the actual temperatures, and the green line is “normal.”)

DMI2 0328B meanT_2015

Such a graph could provide a fine springboard for a story about how the Pole is warmer, and there is less ice, and how we should all run around freaking out like panicking chickens. However if you have any experience in such matters such a graph suggest two things.

First, it suggests that the cold air didn’t stay up at the Pole, (where it stays when the pattern is “Zonal”), but rather it was exported south to some sub-polar area, where people got a winter to tell their grandchildren about. This year it was Boston and the Northeast of North America, another year it might be Europe, another year it might be China.

Second, it suggests it was more windy at the Pole than it is during a “Zonal” pattern.  The sea-ice will be stressed and crunched, split apart into leads and slammed together into pressure ridges, and howling winds may shove ice off shore and form areas of open water along the shores, even when the winds are -50°. (Called. “polynyas”, these areas of open water are notorious for appearing along the coast of the Laptev Sea and at the top of Baffin Bay even when the dark is deepest and temperatures are lowest.)

Therefore, if you are serious about reporting what is occurring at the Pole, you would be aware it is not a matter of merely figuring out how to support a preconceived view, that your boss is paying you to support. Rather than waiting like a hawk over a rabbit warren, awaiting some crumb of evidence you can use to promote the idea the arctic is in a “Death Spiral”, (which promotes the idea society should adopt a war footing, where individual liberties are suspended),  you would study the situation and report what is actually going on, (and in some cases be promptly fired).

What is actually going on at this time of year is that Arctic Sea is pretty much frozen solid. The ice that goes into making the maximum “more” one year and “less” the next is outside the Arctic Sea. For example ice forms in the northern Yellow Sea (between China and North Korea) and the Sea of Okhotsk off eastern Russia, south of the Bering Strait, in the Baltic Sea, off the east coasts of Labrador and Greenland, and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.  This ice is outside the arctic, and with the exception of scattered bergs coming down the east coast of Greenland and off Labrador, it is fleeting in nature and will be gone by June.

Therefore, why make a big deal about it?

The first reason given is that the number represents a totality. However it doesn’t.  To represent the totality you would have to include all ice, and that would include ice on the east coast of North America, in the Gulf of Maine, Massachusetts Bay, Long Island Sound, Delaware Bay and Chesapeake Bay.  Late this February that was a large amount of ice.

East Coast Sea Ice b-umfxaciaa2qmm

In order for water to count as ice-covered in the “extent graph”, it only needs to be 15% ice-covered, which means that water can be 85% open, with only stray icebergs dotting the surface,  As the ice broke away from the coasts and blew across Massachusetts Bay, for a few days a large area qualified for “extent” coverage, in early March.

Cape Cod iceberg2

If this ice “doesn’t count”, it is hard to get all that excited about ice that “does count” being at a lower level off the Pacific coast of Russia. The coldest winds blew down into eastern North American, from Siberia right across the Pole, rather than blowing from Siberia into the Pacific.  What else would you expect to happen?

A second reason for making a big deal about non-arctic sea-ice is that it reflects the spring sunshine. This is part of the “albedo” equation that believers in the “Death Spiral” like to rant about. If there is less ice the water will absorb more sunshine, become warmer, melt more ice, until there is no ice at all, or so they say. However if this equation is to be accurate they should include all the ice, but don’t. I won’t even touch the subject of the southern hemisphere. Even in the northern hemisphere they don’t include all the sea-ice.

I suppose they don’t include the Great Lakes because the water is fresh, and not officially sea-ice, but the water is so fresh in the northern reaches of the Baltic Sea that fresh-water fish can swim in it, and it counts. The northern Yellow Sea is also fairly fresh, especially at the mouth of the Yellow River after Typhoons, and they have no qualms about counting its ice.

It seems likely to me that, to get a true measure of “albedo”, they should even include land covered with white snow, but for various reasons they only include certain areas of salt water. It is by no means an entirety, but it did provide a springboard for sensational headlines a few weeks back, because the graph seemed to hit its peak a slightly lower level, slightly earlier than usual.

Now they have become very quiet, due to the fact the graph decided not to continue down from its early peak, but rather to move back up to a second peak.

DMI2 0328B icecover_current_new

This mostly involves the drift of bergs at the very perifery of the sea-ice, and doesn’t matter a hill of beans, but it is delightful because the media stated it did matter a hill of beans, and in fact several hills. Having stated this inconsequential thing matters, you can understand why they have become quiet. They don’t want to draw attention to the egg on their faces. (Or is it custard pie?)

What has happened is that north winds have blown through Bering strait, and is transporting ice south. This ice is thin and won’t last, but has a spendid effect on the “extent-graph”. Also Europe is getting a bast of cold from the north, and ice is getting blown down into Barents Sea, which is more interesting and may be more significant, because it may last longer and mess up the summer “extent-graph” with increases that are very unwelcome, if you want to promote a “Death Spiral.”

This involves the fact the AMO is hinting at moving to its “cold” phase five years early.  Perhaps the “Quiet Sun” is giving it a nudge, or perhaps this is merely a “spike” like last year’s, a sort of warning rumble before the actual shift, (which was predicted by Dr. Bill Gray something like 30-40 years ago, as part of a 60-year-cycle).

I’m not sure this is the real deal. Joseph D’Aleo had a couple of wonderful maps on his great site at Weatherbelle, (which was a great solace when I was down with pneumonia last week), and they compared the established, theoretical cold AMO with the situation that currently exists. Here is a “established AMO”:

AMO Theoretical Screen_shot_2015_03_20_at_5_50_15_AM

And here is the current situation: (Sorry the scales are different.)

AMO Actual globe_cdas1_anom__3_(4)

You can see a sort of backwards letter “C” in the Atlantic, of colder-than-normal waters on both maps, (which is the signature of a “cold” AMO) but if you look northeast of Iceland you see the current map still has some warmer-than-normal water hanging in there. That is a hang-over of the “warm” AMO. Colder water is in the pipeline, being shunted northeast by the Gulf Stream at less than a mile per hour, however that warmer water northeast of Iceland makes me unsure whether we’ll see the dramatic increase in sea-ice in Barents Sea that I’ve noticed occurs when the AMO shifts to cold.

I wish I could document my evidence, but for some reason its hard to find the old Danish pre-satellite maps of the edge of the ice, that went back all the way to the 1890’s. Also I’m unsure of the AMO graphs I used; apparently there are different ways of measuring the AMO. However what I noticed was that, even when the AMO only spiked briefly into its “cold” phase, ice came drifting down into parts of Barents Sea where it was hardly ever seen when the AMO was “warm”.

So you can bet I’m keeping my eyes peeled for signs of that, this summer.

This situation, (maps from a week ago) is perfect for pushing ice south into Barents Sea. (Click maps to enlarge.)

DMI2 0321 mslp_latest.big DMI2 0321 temp_latest.big

It also is a setup that slows the export of ice through Fram Strait and down the east coast of Greenland.

The flow from Siberia to Canada has shoved sea-ice all winter from the shores of the Laptev Sea across towards Canada. While this is similar to last year, I think the ice looks a little thicker on the Siberian side, especially between the Laptev and Kara Seas.

Ice thickness March 29 arcticictnowcast

Despite the thickness of the ice on the Canadian side, I expect the current warm-spike of the PDO to take quite a bite out of the ice north if Bering Strait this August and early September, however the Atlantic side intrigues me. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if a little of the ice in Hudson Bay survived the entire summer, which is rare but not unheard of.

However the main point of this post is to chuckle about the second maximum for the sea-ice extent.

The Danes also have a graph for sea-ice of 30% or greater extent.

DMI2 0328B icecover_current

This graph in a sense excludes the inconsequential ice at the periphery, and focuses on ice that has more body and matters more. Rather than the graph seeming to demonstrate record-setting levels of lowness, it looks like we are pretty much middle-of-the-road, for recent years.

So, if you meet anyone running around like a panicking chicken, you can pat their hand and tell them they can calm down.









LOCAL VIEW —Pneumonia; a writer’s ruin—


I doubt anyone wants much to hear about my ten days with walking pneumonia, however therein lies the challenge:  A good writer can make anything interesting.

One interesting thing about pneumonia is that it makes interesting things dull.  Oxygen is darned important stuff. Little tanks of oxygen should be attached to the back of math books, with nozzles that spray into students’s faces. I, for one, might have found the classes more interesting. Many have told me that Math is actually an interesting subject, and all I can reply is that they obviously were getting more oxygen than I was.

The past ten days have been like a prolonged Math class. I kept waiting for the bell to ring, so I could rush out and escape the room and see life begin again. In fact I tried to keep myself going at the start, as often it seems to do more harm to give in to a cold, than to dress very warmly, eat very well, drink only one drink, sweat a lot, and sleep more than usual. Healthy work usually cures a cold, but not this time.

I felt very uneasy when I noticed lots of other old geezers my age were going down like dominoes,  and spending time in bed. Usually our immune systems have been exposed to so many bugs over the decades we can man the ship as the youth go down, but not this time. I’d bound from bed in the morning thinking, “I must be better by now,” but found I was weak as a kitten and slow as molasses and had a headache and feverish feeling starting in the middle of the morning, and by afternoon my temperature would be above a hundred. My IQ was well below that.

Finally I broke down and spent some time in bed. Antibiotics were not clearing my lungs, and proved my local doctor was quite correct when he told me the chest-cold afflicting the town was likely viral and not bacterial. I take viral pneumonia seriously, ever since it swiftly did in the creator of the Muppet’s.  (They’ve never been as good, ever since.)

It is very annoying to be stuck in bed when your IQ is greatly reduced and absolutely everything seems uninteresting. My main occupation was hacking up phlegm, and when I felt particularly congested I’d dress up like it was minus-forty when it actually was thawing, and go out to split some wood for the fire, as exercise seems to clear roughly a pound of phlegm from my system. Then I’d have a deep drink of water and crawl shuddering back to bed.

My dull mind got to thinking, as my fever spiked, about the expression “British Phlegm.”  I’d always thought it was a rather cool trait, (for example, when they arrive home and see ten firetrucks and the entire block ablaze and their home burning from cellar to attic, they calmly say something such as, “I must remember not to make the fire insurance payment for the next quarter, next week.”) Now it seemed a sort of insulting expression, equating the English with mucus.

