One neat thing about the internet is the ability I gain to hear what people in other places are grousing about. For example, some are complaining their winter hasn’t had snowstorms and there will not be a White Christmas in their locale. This strikes me as ludicrous, for two reasons. First, winter will not even start for another two days. Second, here we are reeling from winter’s blows and many around here are already fed up with winter, before it has officially started.
The cold air masses that plunge down from Canada apparently “lift out” and are pulled back north before affecting many to our south, but we seem to always get clipped. Where to our south they get all rain we get some snow mixed in.
One storm I posted about two weeks ago gave us three feet of snow, though areas not far to our north and south got less than six inches. If it wasn’t trouble enough dealing with such depths of white, the following two storms passed to our west and gave us flooding rains, made all the worse by the fact culverts were clogged with snowbanks. A wash-out littered the end of my driveway with cobbles the size of my fist.
After dealing with deep drifts I had to make sure roofs didn’t collapse under sodden snow, and dealt with a flooded cellar. Then it seemed that the departing rain-storms always pulled down just enough cold air to create just enough backlash snow to force me to deal with clearing it; (at times three inches can be as annoying as three feet).
At the risk of sounding like Rodney Dangerfield, I was starting to feel I’d never get a break. Forget about finding time for Christmas shopping. I was finding it hard to find time to even keep the home-fires burning, or to start the campfires out in the pasture at our Childcare that makes sledding in the cold far more enjoyable for the children. It is hard to even start a fire when the firewood is under three feet of snow. Then children don’t want to sled when it is pouring rain. Then the arctic blasts that followed the rain turned the slopes into sheer ice, and supersonic sledding is downright dangerous when it involves three-year-old and four-year-old kids. (Not that the kids aren’t willing.)
To be honest, I’m getting a bit old to be involving myself in such nonsense. I should be staying home and complaining about the aches and pains brought on by low barometric pressure, not be out in the storms making aspirin salesmen happy by attempting to shovel and split wood like a young man, and to go sledding down bumpy slopes like a child. When the kids demand an igloo I moan. Then, when the igloo is half-built, and the rain ruins it, I start sounding like Rodney Dangerfield.
Despite all the pain, I can find myself singing. I can’t claim credit for lifting spirits, for I do some things by rote, in a purely mechanical fashion, about as cheerful as a robot. I depend on children aged three and four to display the spiritual wherewithal. They are the ones who muster the cheer. They never fail me.
For example, when we ran out of campfire wood I lugged my chainsaw out to the pasture. I know most childcare-professionals turn green at the very idea of small children being within a mile of a chainsaw, but I happen to know, from experience, that children delight in being invited along to the felling of a dead cherry tree or pine.
I take all sorts of precautions, keeping children out of harm’s way even should the tree falls the exact opposite direction I aim it to fall, and the children seem to comprehend the gravity of the situation. I don’t even need to gently rebuke the especially young and naive, because a five-year-old does it for me, like a small sergeant.
A hush descends when I shut off the saw and state the tree is about to fall. Then, when I lean against the trunk, and with a rending crack the tree starts to topple, and I shout, “Timber!”, the children jump up and down more than they do for fireworks, and when the trunk thuds to earth you’d think I’d just invented sliced bread. I keep my eyes on them as much as the log as I cut up the trunk, for they tend to edge closer, eager to load the logs on sleds. Then I likely violate child-labor-laws as badly as Tom Sawyer did when getting his Aunt Polly’s fence whitewashed, for children seem to fail to recognize moving hundreds of pounds of wood to a campfire on sleds is work. For them it seems a romp. But I do nothing to make the work be fun. The children do that work as well.
Another thing I do by rote is to show children what the Christmas carol that begins, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” is talking about. Some modern children have no idea what a chestnut, (or even an open fire) is. So I telephone grocery stores until I locate chestnuts, go get several pounds, build a fire and breed a bed of coals, and finally roast some chestnuts. Originally I used a flat rock or bricks, but we’ve gravitated to using the end of a broken shovel.
I never have to lift a finger to make the kids be interested. If anything I use reverse psychology, saying things like “This is grown-up food and you probably won’t like it” and “Chestnuts are too hot for little kids to peel the shells off of”. Even the most doubtful and suspicious will be busily shelling hot nuts, crouching like a squirrel (sans the tail) within an hour. The children supply the eagerness and excitement, as I plod about doing it all by rote.
