LOCAL VIEW —Particular Law—

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(Cartoon Credit: John Caldwell; New Yorker)

Three dawns ago the cold spread out possessively over the land, and spread its arms with a greed so vast that it lay flat with its breast to the ground, which in less poetic terms is called “an inversion”. It was 8° at 6000 feet atop Mount Washington, and fourteen degrees colder on my back porch at -6.2°. It was forty degrees warmer in the suburbs of Minneapolis, Minnesota, where it was thawing at 34°as a Chinook arrived, but that meant nothing to the people shivering in our twilight, and starting fires in every other house in town, whether they had wood stoves as their primary heat, or only as a sort of quaint object included with other interior decorations for atmosphere.

From every other chimney puffed smoke, and the smoke didn’t rise far before spreading out as flat shelves in the calm. Likely a few wealthy people looked out picture windows from over-heated living rooms, and tisk-tisked about what I heard one call “particular pollution”, meaning tiny bits of soot in the air, and not that they themselves are too particular. They are always in the mood to ban wood stoves, and when you point out many poor people can’t afford Arab oil, and would rather burn local trees, they dismiss the poor as white trash who have no understanding of environmentalism.

I dismiss the unenlightened rich as fools who have no idea of the radiance of a home fire, nor of the environment of a loving household.  (The chill of certain wealthy households is not measured by thermometers, but by divorce rates, and even by tragic statistics such as the suicide rate of children under twelve.)

Fortunately we do not get too many inversions in New England, and they seldom last past mid-morning even when they do occur. Also the people who heat with wood tend to be very aware that smoke is basically un-burned fire, and a smokey fire is an inefficient fire. There is lore going back to the Indians involving how to build a smoke-free fire, for once upon a time a smokey fire could give away your location to enemies. Basically you construct the fire in such a way that the blazing part serves as an afterburner for the smoldering part. Benjamin Franklin took this afterburner-idea one step further, and had the smoke rising up a chimney from a downstairs fire go through a bed of coals set on screen in the chimney upstairs, turning all the smoke to flame, so that nothing left the chimney but steam.

As I drive the kids from our Childcare to kindergarten we dip down into the Soughegan Valley and cross the river by one of the oldest working mills in the nation, which was built around 1800 and has, among other things, woven fabrics for the Union Army in the Civil War, and for a vehicle that bounce-landed on Mars.

The old mill recently updated their heating system to a huge, external wood stove, (reducing the risk of fire in the mill itself), and the heating system is a gleaming structure of shiny metal pressed against a steep cliff right beside the road. It’s huge hopper is fed wood-chips on a regular basis by sixteen-wheeled trucks, from the road at the top, and the chips are fed into a furnace that burns the wood so efficiently that nothing departs the fire but steam, which escapes the system via the only other sign which is obvious from the road: A gleaming, over-sized stovepipe, which billows steam.

You can tell the steam is clean because even during an inversion the white cloud swiftly dissipates into clear air, leaving no smudge of “particular matter” behind. Not that there are not a few wealthy people who frown at the sight, on general principles. One sad attribute of such people is that, for all their protests that they care deeply for both the poor and for the environment, what they care most about is their own wallet and remaining rich, and able to assume the position of someone who can sit about disapproving. (Not that many poor people actually care what such snobs think, but snobs like the illusion that they matter, fostering this illusion by cozying up to those with political power.)

Many of the unenlightened rich have dug deep into their wallets to invest in getting the political payback called a “subsidy,” which can be gained by investing in amazingly unprofitable concepts such as wind turbines, and solar panels in northern lands where the sun barely rises in the winter. The sanity of burning wood in an area with a surplus of trees irks these people, because it threatens the insanity of “clean energy” and the subsidies they lust for. Therefore they are itching for some excuse to ban burning wood, and the local mill’s ability to burn wood cleanly infuriates them.

I try not to think about this subject too deeply, as I drive the kids to kindergarten, because my job is to pay attention to the road.

The drive involves a decent down a short, steep hill into town, which lies on a flat shoulder above a more gradual decent to the river, which lies in a granite canyon crossed by an amazing field-stone structure,  called “High Bridge.” Perhaps the Inca built taller bridges of stone without cement, but I know of few other such bridges north of Panama.

There are only about five mornings a year when any sort of serious smog forms in the valley due to wood fires. I fail to be properly horrified by the smog, for I know that which kills the elderly, and is worst for their frail lungs, is not “particular pollution,” but rather being forced to live in a home with the heat turned down to fifty, because they can’t afford the inflated heating bills created by the government’s insane “green energy policy.”  To be honest, the smog actually looks rather beautiful, in the light of a rosy sun just cresting piney hills.

The smog is worst at daybreak, for few have the time, in the rush of arising, to properly lay a fire, and start a blaze in the smoke-free manner one would do if smoke could reveal their location to their enemies. To start such a smoke-free fire you would light the driest tinder of birch-bark, and slowly add the smallest dry twigs of hemlock, only slowly increasing the size of the kindling, and keeping the orange flames high and lively at all times.

In a modern household few have the time to squat by the fire and tend it with such care. Rather people are gulping cups of ambition while attempting to motivate recalcitrant children to dress, eat and get out the door. They tend to dump tinder, kindling, and firewood in stoves all at once, and even if the fires swiftly become a bright blaze, it passes through a period where it smolders and produces a lot of smoke.