Ordinarily I’d hop on that idea like a chicken on a worm, but a speedy response was too much like work, so I took a nap before I looked up the word “phlegmatic.”  I was informed it meant, “Having or suggesting a calm, sluggish temperament; unemotional or apathetic.” 

That described me to the T,  and, after another nap and a couple aspirin,  I discovered “phlegm” was one of the four “humors” that, according to ancient medicine, governed human health, vitality, intelligence and personality.

That also made sense, because when you can’t breathe and aren’t getting enough oxygen you do develop a sort of calm. There had been several occasions for sarcasm that I completely missed, after I got congested.  It wasn’t that I didn’t know sarcasm was suited for the situation; I simply couldn’t think of any.

However when I traced the roots of the word back to the roots in ancient Greek I became very tired. The root was from, phlegein, “to burn.” How could a bright fire come to mean a dullness? The aspirin was wearing off and I felt sweaty and very tired, so I took another nap. 

When I awoke I bounded from bed, certain I was better, but after around five false starts I crawled back into bed to reconsider the subject of phlegm.

It turns out the word “Phlegm” has even more ancient roots in the “Common Tongue” of ancient Europe, Indo-European.  The ancient word was “Bhel” and it basically meant extremely bright and white. It gave birth to some words that seem logical, such as “blaze”, “blanch”, “blush”, “beluga” and “blitzkrieg”.  However the word “blind” takes some thinking, as it seems the opposite of white, though of course white light can be blinding. Things get downright difficult to comprehend when you consider the fact :”Bhel” was also the root of words like “bleak” and “black.”

It was too much for my diminished IQ, so I took another nap. Awakening after midnight drenched in sweat, I decided a fever was good for dull wits, as you get some strange thinking sprinkled in. It made perfect sense to me that a bright blaze could make black charcoal, so the words blaze and black could be related. After an aspirin it stopped making so much sense, and I could only guess that some ancient suffix was involved, in the way we can use a suffix to turn “sun” into “sunless.”

I was wide awake in the dead of night, as I had slept so much during the day, so I thought I might compose a blog entry. I couldn’t even think of a first sentence. Weather maps made no sense. Instead I just wandered, and eventually got back to the subject of phlegm.

I’d wandered back to ancient India, which oddly has some words that are the same in Ireland. Perhaps there was some sort of pre-Tower-of-Babel civilization, some golden age more civil than we can imagine, that allowed a common tongue to be shared. But I’ll leave that for people with higher IQs and lower temperatures.

Back in the time of the Sanskrit scholars they may not have known of oxygen or oxygen tanks, but they did know air was necessary for fire, and for life. Air was “Vayu” and life was “Prana”, and they were so deeply interconnected it was impossible to separate them.

This made perfect sense to me in the dead of night. When you have pneumonia it is very obvious air is connected to life. I don’t need to sit cross-legged, and to learn how to breathe out of alternate nostrils, to know that.  I’ve seen it, been humbled by it, and am sick of it.

However I came across one ancient tale that tickled me. It involved a situation where all the various Hindu gods (with a small “G”) wondered who was most important to humans. So, each in turn, withdrew from humanity, (or one particular Job-like human,) to see how he’d fare.

[Don’t get me wrong. I believe there is only one God (with a capital “G”) and it irks me when Christians get too compartmentalized with Father-Son-Spirit, or distracted by Saints and the Virgin Mary. However it also irks me when psuedo-scientists miss all the wonder of clouds and sky and wind, thinking they can reduce it to jostling molecules of Nitrogen and Oxygen and H2O and some trace gases. Only when such scientists get old does their wonder return, and do they confess that even after a lifetime of study of something such as the AMO, they have barely scratched the surface. They are on the verge, in their wonder, of giving the AMO the status of a god (with a small “g”) for the AMO is beyond human understanding and control. Yet these same scientists, when they were young, called the ancients “quaint” when they called a breeze a sort of little angel or small god, called a “zephyr”.]

However the Sanskrit scholars of ancient times take the cake, when it comes to giving various powers of nature god-status, and picturing them as beings with wills of their own. (Where we speak of our “mind”, they have a god with a bull elephant head, prone to occasional fits rut-madness.)

In any case, all these gods began withdrawing their influence from man, and man suffered but survived, until it was the turn of the god of air.  He only started to stand up, and not only did man reel, but so did all the other gods. All the other gods then conceded that (not including God with a capital “G”), the god of air was most important.

Without Vayu there is no Prana. Pneumonia makes this disgustingly apparent. All your study, all your learning, all your projects, are put on hold.  At first you say, “when I get better” work will resume. Then, when five days sees you not better but worse, you start to say “if I get better.”

That word “when” takes too much for granted, and when it is replaced by “if” a writer is reduced to the proper point of humbleness. After all, it is an amazingly arrogant profession, (if you ever bother to think about it), and can use some cutting down to size.  It is important to remember you can’t even begin, without the mercy of a healing Creator.

Which leads me to a final mystery. Considering breathing and air is so important to the production of clearly articulated thoughts, while are so many young writers chain smokers?

I curse what that habit did to my lungs, but glad to say I feel better today, and able to make even pneumonia interesting.



LOCAL VIEW —A Spring Unseen—

It is somewhat amazing to me to think back two springs, to March 2013, and to realize the soil had not merely thawed, but dried enough to allow me to plant peas at this time. Now I look out across a garden that could well be a landscape at the Pole, except for the few objects that poke up.

2013 was an unusually early spring, and (as I recall) it later got colder, and I couldn’t be in such a hurry to plant the more tender crops, such as tomatoes or squash. However peas are tough, and several times I’ve planted them even as snow swirled. (One of these years I’m going to try out planting them in the fall, to see if they notice the difference.) Planting peas tends to result in red, chapped and raw hands, but there is a joy in being able to get the planting started. There is also a wonderful moderation of ambition, the next morning, when muscles ache. Some of the more grandiose plans for giant gardens become more modest, once muscles are allowed to voice their views.

This spring there has been little of that moderation, so far, and my middle son, eldest daughter and wife are coming up with some gardening ideas that make my head spin a little. I blame the snow, which still stretches over the garden like a blank sheet of paper.

A blank sheet of paper holds the promise of great things; poetry to rival Shakespeare. It’s when you start to write, and the paper isn’t pure white any more,  that you see less great things.

Of course, I’m just an old geezer who has less ambition than I had when younger, especially as I’m struggling to get over a nasty cold that sunk down into my lungs and had me wondering if this might be the spring I won’t see. It is likely best if I keep my mouth shut about a lot of the ambitions others have, because there is nothing worse than a wet blanket who smothers others fire.

Anyway, when I look back over my life a lot of the fun was due to attempting things that failed. Afterwards not everyone points at you and laughs, “Loser! HAHAHAHA!” There are a few who quietly tell you. “At least you had the guts to try.”

The snow is shrinking, as we’ve been in a sort of drought this March. Usually a late spring is due to late snows, and a final pool of arctic air that swings down over New England. I recall one year we had a January so mild people were saying it proved Global Warming was occurring, and then the first week in April was colder than any week in January that year. However this spring we haven’t had a late storm (so far) and in fact the snow has been steadily shrinking under the power of the March sun. We’ve had amazingly cold blasts of arctic air, but the sun keeps shrinking the snow even when it is below freezing. However the snow was so deep to begin with that even though three feet are gone, we still have a foot.

It is a solid foot, too. When the snow was four feet deep is was all fluffy powder, and even snowshoes sank nearly a foot. Snowmobiles tended to bog down if the driver ever slowed. However now the snow is crunchy stuff I can walk across without sinking.

The first day we could walk on the snow the kids at the Childcare were euphoric. For over a month they had been limited, but now they could suddenly run free. My dog had a similar attitude, dashing about in obvious delight, freed from weeks of plunging and wallowing through the deep, white powder.

I have the urge to go on a long hike in the woods, crunching over the snow.  I’m going to keep my eyes open for signs of how the animals fared. I’m fairly certain the coyote didn’t fare well. They’d have to go around a month without food, at sub-zero temperatures. There’s no way they could hunt in snow so deep. The foxes also likely suffered. The deer basically live off their body fat, and twigs, and from what I hear they are gaunt but alive. Coyote and foxes can’t live on twigs, however. Perhaps they are the ones who won’t see the spring.

It was down around 10° (-12.2° Celsius) both yesterday morning and this morning, but now a milder spell is due, before the next arctic blast comes down over the weekend.

Even if it only lasts a day, mildness feels like pure ambrosia, this year.

I asked the little children if they’d like a storm with sticky snow, so they could make snowmen, if the snow would all melt away in a day, and they all agreed it was a bad idea, and that they were sick to death of snow. It is time to barbecue.

Barbacue snowman screenhunter_8054-mar-21-13-39

20150324 satsfc 20150324 rad_nat_640x480


CORRECTION:  The spring I was recalling was actually March, 2012.







If you happen to have $10,000.00 to $15,000.00 laying about, you might still be able to book a tour up to the North Pole.  The Russians discovered there was good money in catering to tourists, and therefore have added tourism to what was originally a military exercise.

The Russian military was never sure whether or not war-time circumstances might demand they build a quick air base on the arctic ice. Also, if a passenger jet ever went down up there they might have to create a quick base to be the center of rescue operations. Therefore they originally practiced setting up a base for reasons that had nothing to do with tourism, and many of the operations were top secret.  They did include scientists, because understanding arctic sea-ice better might allow them to build airbases that lasted longer, before breaking up during the summer melt.

Of course, operating such bases is expensive. The idea that such bases could make tens of thousands of dollars, by including tourists, must have appealed to someone. Building the extra barracks could be justified by suggesting that, in a wartime situation, extra barracks might need to be built for extra troops.

So every year now, around sunrise at the North Pole, cargo helicopters arrive to unload bulldozers,

Barneo Cargo copter unnamed


which build an airstrip on the flat “baby ice”,

Barneo bulldozer unnamed

So that the AN-74 jets can land,

Barneo AN-74 jet unnamed

bringing scientists, supplies, and tourists.

