LOCAL VIEW –Black Fly Blues–

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       BLACK FLY BLUES

Outside the blue sky’s gorgeous
But I’m not going out of doors today.
Outside the sun is golden
But inside is the place I’m going to stay.
I’ll be a couch potato
Until the biting black flies go away.

I’ve heard God’s love’s in everything,
Even in that pesky little fly.
I found the thought impossible,
So I grabbed one, and I looked him in the eye.
He whined, “Hey man! I love you!”
He’d made a point no woodsman can deny.

They love me head down to my toes;
They even love the inside of my nose.
They also love my armpits
(And not too many folk are fond of those.)
They’re part of Love’s creation
Sort of like the thorns upon a rose.

See that flycatcher winging?
He loves black fly. Black fly he’s glad to see.
Hear that songbird singing?
Black fly fuels his springtime rhapsody.
Feel that itch and stinging?
You are part of Love’s ecology.

Outside the blue sky’s gorgeous.
I can’t be cooped up inside any more.
Outside the sun is gorgeous.
I find I’m walking slowly to the door.
Spring is here and it is clear
Love’s inviting me to come explore.

I wrote that song back in May, 1990. It was one of the last songs I wrote as a bachelor, though I didn’t really have a clue what lay 45 days in my future. I had just chanced into a small town church choir, and found myself mingling with young married couples with small children, and they wanted me to sing at a church picnic in June. It was sort of a graduation party for the Sunday School. For me it was great fun, for I’d been through over a decade as a drifter and a loner, and now all of a sudden I had not only a guitarist and bass to back up my vocals, but the young housewives insisted on being accompanying dancers as I sang, and choreographed a thing where all held fly-swatters and waved them like batons as I sang. I doubt it would have been a hit on Broadway, but we weren’t aiming for that. We hit the bulls eye of what we aimed for, which was joy and a good laugh.

To make joy out of black flies is a major achievement. In fact it is something I think might be good to be remembered for. It would make an intriguing tombstone, “He made joy out of black flies.”

However here it is 27 years later, and I’m dealing with a whole new generation of children and black flies. One way I create a safe-house out of doors is to use the old-fashioned idea of a “smudge.” You basically build a hot fire, and then smother it with wet leaves and twigs.

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Black flies don’t like smoke. They don’t even like the exhaust of a lawn mower or leaf-blower, but back in the day I was prone to using un-powered hand tools, and therefore during the spring I was a chain-smoker. I’d say I only inhaled a puff or two of each cigarette, but they were much cheaper back then, and I’d go through 3 packs a day quite often.

Of course, the politics of smoke have gotten rougher. The EPA was doing its best to outlaw smoke altogether, (though they did get caught fudging some of their data, concerning the harm of “particulates.)”

When I was a small child I didn’t use the word “particulates”, but, believe it or not, one of the small girls at the Childcare furrowed her brow, as I built my smudge, and asked me if I was worried about the “particulates”.

What could I say? I just tugged my beard thoughtfully, and said man started using fire a long, long time ago. Neanderthals used fire. Even Homo Erectus used fire, perhaps as much as 1,500,000 years ago. If it was bad for us, it would have killed us by now. In fact, we probably evolved to handle smoke better than laboratory rats do.  So I told her she shouldn’t worry too much about “particulates.” There was probably more bad stuff in indoor air, than by a campfire.

The girl seemed immensely relieved, and ran off to happily play. But it did make me wonder what some environmentalists think they are teaching our children, when they cause the young such worry, and so many bad dreams. Actually the outside is a lovely place, even when the black flies are out.

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LOCAL VIEW —Christmas Homesickness—

December has been snowless so far, and I’m rather enjoying it. Last year we’d already had enough snow to shovel, and I was numbering the storms. Even though a warm wave was in the long range, and it turned out we had a green Christmas (with bluebirds and robins in the yard as the yearly Christmas miracle), it also seemed down in my bones that we were in for a test, and spring would be a long time coming, and I was right.

This year has been kinder, (though I feel the end of the winter may have a lot of snow). I actually am rotor-tilling the spring garden, and we’ve gotten some late house painting done. Considering I work a lot more slowly than I used to, I like having extra days to be ready for the time the snow clamps down and life becomes more limited.

I don’t relish storms the way I once did.
Perhaps this simply goes with aging.
I’m in the driver’s seat, don’t want to skid,
And have burdens enough without raging
Winds and whirling snows. When you’re young the blows
Fall on others, streets are cleaned by magic,
Hot water comes from the shower and flows
Over you, and you need not get tragic
About how you must cut wood to heat it,
Nor even think much about food on the table.
So the ease gets boring, and to defeat it
Youth makes problems, challenges it’s able
To feel vain about conquering, until years
Teach that life’s best without brewing such fears.