As I head to work on calm mornings I see a lot of chimney’s producing this first-smoke in the dusk, with the smoke only rising a little before flattening into shelves and flat veils. By the time I head to kindergarten ninety minutes later some of this smoke has dissipated into a low haze, and only the chimneys of late risers are producing the first-smoke. The others produce no smoke, but only wavers of heat, for the fires have burned down to beds of coals, and often the home is in the process of being deserted and becoming just an empty box,  until humanity returns in the evening.

Usually the stirring of the air with the daylight disturbs the calm, and the valley is washed clean of smoke an hour after dawn, but as I decended into the valley last Wednesday the smoke was a remarkably beautiful series of shelves and smudges. I feel sorry for the people who can’t see the beauty of the sight, or of the self-reliance it symbolizes, and instead insist upon the political correctness of working themselves into a tizzy.

I tried to pay attention to the road, but found my mind marveling over the structure of the atmosphere revealed by the smoke. There wasn’t a single inversion, but rather several, and I could see the calm atmosphere had layered itself like a deck of cards, and interestingly each card had a slow drift in a different direction. Generally the drift was from south to north, hinting that the high pressure was cresting and a warm-up was coming, but one layer was sliding ever so slowly from the north, obstinately indicating some back-flow in a layer perhaps only ten feet thick. (I can’t imagine trying to program all these variances into a weather computer, yet each microcosm is the wing of a butterfly that can create a swirl that effects the larger chaos.)

Down by the mill the air was so cold that the steam pouring from the mill’s wood-furnace didn’t dissipate swiftly, but formed a snow-white stream of steam the flattened and undulated down the river. I thought at first that the south wind might be right down at the river, but then thought that the bitter cold air might be draining downstream just as the water did. (The Soughegan is a rare north-flowing river, in out town.)  Also interesting was to look down the river and see the undulating ribbon of flat steam reached a point where it lifted up above the dewpoint, and vanished, but then dipped down to air below the dewpoint, and reappeared, as the ribbon tapered out to a series of dashes.

It is hard to pay attention to the road, sometimes.

Also distracting me from the road, and distracting me from the Eureka of discovering some great meteorological truth through astute observation, was the simple fact the van held six children, all asking questions in a somewhat demanding way. They (like me) cannot commute without filling the time with worthwhile activity. Occasionally they even unsnap their seat-belts, which I strongly discourage. I encouraged story-telling, which created tremendous debates about whose “turn” it was. (I may have encouraged debating skills more than story-telling skills.) In fact the noise became so loud I decided to encourage music appreciation, and introduced them to classical music. (For some reason they called it “circus” music.) I hoped they might become quiet and listen, but it led inevitably to the questions about whether we could listen to “other” music, and also the question as Beethoven finished, “Why is that person (the PBS announcer) talking so funny?” (I had no answer, but informed the child, “They are sitting on their hairbrush.”) (The child sagely nodded, understanding what that is like.)

Another little girl wanted to listen to country music, so I switched to a country station, and was embarrassed because the very first song was by a man singing about heading off to a bar on Friday night to get sloshed and pick up a babe. I feared I’d corrupt a child, but the girl knew every word, and sang along with the gruff baritone in a sweet, piping soprano.

By the time I drop the children off at the kindergarten I tend to be a bit haggard, and like the peace and quiet of the drive back to the Childcare. Nearly every day I have to stop, as a school-bus coming the other way picks up a girl going to grade school. A little stop sign swings out from the side of the bus, lights at the top of the bus flash, the little girl trots across the street, and climbs stairs into the bus.You can see, through the windshield,  the girl walk down the aisle and take her seat, and then the little stop sign swings back and the light stops flashing, and then you are allowed to proceed past the bus.

As I approached the bus this morning I could see the entire process occurring, even before I was near the bus, and made an incorrect forecast. I assumed the little sign would swing in and the lights would stop flashing, and only slowed. For some reason the driver was extra careful, and didn’t start the bus up as I expected.

The reason the driver was so careful was because there was a police car right behind the bus, and the officer saw me proceed past the bus before the little stop sign swung in. I had flagrantly broken a law which is in place to protect small children, and he rightly nailed me for it. I explained my forecast, and why it had failed, and he was sympathetic, but the letter of the law is the letter of the law, though he did give me the minimum fine of a hundred dollars.

The real drag is that we have only just got our insurance back after we lost it because my wife broke the letter of the law. A State inspector visited the Childcare, and asked for some tedious paperwork the state thinks is more important to do than to actually watch children, and my wife stepped through a doorway to get the file from a shelf, stepped back in with the scrupulously kept paperwork, and found she had committed the crime of “leaving children unattended.”

So we are a couple of criminals. The average American commits five felonies a day, because the letter of the law now is six stacks of paper each seven feet tall.

I don’t wonder that some disrespect the law, but I still try to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, (though it may well be a raspberry.)

At times I wonder over the fact anyone can pay attention to the road at all.

However at least the wind did turn south and it swiftly warmed to a high of 27°, and the smog was gone by morning coffee break.

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LOCAL VIEW —THE BLIZZARD BEGINS—

We’ve been through two solid days of blizzard hoop-la, which is in some ways a storm in and of itself. Not that I don’t believe in properly preparing for a snowstorm, but, after all, how much toilet paper can a man need? The supermarkets have been mobbed, and my wife has always had the good sense to avoid such mayhem. She holds the view that shopping is at its most peaceful, a day after a storm.

