SONNET FROM THE DEPTHS

Every winter has its darkest days
When it seems the cruel cold will be endless;
Seems that the heaviness of big boots weighs
Like a ball and chain: A walk's a distress
And one wants to veer off into the drifts
And just quit the interminable fight
Against a foe who doesn't care; who uplifts
No one, and who could care less for the plight
of sojourners here today, tomorrow
Gone. Like mists; like blooms the cold's made of frost
We construct songs of our endless sorrows
But blooms melt away. So we face the worst
And footprint snows dragging a wounded wing,
Eagles peering through the cold for the Spring. 

BEFORE THE NEXT STORM

The above map sort of ruins my plans. I was hoping to slip away to Maine to play with my twin-granddaughters and their toddler older sister, and to discuss how to fix the world with my son, but the weather has been wrecking everything and looks like it will wreak those plans as well. Worst case scenario: Quarter inch of freezing rain followed by inch of sleet followed by six inches of snow. Not good conditions to drive north, where they may get a foot or more. Oh well. Roll with the punches.

There should we a phrase like sailors have for when they get used to the constant pitching of a deck. They call it “Sea Legs”. The phrase I want applies to northern people in February, when they get used to winter’s abuse of us hairless apes, who ought to be in a warmer climate like the Garden of Eden, but our ancestors (including Adam) blew it.

What phrase can describe the fact people who call temperatures below freezing. “a warm spell,” and then drive to the market for a pack of smokes without wearing a jacket? “Freeze Legs?” That’s the best I can do on short notice. Any suggestions?

One thing about having Freeze Legs is this: Having no free time because weather-related problems are on all sides doesn’t seem to keep people from having free time. They “seize the moment”. For example, a plow driver was pushing back the snowbanks in front of my house, to make room for the oncoming storm, when an elderly woman who rents an apartment next door brought her trash to the curb. The plowman idled the engine of his front-end-loader, to see if she was coming out to talk with him, and she informed him she wasn’t. However, before he revved up his engine, they also discussed the latest weather report, Whoopee Goldburg’s troubles, and the Canadian Truckers. Perhaps I exaggerate, but it seemed to take them forty-five seconds.

In like manner, my mind seems to grasp things with equal swiftness. Usually, 45 seconds isn’t enough time to write about them, but that doesn’t mean they don’t happen.

Very briefly, the above map shows a very wonderful switching of patterns. When the last storm exploded, it knocked both the “northern” and “southern” storm tracks for a loop, and forced the creation of a new storm track down the middle. The northern remnant is the “clipper” which failed to come south, and instead moved from southern Manitoba to the east coast of Hudson Bay in the above map. The southern remnant is the blob of clouds off Florida in the above map. Between the two is a southern seep of air north and a northern press of air south, creating a new front, and a blob of Gulf of Mexico moisture riding northeast towards me, promising future chaos.

My mind grasps such things as I sag by a woodstove at the end of a long, hard day. Sleep is soon going to push me to my bed, but I have a short moment to cover many fascinations. Besides the weather maps, I note the networks don’t cover the “sea of blue” at a policeman’s funeral in NYC, but many comments at assorted sites have links to pictures of the amazing demonstration. I think the public is fed up, but just then my dog intrudes, requesting a last walk before bed. So, I then find myself out in the crystal quiet of a sub-zero night, noting observations. Then I’m back by the fire, writing brief sonnets before sleep sets in:

Everything's cracked in the cold: Schedules
Interrupted by slush and snow; frozen pipes; 
Dumb cars won't start. I thumb old manuals
For how to fix things, as my irked brain gripes
And spirituality flies right out
The window. Plans to write poems seem dumber
Than sunbathing in the rain. Prayer seems a pout
And a request that God become my plumber,
Yet I, too, have seen God in the cellar
Brushing cobwebs from my humbled face.
The Highest looks down at thrones where kings are
Yet washes the feet of those in disgrace.
The champagne of wealth sours joy, I now think,
While love's simple water remains a sweet drink.
I flinch before the storm comes. I'm fearing
The effort. Nor do I much like grueling
Labor, but I love it when skies are clearing
And the work is done. Then I start fooling
Myself, calling all the grunt-work a breeze.
Then I'm able to love my enemy.
Hard work's given way to fireside ease.
I even leave fire for moonlight. Each tree
Stands still, and moon shadows stand still as well,
But my dog doesn't notice the motion
Off on the moon-bright snow. I cannot tell
What it was, for it's gone. I've the notion 
I've glimpsed a ghost. Then I get the joke:
The motion's the shadow of a chimney's slow smoke.

A FABLE: LEPUS HOPPER AND THE FURRY FROG

If I am going to drop dead and die with my boots on it will likely be when I am doing something strenuous like splitting wood and hauling it up staircases, or shoveling snow, and not when kids sit around me as I tell a story, but the aggravating bureaucrats in the Swamp insist Childcare Professionals must get a physical, as if that can keep us from dropping dead on the job. So, I had to add “physical” to my list of chores. (As if I don’t have enough to do already.)