Barneo Tourists unnamed

Usually the Barneo base has drifted away from the Pole, so the tourists are helicoptered to the pole, or a certain distance from the Pole so they can ski the final kilometer, two kilometers, or the “final degree”. Last year a storm hit, and a fair number needed assistance, as they had to hunker down in tents, and during the time they were in tents they drifted quite a ways away from the Pole. Also a few needed emergency airlifts due to frostbite. (These pictures are from http://www.explorersweb.com/news.php?url=ice-camp-barneo-victor-boyarskys-seasons_136922877 and I think that site borrowed them from the Russians.)

Some people fly to the Pole to get married.

Barneo marriage 20348

(From http://7summits-club.com/newssections/all_1/newssection_23_1/item_3107/ )

But you need to be wary of the scientists, who can get a bit batty.

Barneo bather unnamed

Even a nine-year-old boy can travel to the Pole.


Barneo Oliver article-1268887-094FAF43000005DC-644_634x566

In case you are wondering how they can run such a thriving tourism enterprise, which seems to be getting larger every year, when the North Pole is supposedly melting away, you will be reassured to know there is some danger involved. Although the airstrip is located on flat “baby ice” which is four to six feet thick, the actual barracks are located on thicker ice, as scientists have had “leads” form right through the middle of their bases, when they were not careful to locate on thicker ice. (There are pictures of an American base facing such a problem north of Alaska, in 1975.)

The only example I can find of a lead forming in the Barneo airstrip occurred in 2011.

Barneo Lead 20110407runwayxbarneo

If this is the actual lead (and not a file photo they stuck in), it definitely was not caused by a landing plane, as the article suggests.  It is likely miles long and caused by huge stresses, especially as it splits a pressure ridge in the distance. It likely was caused by a big storm over on Canadian side (which closed down a skiing adventure in that direction) which pulled at the ice with gale force winds. Such storms can stress the ice and create leads miles wide, even in the deep darkness of winter when temperatures are down near minus forty.


Another interesting news item I noticed a few years back said the Russians were “forced to abandon” their base. It made it sound like this was an unusual event, due to unusual melting. In fact the Russians are in a hurry to start getting their equipment off the ice by Mayday, as things can get very slushy up there as the Month of May passes. Also the ice tends to drift down through Fram Strait and disintegrate.

During the Cold War the USA and Russia did occupy bases right through the summer, but these were located on “ice islands”, which had shelved off Greenland or Canada’s north coast glaciers, and were far more solid than normal sea-ice. (I have read that the ice island “T-2” was large enough to land airplanes on, and its surface was 50 feet above the rest of the other sea ice. “T-3”, also called “Fletcher’s Island”, only stood ten feet above the sea ice but lasted for years.)

Here is a bit of military paperwork involving the resuply costs of flights to T-3 in 1970, which suggests saving money does matter even in the Military,


However they apparently never thought of flying tourists up into the arctic ice in 1970, to get cold in the Cold War.

The season for tourism on the Pole is short, basically the first three weeks of April. If you haven’t booked your trip yet it is likely too late, as “Quark” and “PolarExplorers” and “Icetrek” seem booked up. Likely it’s best to plan for next year now, however I did spot one site (which I can’t relocate) that had two spaces left.

The rest of us, who don’t have that kind of time and money, will have to sit back and scrutinize the pictures and video the lucky ones send back.


This is a continuation of a story that began at: https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/01/09/teaser-to-a-novel/

Part 2 can be found at:   https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/01/13/novels-teaser-part-2/

Part 3 can be found at:  https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/02/25/novels-teaser-part-3/

Part 4 can be found at:  https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/02/27/novels-teaser-part-4/

Part 5 can be found at:   https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/03/02/novels-teaser-part-5/

Part 6 can be found at  https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/novels-teaser-part-6/

Part 7 can be found at: https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/03/07/novels-teaser-part-7/

Part 8 can be found at https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/03/11/novels-teaser-part-8/


The American “Nig” has returned after a year abroad at a strict school in Scotland, and is writing the South African “Kaff”, using a shorthand the two teenagers devised which allows them to write with the speed of their frenetic thoughts.

Nig has been dismayed by changes that have occurred in the USA while he was away, and at this point is telling Kaff he has decided to make a lot of money selling lyrics for hit songs, and to buy a plot of land he calls “The Party Woods.” He plans to form a commune of his boyhood friends, but needs to convince his friends the scheme is possible.

Nig his faced with the fact his friends disagree about politics and the gang has fragmented. He has just talked with two ardent communists, “Ham and Franks”, out in the “Party Woods” (where he plans to locate his commune), and now is faced with the arrival of his boyhood buddy “Durf”, who intensely dislikes communists, and who practices a sort of epicureanism, or perhaps anarchy.

What Nig is attempting to do is to figure out how to “get the gang together”.


I’m back. Where was I? O yeah: Ham and Durf are going at it, at the Party Wood’s Campfire.

Durf’s never been a fan of communists. I think it is cos one of his grandfathers was the police chief of a big city out west, and big-city-police-chiefs know a heck of a lot about criminals and corruption and politics, and the old man said communists were a whole lot worse even than Prohibition gangsters, cos they did stuff that made gangsters look soft-hearted.

Durf’s grandfather told Durf that only a gangster hit-man could come close to matching a communist, when it came to killing people you didn’t know and weren’t even angry with. He told Durf communists were worse, cos hit men would usually only kill men, while communists didn’t care a hoot about women and kids or even their own mothers. He said their eyes were empty, and that dealing with them gave him the creeps, but he’d had to deal with them a lot due to fracases at union halls, and the old man had tales to tell of plots and espionage and letters from Moscow. Hearing all this stuff made Durf be dead set against communists to begin with, the same way I was, (cos I eavesdropped back when I was a little kid, and heard our Hungarian refugee cleaning lady tell my parents what Stalinists did to her husband). I reckon that if you hear stuff like that when you’re small then you are harder to convert.

Not that Durf didn’t let himself dragged off to some communist meetings with Ham and Franks, but Durf saw through the sweet talk to the murder pretty fast, and anyway, he was only going cos Ham said the girls at the meetings were easy, but Durf found out they were ugly as well. Even before I’d left for Scotland Ham had pretty much given up trying to convert Durf, and Durf had pretty much given up on Ham being anything but a bummer. Not that they didn’t still like to argue, but you just knew it was a yammering that would never end.

It’s funny; I hated their arguing before I left, but now that I’m back I feel happy as a clam to hear it. I just lit a cigarette and stretched out my legs and locked my hands behind my neck and looked up at the sun on the leafy ceiling, and felt gladder than glad. It was like I’d been away a hundred years, or else I died and came back to life. It sounds corny, but there was a chuckle in me pretty close to sobbing.

Some things never change. Either that, or they are so slow to change you hardly notice the change, like a mountain being worn away. You can count on them always being there. And I could count on Durf and Ham hammering away at each other the same way I could count on that landscape having College Hill to the east. Maybe I used to want that mountain moved, so I could see the sunrise better, but now I was glad it just was sitting where it always sat.

Now they were going at it about schools and teachers, and which ones you could trust and which you couldn’t. Ham was stressing how wicked important reeducation was, and Durf was countering with stories about what hypocrites the commie teachers were. Ham was saying that if commies were hypocrites then they were actually counter-revolutionary and needed to be purged and reeducated, and Durf was saying all teachers were bound to go bad, cos all teachers were losers to begin with, but once they could lord it up over students, they got too tempted. To have power was such a step up from being a loser that teachers couldn’t help but go all power-mad.

I was hardly listening to their points, cos I was feeling pretty high. The soil is poor at that campsite, all ledge and sand, and the oaks grow sort of leggy there: Those oaks are so busy trying to get taller than each other they can’t send out side branches, and they’ve grown into a sort of cathedral of very tall and slender trunks, right up to a canopy that is flat and thin, but not so sparse that you see more than a dot of blue sky here and there. There’s not much undergrowth except clumps of moose maple, and the trunks are widely spaced, so the place is glade-like. The leaves up high were all sunlit, a beautiful golden green that stirred with a light summer breeze. I felt both above it all and also down under a golden-green sea, and felt like I was hearing stuff the fellows didn’t know they were saying. The light was shining down on me, and I had extra senses.

As Durf gave examples of teacher’s hypocrisy I listened real hard, cos Durf was actually telling me something about what he went through last winter that he doesn’t talk about, to my face.

I had to fill in some blanks, cos Durf wasn’t delving into how he’d been hurt; going through what he went through. However I know him so well that I know some of the stuff would have made him rage and weep. But Durf was talking as if it was all factual stuff and he never lost sleep.

As best I could tell, Durf pretty much dropped out from college on Day One in September, when it came to going to the classes he was suppose to go to, and getting the college-credits he was suppose to gather. Instead Durf did what he always does, if he can get away with it, which is to head straight to what fascinates him. At college that was publishing a newspaper, especially a paper that had lots of art and poetry in it. Lucky for Durf it turned out he could get a lot of substitute-credits for the English classes he was skipping, by working his balls off putting together a newspaper, which some teacher was planning to start, with money some rich former-student had donated.

Not only could Durf get credit for the classes he was skipping, but there seemed a fairly good chance he could also get a scholarship, cos the former student hadn’t just donated money for the paper; also there was money for the two students who did the best job, working on the paper. The problem was that there were two other kids working really hard, besides Durf. But they had a friendly rivalry going, and were always joshing each other about which one of them was going to be the loser, and not get the scholarship.

To cut a long story short, Durf and two other guys worked pretty much non-stop, as autumn past. The teacher who was suppose to be in charge only showed up at the start, to flirt with the girls; when it came to putting together a newspaper that teacher didn’t have a clue and just threw up his hands and stopped showing up, but Durf learned all sorts of stuff all on his own. He was so busy he didn’t even notice the days getting shorter and darker. He learned how to sell ads, and how to take pictures and mask photos and get them on the pages, and how set type, and how to pick and chose between submitted stuff, and how to handle kids who were all bummed-out about having poems rejected, and all sorts of other interesting stuff. Durf was having a blast, and was wicked happy when the paper finally came together and he could see it in print and hold it in his hands, even before he found out people actually liked it, and even before it won a couple of little awards.