Sunday was my day of rest. I was fairly stiff and sore from all the work of the week before, and had a handy excuse in that it was the day of our dwindling church’s annual meeting. We had some practical details to attend to, considering there are practically more committees than there are people. All in all the mood was upbeat, as it seems the crash is over and we can get on with rebuilding. I pigged out during the pot luck, as I always do when there are twelve recipes to sample, and, cradling my distended abdomen in my arms, headed home to digest, and promptly fell asleep.

The arctic front had nudged past during the day, with flurries in the morning and then clearing skies, and by the time I did the chores at twilight at the farm it was sharply colder. Temperatures had been up in the twenties in the morning, with is mild for a January morning, but they were now falling through the teens. By Monday morning they were down to 2.3° (-16.5° Celsius). The departing “warm snow” had become a strong gale over Labrador, and had dragged down an arctic high pressure in its wake, and that high pressure was forming a nice “block” in the path of the advancing Alberta Clipper,  which was being shunted much further south than usual. (Click maps, or open to new tabs, to enlarge.)

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Looking at the above map and radar shot, there is no sign of a secondary storm off the coast of Georgia, beyond some clouds bubbling up southeast of the Carolinas, so I think credit is due to the meteorologists who were a bit frantic. (As I checked one site I noted a fellow who usually is rather nattily dressed was wonderfully disheveled and sloppy-looking.)

Not that I looked like Price Charming. I’d had my day of rest, and was busy loading the porches and woodboxes both at home and at the farm to the limit, as well as talking to parents at the Childcare (along with my wife) to make sure none would be left in the lurch if we closed down when the blizzard hit. Even the lone parent who works at a hospital is considered “non-essential” and is staying home, so, for the first time in its history, our Childcare will be closed due to weather. And for what? For a storm that didn’t yet exist…

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….until it did exist.

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Not that I had much time to look at maps. I snatched glances, as I rushed about trying to get things done that I usually do on Tuesday and Wednesday, including some end-of-the-month payments and the mortgage at the bank. It was hard not to linger places, and join in with the eager storm gossip. The Superbowl and “Deflategade” seemed forgotten.

I did linger just a little at the local garage, to thank them for fixing my middle son’s car for only $447.00. The tow-truck driver, who swooped in like a vulture after my son bumped into the car in front of him last week, had told my son the car had $3000.00 worth of danages, and was only worth $2000.00 according to the “blue book”, but he would be kind and rather than charging my son for towing, he’d give him $100.00 for the hulk.  He looked downright nasty when I said we could do better, and had it towed back to town, but it turns out I was actually right, for a change.

However now I had three children’s cars to deal with. My youngest son is at college, and my younger daughter just escaped this blizzard to fly down to Florida to help out my mother-in law. Where to put all these cars?

We slithered them up the back hill, with my middle son’s car in front and most accessible, when the blizzard is over. It was a bit difficult, as my younger daughter’s tires are bald. In fact my middle son got a running start and piled it into a snowbank, where it was stuck for a while, until we burned the tires down through the snow to the ground. Then I took over and got a running start, and for some strange reason I zipped up the hill far enough and straight enough to park it correctly.  Amazing! Right twice on the same day!

There was no room for my eldest daughter’s car, but she was away at work, trying to get three days work done in one. We had the delightful granddaughter, and midst all my frantic activity I got to give my wife a break, and just hang about with the toddler, who has only learned to toddle this month.  The kid did one thing that that I found sort of touching. She toddled to the chair in front of my computer, patted it, and smiled at me. So I scooped her up, and we checked out the weather maps together. (I think she’s the only female who has ever approved of me zoning out at a computer.)

The entire time I kept glancing at the sky, trying to pretend I was back in the past, and had no weather bureau to inform me, and had to rely on myself to sniff out the aroma of storm.

To be quite honest, there was little to indicate we were in for it. At sunrise there was very little redness, though I did note a gloom in the opposite direction which I associate with oncoming weather, though not necessarily a blizzard. The morning was sunny, with increasing clouds, but there was no obvious indication (to me) that an extra-special storm was on its way.  Except for one thing, which I did note and park in the back of my mind.

Late in the morning, when the sky was still mostly clear except for high, silver cirro-cumulus drifting over from the west, there was an abrupt veil of gray streaming over from the southeast. It was like when fog first starts moving in on a summer coast, but far faster. Too thin to call “scud”,  and only lasting around fifteen minutes, this gray veil rapidly streamed over and slightly dimmed the sun, and then was gone. I think it must have been some sort of meteorological shock-wave, as the the storm far to the south first started to explode.

Other than that there was little to note, beyond increasing clouds, both low and high, as happens before every storm.(Not that I was given enough time to lie on my back and study the sky, in my opinion.) As it grew gray in the afternoon the wind began to lightly waft from the northeast, but it does that for small storms as well.

Very briefly, around noon, a few snowflakes fell despite the fact the sky was still showing streaks of clear blue, and the sun still shone low in the south as a silver smear midst gray alto-stratus.  Maybe that was a sign, but mostly people used the few flakes as an excuse for jokes about the oncoming storm. “Arrgh!!! It has started!!!”

