I have just past my sixty-fifth birthday, with no hope of retirement, and what used to be a joke isn’t all that funny any more. The joke? “I took my retirement back when I was young and could enjoy it”. Ha ha ha. Not all that funny, when you have heard it for the ninety-seventh time, but I’m getting to be one of those old men who gets repetitive.
It’s also not all that funny when most of my friends are down in Florida, retired. In the old fable of the Grasshopper and the Ant, they were the ants, and squandered their youth loyally sticking to a tedious job, as I was free as a bird, because I was the grasshopper, making music as they worked. Now they have pensions and I don’t. Serves me right, I suppose, but that doesn’t mean I’m all that happy about the situation. If you detect a trace of bitterness in my words, it is because poets are suppose to die young; the grasshopper is suppose to be cut down by the first frost. I don’t see many grasshoppers around these parts bouncing about through the deep snows, but me? The snow gets me hopping, because the alternative is not pretty.
The motto of New Hampshire is “Live Free Or Die”, but in the winter sometimes it is more like “Get your Walkways Snow-Free or Die”, especially if your business depends on clean walkways, and the State Inspector will close you down if every fire-escape isn’t shoveled. I am not prone to foul language, but I have shocked myself with some of the choice vocabulary escaping my lips as I deal with the drifts, even while getting texts on my cellphone from friends by a sunny pool in Florida. Can it be that I am becoming a bitter old coot?
Temperatures have recently been above normal, but that isn’t really helpful this far north. Seven degrees above normal is still below freezing, and it is more likely to snow, with temperatures up around freezing.
Last weekend just enough cold air slid south between southerly warm-sectors to give us snow, even though the warm-sectors were attached to storms that passed well to our north, which usually gives us rain. Saturday the forecast was for 1-3 inches, but Sunday morning dawned upon a fall of 7 inches. Rather than Sunday being a scripturally-correct (as opposed to politically-correct) “day of rest”, I had to clear up the parking lot and paths of my workplace, for Monday morning. It is bad enough I don’t get to retire to Florida; I don’t even get to rest on Sundays. (Bring out the violins, please.)
To be honest, the workweek’s forecast was for such nice, mild temperatures that I did the minimum of snow-clearing. I cleared the front entrance and the parking lot, but left the mild temperatures to clear the fire escapes and back stairs. If the dreaded inspector had leapt from bed early on Monday Morning, (unlikely), he would seen a reason to “write me up”, as the seven inches had only wilted to four.
However I confess a fall of sticky, wet snow does make running a Childcare easier, in terms of “curriculum”. This is especially true because certain youths do not seem to be born to sit in rows as children, so they can sit in cubicles as adults, but rather are born to shift heavy weights outside.
However so strong was the thaw that, despite the production of seven large snowballs, within twenty-four hours the warmth (and destructive older children) left little sign of the efforts.
However it did allow me to send texts back to my pals lounging in Florida, which may be just a little bit mean. Or maybe not. After all, if they expect me to rejoice over how they are escaping winter, lounging by a pool, then they should rejoice over how the winter they thought they were escaping isn’t happening, and how I am not suffering, right? So today I sent them this:
But you will notice, though the thaw continues tomorrow, there is a suspicious-looking snowflake on Thursday. After all, this is February, and New Hampshire isn’t Florida.
The sad fact of the matter is that old-timers always fretted when there was an especially warm spell in the middle of the winter. In some ways their worry seemed comical, as if they were dour pessimists who couldn’t enjoy good weather, for “it will have to be paid for.” However they had a method behind their glowering madness. Some of the biggest storms in the history of the east of the USA were preceded by delightful weather. The legendary “Blizzard of 1888” gave New York City four feet of snow with gusts of hurricane force hurtling between the tall building and heaping drifts to second-story windows. Such a storm would shut down the New York City even with modern plows. But it occurred between March 11 and March 14. What was the situation in New York City on March 10?
March 10, 1888 was a lovely early-spring day in New York City, with temperatures well up into the fifties. People had no idea of what was coming.
I have lost the link I once kept, but one wonderful discovery I once made, while wandering the web, was the description of the Blizzard of 1888 from the eyes of a fisherman who fished south of Long Island. Back in those days sailors had no GPS, computer forecasts, or even engines. They were called sailors because they sailed.