One thing I deal with every day, because I run a Childcare, is the problems modern parents have doing something as normal and natural as to have children and raise them. To me family seems more like a “given”, than a “problem”. To call family a problem is like calling the ground we walk upon a problem. Family is simply there, and it is amazing to me the degree some are able to make it not be there.

Often both parents work, and their child is dropped off at Childcare at 7:00 AM and then not picked up until 5:30 PM. To me it seems so much time is spent working to pay for a house that hardly any time is left to make it a home.

The kids seem to get especially homesick during the dark days of December. Perhaps the homesickness happens because the all-pervading, ever-present Christmas music is so suggestively sentimental about home, with songs like “I’ll be home for Christmas”, but I also think it is during the dark days that a warm hearth, and keeping home fires burning, becomes especially meaningful. During the long days of summer the outdoors is welcoming, but during the early dusk of December a warm place by a fire, (hopefully with cookies and cocoa), becomes a solace to the human spirit, especially if you are a little child, in a big and sometimes frightening world.

Parents sometimes seem to spend even less time at home around Christmas, as they work overtime to afford presents, and then go to malls to shop for the presents, seemingly quite unaware that small children can have just as much fun with a cardboard box as what comes in the box, and have a deep craving for the parents themselves.

What the kids seem to need most is the interactions. But parents get fooled. A kid who has been happy for hours may throw a fit as soon as the parent arrives to pick them up. It is as if the child has been saving all sorts of grievances up, and dumps on the parent the moment they appear. The parent is fooled because all they hear are demands for chocolate and dolls and bikes and computer games and what-have-you, but that is not what is really important to the kid. What is important is the interaction. What is important is the parent. Parents need to be told this, because they too often tend to feel their child only cares about stuff, and not them.

I get to see what the parents don’t, which is that sometimes a child is homesick and sulking, and is asking over and over, “When is Mom coming?” or “Is it soon that Dad will be here?”

During these dark days I often build a bright and cheery fire in the pasture, as much as for the light as for the warmth, but today the final kids were not all that cheered by its flames.

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What I heard from the kids was basically, “I want to go home,” over and over. To a certain degree I could distract them with gathering wood, and making an especially big fire, and stirring the coals and making showers of sparks rise into the purpling sky like fireworks. But, as I thought, watching the kids, I got to thinking about how “I want to go home” is such a powerful part of Christmas, even when one gets old like me.

She was dying but didn’t really know it
And as I visited her the past seemed
More present than the present. She’d show it
By how she saw me as one dimly dreamed
About, while her childhood home’s least detail
Was vivid. It made me think about how
We launch from the nest, yet strangely fail
To ever leave it. Her old, care-worn brow
Had ever fretted over slung arrows
Of worry, and yet now mere memory
Soothed and smoothed it. I wonder what narrows
Our lives, and what it is that sets us free?
For the farther we wander and restlessly roam
The more we are yearning to find a way home.

Of course, I don’t subject small children to my sonnets. (I’d likely get arrested for child abuse.) Instead I decided that, if I couldn’t beat them, I’d join them, and I started to sing songs about wanting to go home. There are a lot of them.

They liked “Sloop John B”, though you would think children couldn’t relate to sailors getting thrown into jail for being too rowdy in Nassau. However kids always surprise me with their ability to regurgitate adult music that you might think was miles over their heads. (I knew one small girl who, at age four, had what was seemingly a photographic memory, when it came to country music she heard on her father’s radio, and, in a sweet, piping voice, would sing about picking up babes at a bar.)

Abruptly a memory came back to me of the first Christmas after my own parents split up, and of how at age eleven I memorized a song miles above my head, that was a hit on the radio at that time, and could belt it out at the top of my lungs. The kids liked it as much as “Sloop John B”.

LOCAL VIEW —Boiling Maple Sap—

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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.

LOCAL VIEW —More Boston Snow—(Updated with Summery)

Another brutal shot of cold air came slugging into New England on Monday. The temperature was still relatively mild just before dawn at 22.8°, but headed down as an arctic front passed through. It was interesting how the flurries became squalls to our north and to our south, but we lucked out and had just a few flakes wandering about. It was enough to make Monday a day-with-snow, but not anything I had to deal with, even with a broom, which was a good thing, as I was stiff and sore from snow-blowing on Sinday, and still had some porches and paths to clear.

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Temperatures had fallen to 15° by noon and were down into the single digits in the afternoon, with a gusty wind whipping up clouds of stinging powder, despite the fact there was just enough moisture in the Sunday morning snow to form the thinnest of crusts. The snow has been amazingly powdery this winter, and we have had no crust atop the snow to speak of. Sunday only gave us a quarter inch of crust, and then there was enough powder after the brief spell of sticky snow to allow the typical wraiths to swirl and twist, dancing wildly across the pasture and then charging away down the street, despite the brilliant sunshine from a February sun climbing up toward the regions it crosses in March.