As evening came on early, under a charcoal and lowering sky, the first real light flakes began to fall. After over-feeding the goats, (in case they would have to wait for breakfast,) my last chore was to top off my truck’s gas tank. There was a surprising line of cars at the gas station. People were not only filling their tanks, but lots of red, plastic five-gallon-jugs. People must have been listening to the Boston stations. Boston is not used to getting this sort of blast, and often get rain when we get snow. Also we are farther from the blizzard, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we only got 16 inches (41 cm), which isn’t all that unusual, up in these hills.

I will not start filling up extra jugs with gasoline until there is a threat of freezing rain. The only other time I am especially worried is when storm follows storm, and the snow banks get higher and higher. However this is only the first big storm, so I’m not fretting yet.

The real bother will be the wind. When winds get up near gale force and the snow is powder, it is a waste of energy to try to snow-blow drives early, as the drifting snows just fill in the dents. Also, if you are lucky, the wind may scour down and clean your driveway for you. (If you are unlucky your poor snow-blower faces a whopper drift, up to your nose.) Also my face is wrinkled enough without subjecting my skin to blowing snow and wind chills below zero. The sane thing to do is to feed the fires and cuddle the wood-stove.

My elder daughter made it in just as the wind and snow began to pick up a little after dark. She squeezed her car as far out of the way as she could, and then came in for the mother-and-child-reunion which is always delightful to witness. And then we could get down to the serious business of eating, cooking, and staying indoors.

Unfortunately I was so weary I fell asleep as soon as I ate, and missed a lot. The silver lining is that now I am awake with insomnia, and can watch the radar show the blizzard explode.

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I just stood a while out on the porch. The flakes are going every direction but down, out by the streetlight, and the pines are roaring on the hill. I know it is a big storm when I don’t only hear the pines on the near hill behind us, but also on the far hill, across the road.

Yup, it is a big one. Hope is slim, but when I look at the map below I hope it shows a lot of energy east, perhaps heading out to sea.

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In any case, it is here for the moment.

 

LOCAL VIEW —FROZEN PIPES—

It dropped to -5.8° (-21° Celsius)  early Wednesday morning before clouds moved in from the weak coastal storm, and lifted temperatures to zero (-17° Celsius) by dawn.  A very light snow was drifting about, and the kitchen pipes were frozen, and my mood soured immediately. Thawing pipes had not been on my “to do” list.

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The light snow didn’t show up on radar, and the small storm off the Carolina coast didn’t seem to be worrying anyone, except perhaps me.

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Frozen pipes are just one of the glitches that go with the charm of owning a 250-year-old house. I have no idea of how many owners my home has had over the years, but some some have been poor, and have repaired rat-holes by carefully cutting and flattening a tin can, and then hammering it in place with cobbler’s tacks (because that owner apparently repaired shoes, judging from the heaps of worn-out soles we found under a floor.)  When we first moved in, some of the wiring was state-of-the-art for 1910, and the toilet was attached to one of the first town sewer systems in New Hampshire, (IE, it ran downhill to a local brook,) which dated from back around the time of the Civil War. I could go on, but let it suffice to say that in some ways I wished I could mothball the place and save it as a museum, but I had five kids to raise without much money, so I added my own jury-rigged southern engineering to the make-up of the abode.. Also it was obvious that in the past, likely when a tannery was in operation fifty yards away, and every home in the crowded neighborhood had a horse and hay and grain, the neighborhood had a problem with rats.

When I was more limber I crawled around under a floor, contorting myself in ways I’m not sure I could manage any more, and sprayed foam insulation into all the anciet rat holes I could find, for I had discovered that when you have four fires creating updrafts up four chimneys, the house needs to replace that lost air, and every chink becomes a vent. When it is below zero outside the inflow of air is below zero, and, if the inflow is directed towards water pipes under the floor, they freeze.

The foam insulation was only a temporary solution, because even though the rats didn’t return, field mice and voles apparently find foam insulation interesting stuff to chew on, and built new, smaller, modern, plastic tunnels through the old rat tunnels. Therefore I had to deal with the subzero-inflow situation again, and go spelunking beneath the house again, in the dead of winter.

That was quite an adventure, because creepy spiderwebs holding dead spiders covered with white mold were everywhere, and any place pipes leaked was sheer ice, and at times I had to inch along flat on my back holding a small flashlight in my teeth as I worked.  It was bitterly cold, and I risked burning the entire place down by thawing and repairing the pipes with a butane torch, and then I wrapped the pipes in round tubes of foam insulation, as I gave the mouse holes another shot of the canned, expanding insulation, feeling, as I did so, the softly whistling jets of inflowing, subzero air stop.  I recall thinking, at that time,  that where some men climb Mount Everest for adventure, my adventure is owning an old house.

Though it was a wonderful adventure, once is enough. I have no desire to do it again, however apparently I did not do the best job, and also the voles have returned. The pipes have started freezing again. To avoid crawling back into that strange world I’ve devised lazier ways of heating the pipes when they freeze.  Copper conducts heat wonderfully, and by strapping a running hairdryer to the pipes where they vanish (in a more accessible part of the ancient cellar,) and wrapping hot, wet washcloths where the pipes reappear beneath the kitchen sink, I can usually get back to work on my novel, and hear the water start running in the kitchen in a matter of minutes. However the way to avoid even that bother is to leave the water just barely trickling from the taps. It is on my “to do” list now, as soon as temperatures drop to zero.  (-17° Celsius.)