Consequently, this morning, before the sun was up, I had to rush off when it was two below (-19 Celsius) and drive twenty miles to have a “blood draw”, which is part of the “physical”. The blood draw itself was swift and efficient, taking only five minutes, but getting through all the coronavirus balderdash and into the hospital took longer. They had to take my temperature and issue me a mask, which was especially irksome because on my car radio on my way there I’d been listening to a doctor say masks were useless, and that all the other medical balderdash had done more harm than good.

To top it off, you have to fast before such blood draws. I often skip breakfast, but skipping my morning coffee makes me see the world through ash-colored glasses. I wasn’t rude, but was cold and silent with the nurses. My outlook was bleak. Then I had to hurry back to the Childcare, as I was late for my shift. My wife was covering for me, but I knew she had to prepare a beef stew for a church supper. Therefore, I shouldn’t stop at the market for a coffee. But I did. I rushed in and grabbed the biggest cup I could, to go, and clamped a lid on it and slapped down two dollars and rushed out without chatting with the girl behind the counter, who looked surprised.

Rushing in the door of the Childcare I still hadn’t had a sip of the coffee, and immediately the kids swarmed me. They treat me like a rock star, and, when I’ve had coffee, I can to some degree fill the role, but when I haven’t had coffee my attitude towards children is a little like W. C. Field’s. I could see the situation needed a remedy and began gulping the coffee down.

The coffee had absolutely no effect, and I sagged onto a couch, which immediately precipitated conflict and tears, about who would sit in my lap. I only have one lap, and one right hand and one left hand, and when six kids are involved the arguing and tears involved is absurd.

I had no patience. Ordinarily I can to some degree resolve such issues even when it involves seven kids, as I have a lap, left side, right side, left knee, right knee, and left and right shoulder. But I was achy from splitting wood and shoveling snow, and anyway, the flipping bureaucrats are so worried I might drop dead that surely it would break some balderdash law to be physically holding up five kids at once.

I obviously was in no mood to resolve issues, and the little children were especially contentious. Two were both in tears in a squabble over who should play with me with what puppets. They were on the verge of coming to blows over two puppets in particular.

My initial impulse was to clonk their thick, little skulls together, but then I recalled a certain State Mandated Childcare Professional Class suggested that in such situations one should “remove and distract”. I said, “Gimmie those puppets” and snatched them from the little children. That was the “remove” part. But the looks on their faces made me feel the “distraction” had better be a good one. The only problem was my mind was dull and blank.

The situation was bad, but I have heard God can make good out of evil, so I had hope, and looked about for help. All I could see was the two puppets I held. One was a rabbit, and one was a frog. I put them like gloves onto my hands, thinking that some crazy antics I made the puppets enact might stun my audience and make them forget their unruly unhappiness. After all, is not that what rock stars do? And in fact, as soon as I put the puppets on my hands, the little children seemed to hush and settle, expecting me to perform.

And right then, thank God, the coffee hit, and out the blue the following fable appeared and unfolded. The children liked it so much they had me tell it again.

*******

Long, long ago, on the Ilse of Ease where the seven Snuggle sisters lived, there also lived a rabbit named Lepus Hopper. Lepus was hugged a lot by the Snuggle sisters, and a day came when he decided enough was enough. He was tired of being hugged all the time. Therefore, he attempted hiding.

He hid up on the hill, but they found him.

He hid behind the big tree, but they found him.

He even hid in the prickers, but they found him, and, after they found him, they put on gardener-gloves with long gauntlets to reach through the thorns and grab him.

Finally, Lepus went to the center of the island and hid in the ferns by Muddy Pond, and for a short while had some peace, but soon heard the baying of Gustav, the Snuggle’s farm-dog, and knew that soon they’d track him down.

Just then Lepus noticed a frog named Francis Frog sitting by the pond, looking very sad. Lepus said, “You think you’ve got problems? You ought to see mine.”

Francis stopped moping and looked interested. “Really? What’s your problem?”

“I get hugged too much,” explained Lepus. “The seven Snuggle sisters never let up. They hug me in the morning and in the afternoon. I’m squeezed so much my ribs are starting to ache.”

“Well, what an amazing coincidence!” exclaimed Francis, “My problem is that I never get hugged at all. The seven Snuggle sisters say I am icky.”

“Have you told them that if they kiss you, you’ll turn into a prince?”

Francis looked thoughtful. “No, that never occurred to me.”

Lepus suggested, “Give it a try. It seems to work, according to books I’ve read.”

“Will do. But, since you’ve given me your advice, would you like mine?”

Lepus cocked his long ears anxiously. He could hear the baying of Gustav coming over the hill and getting closer. “Yes! Tell me! Tell me! I’ll try anything!”

“Come down into the mud with me and get icky. They won’t hug you if you’re all icky.”