I did not have to drive my gang-of-six to kindergarten, as the schools have let out for a week of vacation. This is a “Disturbance in the Force” [Star Wars] as it makes chaos of the routine. Traditionally Massachusetts would have its vacation one week, and folk in New hampshire would work like crazy that week because lots of people used the vacation to come north to ski. Then New Hampshire would collapse as Massachusetts went back to work the following week, and have its vacation the week after Massachusetts.

This is one of those traditions that makes less and less sense as time goes by. No longer is every hill in New Hampshire topped by a rope-tow run by an old Model T engine, which was once all it took to be a “ski-area”. Lawsuits and Insurance have put all the small family-owned ski-areas out of business, and all that is left are the larger resorts, which charge so much for skiing it is actually cheaper for a young family to fly down to Florida and go to Disney World. Also many near the border now commute down to Massachusetts to work, and in the case of teachers they have a vacation at their school a week before their children have vacation in their New Hampshire School.

My wife and I didn’t have the problems of modern parents, as we raised our five kids. We didn’t have to worry about ski-areas or Florida, for we couldn’t afford that, and instead took our kids sledding or skating or ice-fishing, (and I coached a basketball team for my boys that tended to play during vacations, as well). As a landscaper and handyman, winter was a time of little business for me, and I usually had to find some night-shift job at a factory, but this still meant I was around during the day. Meanwhile my wife alternated between being a stay-at-home Mom and the recreation-director of some nearby facility either focused on the first or second childhood. We got by, however the idea of spending a hundred a week on gasoline, or two hundred a week on Childcare, would have struck us as absurd. It defeated the whole reason for getting a job, (using up the money you made), and deprived you of time with your kids as well.

For many modern parents vacation is THE time, the ONLY time, they get to have with their kids, and I can’t blame them for wanting it to be special and involve some fabulous trip to Florida. However in some cases it is the same parents who tell me they can’t afford to pay their Childcare bill on time. Hmm. (Perhaps grandparents in Florida have taken pity, and paid for the airfare, because they want to see their grandchildren.)

In any case it makes a complete shambles of order at our Childcare. Children need wildness, but also have a craving for order and routine, and vacation is disorder. The chemistry of the Childcare’s mini-society is utterly altered, as children who usually go to school stay all day, and others who usually stay all day are in Florida.

Furthermore the winter has been so hard, and involved so many “snow days”, it is not as if the kids have been spending too much time at school. The routine was a shambles to begin with, and vacation is just a shambles on top of a shambles. But never mind that. As this winter has gone on it has seemed more and more like a boxing match, where you have to roll with the punches.

To return to the subject, I did not have to drive my gang-of-six to kindergarten. Therefore I scheduled a yearly physical at my doctor’s office.

To depart from the topic,  the way that doctor’s focus on physical reality annoys me. My father was a surgeon and my mother was a nurse, and perhaps I got an overdose of that focus, and responded by retreating into the landscape of an air-head. After all, of all artists, writers are the most air-headed. Painters at least employ the physical sense of vision, and composers at least employ the physical sense of hearing. Writers employ no sense, yet make sense. (I could describe a lemon and make your mouth water, without a lemon in sight.)

In any case, because I spend so much of my time in a non-physical world, winter really annoys me. It is always hitting me with stinging snow on bitter blasts, and forcing me to deal with boring physical stuff. In the same manner, my doctor wants to force me to deal with even more annoying physical stuff. For some reason he wants to look around inside my colon. This will mean I have to miss two full days of work, one of which I will basically spend sitting on a toilet crapping out diarrhea. All I can say is, doctors sure have a weird idea of what is good for you.

To return to the topic, the winds were howling and the snow was sifting and swirling and the weather bureau was saying frostbite could set in as swiftly as 30 minutes, and the children were lobbying to stay indoors. One bossy little girl had even decided who would stay in and who would go out. I walked in and stated everyone was going out, for at least 29 minutes. The little girl shot me a baleful glance.

In actual fact, dressing to go out is not an annoying task that tries the patience of both children and myself. It is, in and of itself, an “activity” which “promotes learning” and “stimulates the development of self-reliant skills.”  (You learn to talk this jargon, when you work this business.)

Anyway, to go out in barbaric weather involves mental stuff that is more important than physical reality.  Don’t get me wrong, I keep a sharp eye out for the slightest hint of frostbite. I also keep an eye out for the benefits being outside pours upon children, and adults as well, if they only dare step out the door.

Not a single child wanted to go in after 29 minutes. In fact the little girl who shot me the baleful glance about going out was annoyed at her friend, who wanted to go in after 50 minutes.