It was when the paper won awards that the teacher bothered to show up again: To collect the little awards. He strutted about and hardly mentioned the three guys who did all the work, and then, when it came time to hand out the scholarships, he didn’t have to decide which two of the three hard-working guys would get the money, cos he gave one scholarship to some son of a rich alumnus who never even worked at the paper at all, and gave the other scholarship to a girl with big boobs who he slept with, who did hang around the paper sometimes, but only filed her nails and blabbed in a nasal Boston-accent and never worked. This made the three hard-working guys so mad they ratted on the teacher, and that made the teacher so mad he flunked all three, which meant they got none of the substitute-credits they thought they’d get, and basically got flunked out of college for running a paper that won prizes.

You don’t treat Durf like that without getting that glare of his. He’s got the most accusing eyes you can imagine. He doesn’t need to say a word. And even though Durf wasn’t really a student at the college any more, he was still hanging around and sort of a big-man-on-campus, and the teacher couldn’t get away from those eyes. To make matters all the rougher for that teacher, he had gotten bored with the girl with big boobs, and she got furious about getting ditched, and went over to Durf’s side. All in all it sounded like a pretty dark and stormy winter, and like no one was getting much scholarship done.

The thing about Durf’s accusing eyes is that they can get to you even if you haven’t done anything wrong: If I buy a box of caramel popcorn he just looks at me, and the eyes are so deep with reproach I share half the box with him. He eats his half in one gulp, as I eat a single puffed kernel, and then he’s looking at my half with that same deep reproach. So I give him half of my half, and he gulps that, and looks at my remaining quarter. I wind up getting around five kernels of the box, but it’s better than looking at him looking back, with those eyes accusing me of being selfish.

Of course, if you actually have done something wrong to Durf, it’s all the worse.

We were boyhood buddies, a sort of duo, “Sticky and Durf”. For a long time we had fun without ever needing to hang out with the cool kids or to impress teachers, until I got tired of us always being losers and always hanging out with the hack-offs. I decided to give being cool a try, and I had my reasons: There was a really pretty cheerleader who always seemed happy, and I wanted to be happy too, so I left the hack-off table in the cafeteria and sat down at the cool-kid table where all the football players sat, cos she sat there. I didn’t tell Durf what I was up to; I just ditched him.

For some reason the cool kids didn’t tell me to just buzz off, and for a couple of weeks I sat with them, and not Durf. It turned out to be bloody awkward. I could never think of anything to say, and the really pretty cheerleader looked less cheerful when she always had to put up with me being so awkward near to her, so I took pity on her and eventually went back across the cafeteria back to the hack-offs, where I could just joke and goof around and be myself, but Durf would never let me forget the fact I had deserted him. The whole time I sat with the cool kids I could see his eyes glaring reproach across the cafeteria, and afterwards I don’t think he really trusted me, or that was the feeling I got from his eyes. That got me mad at him. After all, he just as well could have come and sat beside me at the cool-kids table, and helped me think of what to say to the cheerleader.

We got into some dumb quarrel I don’t remember too well. I told him I was tired of never feeling like I was a cool kid. That was sort of like saying he wasn’t cool either. He felt like I was betraying him, and treating him badly like the cool kids did, and in a way I suppose I was, but I was just plain tired of always being a sort of outlaw. I tried to explain I didn’t want to betray him; I just wanted to grow up. He felt cornered by stuff I was saying, and if you do that to Durf you get worse than his glare. You get his mental-case voice. It is sort of shrill and so full of hurt you back up. But I didn’t want to back up; I wanted to grow up, and the only thing I could ever think of doing was to stop talking.

In the end I got so fed up with Durf I started sitting alone. I’d rather think about the light shining down, and write songs, than have to bother with Durf, or anyone else, for that matter.

By the time 1969 got close I had given up on trying to be either cool or a hack-off. Maybe I was resigned to being a loner, but I thought I had just given up on all the idiotic people in Weston.

I just decided I liked not-bothering. I didn’t want to bother anyone, but the funny thing about not-bothering was that it bothered people. Not-bothering even got me in trouble, cos I’d rather not-bother with the blackboard, and instead looked out the window at the light shining down, and that got me bad grades. Also I couldn’t bother with the school dress-code and wound up in trouble for being lazy and wearing grubby jeans and not having the money to cut my hair every two weeks.(That was before my mother married the Fossil, when we were poor.)

But then 1969 came and something weird happened: It was cool, all of a sudden, to have long hair and wear grubby jeans, and it wasn’t cool to be a jock football-player at the cool-kids table. Also I started getting good grades in English, cos the Fussybus liked my songs. Weirdest was the fact that I was sitting all by myself in the cafeteria one day, and the next day kids started to come over and sit at my table, cos it suddenly was the cool table. I didn’t do a thing to earn all the status; I just woke up one day with the Midas touch.

Durf was about the first to come and sit at my table, which was in a really dim, inconvenient place in the cafeteria, away from the windows and the doors and even the ceiling lights, and smaller than most tables, so no one wanted to sit there and no one would bother me. I was working on some song for the Fussybus, and I look up and there’s my old buddy, sort of scowling at me. He’s got a piece of paper, and he shoves it across the table at me, and I look at it and see it is a poem, real short, so I read it.

Durf was in the same Fussybus class, so I figured he was working on the same assignment and wanted my opinion. I couldn’t see why. After all, the assignment was to write a poem about where your head was at, and as far as the Fussybus was concerned you could use the paper to blow your nose and then hand in snot, and you’d pass, cos it showed where your head was at.

Durf’s poem didn’t make a lick of sense, but there’s a part of it that is this outlandish way of looking at some ordinary thing like a saltshaker. It just cracks me up, like a really good cartoon, so I point at that line and look at Durf. His scowl had turned into a puzzled look, but when he sees how I’m shaking with silent laughter merriment creeps into his eyes.

Then it occurs to me I’ve got a similar outlandish way of looking at something in one of my songs. It barely relates to his poem, (whatever the heck his poem was about,) and it has nothing to do with a saltshaker, (or even with expressing where I was at,) but I flip through my folder, find it, point at a stanza of a song, and flip the page upside down so he can see it. Durf reads the line I’m pointing at without reading anything that came above it on the page, and his eyebrows spring up, because he sees the similarity.

Then he sits back and does this sort of silent guffaw. His hair wasn’t long yet, but in the front it was a couple inches longer than was legal, and he sort of shrugged it out of his face, and flashes an enormous smile with teeth so white you practically have to put on sunglasses, and the merriment in his eyes is just dancing.

I sure was happy. For one thing, that look is about as opposite Durf’s accusing look as you can get. For another thing, it sure did seem I was forgiven for ditching a best buddy to go sit with a cheerleader. And that was 1969 for you: folk dropped their grudges and forgave.

You can probably tell from my shorthand that I’m wicked wired on speed right now. That explains why I’m back in 1969 and all distracted from where I should be, (describing 1971.) (Also I keep running off to work on sections of “The Party Woods,” which are strewn around this house in heaps. If Millie was pissed off about me leaving coffee cups around, she’ll hit the roof when she sees the disaster I’ve made of this place, with my mother due back in five days.)

But there is something I feel frantic about saying, before my mother gets back and makes it impossible. So I really need to show how Durf and I talk.

I haven’t been able to get Durf at all interested in learning how you and me talk in short-hand; he says it isn’t short, and that even Haiku is too long for him these days. But he liked our word, “Stinedu.” I forget how Stinedu came up, but soon as he heard the word, and I explained it, he lurched forward to grasp it the same way he grabs my granola. It’s one of the few times I got that smile of his, since I’ve been back.

Anyway, I think he liked it cos Durf and I have always talked in Stinedues, one way or another.

Just look at how Durf and I communicated, when he came back to sit at my table in 1969. We were in complete agreement about something, but what was it? Just look at what had happened:

I didn’t have a clue what Durf’s poem was about, and he can’t have known what my song was about, cos he was only looking at the seventeenth line of it, but there we were, in total agreement. About what? Hell if I know. It had something to do with outlandish comparisons. Also it was 1969, and Understanding was easy.

It was like we both got tired of trying to be grown-up. We went back to the way we were when we were boys. Boys don’t talk about grown-up stuff. The closest boys get to talking about grown-up stuff is batting averages in baseball, or maybe which trout are in what Weston brook.

(When Durf and I were in grade school, a rich guy had an amazing trout collection in a backyard pond, and the entire collection got washed into Cherry Brook by a spring freshet, and those fish were the talk of the town. Fishing got real interesting, and folk you didn’t usually see were casting flies. Some of those rare trout made it down to Stony Brook, and then went up Hobb’s Brook, and some say a few rare Golden Trout even made it by the Massachusetts Broken Stone, and got up into Three Mile Brook. Most didn’t last long, but even years later folk were talking about alien lunkers the size of Salmon lurking beneath undercut banks. Boys could talk to grown-ups about such trout, but with grown-ups it was just facts, like the economics I learned for my Oxford A-levels. But with us boys it was a wonder, like the Loch Ness Monster.)

Speed has me going way, way back now, to boyhood, when Durf and I always got in trouble for getting good clothes muddy, exploring Weston brooks. Grown-ups made a big deal about keeping mud from good clothes, but we couldn’t give a shit about that. We were in a world of our own, and talked in Stinedues.

I know my writing holds a good Stinedu when a grown-up says to me, “I always thought that, but never said it.” But I always ask myself, “Why don’t they speak the Stinedu?” And the answer always comes back to me it is because they are so busy being grown-up, and that involves being brainwashed. People get stuff scrubbed right out of their skulls, and Ham’s reeducation bullshit is just more scrubbing, until the common sense grown-ups already know is just the dimmest of dim memories, until I come along with the Stinedu, and it blows the nearly dead embers in their dark minds back to flame.

Back when we were kids Durf and me talked Stinedues all the time. We could hardly wait for the bell to ring and to get out school and away from all the drill about Grammar and Math, and to talk about stuff that was attractive. We talked about stuff even schoolboys don’t say to schoolboys, in school. For example, back then the other boys always said girls were disgusting, but outside of school Durf and I would secretly confess girls were damn interesting. Now it has gotten out of hand, and Durf’s a bit berserk: Girls are all Durf wants to talk about these days, but we talked about all sorts of other stuff besides girls, back when we were boys.