Easy, right? Even if the faucet is barely dripping, somehow the fact the water is flowing (especially the hot water) keeps it from freezing. So only a complete moron would neglect this worldly responsibility. However therein lies the rub. If “writing a novel” is on your “do do” list, and is among your worldly responsibilities, you face a tragic side-effect of creativity, which is that it makes you an air-head, a space-cadet, and a moron.

In other words, with a pleasant and dreamy expression I tapped away at the keyboard, occasionally glancing at my Christmas thermometer and marveling as the temperature sank to -5.8°,  and only went to bed at three in the morning, congratulating myself on how witty and clever I’d been, and I totally forgot to run the kitchen faucets.  When I blearily staggered from bed three hours later I wasn’t calling myself “witty” any more. I was calling myself a bonehead, (to begin with). Then I called myself worse, because the pipes were frozen more solidly than usual, and the hairdryer and hot-washcloth approach didn’t work, and I had to rush off to work with the pipes still frozen.

From time to time during the day I dashed into the house and repeated my procedure, but it continued to fail. My wife was not pleased, but she knew she could have left the water trickling herself, but has her own worldly responsibility that causes her to forget other worldly responsibilities.  For her it is not “creative writing”, but rather is “grandchildren”. Perhaps it occurred to her that, if she forgot her own failure to trickle-kitchern-faucetts, and called me a dunderhead for letting the pipes freeze, I might remind her. The potential for marital discord was there, but we did rather well in that respect, all things considered.

Fortunately the temperatures moderated during the day, rising slowly to 22.8° (-5 Celsius) and then failing to plunge as the early evening came on. Snowflakes continued to drift about, never accumulating, as the weak storm continued to drift to our southeast, never exploding into a nor’easter.

Not that I had time to sit by my computer and dwell on maps, (or dwell back in the year 1971 and play with the characters in my novel). Thawing pipes had risen to the supreme spot at the top of my “to do” list. Thawing pipes had become the very reason I was alive.

It’s funny how often this happens, when I try to write. It is as if the world is against me. I want to be a writer, but the world wants me to be a pipe-thawer. And there also are other niggling details that arise, making even being a pipe-thawer difficult. For example, one of my goats was limping, and that concerned me and required attention. Also the children at the Childcare all happen to think they should come first on my to-do list. To be quite honest, they may be right. They may be more important than some novel that it is likely not even fifty will read, and they are certainly far more important than blasted, stupid, accursed pipes that are frozen.

However after dark fell the children and goats were dealt with, and now it was time to face the pipes. Perhaps this was one of those times that separates the men from the boys. Perhaps it was time to grab the bull by the horns. Perhaps it was time to pry open the trap-door in the corner of the kitchen floor, and, contorting my body in a limbo that would make a yogi blanch, descend wormingly with a small flashlight in my teeth into a world where white-molded dead-spiders sway to and fro in bitter drafts whistling through colonial rat-holes.

On the other hand, I could give the hairdryer and hot washcloths another try.

I chose the latter, but dang it. It didn’t work. The hairdryer had been on so long I’m fairly sure the warranty was expired, and I’d even started a blaze in the cellar stove to warm that ceiling, but nothing worked. With a sad sigh I gave up on attending a lovely pot-luck supper, and instead faced a decent into spelunking.

“Hold on a second,” said the part of me that always looks for reasons to procrastinate from facing the the inevitable. “Surely we can think of a better way. Surely you have noticed the pipes that disappear from the accessible part of the cellar are only cool, and not cold. Surely you have also noticed the pipes that that reemerge beneath the kitchen sink are so friggin’ cold the first hot washcloths you applied soon were frozen stiff. Rather than spelunking, why don’t you just remove the floor beneath the kitchen sink. Surely that is the place to start.”

I confess. I listened to the voice of procrastination, and removed the floor beneath the kitchen sink.

Besides the usual fungus-whitened spiders, and the carefully insulated pipes which turned upwards at right-angle-elbows to head up to the sink, I saw icicles. The water dribbling down from my hot washcloths was so chilled as it descended it formed icicles at the elbows. Perhaps I should apply my hot washcloths at that spot. So I did. And, above my head, I could hear a most blessed sound: The sound of water starting to drip from the kitchen sink spigot, tapping against the bottom of the sink, just above my head.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

The trickle soon became a torrent, and my scientific conclusion is this: “I darn well better extend the insulation past the elbow.”

This may not seem like a big conclusion, compared to the mathematical conclusions of a great scientist like Einstein, or the poetic conclusions of a great poet like Shakespeare, however I assert it is a very important conclusion, if you really, honestly dare to be great.

After all, what is greatness?

It is not produced by the people who are spared all the bother of ordinary life by “financial security” in all it insidious forms. In terms of poets, I would say the ones who gain praise, flattery, and worst of all financial grants, are swiftest to produce claptrap that has no meaning to the truth ordinary men know. In the same manner, I would say it is the climate scientist who gain praise, flattery and worst of all financial grants, who have produced the complete fraud called “Global Warming,” and disassociated science with Truth.

So then, what is greatness?

It is what poor people do every day. It is to put aside what you want to do for what you must do. You want to write a novel but yiu must face the frozen pipes.