It seemed like a good idea at the time, so Lepus hopped to the side of the pond, and they smeared the rabbit’s fur with mud and algae, with a few dabs of scum for good measure. Francis looked at Lepus, evaluating. “Pretty icky, but something is missing.” Fransis thought deeply, stroking his lack of a chin, and then exclaimed, “I’ve got it! You need to eat a few bugs like I do. You need to have some insect-legs sticking from your mouth. Then they’ll never kiss you.”

Francis’s advice didn’t seem so good to Lepus anymore. He was cold and wet and had started shivering, but just then Francis exclaimed, “Oh, this is our lucky day! Look who’s coming!”

Down the shore of the pond came a grasshopper and an ant. The ant was talking about financial investments, IRA accounts, and the risks of buying gold, when Francis’s long, pink, sticky tongue hit him, and he was gobbled up. Then Francis looked cheerfully at Lepus, with a few legs waving from his lips, and said through a mouthful, “Your turn.”

Lepus looked at the nervous grasshopper dubiously. Then he stuck out his own little tongue and went cross-eyed looking down at it doubtfully. Then, for no apparent reason, he muttered, “I do not like green eggs and ham…” But finally, Lepus took a great, deep breath, stepped forward, and…

“Stop right there!” bellowed the grasshopper, with a surprisingly loud voice.

Lepus stepped back, and looked relieved, but asked, “Why?”

“You can’t eat me, and neither can Frog there.”

Francis stood taller. “The name is Francis, and why, pray tell, should I not eat you?”

“Because I hop. And you hop. And so does Rabbit there. We hoppers have to stick together. We’re practically brothers. If you eat me, it makes you a sort of a cannibal, does it not?”

Francis looked thoughtful. “You know, that never occurred to me.” Then he looked up. Gustav was crashing through the underbrush with the seven Snuggle sisters in hot pursuit. Francis looked at the grasshopper and said, “Well here goes nothing.” Then he hopped away from the pond to meet the oncoming throng.

“Hi there!” said Fransis to Gustav, who screeched to a halt so swiftly the Snuggle sisters nearly fell over him. They all looked at the big frog in surprise, as he continued, “Did you young ladies know that if you kiss me, I’ll turn into a prince? Who will be the lucky princess?”

All seven girls burst out laughing.

“Do you think we were born yesterday?” exclaimed Susie Snuggles.

“Just imagine, thinking we’d fall for that old ruse!” shouted Sarah Snuggles.

Sally Snuggles laughed, “Do you know how many frogs have tried that line on us?”

Sophia Snuggles said, “Even Sissy knew better than to kiss a frog by the time she was three.”

Sissy Snuggles agreed, “Yup.”

Only Samantha Snuggles was silent. Her face had become sympathetic, because the frog looked so sad.

Sissy looked around and asked Francis, “Seen any rabbits around here?”

Just then the grasshopper crawled out from under the ferns and exclaimed, “How about me? I can hop like a rabbit.” He jumped left and right a few times, to demonstrate, smiling, and then added, “And if you kiss me, I might turn into a prince!”

Sophia rolled her eyes, Sally heaved a sigh and shook her head, and Sarah put her hands on her hips and exclaimed, “Who ever heard of such a thing? A grasshopper turning into a prince!”

The grasshopper put his four front hands on its thorax’s side and challenged back, “How would you know, if you never tried it? I’ve heard of plenty of girls kissing frogs, but no one has ever experimented with a grasshopper, have they?”

Fransis said, “You know, that never occurred to me…” but Susie interrupted, scoffing, “We don’t want a prince. We want fur! Soft, strokable fur, that we can cuddle!”

“Well, you got me there.” admitted the grasshopper.

Sissy turned to Gustav, who was smiling with his tongue dangling out, and demanded, “Gustav! Where is the bunny!?”

Gustav turned to the ferns, lifted a paw, and pointed.

Lepus then came dragging out of the ferns, looking very sorry for himself. He was wet and slimy and smelled. The girls all exclaimed, “Oh! You poor thing!” and gathered about to tenderly clean his fur and dab it dry with a towel. Sarah hugged Lupus gently as they started home. Lupus looked back at Francis, winked, and silently mouthed, “I’ve changed my mind.”

Fransis looked grouchy, and then surprised. He saw Samantha Snuggles was lagging behind the rest. She paused, and then looked over both her shoulders, and then hurried back to him. After looking over both her shoulders a second time she stooped and gave Francis a kiss on his forehead.

Francis blushed, and he tingled all over. The tingling was so strong he looked down at his skinny arms to see if he was turning into a prince. He wasn’t. But Fransis did notice something odd. His green skin was swiftly growing out soft green fur. It grew longer and longer, and started to curl.

Once Francis was completely fluffed out, Samantha scooped him up and took him home with her.

The grasshopper laughed and hopped away, singing Zippidy Doo Dah.

Anyway, in case you are wondering, that why you will see, if you ever visit the Snuggle’s house, that Samanth’s bed has a big, green frog on it. The frog looks very happy, because it had never occurred to him but now has.