Even when we talked about girls, it wasn’t like grown-ups do. With grown-ups it is all economics, all facts and figures. It is measurements of breast and waist and hips, but little girls are all pretty flat, but we still found lots to discuss. Back when girls were flat they still were girls, so, what were we discussing? It was Stinedu.

It’s a whole world of emotions and personality and stuff we call poetry. Not that we could write a poem back then. (Or maybe we could, but it was rude, crude, lewd doggerel, comparing a teacher to a pig or a donkey.) But we were very high all the same. We could just sit and look at clouds and argue for hours about what they looked like. And what did clouds look like? Mostly it was stuff grown-ups forget, cos they are so busy trying to be grown-up. It was Stinedu.

When a grown-up sees a poem, they want to know what it is “about.” They want the measurements. They want the breast, the waist, the hips. They want the GNP, the gross profit and the net profit, the imports versus the exports. They want to know if it is Capitalistic or Communistic. Does it side with the Mom divorcing the Dad? Does it side with the Dad divorcing the Mom?

That is not what Stinedu is about.

Grown-ups are brainwashed into seeing the wind as jostling particles of Oxygen and Nitrogen. They are blind to the Zephyr dancing right before their eyes, as a little tornado of leaves, as they rake the lawn. The Zephyr is gorgeous, but they can’t tape measure her breast, hips and waist, or grab her with grubby paws and tumble her in the leaf pile, so she has no use. She’s relegated to the rubbish tip of Stinedu, along with countless other beautiful things. And then the grown-ups wonder why life gets so unlovely.

When Fred and I were kids there were times we got so lost in Stinedu it was like we were drunk. The light was shining down all around us, and strange stuff happened. (I told you at Dunrobin about those premonitions we got, that saved us from scary situations.) It was like, if you pay attention to Zephyrs and other little angels, they attend to you. Or maybe they don’t give a hoot about you, but if you attend to the light shining down, the light lets you see, and you aren’t in the dark so much, and stumble less.

And that is why, when Fred showed me his poem and I showed him mine, back in 1969, it didn’t matter that I didn’t understand his, and it didn’t matter that he only looked at the seventeenth line of mine. We were interested in non-grown-up stinedu, just like we were as boys. That is why we got such a laugh about a comparison in his poem, and a comparison in mine.

It had nothing to do with drugs. We hadn’t even smoked together at that point. (Anyway, the marijuana you could get in Weston back then was so weak I think it was actually parsley. Folk only thought they were high, because they held the smoke in for two minutes, trying to get a real hit, and if you hold your breath for two minutes you enter an altered state. The joints were as skinny as toothpicks, and you turned purple just trying to suck air through the damn things. And it was likely it would be a month before you found anyone else who actually had the “evil weed.”) When Fred came to my table at the cafeteria it had been over a month since either of us smoked, and we had never smoked together. So it had nothing to do with drugs.

The reason I think marijuana should be legal is because it lets Grown-ups see what Fred and I could already see: Stinedu.

When Fred and I talk, no one has a clue what we are talking about. That is why he means so much to me. Eve can’t understand why I need him, cos he tends to make trouble. But I need him, cos he has a free mind.

There. I’ve made it back to 1971, describing sitting out on the Party Woods, listening to Fred argue with Ham, as Franks gnaws his knuckles, worried about the heat of the debate. I’d go on, but the horses are screaming at me from across the street again, so I have to quit writing for a while.

After sunset

I’m so lost in thought I could hardly remember which end of the horses to feed. They were laughing at me. Horses know when your brains are in the clouds.

Talk about opposites! What could be more opposite to Stinedu than Ham ‘n’ Frank’s communism? Communism tries to be more grown-up than even grown-ups, while Stinedu tries to remind us of childhood, of “I always thought that, but it was not grown-up to say it, so I washed my brain out with soap.”

As I sat there watching Durf and Ham debate, in some ways it seemed Durf was nuts to debate Ham, cos in some ways it is impossible to prove Stinedu even exists. If you ask some people, “What is more real: A rock or a kiss?” They will always chose the rock, cos a rock is something they can curl their fingers around, and also you can’t stuff a kiss in your wallet unless you‘re a whore, (in which case it isn‘t really a kiss.) Or, if you ask them, “What is a song?” they will just say, “Noise of different frequencies.” They miss the heart of the matter, cos they stick to the facts.

But Durf seems to think he is now grown-up, and can stick to facts. He can’t. When Durf tries to stick to facts he loses about 95% of what makes Durf be Durf. Ham can just adjust his hat, and factoid Durf half to death. Then Durf can only look reproachful or glare, but none of Durf‘s looks work on Ham the way they work on me. Durf can glare or pout or look reproachful with those big eyes, and Ham just curls his tongue in his cheek and looks cheerfully snide. Ham would have Durf reduced to being a puppy, like Franks, in half a minute, but Durf won‘t stand for that. Durf’s voice gets all asthmatic and wheedling and shrill, and he leaps to a topic so far from what Ham’s talking about that it just, plain crosses your eyes.

I know it is Durf’s mental-case voice because we’ve been hanging out together since grade school, so I know it is time to shift gears. It is time to leave the world of facts and go into the world of Stinidu. But Ham ‘n’ Franks don’t know the landscape they are heading into.

You would say there’s no way that the new subject that Durf jumped to connects to what Ham was talking about, but some sort of Stinedu is involved, so there is a sort of faint, vague and dim correlation. It is just enough to set you back on your heels. You lose your place, in the debate. The logical sequence gets all confused.

Anyway, I’m just sitting back, looking up at the golden-green oak leaves, listening to Ham trash Durf, when it comes to all this grown-up talk about the Haves, Have-lesses, and Have-nots, (Bourgeois, Petty-bourgeois, and Proletariat,) and all of a sudden Durf is talking about Wrenchheads getting fired over at Raytheon cos of Ham‘s meddling.

I fill in the blanks. All of a sudden I think I see there must be a political, anti-war demonstration, which Ham wants us to go to. Likely it is to be outside Raytheon. Probably he followed me into the woods to get me to join it, but he hasn’t gotten around to mentioning it yet.

Raytheon is a big factory across the Stony Brook Reservoir from Weston, on the Waltham side. They make electronic gizmos. They don’t make bazookas or tanks, so you’d think there would be no reason to have an anti-war demonstration over there. But I guess tanks have gas gauges, which need Raytheon gizmos, so Ham found a reason. But Ham isn’t mentioning communism, as he exhorts us to end war and make peace. He’s talking about Henry Thoreau and Martin Luther King and Gandhi, as he says we can end war by protesting Raytheon for making gizmos for gas gauges.

Lots of Wrenchheads work over at Raytheon, cos there’s no work in Weston, and Fred jumps to the subject of Ham getting them in trouble. He says if Ham really cared for workers he’d care for what they care for. All a Wrenchhead wants to do is work eight hours, drink beer eight hours, and sleep eight hours, and Fred says a fellow ought to be able to do what a fellow wants to do. But Ham wants to get them all riled up, and in trouble with their bosses.

Ham’s eyes are getting real narrow, and he’s honing in for the kill. You can just tell he’s about to get going on reeducation, cos he’s starting to go on about how Wrenchheads shouldn’t be pawns, and how pawns wouldn’t be pawns if they saw how they were being used as pawns, but then Durf butts in, saying Ham is just a pawn of the Communist Central Committee.

Saying that seems real paranoid and totally off the topic, and Ham just shakes his head and rolls his eyes, but Durf bulges his eyes and demands to know just who it was that organized the anti-war demonstration. Ham tosses his hair and looks real proud and says he himself did it, but I notice Franks is looking like he’s backing out of a room.

Durf looks real doubtful and scornful, partly because you could give a surprise party for Ham and Ham would still make it sound like he organized it, and partly because Durf knows Ham’s been bragging about getting money from anti-war people in Stockholm. But Durf doesn’t bring up Stockholm, like he should, cos his brains are sort of short circuiting, and instead he just wheels and pounces on Franks, who sort of looks like he’s trying to tiptoe away, and Durf says, in a really wheedling, complaining tone, “Who put the idea in your brother’s head?”

Franks looks like a raccoon does when you turn on the back porch light, and catch it just lifting the lid of the garbage pail. He made funny gestures with his hands, looked at Ham a couple of times, and didn’t say a thing, but it was enough for Durf. Durf glared back at Ham, who was looking pretty exasperated towards Franks. Poor Franks! He gets in trouble even when he doesn’t say anything.

I think Durf was furious that Ham was mentioning Gandhi and not communism. To Durf it was just another case of grown-ups not talking about what really is going on. But Durf didn’t say that. Instead he said what Ham was really doing was helping the Viet Cong, cos we can bomb Hanoi but the Viet Cong can’t bomb Raytheon. Durf said Ham isn’t helping the Viet Cong for the right reason, which would be cos they are patriots who want outsiders to leave them alone; Ham only help’s cos they are Communists, and to Ham that makes the Viet Cong the good guys. But the best the Central Committee can do to help the Viet Cong, around here, is to organize all sorts of trouble for Raytheon.

It turns out Ham has sure been over there a lot. If he isn’t organizing an anti-war rally to cause trouble, he’s over there handing out pamphlets and invitation-cards to Wrenchheads, when they come out after work, to get them all radical and unionized and to urge them to take over the offices and kick out the bosses, cos bosses are Capitalists and evil, and workers are the Proletariat and good. Durf concluded that makes Ham an outsider who won’t leave Raytheon alone, just like the USA is an outsider who won’t leave the Viet Cong alone. Durf says that an outside-agitator’s not the same as a peace-maker, and Ham’s like Stalin and not Ghandi.

Actually this all comes out of Durf as a sort of babble. I can see it as coherent but Ham says it is incoherent cos the anti-war thing is a different thing from the unionizing thing, and anyway, Gandhi would approve of both. Durf said it was all to help the Viet Cong, and they are fighters and not pacifists, and Gandhi wouldn’t approve of fighters.