A member of my staff took the more delicate children in as I stayed out with the hardier ones, but one by one kids headed in, until I was at last out with one little boy who was even more hardy than I was. He was having a blast, sledding down cliffs I usually would forbid children from sledding upon, but which are now quite safe because any crashing plunks the crasher into a vast pillow of deep snow. Despite powdering his face with snow over and over, (the powder melts, and wet skin increases the danger of frostbite), his cheeks remained a cheerful and healthy pink, without the mottled, purplish look that tells me it is time to go in. We only eventually went in because I myself was feeling a bit mottled and purplish.

I might have been shuddering a bit, as we came in, but that particular boy was surprisingly serene, especially when you consider he is often a hellion indoors. To me it is one more example of how people who focus on physical reality, and won’t even allow children outside when temperatures dip below 20°, are completely missing a higher reality.

The physical reality got nasty as night fell and the core of the cold came down. 20150223C satsfc20150223C rad_ec_640x480_12

As the cold suppressed a storm to our south and shunted it out to sea, temperatures dropped to the lowest levels of the winter, reaching -10.8° (-23.8° Celsius) around midnight, before the wind dropped and began shifting more to the west, and temperatures rose slightly to -9° at sunrise.

Today was a cold day, with lots of high clouds in a cold, blue sky, but less wind. I built a fire out in the pasture for the sledding children to warm by, and had to admit it looked downright odd, as it was down in a crater, four feet below the surface of the snow.  I had to to careful kids didn’t fall into the fire, as they decended to warm by it, and carved a sort of staircase in the snow to make their decent less treacherous.

However the oddest thing about today was to hear a buzz of gossip about the city of Boston holding a gathering of ministers from different faiths to pray for help, regarding the problems snow was causing. This shocked me. It sounds more like the mid 1800’s, when Boston was the most prudish city in the nation, and the center of the “Bible Belt” of that time. I had thought Boston had now become too “secular” for such an event. Curiosity had me attempt to learn more.

As far as I can tell, the gossip is based about this video.

While I must admit it is a good thing for clergy to unite, rather than backbite, and for them to speak of neighbors loving neighbors, and brotherhood, and how “We are all in this together,” but….didn’t they forget something?  I mean, um, err, isn’t prayer suppose to involve this fellow called, um, err, “God”???

It seems yet another case where the physical unity of people and peoples ignores something sublimely non-physical. In any case, the prayer didn’t work. An interesting little storm is charging up the coast, and seems, somewhat incredibly, aiming to hit Boston with up to five inches, as I, only seventy miles away,  get a few lone flakes.

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As this snow headed north to teach preachers in Boston to mention God more, when they pray, we got some southerly air, and a flurry of snow at 11:00  PM. (That keeps Tuesday from being a snow-less day.) Temperatures had fallen to 7.9°, but after the flurry arose to 9.4°.  We had a lighter flurry just after midnight (which keeps Wednesday from being a snow-less day) but now the stars are back out and temperatures have slipped back to 8.6°

The map doesn’t look all that threatening, in terms of snow, but it looks like another arctic blast is charging our way,  behind that cold front crossing the Great Lakes.

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Now it is time to quit attending to physical reality, and attend to dream-land instead. I’m only up because my left shoulder is so sore I can’;t sleep on it. That is another “healthy” thing my doctor did to me.

He advised I have a anti-pneumonia vaccine. Actually there is no germ called “pneumonia”, and the vaccine is for various types of staphylococcus bacteria. You used to be able to kill those bugs with antibiotics, but they have grown resistant.  In any case, I don’t have pneumonia, but have one heck of a sore left shoulder.

I’ll try to update this post, with information about how much snow Boston got ( if any ), tomorrow, but I must confess I’m getting tired of physical reality. Rather than update this post I may subject you to my “art”. I have a craving to finish up a chapter of my novel. If I find time, you’ll be faced with that, rather than an update. I apologize in advance.

UPDATE  —Another jab at Boston—

The snow clipped them with another two inches of snow, as we got the barest dusting. The edge of the snow was remarkably sharp.

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It is not as if 2 inches will close down Boston, but it keeps melting at bay. The bright March-like sunshine would melt away 2 inches a day, and the snow banks would gradually shrink, but the snow keeps coming. It is like jab after jab in a boxing match, but what all dread is the uppercut.  That would be a final storm where the features in the southern stream and northern stream “phase” into a big storm.  Rain would cause all sorts of problems, but a big nor’easter would utterly close the city down. I think things would basically grind to a halt until thaw did some major melting.