Big-shots in Washington are facing frozen pipes of their own. Will they put aside what they want for what they must do?  Will they match the humble decency of the poor?

(Even as I say this, I do not forget that I brought this all upon myself, by failing to trickle water from the kitchen taps in the first place. Nor do I forget to be grateful that the pipes never cracked and burst, and started spraying streams of water down where I’d have to be a spelunker to fix them.) (No matter how bad things get, they could be worse.)

With the kitchen again behaving as kitchens are suppose to behave I received a radiant smile from my wife, and returned to the keyboard of this computer, and discovered I was too tired to post anything. (Being good doesn’t mean you can write well, right away.) However I did have the satisfaction of visiting other sites and seeing others were hard at work.

Temperatures only dropped to 20° overnight (-7° Celsius) which seemed nice and balmy after recent cold. It doesn’t freeze pipes. On the morning radio there was even talk of the New England Patriots playing in the rain next Sunday.  Time to check the map:

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The weak low I was worried about was passing out to sea, but had left energy behind down in the Gulf of Mexico. That was the next ripple in the southern branch, and the next ripple in the northern branch was the Alberta Clipper that was plunging through Ontario. Would they “phase”, and join forces to make a big storm?

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Looking out the window I witnessed another gray day with stray snowflakes drifting about but never accumulating. At the market people complained the cold penetrated more though it was warmer,( which is a northern, winter version of warm weather’s, “It’s not the heat; its the humidity.”) I spent most of the day catching up with what I’d left undone while dealing with frozen pipes. Temperatures nearly touched freezing, reaching 31.8° ( -0.1° Celsius.) It was a dull, plodding sort of day, where I had to remind myself to pause and, if not sniff the roses, at least watch the snowflakes.

As usual, the things that made me chuckle most and lifted my spirits most involved the kids at the Childcare. For example, when I was driving six to kindergarten I noticed the hills were dimmer ahead, and knew we were are driving into a snow flurry, and thought it would be fun to make them aware of it. What I did was say, “I thought I saw a flake. Oh! I saw another. Look! Two More! And there’s four!  And More! And more!”  As I grew more excited as the flakes increased the children grew excited with me, and then abruptly a little girl exclaimed, “Maybe we should turn back!”

Playing catch-up all day left me drained at the end of the day, so I again sat at the computer and enjoyed the work of others without working myself. The map showed the northern branch failing to connect with the southern, and the southern moisture sliding out to sea rather harmlessly.  It seemed I could relax and get back to my novel.

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I awoke this morning to streaked skies, and saw my Christmas thermometer report temperatures had dropped to 14.7° (-9.6° Celsius) during the night, but had then risen despite the nearly clear skies and nearly calm wind to 19.2° ( -7.1 Celsius). Smoke from our chimney drifted off to the northwest, indicating a slight southeast wind from the milder ocean. All signs were for warmer weather, so I checked the maps.

The southern stream was fading away out to sea, failing to “phase” with the Alberta Clipper fading away to the north, but I did not like the look of the next arctic high expanding behind the Alberta Clipper, nor the look of the cold front it pushed towards us. The cold keeps coming. I planned to work on our firewood stocks, and asked my middle son if he might help a little as he left for work. He said he might squeeze a little woodwork in, before heading up to see his girlfriend in Maine this weekend. I was fairly sure I knew how important firewood was, compared to a girlfriend.

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The above radar map shows the cold air just starting to brew up some lake-effect snow east of Lake Ontario, hinting at the power of the cold air. The next map shows the cold air brewing squalls across New England:

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Temperatures, which had again nearly made it to freezing in the morning, took an abrupt dive, and dipped below 10° (-12° Celsius) shortly after sunset. I am making sure to leave the water in the kitchen sink trickling tonight.

AFTERWARD

That would make a good ending for this post. Indeed it was the ending I planned, when I was finally caught up, and had a few moments before work to start this post, this morning. It seemed a fine moral tale: 1.)The artist neglects a minor worldly responsibility, 2,) the artist pays the price, 3.) the artist makes amends, 4.) the artist finally has time to write.

However life is never so simple. Shortly after I arrived at work, when I was up to my neck in small children and busy loading six into a van to take them to kindergarten, I received word my middle son had been in a crash on his way to work.

I’ll skip most of the details, but mention two.

First, I will say that just as I neglected the worldly detail of trickling the water from the tap on a sub-zero night, he neglected the worldly responsibility of always focusing straight ahead. Perhaps he was looking towards Maine towards his girlfriend, but when he hit the brakes he stopped four inches too late. The other car was undamaged, but he buckled his hood and ruptured his radiator. A swarm of vultures immediately descended. (The radiator fluid was “environmental damage” that required the local firetruck to serve as a hazmat crew, he was not allowed to drive his car to the side of the road as the local officer called the local tow truck, and so on.)

Second, you have to imagine me facing down a vulture who happens to be a bullet-head who operates a tow truck for a living, as a snow squall filled the air with billowing snow.

(I actually like poor guys who drive tow trucks more than I like the college professors who devise economic policy and insurance regulations, but do not like how tow truck drivers think college students are rich as professors. They figure you must be rich to go to colleges they never attended. My son was told his Subaru Outback was only worth $2000,00, and repairs would cost $3000.00, so his vehicle was officially totaled, but the magnanimous guy would offer $100.00 for the car. (In fact repairs might be that high, to restore the vehicle to “mint condition,” but to get a vehicle back on the road only requires “passable condition,” and I’d say that would cost $800.00. Furthermore, even as junk a Subaru Outback is valuable, (they are good in snow, and some joke it is the “State Car” of New Hampshire,) and can be sold for $600.00 with ease. This fellow was ripping off my son, mistaking him as being a rich college professor when he was a poor student.