So I’m just sitting there, looking up at the sunlit oak leaves overhead stirring in the wind, listening to those two guys go at it, and I notice I’m chuckling, and making all these little oil-on-the-water comments. I’m being the little peacemaker, cos when Durf’s voice gets all asthmatic his eyes bug out, and you get just the slightest bit nervous he might lose it and strangle somebody. So I’m joking, and jollying them, and nudging them back to civility, cos I’m brimming with benevolence, cos the light is shining down on me.

Also I have all sorts of facts at my fingertips. I hate to admit Dunrobin was good for anything, but I always used to feel inferior to Ham and Durf, cos they had read stuff I hadn’t, but Dunrobin hammered so much reading into me it’s like I passed Fred and Ham in the fast lane, last winter. What’s more, it’s like they were in reverse. They seem to know less than they did last year. Maybe I just thought they knew more than they really knew, last year, but I don’t think so. I think they really went backwards. I’m not sure what the bloody hell goes on in colleges, but Ham and Fred just don’t respect other thinkers the way they used to. They hardly mention what other thinkers thought at all any more. I can’t quite lay my finger on what it is, but it’s like the word Gandhi got turned into a verb.

Anyway, I can say stuff I couldn’t say, last year. I might have had first-hand experience of the light shining down, last year, but I didn’t know how to talk about Stinedu to grown-ups. Now I seem better at it. Anyway, when Ham was getting Durf all shrieky-mad by talking about Gandhi, I sort of joked, “So what would the Communist Central Committee do about Gandhi?” Ham looked askance at me, so I added, “Do you know what Stalin said about Gandhi to Churchhill?” It got silent, so I continued, “Stalin asked Churchill, ‘Why don’t you have Gandhi shot?’”

Durf looked grateful, and Franks seemed to stop and think, but Ham bristled and said, “That’s a lie!” I could only shrug and say. “Churchill said it happened.” Ham then said, “Oh? And what did the lordly Mr. Churchill say he said back?” I said Churchill said something along the lines of, (and I put on my Churchill voice,) “That is not the way the British Empire conducts business.”

Ham just got snide and said, “And where is that almighty British Empire today?” I shrugged and said, “Gone, evolved into the British Commonwealth, but the Commonwealth’s still bigger than the Soviet Union’s empire.” Ham said, “Pishtush!” (I kid you not, he really said that.) Then he said, “In twenty years London will be a suburb of Moscow.” I laughed and said, “If I should live so long, but all I am saying is that Ghandi wasn’t the same as Stalin or Lenin.”

And that was my little peacemaker nudge. It got them back on topic, after Durf got everything scattered all over the place. Not that Ham seemed to appreciate it much. He was starting to glance at his huge watch, probably figuring he wasn’t going to recruit me for the anti-war rally he never asked me to go to. Durf had moved on to teasing him, saying Ham better be careful about mentioning Gandhi too much, or the Central Committee might have him purged. Franks looked alarmed, but Ham curled his tongue in his cheek, and said the ends justified the means, like it was a big joke. Fred blurted he’d never be the pawn of some dumb committee, and he doubted the Wrenchheads would either. Then a thought occurred to me, and I said I was the pawn of a central committee.

All three looked really surprised, and stared at me like a trio of owls, and I said there is actually only one central committee which is fair to the poor as well as the rich. Then I pointed up at the sun, and I said, “It pours the light equally on all.”

I wish I could take credit for thinking that up, but I read it somewhere, but I was glad I remembered it, cos all three of them looked up, as if they were remembering something they’d forgotten about. It was neat, cos all three had really softened expressions, like they’d forgotten all about arguing politics and philosophy, and then it got even neater, cos a big gust came cruising up from the southwest, and went over us as a big, slow sigh. It got all the slender oak trunks rocking slowly back and forth, but they didn’t rock at the same rate, and as the gust faded away to the northeast the tree to our right was swaying left as the tree to our left was swaying right, and at first their tops came together as a soft crush of deepening-green rustling, and then they both swayed the other way and a crevice of blue sky opened overhead, and the sun came streaming down on us.

You couldn’t ask for better timing, and that’s just the sort of Stinedu-event that would get Durf all crazy with enthusiasm when we were boys, so I look over at him and say, “Stinadu,” and he beams back and says, “Coincidence.” (“Coincidence” is a sort of magic word, the way Durf says it, and doesn’t mean what “coincidence” means when others say it.) Ham is looking at us with a really odd expression, almost scared, and Franks is still smiling up at the sun. Then I notice the trees have come back together, and we’re back in the underwater green of the shade, but Franks is in a little patch of sun that is sneaking through.

That makes me laugh, and I say, “Of course, sometimes the Central Committee chooses to shine more on some than on others.” For a moment Franks doesn’t get it, and just keeps smiling up at the sun, and then he wakes up and sees us looking at him, with his blond sheep-dog hair all lit up by the sun. At first it is like he enjoys being singled out for a sunbeam, but then he sees Ham pouting at him, and he sort of jumps with guilt, like he’s hogging the spotlight, and he hurries to step back out of the warm sunshine.

It was really funny how Franks jumped out of the sunbeam, so I joked, “No Franks, you can’t duck your duty. Once the Central Committee appoints you, yours is not to reason why. Yours is just to do or die.” Then I got up and stretched and walked over to the little patch of gold he had vacated, and added, “Also, if you don’t want the light, someone else will stroll up who does.” That made Franks grin, and he gave me a friendly shove and stepped back into the light.

I was feeling really high, like I was in some movie or something. Usually I feel like the wind is against me, but the way that gust came over us and the sun came down had me feeling the wind was with me. But when I looked over at Ham I saw he didn’t feel the same. He didn’t seem to like how things were going, and was glancing at his watch again. Then he looked at Franks with a crabby face, like he was annoyed at his little brother for goofing around in a sunbeam.

I had this surge of feeling sorry for Ham well up in me, cos it seemed Ham was missing the fun, but it didn’t seem I could find any words. I just joked a sort of lame-seeming joke, telling him to lighten up, cos that’s what light does when it comes down on you, cos it lightens everything. Ham looked at me with a real cold expression. I could see he didn’t get the joke, and for some reason that got me hot. I told him something like, “OK, be all serious if you want, but I tell you I spent all winter thinking about this, and if you’re so all-fired, bent-out-of-shape to be a leader, you’d better understand Americans don’t follow leaders like they do over there in Europe.”

Ham’s face changed just a little. I think that word “leader” got to him. Anything to do with being bossy gets him intrigued. So I did my best to explain something to Ham even though it feels just a bit past the tip of my tongue, even now.

I tried to tell him how different Dunrobin was from Weston High School, and how rough the boys were, when it came to teasing and baiting and challenging anything that seemed like a holy cow. You’d better not brag about anything you couldn’t stand up for and defend, at Dunrobin, and you’d better have a thick skin. I told him how your nickname got to be Kaffir, and mine got to be Nigger, and how they wouldn’t lay off, even when I slammed poor Pest in the wastepaper basket, with his knees stuck by his ears. So I learned I’d better either shut up about being an American, or defend it with all my cannons.

I told Ham that my best defence was a good offence, and how I’d rip into those guys for being part of a dieing empire, and how they’d come right back at me, defending the empire, and how I got a feel for the pride they had, and the loyalty, and the sense of duty. Americans seem wicked disloyal, in comparison. In some ways it is like the English haven’t gotten over our disloyalty to King George, even after nearly two hundred years. So I got to wondering what the heck it is Americans are loyal to.

I told Ham how I got a real Stinedu from the older teachers, about what it felt like to be part of an empire, and how I could see they actually once believed their empire was something good, and that people all over the earth were better off when led by English royalty than when led by their own bosses. It was really foreign to think that way for me, cos I got brought up believing all people should be independent like Americans were, but they really were loyal to their empire when they were young. It was a sort of sorrowful faith to hear, “redolent with melancholic nostalgia,” but I really did hear an echo of something great in their loyalty, in all their talk about Nelson putting up the signal, “England expects every man will do his duty,” and of all the sailors on the English ships cheering. Or Tennyson’s poem about the charge of the light brigade, “Theirs is not to reason why; Theirs is but to do and die.”

Of course, some poked fun at it all and said Monty Python stuff like, “Into the valley of bad breath rode the six hundred,” or “England expects every man to shake his booty,” but they didn’t like it if an American like me made up doggerel like that. So of course that’s exactly what I did. I’d call Queen Elisabeth, “Queeny baby,” and I could see they didn’t like that one bit. But if they were going to be disrespectful of America I’d dish it out right back.

One thing that I saw really clearly at Dunrobin was how badly World War One mangled British loyalty. In the Battle of the Somme it wasn’t six hundred charging to their deaths, it was sixty-thousand charging German machine guns and all getting mowed down. Even after fifty years it is like Dunrobin’s still in shock, especially on Remembrance Day. That day’s just so sad, and nothing like Memorial Day in the States. There was this sort of sting of sorrow in the silence, and all these ghosts tapping the older people’s shoulders, and I got the feeling this sadness must be what my Grandfather was trying to describe, one time, when he described what Memorial Day used to be like, when there were still Civil War soldiers alive.

Another amazing thing I never knew before is that the German Kaiser was the cousin of the English King. The wife of the Russian Czar was another cousin. They were all grandchildren of Queen Victoria. You talk about a great Central Committee! If they’d used their brains and had gotten along, they could have run the world as a family business, but instead millions and millions died.

Of course you know all this, Kaf. The Goat really drummed it into our heads how bad the slaughter was, making us read the war poets like Wilfred Owens and Seigfried Sassoon, but at Weston High School we never studied that stuff. I don’t think the Fussybus ever heard of Wilfred Owens, and Ham doesn’t know a single person who has died in Vietnam, nor do I. Rich, Weston-kids don’t go to Vietnam, so its hard to imagine what it was like to be in England back then and to have so many guys in your Senior class dead or missing legs, in every town in Great Britain. The Goat was doing his part to make sure no one ever forgot World War One, but the worst part was realizing all the death was all about nothing. The royal Central Committee just lost their minds. And maybe that is what makes America different. We never want to be loyal to a Central Committee, whether it be Kings and Kaisers, or Stalin and Lenin, because they might lose their minds.