Actually the best site for seeing Boston’s trauma documented has been Joseph D’Aleo’s site at Weatherbell. It is well worth the price of a cup of coffee a day it costs me each day. One of the most eye-opening features has been this list of Boston’s statistics, updated regularly, and showing them get an amazing 8 feet of snow over the past month. (The red print is what is predicted, but hasn’t happened yet.) (Click to enlarge and clarify.)

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The above chart shows they will actually get a thaw down there today, and that I had better get things done in the sun, before bitter blasts return.  Actually I  have a rather easy day, and may actually have time to think and write a little.

In any case, we are starting to look west to the next features in the northern and southern blasts, so I guess this “snow-event” is over. Up here it won’t look all that impressive, though it did give us our coldest temperatures of the winter. All we got was a dusting.

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The radar does show both a southern branch and northern branch feature, but the forecast shows no “phasing”.

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A FEW THOUGHTS ABOUT THOUGHT’S POWER, AND PRAYER

Because writers spend so much time in a non-physical reality they tend to stumble into or through situations which strike some as being slightly “occult”.  Back before the word “telepathy” was invented Mark Twain wrote a couple of works about what he called “Mental Telegraphy”, involving what he called “crossing letters” (among other things). He noticed, over and over, that when he sat down to write someone for the first time in months, and even years, that person would also be sitting down to write, and their letters would cross in the mail. He wondered about controlling this ability, but beyond dabbling a little he tended to feel it was something he could only observe, and not use like people used the newfangled invention called the “telephone”.

I’ve noticed the same coincidences, and it has given me the sense our thoughts do have some sort of power. If this is a truth, then prayer has power, but also wishes have power, and desires have power.  All people are walking about transmitting thoughts which form an incredible jumble in the psychic atmosphere, and make me think that a true psychic would get a headache, for it would be like listening to a radio tuned into hundreds of stations at once. (Or perhaps it would be sheer static).

If all these thoughts do have power, the various powers likely are in conflict. For example during the Superbowl half the fans are praying for one side and half for the other, creating the chaos we watch and enjoy and call “football”.

In like manner, all people’s various wishes may indeed control the weather, but because they are conflicting they create chaos. The Baptists are praying for a sunny church picnic as the Methodists pray for rain on their corn, and the thoughts collide and create a tornado.

The weather would be far better if people could agree, but people don’t. Or that is how I explain the fact it often rains on picnics despite prayers for sun.

It is only the purest Atheists and Saints that arrive at the only solution to this chronic chaos I can envision. In the case of an Atheist there is no belief that prayer has any effect, so they accept reality as it is given. In the case of a Saint they say, “Not my will but Thy will be done,” so they too are accepting the Creation as the Creator created it.

If the general mass of humanity put the Creator first, and prayed for whatever weather He wants, we’d be living in a Garden of Eden, but the Creator didn’t create us that way. He must have a fondness for chaos, or at least be indulgent towards roughly seven billion children running around creating tornadoes out of serenity.

In any case, the people of New England are getting so fed up with winter there may be a slight chance a partial unity is occurring, and the power of all thoughts are deflecting storms south and out to sea. (On the other hand, perhaps the deep snow-cover is creating an increase in the high pressure over New England.)

LOCAL VIEW —Sneak Attack Cold—

It was 20° (-7° Celsius) in the dawn twilight this morning, without much wind, which isn’t bad for a January daybreak this far north, especially when there isn’t a cloud in the sky. It was colder than yesterday, so my mind digested the fact a cold front had moved through, but somehow I tricked myself into believing the air behind the front wasn’t all that cold. As the first brilliant rays of the sun crested the hills to our east I dressed as if it was 20° and rising.

As I went through the morning chores of opening up  the Childcare and greeting the parents and children I thought about something my dentist talked about yesterday, when he had my mouth full of stuff and was able to monopolize the conversation. The last thing I’d been able to speak coherently was a comment about how people in the north got so used to sub-zero cold that 20° seemed mild, and he expanded on the subject, going into great detail about how the thyroid gland regulates our metabolism.  I was thinking to myself that my thyroid must have over-reacted to the slight thaw we had yesterday, because now 20° felt darn cold.

As I was loading the kids into the van to drive them to kindergarten I was wincing and my hands were stinging, so I checked the thermometer readout on the dashboard and saw it was 6° (-14° Celsius.)  My first thought was that the thing must be malfunctioning.  However when I stopped in at home after dropping the kids off my Christmas thermometer informed me it had dropped as low as 4.9°, and only risen to 9° in the brilliant sunshine.

I can never remember such a sneaky cold. What was oddest was that it came in without a roaring wind. Instead it sort of oozed in around the edges. There were none of the usual visual clues that would lead one to suspect temperatures were plummeting.

This is just further evidence that old fossils like me are not as smart as we like to think we are. We still can be fooled, as we fall back on a lifetime of experience, and experience tells us that when it is 20° and calm on a January dawn, it will get  warmer. Instead it dropped fifteen degrees with amazing swiftness.