However even the most idyllic setting can be wrecked by bad weather. Yesterday evening I had a splendid fire going out in the pasture, but noted that the sunset, usually ten minutes after four this far north, abruptly darkened. The wind swirled, and sparks flew from the fire, and then we were hit by an arctic snow squall. Such squalls immediately plaster small faces with wet flakes, and in a gusty wind even the warmest snowsuit can’t counter a freezing face.
I didn’t even wait for the wailing to begin. We immediately abandoned the fire and headed through the swirling, heavy snow for the “warming room” back at the stables, which was a bit like herding cats. The wailing was in full chorus by the time we arrived. Temperatures were crashing as yet again we got “clipped” by the coldest air so far this season, and again temperatures dove towards zero ( -17 Celsius.) By the stable’s infrared lamps the wailing soon ceased.
This morning’s bright sunshine did little to warm things, as the north wind roared in the pines.
Today I thought I might get my Christmas shopping started, but a member of my staff suffered a misfortune and I had to cover for them. Rather than being spiritual and feeling pity for them, I was Rodney Dangerfield and felt sorry for myself. (It is hard dealing with a bunch of small children bouncing off the walls when you can’t do the logical thing, which is to throw them outside.) (I’d rather “delegate”, and watch my staff deal with such chaos.)
Actually, children want to go out despite the cold, especially when the low, December sun is white in a vivid blue sky, and looks inviting through a window. Rather than quarreling I tend to dress them up in their snow suits and allow them out to learn for themselves that their fingers and toes are swiftly bitten by an invisible creature. I keep an eye on their cheeks, watching for the healthy pinkness to tinge to purple, which is a sign the white patches of frostbite may soon follow. I also teach lessons that northern people should know, such as staying out of the wind, or staying close to the sunny side of a barn, which happens to be right by the warming room at the stables. I want to be by that room for I know that, despite all the clamoring to go outside, and all the work of putting on snowsuits and boots and hats and mittens, in as few as five minutes the exact same children will be clamoring to go back in. I prefer that they go into a room where I don’t have to take their snowsuits off. Some settle in the warming room and play with toys or color with cold crayons, but other go in and out, in and out, all morning long. By lunch I’m exhausted, and glad to hand the children off to an arriving member of the staff who will usher them indoors to lunch and settle them for “quiet time”.
But what about poor old Rodney Dangerfield? What about me? Who will usher me or settle me? No one, because I’m a grown man. I’m macho. But machismo didn’t make me all that happy today. I felt the pain but didn’t feel like singing.
It was too late for shopping, (as I also had an afternoon shift), but I had other tasks to catch up on. The woodpile on the porch was getting low, and I needed to cut some short logs from the long lengths of wood up on the back hill behind the house. It shouldn’t be so hard, now that recent rains had reduced the three feet of snow to six inches. I hoisted my chainsaw and headed off stoutly in that direction, and heard the pines roar, and then was hit by a blast of wind that made me wince and cringe away. Instantaneously I decided the saw was too dull. Rather than cut wood I should sharpen the saw. When I touched the blade the fabric of my gloves froze to the steel. I decided I should do the sharpening inside by the hot wood stove.
I think it was at this point my mood changed. Perhaps I don’t always need three-year-olds and four-year-olds to supply the spiritual wherewithal. Perhaps I can rouse something called “a sense of humor”, and muster enough poetry for a sonnet about sharpening a saw.
I know my wife don’t like machines within
Her tidy, warm house, but Wife wasn’t home.
The cold would freeze chainsaw’s steel to skin
And so I brought the chainsaw in, but own
Brains bright enough not to place Saw on polish
Of Wife’s Table. Instead I bent Old Back
And creaked down to the floor, a smallish
Rat-tailed-file in hand, and by Stove began Attack
On Dullness, tooth by tooth. Hearing grinding
My old dog came over to see what bone
I gnawed, down on her level. Then, finding
None, she licked my face. So, now I own
That simplicity’s not all that boring,
Stuck inside with arctic winds roaring.