So what are we loyal to instead? We are loyal to the light shining down, and also to the fact it shines differently on every farm. Maybe my farm gets sunshine while yours gets rain. Only the farmer on the farm can know how to manage the farm, not some Central Committee far away, cos they don’t know how differently the sun and rain falls, on every farm and on every person. So that’s what we are loyal to: Letting a man be free to manage his own life, and mind his own business, without a whole lot of outside interference and a whole lot of outside agitation.

Ham looked at me real thoughtful for a while, and then curled his tongue in his cheek and said, “We don’t live on farms any more.” Then he looked at his watch and told Franks they’d better hurry or they’d be late, and started walking off through the trees.

Right when he got to the edge of the clearing Ham stopped, like he remembered something, and then he turned with his winning smile shining, and said, “I have some really good dollar-joints, if you guys’re interested.”

I put my hands on my hips and said, “You’ve had joints this whole time and didn’t even get us high?” Ham curled his tongue and said, “I’m broke. Have to make some dough.”

Durf sort of blurted, all resentful, “I’m broke too. I can get you a pound for three hundred. You want one? I’ll bet it’s better than yours, and I’ll let you try the stuff for free.”

Durf said this in a really shrill, mental-case way. I think he was trying to one-upsman Ham, by being a big league pusher, and through comparison to make Ham look bush league, but his voice was too whiney. He sort of said, “And I’ll let you try it for free” in just the wrong way, if you want to inspire awe. But Ham really did look a little wide-eyed, and Franks looked downright frightened, because a good judge won’t jail you for a joint around here these days, but jail-time is pretty bad for selling pounds.

I just ignored Durf and laughed and told Ham, “I don’t even have a dollar, until I get paid for feeding horses.” Ham shrugged and started to turn away, and I added, “Huh! You’re selling and won’t share. Maybe there’s hope for Capitalism, after all.” Ham stopped dead in his tracks, and was turning back and starting to lift an index finger in his didn‘t-get-the-joke manner, but I stopped him by saying, “I know. I know. The ends justify the means, right?” He nodded, caught my smile, and flashed one back, and then all I could see was his peacock plume, bobbing away over the Moose Maple shrubs, as Franks went hurrying after.

LOCAL VIEW —A Whole Pnu Season—

Bah!  I always seem to get clobbered by a cold when the seasons change. Maybe some pollen gets blown up from the south, or maybe the temperature yo-yoing between 10° and 50° (-12° and +10° Celsius),  gets to me.  It starts out with sniffles and then I just get tireder and tireder until I stop being productive, unless you count phloem.  My brain gets especially dull, and nothing inspires me except my pillow.

I usually push myself to keep going, as there is a voice in my head which is quite good at calling me a weenie and a quitter if I don’t, but a slight fever tends to stop me. I’ve had walking pneumonia enough in my life to know that, unlike a cold, it is usually not a thing you can just work through.  My body agrees, and the negative word “loaf” turns into the beautiful word “rest”.

In any case, that is why I’m not posting much. I’ve been lucky, as the last storm blew up just far enough out to sea to give us howling winds and temperatures down around 10° three nights in a row, but no snow. Meanwhile just across the Gulf of Maine in Nova Scotia they got two feet.

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I was taking a deep breath, in a hacking and sniffling sort of way, getting ready for the next storm, gathering moisture to our south.

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Fortunately it looks like most of the snow will be shunted south of here. Not that I’d bother much with the clean up. Around this time of year there is always a remarkable amount of slacking off, in terms of after-storm clean-up, because people know the darn stuff will melt in the bright sun, if you ignore it. (You don’t dare adopt that attitude in December.)

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That sure is a wintry looking map, and I ought get out and load the porch with firewood, but I’m fairly sure the exercise wouldn’t be good for me. No one seems as interested in the fire, as long as the bright March sunshine is out, and it actually went out for the first time since October. No one stirred to stir up the fire, until I came blearily indoors yesterday and noticed everyone looked more hunched up and cold in the evening.  I checked the stove, and saw not even a spark among the ashes. I tried to think of some sort of biting sarcasm, but my mind also feels like ashes without even a spark.

I can’t do any real intellectual work, and instead zone out on the computer. I call it mental wandering, as opposed to wondering, and I’m sure it serves some sort of function. However it feels like you are merely idle. Occasionally I chance on some new idea, so if I am ever forced to justify zoning out I call it “research”, however it tends to wander away from what I should be researching to obscure topics that are as far away from work as possible.

One topic I always enjoy is the Greenland Vikings. It’s been a while since I checked to see if there were any recent discoveries,  My listless mind did stir towards wakefulness when I saw that a Viking trading vessel had been discovered in the muddy riverbank in Memphis, Tennessee.  http://worldnewsdailyreport.com/usa-viking-ship-discovered-near-mississipi-river/

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But that sword looked familiar to me

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And it didn’t take me long to find an amazingly similar sword at a Viking site in Scotland.

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Yes, I’d been tricked. It’s not a very kind thing to do to a poor old fellow like me, especially when I’m suffering from a cold.  However we’d better be on guard, with April Fool’s Day coming up.

LOCAL VIEW —Mild then Wild—

Learn to never trust the mild winds of March
For too often they’re preludes to wild gales.
In eighteen-eighty-eight winter lacked starch
And spring smiled early. Fishermen set sails
South of Long Island upon balmy seas
And then saw the north turn black, heard thunder,
And had to fight a blizzard’s fierce, fast freeze
On reefed sails to get home. I now wonder
What blandishments are suckering my mind?
I’m old and wise, but so were those sailors.
Our intellect’s not smart, as it’s inclined
To think it is. Its predicted failures
Call conifers evergreen: Meet the larch.
Learn to never trust the mild winds of March.

Winter delivered a splendid sucker-punch today. At 2:00 PM I was standing in the sun, with temperatures up close to fifty, (10° Celsius), and by 5:00 PM the wind was roaring a gale and whipping snow into my face, as temperatures plummeted down through the 30’s towards freezing. I went from blissfully thinking how long it has been since I felt a wind I could call kind, to cursing the cruelty of the wind. 

Cassius Clay (Mohammed Ali) once remarked that in the final rounds of a boxing match one reaches a point of exhaustion and brain-damage that caused one to enter a sort of dream land, a la-la land where one starts to deeply appreciate their opponent even as one strives to slug them unconscious. One sees the beauty of an opponent who is trying to knock them out.

This la-la land is quite beyond the consciousness of the politically correct, who disapprove of all battle on general principles. They simply cannot imagine how it was that Vikings could imagine heaven was a battlefield, or how a sensitive poet like Wilford Owen could write, about the horrible trenches of World War One,  “I, too, have seen God in mud.”

Likely the politically correct are blinded by their need to be “independently wealthy”,  which is just another way of saying you don’t have to battle to survive, like ordinary people do. The politically correct like to imagine they are given more time to contemplate truth, and are therefore more able to see truth, and therefore should govern people who do need to battle to survive. The fact of the matter is that the politically correct have removed themselves, if they are independently wealthy, from a profound truth, which is that we need to battle to be spiritual.

Oddly, it is the boxer in the ring, actually battling, who is most likely to enter the la-la land where you love your enemy. Meanwhile the politically correct, who like to say “love your enemy” until the cows come home, care more about the pensions that keep them independently wealthy than the fact the funds from those pensions come from exploiting the poor, or the fact that they are exploiting the very people they profess to love.

Of course, we’ve known about this nonsense for centuries. 200 years ago, the 24-year-old poet John Keats, thirteen stanzas into a poem about the ferocious sincerity of teen-aged first-love, abruptly produced these three amazing stanzas about the politically correct:

With her two brothers this fair lady dwelt,
Enriched from ancestral merchandize,
And for them many a weary hand did swelt
In torched mines and noisy factories,
And many once proud-quiver’d loins did melt
In blood from stinging whip;—with hollow eyes
Many all day in dazzling river stood,
To take the rich-ored driftings of the flood.

For them the Ceylon diver held his breath,
And went all naked to the hungry shark;
For them his ears gush’d blood; for them in death
The seal on the cold ice with piteous bark
Lay full of darts; for them alone did seethe
A thousand men in troubles wide and dark:
Half-ignorant, they turn’d an easy wheel,
That set sharp racks at work, to pinch and peel.

Why were they proud? Because their marble founts
Gush’d with more pride than do a wretch’s tears?
Why were they proud? Because fair orange-mount
Were of more soft ascent than lazar stairs?
Why were they proud? Because red-lin’d accounts
Were richer than the songs of Grecian years?
Why were they proud? again we ask aloud,
Why in the name of Glory were they proud?

Therefore, when winter delivers a blow to my jaw, I count myself lucky to be on the real battlefield and in the actual battle, the battle to survive.

Of course it is a strange and unusual battlefield, when you realize I am an old poet working as a nanny, watching over seventeen children under the age of nine as their parents are fighting the good fight, away at jobs.

It isn’t humiliating for a man of my years to be a nanny.  That sort of insult is a wild swing that utterly misses my jaw. Actually I’m lucky, for the fact of the matter is that little children are far wiser, and make better company, than the politically correct.

What hits me in the jaw is that I oversee a bunch of kids who will be kids, and play in puddles even when I tell them not to, and drench their snowsuits when the temperatures are up near fifty. Then, as the temperatures plunge and winds howl and snow sweeps sideways, the little ones understand how wise I was, when I said to stay dry. But they do not applaud my wisdom, and instead they cry out they are freaking cold.

Their parents will be arriving in ten minutes, with cars heated to eighty, (26.7 ° Celsius),  but the kids want to go indoors, though the Childcare’s heat was turned off an hour ago and all the rooms cleaned and disinfected, for tomorrow. It will not warm them much to let them indoors, and will mess up the indoors, but how am I to warm them outside, in the cruel wind?

I simply told them they were all leprechauns, (it being Saint Patrick’s Day), and that I was a creature called a Kazoolabum, which has six legs and thirteen tentacles, and eats leprechauns. They screamed and I chased them, and very soon they forgot they were cold.  Parents arrived, I waved goodbye, and then I leaned against a fence and moaned, “Lord Oh Lord, I’m not sure I can take much more of this shit.”

However there is such a beauty in the battle that, even though a winter might hit me where I do not see the May, I won’t mind dying with my boots on.