At least it wasn’t snowing. In fact the USA was amazingly  storm-free.

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The radar showed almost no precipitation across the entire country.

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Having been fooled once, I regarded the low pressure down on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico with deep suspicion, as those things have fooled weathermen quite often in my life, especially as our light winds occasionally shifted to the northeast.  Temperatures crawled back up to 17.1° (-8° Celsius), and I wondered if a little North Atlantic air might be mixing in with the Arctic air, but there were no clouds, and the winds became nearly calm. At the Childcare the kids were not at all cold as they sledded, and the smoke from my bright fire drifted slowly to the south-southwest.

Yesterday the snow was so sticky the children used up their superabundance of energy rolling snowballs, as the snow was sticky, and because I was off at the dentist they built an army of snowmen and a fort right where they sledded. All the snowballs have turned to stone today, which turned the sledding hill into an obstacle course, and may explain why we got word from our insurance agent that our insurance has been cancelled, this afternoon.

That was a bit of a surprise, and will close us down in a hurry if we can’t find a replacement.  It is typical in a world that wants children bubble-wrapped. Another surprise attack.

If we get shut down I’ll take it as a sign I’m suppose to work on my novel.

It is pretty amazing how two small snowfalls have winterized our world. The roads were so heavily salted, (I suppose the road crews have an excess, at this point, as the winter hasn’t been all that stormy so far), that they are dry, but every parking lot and driveway and sidewalk was slushy yesterday, and all the slush has frozen into iron-hard ruts that in some ways create a situation worse than we see after two feet of snow.  Who would imagine a couple of two-inch-snowfalls could make such a mess?

Temperatures fell fairly swiftly as soon as the sun dipped to the horizon, and were down to zero by nine.  So we are in for another below zero night, and I have three fires going. The storm far to our south is creeping up the coast, but still is forecast to slip out to sea.

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I never trust a storm to the south of us, and am nervous about that dent in the isobars on the south side of the high pressure over us. It looks a little like a negatively tilted trough is attempting to form, which can slow a storm down as it grows and throws snow inland. I don’t like that spot of snow in North Carolina either. However I suppose there is nothing I can do about it, except get up a little earlier and peek out the window to see if there’s a surprise.

 

 

LOCAL VIEW —Real Winter—

It was still above freezing just before sunrise yesterday, but all day the temperatures fell. It was down to 30° at sunsrise, and at 3:00 in the afternoon was down to 19°.  By 8:00 PM it was down to 9°. (-13° Celsius). All day the wind roared, and low, shredded cumulus blew over all the way from the Great Lakes, swirling flurries of snow so dry that it seemed to just blow about and then sublimate back into the air without ever accumulating. Only in a few nooks and crannies could it drift enough to be seen, white against the steely blue of the frozen slush.

For a time a streamer of snow could be seen stretching towards us on radar from Lake Ontario, and even though most of the moisture was wrung out crossing the mountains of New York and Vermont, and it never was thick enough to show on radar, all day we saw flakes, mostly heading sideways.

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It made me wonder how much colder the air would have been if it didn’t cross the lake, and also how misleading the temperature statistics for the day would be, showing a high of 38°.

I didn’t start a fire out in the pasture at the Childcare, because in that kind of wind it causes more misery than pleasure, swirling smoke into eyes and with most of its heat blow away before it can warm much. Therefore I expected the children to quickly start whining they wanted to go in. To my surprise they were so keen on catching up on their sledding, which they’d gone without for over two weeks, that there was more or less a mad stampeed for the slopes, and then they were so busy running up and sledding down the hill they didn’t seem to notice the cold.

Today dawned gray, as a pocket of moisture on the backside of the cold high pressure headed towards us well ahead of the weak storm it was associated with.

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The temperature bottomed out at 4.8° last night before the cloud cover moved in, and today has climbed all the way up to 12.0°.  Then, as the light snow began, it dropped back to 10.9°. (I got a new fangled thermometer for Christmas, and now don’t need to go outside to see how cold it is.)

I never trust these weak impulses, as you never know what they will do when they hit the warm Atlantic. Even when they don’t explode and kickback snow from the ocean, they often become gales and bring roaring wind from the north as they head out to sea, and right now the coldest air is just to the north of Maine.  It can stay up there, and slide away to the east, and I won’t be bothered a bit.

Winter is for real now, and I don’t need any embellishments. You  can keep your deep snows and record-setting cold. I’m busy enough just feeding three fires, and a daughter who’s got the ‘flu.