This sailor had headed out in delightful early-spring weather. Then the storm “blew up”. The fisherman described the sky becoming as purple as concord grapes with amazing speed, with flashes of lightning. Then he described the amazing battle with sails and sheets in screaming wind and blinding snow he endured just to get to shore alive, without a single fish to sell. Many other sailors didn’t make it. People paid a high price for fish in 1888, especially the fishermen’s wives.
So I actually should be thankful to even make it to age sixty-five. One-hundred-thirty years ago not all that many made it. Still, I do manage to grouse a fair amount. There are days when sinking at sea seems like heaven to me, when I compare it dealing with a pack of small hellions at a Childcare.
And, in case you wonder, I have been at sea in a small boat in a big storm, and I do know the desperation involved. It is a hugely humbling experience, and little dignity is involved, for a roaring storm cares little about our mortal concept of “dignity”. Yet there is more dignity in that desperate situation than in being a sixty-five year old man dealing with a bunch of
little whiny brats children experiencing challenges to their sense of well-being and self-esteem. Do modern children respect their elders? I think not.
Often I derive great joy from small children, but Lord Jesus didn’t say “derive great joy” from the little children. He said “suffer the little children”.
And at age sixty-five I confess there are days I roll my eyes to the sky and ask questions that are less than grateful. Is this the culmination of my life? To be a
fucking babysitter childcare professional?
There is a story which likely isn’t true, but which makes many smile, involving a children’s-show radio personality called “Uncle Bob” or some such thing, who muttered at the end of a show, when he thought the microphone was turned off and he was off the air, “That ought to keep the little bastards quiet for another week.” Even if the story is an urban myth, the fact it makes people chuckle (rather than look indignant) seems to suggest children are not all goodness and light, and are things we must “suffer”.
At age sixty-five I’d rather sit by a pool in Florida and study scripture. The fact I chose to take my retirement when I was young and could enjoy it seems like a bad choice to me now. However the choice of fisherman to go out fishing on March 10, 1888 likely seemed like a bad choice to them, on March 11. No matter how we chose to direct the course of our lives, we are bound to sail headlong into storms.
In New Hampshire this happens every cotton-picking year, and is called “winter”. Many retire here, but many don’t last long. Norman Rockwell be damned; pristine snowscapes get old after Christmas, and by February winter gets so old that they shortened the month to 28 days, just to speed up the progress to spring. As March arrives the last thing anyone wants is a huge storm.
However the future does not look tranquil to me. I had hopes that the so-called “arctic vortex” would keep the cold air trapped in a tight circle, whirling at the Pole, but instead that vortex moved south into Canada, and has been making the Canadian Archipelago so cold that even the Eskimos have been staying indoors.
My hope was that the cold would wobble back up to the Pole, where it belongs, but that would involve a positive NAO. Instead the exact opposite seems to be developing.
If the NOA crashes (and I am deeply hoping this forecast is utterly wrong) then the so-called “arctic vortex” becomes deranged, and in layman’s terms this means the cold doesn’t stay north where it belongs. Instead it comes south to bump into the nice, juicy air of our thaw, and all hell can break loose. 1888 can reoccur.
When I look north I can see the amazing cold sitting there up in Canada, in maps Dr Ryan Maue’s hard work makes available at the Weatherbell site.
The pink in the above map, up in Canada, represents the one temperature where Fahrenheit and Celsius actually agree, -40°. However I wonder to myself, “Is that normal, up there?” Fortunately Dr. Maue also has produced an “anomaly map”, which tells us if temperatures are above-normal or below-normal.
The second map shows that the temperatures are thirty-degrees-below-normal, even by Canadian standards. To have that air come south and mingle with air that is thirty-degrees-above-normal by the standards of Chicago seems unwise to me. It is like mixing gasoline with a fire.
But it hasn’t happened yet. It is an amazingly mild night for February in New Hampshire, with temperatures above 50°F (10°C). Tomorrow it might touch 70°F (21°C).
In the warm thaw before the storm I bask
My old bones, like a sailboat sliding
Through slack seas, and try not to glumly ask
What the clouds on high foretell, for deciding
The word on high speaks of a hurricane
Spoils the brief joy of a midwinter day
Which smells like a rose midst the jabbing pain
Of thorns. Roses are brief, but thorns stay
All year. I’ll take flowers when they come,
Well aware that soon enough my loose belt
Will need to be hitched. For a time I’ll strum
My harp; not drum my fingers. I have felt
Cruel sleet before, and know it is best
To face a fierce storm after getting some rest.