That is the attitude you need to have, if you honestly want to love your enemies, or survive a New England winter.

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LOCAL VIEW —Boston Sets Snowfall Record—“An Inconvenient Winter”

We got around an inch of snow up here yesterday. The first half inch was glop, a sort of wet layer that melted as fast as it fell, and then nearly as fast as it fell, as the vibrant March sun dropped lower, and stopped the amazing job it does of melting snow even when it is behind clouds. Then the sun got to the horizon and we had a flash freeze, so the second half inch was powder drifting over a layer of frozen crust.

I knew I was in trouble as soon as I heard my wife heading out for her predawn-twilight power-walk. Her footsteps crunched a certain way on the drive, and I swung out of bed in a sort of angry thrash, as I knew I had to start work an hour earlier, heading to the “Town Garage” to shovel sand into the back of my pickup, and then heading to my Farm-Childcare to cast that sand around the entrance of the parking lot, and the area where parents disembark with their children, and the front walk, and lastly the rise where cars exit and young mothers tend to spin wheels and get stuck. Who needs Monday to start an hour earlier?

All was redeemed, however, when I learned Boston got 2.9 inches of snow where we only got an inch. That bumps their winter’s total past the most snow ever recorded (in recent times) of 107 inches in 1993, to 108 inches. This is all the more amazing because Boston was below the normal snowfall of January 10 on January 10.

It makes me look rather good, for I was talking about this being “the worst winter ever” back in November.  Not that there haven’t been worse winter’s up here in these hills, or even in Boston. Back in in the 1600’s, when the Back Bay neighborhood was actually a bay, the bay was frozen over for six weeks, and there were 26 “snowfalls.”  However nothing matches 1717, when the snows were so deep that some houses were buried and could only be located by holes in the snow,  with smoke coming out, melted by the chimney and the constant fire that heated the home.


It does seem sort of anticlimactic to beat the record with only 2.9 inches of snow. Not that it isn’t too late to have a final massive storm. The blizzard of 1888 began on March 11 and ended on March 15, and we got four feet in these hills, (as Boston got two inches of slush.) The “April Fools Storm” a few years back gave us two feet.

The good thing about setting a record is that it justifies a sensation many around here have that they have been through a mugging. People not all that far to the south roll their eyes and act as New Englanders are sissies, fussing about a minor inconvenience. Not that people did fuss all that much.  Come to think of it, the tougher New Englanders don’t even fuss when they get mugged.

I remember an old man who ran a tiny four-lane-bowling-alley in Portland, Maine, back in around 1975. You got to it by descending a stair in a dark alley, and it was a subterranean affair, with everything a bit mildewed, and the balls old and slightly bumpy as they rolled, but the old man was a genius when it came to candle-pin bowling, and also he had the cheapest rates in Maine. I was interested in the sport back then, and picked his brains, and besides learning how to curve the balls around the fallen “wood”, I got bits of his philosophy, such as, “Never bowl without a sponsor and never sponsor a bowler.” Often I was the only person bowling, and I doubt he even could pay his electricity bill with his gross take, and concluded he only ran the place because he loved bowling, but one time I went in to discover he’d been mugged for the small amount of money he had. He had two black eyes, and a scab on his forehead. When I expressed my concern he dismissed it, muttering, “Arrh, it was just kids. An inconvenience.”

In any case, I guess we can call it an Inconvenient Winter. It is especially inconvenient to Al Gore, who through “Inconvenient Truth” and lecture tours assured us snow would become rare and our ski areas would need to close down.

Back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, when Al Gore used his political power to start up the Global Warming fraud, cutting off funding to Bill Gray (whose predictions based on the cycles of the AMO have proven wonderfully accurate) and pouring money onto James Hansen, (whose forecasts have proven to be balderdash), you actually could graph the snowfall in Boston and create a “trend line” that demonstrated that snowfall was decreasing. If you look at the graph below as far as 1992, the “trend” is definitely down.

Of course 1993 changed all that. In fact, in terms of snowfall since 1890, six of the nine greatest yearly totals have occurred since Al Gore opened his big mouth and stated we’d have to shut down our ski areas.

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(Graph from Joseph D’Aleo’s excellent blog at the Weatherbell site.”)

If anyone has been mugged by this winter, it the Alarmists who are attempting to sell Global Warming. However they are not stoic about being mugged, like a tough New Englander. Rather they become increasingly shrill, shrieking the heavy snow proves it is warmer.

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People in New England tend to be suckers for liberal causes. Freeing slaves seemed like an altruistic deed, and every town in New England has a monument in its graveyard commemorating the astounding number of young men who died for that cause. However the Global Warming cause is starting to be harder and harder to swallow, even for New Englanders, because right after Michael Mann spoke of waters off Cape Cod being 21 degrees above normal (utterly false) they saw waters looking like this:

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Maybe even in New England it will turn out that you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. After all, Abraham Lincoln stated that, and people voted for him in New England. Perhaps the political winter we are finding inconvenient will give way to a spring.

In the mean time, we have to endure a bit more winter. Today we saw the bright March sun melt away the crust of snow, but later tomorrow the cold will fight back, and the rains advancing from the west likely will change to more snows as they move over us.

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LOCAL VIEW —Snowy Sunday—

It seems nearly every Sunday this winter it has snowed.  I forgot to mention the snow last Sunday, (March 8), as I was too engrossed in my novel and in church matters, but as we looked out the windows of the church it was as if someone had shaken the snow globe, and the air was full of thick, fat flakes. The day grew dark and purple, and swiftly we had a “coating”, which is something more than a “dusting” but less than an inch. Because I am a true weather geek I had the urge to rush outside to measure the depth, but I felt I should be paying attention to the sermon. By the time church let out the sun had burst free of the clouds, and already the brilliant March sunshine was melting the snow on the streets. I heard the roads were “greasy” briefly, as it snowed heavily, but leaving church the sun made them merely wet.

I’ll have remember to note that down in my list of “snow events” for this winter. It occurred as the warm air fought to come up into New England, prior to out midweek taste of the magic temperature fifty degrees, (10° Celsius), which was promptly counterattacked by roaring cold. Winter has put a lot of work into its snowscape across New England, and is not going to allow some interloper to walk in and melt it all without a fight.

The counterattacks are interesting, for they don’t look possible, if you glance at the map. All winter the next arctic blast has come down east of the Canadian Rockies, bulging south over the vast flat taiga and prairies west of Hudson Bay, but now when you look northwest that pipeline seems brimming with Chinook mildness. However that is no longer “upstream.”  Now our pipeline of cold is from due north, and even the northeast.

If you look at the map below, (click it to enlarge and clarify it, or open it to a new tab),  it sure looks like a warm flow is pushing mild air right up to a warm front over Hudson Bay, and we shouldn’t worry about cold, but the high pressure up over Labrador holds very cold air, and the weak low passing over New England is already sucking some of that cold down. As I headed off to church this morning the drizzle was turning to “snizzle”, which wasn’t sticking to anything, but made me shake my head. My aching joints were telling me the storm was intensifying, and the change to frozen precipitation told me some uplift was occurring. When I glanced up I could see the clouds had already shifted around and were coming from the north, though the isobars on the map told me the winds should be southeast, or perhaps calm.

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By the time I left church the snizzle had turned to wet snow. It wasn’t sticking, but radar showed the precipitation wasn’t coming down from the north as much as it was blooming right over us. I had the hope the mess would move out to sea, before it exploded into too big a storm, but didn’t lower my guard.

In fact it did move out to sea, for the most part, but not without the winds picking up until they were roaring in the hilltops, and we had roughly a half inch of glop, which froze, and then a half inch of powder, which blew about as if it was January, as dark decended. Again winter is not going to give up without a fight.

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The map still shows warm air to our northwest, and a southwest flow to our northwest, but it is interesting how it has such a hard time getting all the way east to we New Englanders who crave it most, after the “worst winter ever”.

Over at their Weatherbell site the excellent long-range forecasters Joe Bastardi and Joseph D’Aleo are suggesting we are not only going to keep seeing these counterattacks from the northeast, but a core of cold is going to bulge down over us and gradually expand west.  Winter will make a comeback until around tax time. Around April 15 the core of cold will be so far west we may see ourselves on the east side of the storm track. Although the pattern is basically the same, it will have shifted far enough west so we slip from the influence of a trough to the north, with storminess and cold winds, to the influence of the Bermuda high. This could be a difference like the difference between night and day, and though the pattern is basically the same, it is called a “pattern snap,” because we abruptly shift from March-like weather to May-like weather.  It is a long wait, but worth waiting for. Perseverance is a virtue.

Something which I suppose is funny happened to me, due to something I said at church last fall, which was taken utterly wrong. I was trying to “exhort” my brothers and sisters to “persevere”, using the approach of a football coach who says, “What are you, mice or men?” and sees the team yell “We’re men!” and go charging out onto the field to prove it. The humor is in a situation when the entire team feels they have been accused of being mice, and becomes so hurt they pout and drag back onto the field in a totally depressed manner.

People were sad because the membership of the church was dwindling. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but it was along the lines of “even if this church is a sinking ship, we should persevere like captains going down with the ship, and avoid being like rats deserting the ship.” I thought it was rather witty, and a superbly crafted mixed-metaphor.

Then I found out a really kind and spiritual woman had heard about my statement. She had left the church to escape sadness and find gladness in solitude and retreat, which I think are good reasons, but now she felt I was calling her a rat.

My initial reaction is to sputter, “Oh don’t be such a hypersensitive numskull!”  However, as a writer, I’ve seen my writing bomb-out enough to know my words don’t always communicate what I intend. Anyway, 1 John Chapter 1 verse 10 states, “If we say we have no sin, we call Jesus Christ a liar”, so I’d figure I better confess I blew it. Not that I much like the word “sin”.  I prefer nice Unitarian words like “shortcoming”, or my favorite, “foible.” However it really is a sin to hurt the feeling of a gentle person, so I’d better go tell her I don’t think she is a rat.

We are a sort of comical bunch of Christians, and I don’t wonder over the fact few want to be members of such a bunch. However, perseverance is a virtue, and winter won’t last forever.