Local View —Popple—

Tonight I’m going to talk about Popple, because the map and radar-view below show that nothing is happening, weather-wise. I figure nothing happening is a good thing. It frees up time, and one can “make hay while the sun shines.” It wasn’t stormy, so I cut some wood with my chainsaw, including some Popple.

Of course, if you are a true weather geek, you have no hayfield, and can’t make hay while the sun shines. Your life is devoid of meaning, and therefore you have to seek the maps below for storms, even before they exist. Why?  I suppose it is because storms cancel school and work, which are situations that may give one the sense one doesn’t mean much, and instead places one in a situation where every helper counts and every man has meaning. (Or, even if you can’t be helpful with the shoveling, at least the humiliations of the classrooms and workplaces cease.)

In other words, storms give life meaning.

Looking at the map below you can see a very weak northern branch low over the Great Lakes with a very weak southern branch low to its south. A week ago computer models saw those two inconsequential features “phasing” into a big storm off the east coast. It gave weather geeks hope. Maybe school and work would be cancelled.

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That storm-cancelling, work-cancelling storm isn’t going to happen. Weather geeks are hurting, smarting from disappointment, and they express their rage by sneering at those models that disappointed them. In fact it feels good to sneer at someone else, after getting sneered at by bullies at schools and workplaces.

(And don’t think I am fooled for an instant by the efforts of the politically-correct to “end bullying” in schools. All it does is replace one sort of bullying with another. As long as a form of behavior is deemed “incorrect,” noses will wrinkle as if sniffing a stench when faced with that incorrect behavior, and that nose-wrinkling is a sneer, and the sneered-at will feel bullied.)

In any case, the sneered-at weather geeks, if not sneering at the failure of the current storm to develop, are looking ahead with hope to the next storm, a possible “Santabomb” on Christmas day. They refuse to become stagnant. They keep their minds ever-active.

I know all about this, because I was a wimp for a time in school, and, because no one would listen to me talk, I learned about the withdrawn world of writing. However after a while that got old, because no one would read my writing, either. I had to get the hell out, or become one of those fellows who slowly goes mad, living in their mother’s basement.

As a teenager I wrote a poem that began,

No policeman came and told me
I had harmed society
But every poem became an oldie,
Echoing a tragedy.
Hiding down in my bomb shelter
Words once bloomed like spring for me
But now words fall flat, helter skelter:
I have lost the harmony.
I have never fed the poor
Or helped the helpless live a day
So then what do I do it for?
Unless it’s an escapist’s play:
Working midnights without pay…

It was obviously becoming obvious, even back then, that I had to get out into the sunshine and make some hay, but that is more easily said than done, especially if you are determined to be a writer, (which gives you an excuse to withdraw). However, thank God, I did get out into the sunshine. (And discovered it didn’t stop my writing.)

Because I was forced (against my will) out into the sunshine, I was forced to spend time with old Yankee men who seemingly spent all their time making hay, and had no use for poetry. I found them incredibly dull, because they had no use for Shakespeare or Keats or Shelley or even Robert Frost, and had no interest in sonnets or alliteration or iambic pentameter or assonance. All they wanted to talk about was wood, wood, wood, wood, all the live-long day, it seemed. If they ever ventured away from the subject of wood it was to talk about saws, but that led to axes, and then back to the best wood for an ax handle. The only reason I paid attention to them at all was to create a sort of sneering parody of the way they talked. Fortunately I worked hard on my parody, and accidentally learned a thing or two about wood in the process.

Today, as I took advantage of the briefly open winter to chainsaw some wood, I got to thinking about those old guys, now long dead and gone and largely forgotten. I was feeling a bit sad I didn’t listen, as I cut some popple. I wished they were still around, as I had all sorts of questions.

“Popple” is a wonderful, but pretty much extinct, verb. (Notice how I, as a writer, veer away from the actual subject of the wood?) It comes from an old, forgotten word “popul” which may come from the Roman “populus”, and which, when combined with a somewhat mysterious Dutch root that created “poplen,” created a hybrid-word that specifically described choppy water when the chop was small, more of a pointed lapping than waves.

Of course we never spend enough time in small, open boats to need such a word in our modern world. However it is a rather neat word, nonetheless.

How did it shift from describing water to trees? Actually it is rather obvious, if you have ever been outside and watched cottonwood, aspen or poplar in the sunshine. Quaking aspen are called “quaking” for a reason. The leaves are designed to flutter in even a slight breeze, (perhaps to shake dust from their surfaces), and, because the upper surface of the leaves are shiny, the fluttering makes them flash and twinkle in a manner reminiscent of water. What’s more, they make a noise like water sometimes does, which is a little reminiscent of many clapping hands, and applause.