I understand tow truck operators live in a rough world of bizarre insurance policies and legal regulations, flashing police lights and smashed cars and wailing ambulances and weeping women, and aren’t rich. Most people are whisked away from their wrecked car and receive a “loaner” and later a check from their insurance company and a new car. But college students only have the cheapest insurance, that covers others cars but not their own, (if they have insurance at all.)

I figure economics professors may deserve to be ripped off, for they mooch off tax-dollars and make others work as they don’t, but their students, who slaved to get degrees that are often worthless these days, and who have college loans the size of mortgages, don’t deserve to be ripped off.  However I suppose it is hard for tow truck operators to make this subtle distinction. They don’t understand that, compared to college students, they themselves are the rich fat-cats.)

Anyway, the situation represents a societal “frozen pipe” I sure hope I never have to thaw. It was hard enough to just extract my son’s car from the fellow’s vulture-clutches, and away to a friendly garage.

I’ll let your imagination fill in the details.

I will say it was the last thing I expected, when I got up this morning. I will not say it is a bad thing that I experienced it. In fact I think it would be a good thing if the people down in Washington DC actually experienced what the insurance regulations they legislate create.

This is not to say I don’t sometimes wish I could afford a staff of assistants and aids who would do this stuff for me. Likely most poets and poor people wish they were gentleman farmers with farmhands they could rebuke like Lord Jesus rebuked Doubting Thomas and Unfaithful Peter, farmhands who were disciples.

Instead most poor people and poets face the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in a most matter-of-fact way. It is just the next frozen pipe. You take them one at a time.

Perhaps that is why I like weather maps. They hint at where the next frozen pipe may come from. Tonight’s map suggests it, as usual, will come from the north.

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Looking at this map, it seems that after the current arctic blast we may get a break, and the Patriots may play American football in a warm stadium next Sunday, however if you look to the map at the start of this post you see little sign of the high pressure now parked over the Great Lakes and now freezing our tails off, this evening.  In the same manner, an arctic high out of sight at the top of this map might come down from off the map and be freezing our tails off by this coming Sunday. The cold keeps coming.

Anyone with sense knows we mortals don’t control the weather, (unless we have extraordinary powers of prayer.) Unless and until we can make it rain when we command it to rain, we don’t make the weather dance to our tune, but rather we dance to the weather’s tune.

In like manner, in this thing called life, some think they command the Creator to dance to their tune, and these delusional types hold office in Washington DC. Others dance to the Creator’s tune, and they are called the poor, who learn to hear a piper playing in frozen pipes.

Who do you suppose will be most blessed?

LOCAL VIEW —I thought I saw a thaw—

In the winter, with warmth comes clouds, and with the clouds came a brief spell of snow this morning. It was just enough to make a mess, and totally confuse things for everyone, as the superintendent of schools, (who I think has a deep fear of lawsuits), announced a two hour delay in the opening of school, for a pathetic inch and a half of snow.

Personally, I think the superintendent should be fined for each delay. It might make him more cognizant of the total chaos he is causing the local economy.  When both parents work, to abruptly have to figure out what to do with the children for two hours causes a sort of panic. Someone needs to step in to save the day, and that someone tends to be the guy running the Childcare facility, namely me.

I am grumpy enough about having to add “snow removal” to my schedule, even if it is only brooming off the front walk and scattering some salt, and running to and fro pushing the snow off the part of the parking lot where parents actually disembark with their kids (to keep them from tracking amazing amounts of snow inside). To also have to deal with a bunch of parental pleading is not what I need, as the superintendent himself sits back and sips a coffee in some plush office.

It occurred to me this morning that we could save a lot of tax dollars if we rented his office to some business that actually contributes to the economy, and actually pays taxes, and moved the superintendent himself from that plush office to my goat barn. After all, it has an electrical outlet. I could supply a table and chair.

Besides the parents working real jobs, desperate to find care for their children, there are of course the parents who teach at the school, who come lollygagging in with their children two hours late without telling us they will be late. They have no idea of the staffing problems we are facing with extra children, or of various state laws that demand we have a set number of adults for a set number of children. If they’d have the consideration to call us and inform us they’d be late, then we might…….

Oh, what’s the use!  It is scheduling chaos, and that is all there is to it. And to have this chaos caused by a fall of snow we’d hardly notice, back when I was a kid, does make me even more grumpy than I usually am.

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The irony was that the two hour delay allowed milder air to come north, and raise temperatures from 25° to 34° (-4° to +1° Celsius). This turned the roads from snow-covered, (and if you don’t know how to drive on snow-covered roads you shouldn’t live in New Hampshire), to slush-covered, which turns roads into a sort of treacherous grease, especially when the tar beneath has been chilled by sub-zero cold.

To top it all off, I had a dentist appointment scheduled twenty miles away, at a time things have usually settled down, but now was the time the delayed bus would be arriving, (driven by a bus driver in a bad mood, because drivers usually need a second job in the middle of the day to make ends meet, but the superintendent doesn’t think of the cut drivers are going to take in their mid-day pay, with each two-hour-delay.)