In any case, the tree was called “popple” in New England, by the old-timers. I knew enough to deem it a trash tree. Of course the old-timers didn’t call any wood “trash”, and would go on and on and on at great length about the uses for popple. The fact they could call a trash tree useful seemed worth sneering at, when I was young, and the only reason I know of popple’s uses is because I learned how to parody their learnedness.

It is a trash tree because it decays swiftly, if it stays wet. It would not make a good fence post, as the part in the ground would rot in a couple years. Also, perhaps because it grows so swiftly, the branches are not as deeply embedded in the trunks as other trees are, and can snap off with ease. Where an oak branch joins a tree with a strength boat-builders once coveted and used for ribs of ships, popple has no such structural integrity, and in fact they are a dangerous tree to climb, as I learned as a boy, when branches kept breaking off beneath me when I was far up a tree, to my great alarm.

Actually branches may break off easily for a reason, as they can easily re-root and form a new tree. Some old farmers actually used popple as fenceposts, because, if one took care, they would re-root and be living posts. (Willow was even better for such living posts.)

Under the right conditions popple can send up shoots from its roots, and grow an entire grove of trees from what began as a lone seedling. This is often seen out west, where an entire mountainside may be covered by what looks like hundreds of aspen, but is actually a single organism. In this respect some popple might be bigger than sequoia and older than bristle-cone pines.

Here in the east popple is most often spread by their seeds. The trees bloom like pussy willows in the spring, but the blooms get as long as big caterpillars and then produce huge amounts of pollen that can make a black car yellow, if the car is parked beneath. Then popple free seeds that float like dandelion seeds do, but in such enormous amounts that it can look like it is snowing.  The drifting of such fluff ensures that popple are the first tree to sprout in any abandoned field, or in the meadow that appears when an abandoned beaver dam breaks, and the old pond vanishes. Within five years, the beavers can move back, and repair their dam, because popple is one of their favorite foods.

Because the trees grow so swiftly, (most don’t survive fifty years, and a hundred-year-old popple is rare,) the wood is very light when dry. It has little flavor, and was once used to box cheese and for kitchen implements, but its light weight meant that it was used a lot for the wooden chassis of old time wagons, because horses preferred lighter wagons. Despite the fact branches break easily from trunks, the wood (when straight grained and knot-free) is surprisingly flexible and bouncy, and difficult to break.

I don’t really understand how the same wood can first snap easily and later refuse to break, but have seen the toughness of the soft wood cause me trouble. One time I was stuffing popple into a wood chipper, thinking the chipper would grind up the soft wood with ease, but instead the chipper ground to a halt. The popple had turned into long, flat strings which were so flexible they utterly bound up the guts of the machine. I had to spend an hour laboriously cutting away the strands with a knife, and pulling them out, before I could restart the chipper and get back to work.

Having described how surprising tough the wood is, whether as a kitchen spoon or a wagon chassis, I hasten to add it has to be to be dried swiftly, because if given half a chance popple reabsorbs water like a sponge, and then is swift to rot.

Robert Frost wrote a poem about a farmer who buried his young son in a casket of popple wood. The farmer was so insensitive that he was surprised when his wife got upset, because he remarked, (about the wood, not the son), that it was swift to grow and swift to rot.

All these thoughts were passing through my head as I chainsawed up a popple to use in the pasture campfire, at the Childcare today. Old facts wandered through my head, such as: Popple only makes good firewood if you can keep it out of the rain. Even bone dry wood can swiftly become so sodden it is nearly unburnable, if it is left in the rain.

I was cutting the lower half of a tree that lost a large part of its top in an ice-storm six years ago. The lower half lived on in a hopeless sort of way, and finally died last year.  The upper half, sprawled at the edge of the pasture,  was a favorite playground toy of the children, which they called “the monkey tree.” I have been told I can’t cut up the “monkey tree” for firewood, but the lower half was mine. It thudded to earth, and I was busily cutting the trunk into 18-inch-sections, but stopped sawing as the children came out to play.  As they clambered all over the new trunk and played with the sawdust (and informed me I wasn’t allowed to use the new trunk for firewood,) I looked over at the nearby “monkey tree,”  thinking how it had proved me wrong.

I figured the “monkey tree” would swiftly rot,  and therefore have quite regularly put the entire weight of my body on its barkless branches, testing them, (preferring them to break under my weight than to snap beneath an unsuspecting child.) Much to my amazement the tree hasn’t rotted a bit. Likely it is because it has stayed dry enough.

However there is another thing about popple I probably should mention. It may explain why the “monkey tree” is not rotting the way I expect a trash tree to rot.

The word “popple” actually is used to describe three different species of tree, here in New England. The old-timers, talking on and on and on about wood, likely knew which one they were talking about when they used the word “popple,” and likely would state this popple is a popple that rots more slowly than other popple.

I, however, didn’t listen. I can only wonder how much they knew has been lost by fellows like me.