The dentist was going to do a root canal. Come to think of it, anticipation of this procedure might have added a little extra to my grumpiness.

To cut a long story short, kids wound up where kids were suppose to be, I slithered twenty miles, and settled down in the comfortable chair of a dentist who has the redeeming quality of never stinting on the Novocaine.  Around lunchtime I left, planning to skip lunch, because if I had eaten there would have been absolutely no way of knowing whether I was chewing my meal or the left side of my face.

To sit a long time in a chair with my mouth open might not seem like an activity that uses a lot of energy, but I always wind up feeling like I’ve been exercising. I’m stiff and sore. At the same time I feel like I’ve been producing a lot of adrenaline and not using it. I feel sort of like zoning-out listlessly for around a week, but have learned it is better to do some exercise, and get my blood stirring. So I trudged outdoors to stock up the depleted porch with firewood.

Some of our wood was delivered with the logs too fat, so I swung a maul and split the bigger logs to two or three smaller ones. Gradually I began to feel human again.

It was misty, with the temperature stalled barely above freezing, and then starting down again, sinking below freezing around nightfall.  We were in a sort of dry-slot between snow to our north and rain to our south.

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I doubt we will get much snow as the next cold high pressure pushes down over us. That snow to our north looks in a big hurry to slide away up to the northeast. By morning we might have a dusting, atop slush that will all be frozen as hard as iron.

If you look at the weather map you can see the southern-branch moisture and energy is still dawdling down in Florida. When the energy stays spread out like that we fail to get a big storm.

To our northwest you can see the next big arctic high coming. At the very top of the map you can see a cold front way up in Canada, which indicates yet another high pressure will follow.

Between each of the high pressures is low pressure holding the chance of a becoming the “Big One.”  Each slot of low pressure will have a northern-branch and southern-branch feature. Sometimes they will fail to “phase”, as was the case with the current two low-pressures, but the current pattern reminds me of the patterns of my youth, and back then the really big storms waited until February, or even March. That is what I feel in my bones we will see again, this year.

When that happens it does get milder between the arctic high pressures, but the storms tend to make snow even when rain seems likely. The pressure is falling so rapidly, and precipitation also falls so rapidly that, due to some process I don’t fully understand, “cold air gets dragged to the surface.”  It can be a degree or two above freezing, yet the snow dumps down at rates up to three inches an hour.

Our Childcare has never been closed by a storm, but on one occasion only a single small girl showed up. I think we could see that happen again, this winter.

In the mean time we are passing through the more easy time of the winter, when snow-removal only involves a broom. If the superintendent can freak out over this weather, I expect there will be no school at all, this February.

Even though these are the easy times, I can’t help but notice our landscape has changed from brown to white, and I have to brush the snow from the logs out at the woodpile, now. However that is much better than needing to dig down to find the logs. A brief thaw is better than no thaw at all, and two inches of snow better than two feet.

However even better is to retreat to the year 1971, and work on my novel.

LOCAL VIEW —A CLOUTING CLIPPER—(updated)

This is just a quick note. I’ll update later.

It only got up to 9° (-13° Celsius) yesterday, despite brilliant sunshine, but then last night it only fell back to 6° (-14° Celsius) before the clouds and slightly less cold air in front of an Alberta Clipper began moving in. This morning I look out at the dark before dawn and see a swirl of powder, and it is up to 15° (-9° Celsius.)

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A wild and windy wall of whirling white-out whooshed through this morning, giving us a swift 2-3 inches and making a complete mess of the morning commute. I clearly showed how virtual the world of administrators is, because yesterday there was a two-hour-delay to the start of school, with brilliant sunshine, because the administrators were in awe of the warning about the wind-chill, but today there were no warnings and everyone headed off to school at the ordinary time in conditions which, for roughly an hour, were like those of the worst blizzard.

One mother dropped off her child at the Childcare at the same time both mornings, as she works at a hospital where there is no such thing as a snow delay. If anything, snow brings more business to hospitals. Some elective surgery might be postponed, but a lot of illnesses and injuries don’t wait on the weather. So this woman simply had to get to work.

I liked her spirit. She just accepted the weather as something she had to deal with, and plugged on with, if anything, a bit of a ho-hum attitude. She was more annoyed about other drivers than the weather.  You can’t do anything about the weather, but driving is something people can do something about.

What people did was to creep along between 15 and 25 miles per hour, which seemed quite sensible to me. The core of the clipper, which seemed much like a strong cold front, included gales that came in blasts, and made the snow blinding. Then, just about the time the last child was delivered to school, the snow let up, as the clipper moved past.

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At 11:00 the snow has stopped and it is up to 20° (-17° Celsius) for the first time in days. TYhe blast of cold air behind this clipper shouldn’t be as bad as the last one, as it will come towards us over the Great Lakes, and though they are freezing up fast they still have a lot of open water.

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You can see the slightly milder air in the lee of the lakes well in this Dr. Ryan Maue map from Weatherbell below, which shows the Canadian model’s forecast of the situation 30 hours from now (which incidentally is the time of the Patriot’s playoff game.  Folk around here are deeply concerned about the passing of quarterback Tom Brady being effected cold and wind, and not so worried about their pipes freezing.)

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