After a cold blast between Christmas and New Year’s, January has been gentle. Plenty of thaws and only a couple of light snows. Oddly, this has not made me happy. Instead I’ve become aware how dull midwinter is.

Last year there were too many calamities and disasters to attend to, for me to notice how dull it was. That is one good thing about storms and frozen pipes. However this winter, though it started out like that, became merciful. It seems almost an oxymoron to speak of a “generous January”, for January’s the high tide of starkness, or perhaps low tide of bleakness. No sap stirs.

Perhaps the boredom began because the thaws melted the little snow we had at my Childcare, and wreaked the snowmen, and spoiled the start to an igloo we planned to make ten stories tall, and even erased the fun of tracking animals in the snow. In any case, the tricks we’d devised (to avoid seeing how bleak and stark January is) simply didn’t work anymore, and one couldn’t help but look around and just think, “Yuk.”

Of course this presents me with an immediate challenge. If God is in everything then there must be a poem in every thing. Could I find a sonnet in anything so incredibly drab and dull?

It seems there comes a time every winter
When monotony triumphs. Sing an ode
To the sheer dullness, Oh my soul! In her
Majestic way Nature mines a rich lode
Of gray, so lands and skies slump to the edge
As silver with no shine. The world's pewter.
Brown leaves are ashy, and even the sedge
Has gone gray. Snows fell, but the thaws neuter
The bridal veil, and trails become trackless,
And, even outdoors, cabin-fever's blindness
Sees nothing of interest. Confess,
Oh my soul, that you doubt life holds kindness.
Strangely, when you moan this midwinter mood
You mouth manna which is poetry's food.

There. Did it. To me even a poor poem seems to be at least an effort at enlightenment.

To me making such an effort seems important, as the media and most politicians seem to be working very hard at being unenlightened. I don’t need to go into details about their dishonesty, hypocrisy, and unabashed lust and greed. They are the January of our age, and to witness their monotonous gray one only needs to turn on the news.

For my mental health I often turn off the news, and withdraw to my time machine, and travel back to the time of the true Enlightenment. Then I sit back and watch the Founding Fathers of our nation. They too were up against powers of gray, but rather than beaten down they uplifted.

It’s obvious why the denizens of the Swamp loathe them and want to discredit them, and it’s even sort of funny when Founding Fathers are described as rich, old slave-owners in white wigs. They were basically kids, up against the most powerful tyrant then alive. Jefferson was the “old man”, at age thirty-two, and Madison was only twenty-five, and Monroe was eighteen. If captured they could have been summarily hung or beheaded, for treason. Monroe nearly bled to death from the wounds he received in the Battle of Trenton, after crossing the Delaware with Washington on Christmas morning, 1776. Life was not roses for those men. Jefferson packed up books and important documents and rode away from his house exactly five minutes before the British cavalry arrived, hunting for his traitorous hide.

What impresses me about the Founding Fathers is their ability to be high minded even when up against the low minded. Jefferson and Adams were not brought down to the dirt by the fact King George wanted them dead. Rather they spoke of poetic stuff like “Liberty.”

Jefferson especially seems in some ways like an absent-minded-professor, wandering with his mind in the clouds through an earthquake, hardly aware of what makes others scream. But it wasn’t that he was unaware of the unpleasant details; it was that he thought beyond those details.

Jefferson dreamed up many excellent ideas he was never paid a nickle for, nor did he even dream of charging for such thought. Ought one receive royalties for writing the Declaration of Independence? Jefferson didn’t seem to think so, but was troubled by the fact he was in debt. He was a man of the enlightenment enough to take steps to make his plantation more profitable, perhaps shifting crops from tobacco to wheat or starting a nail-making industry, and he did see profits increase, but then his mind would go wandering off to some other project, such as starting the University of Virginia, which he made little money from, and while his mind was off in other areas he would fail to notice a dramatic downturn in the price of nails which made his nail-making industry less profitable. By the end of his life he was a man who had done a lot of good and had amassed a lot of debt. By his death he was, in modern terms, five million dollars in debt. This makes him very different from Nancy Pelosi, whose net worth is currently 125 million.

Perhaps that is why the so-called “Swamp” seems to hate the Founding Fathers. The Founding Fathers truly served, while a modern politician only serves themself.

Be that as it may, I doubt I’ll get anyone to loan me five million dollars, so there seems little chance I can wind up so deeply in debt, as fun as it might be to do so. (Of course, with the Swamp printing money it doesn’t have, the National Debt has reached a point where I think my household owes a million dollars, so perhaps I will reach a debt of five million, after all.) But I tend to prefer a more pragmatic existence where I pay my bills. And therefore my mind often wanders off to the doings of Ben Franklin. He was very pragmatic, in his own enlightened way.

Not that Franklin didn’t think about high minded things like Liberty, and even fool around with unknown powers such as electricity, but he also pondered about very down-to-earth subjects such as how to heat a home. The “Franklin Stove” is one result of such pragmatism; it was far superior to a colonial fireplace, when it came to delivering the heat of burned wood to the house, rather than seeing it rush up the chimney and be wasted.

However his thinking didn’t stop there, and that is where I start to feel I can join him in his enlightenment. Like me, when he watched his fire burn, his mind went wandering and wondering, just like mine does.

One true conclusion he arrived at was that smoke was actually fire-that-hadn’t-caught. It was a wasted chance to heat the home, escaping up the chimney. He then dreamed up the idea of “afterburners”, or “scrubbers”, 200 years before people worried about smoke polluting the environment. He felt that nothing but steam and perhaps a trace of ash should exit a chimney, and every bit of smoke should be burned within the house, warming the house.

What he then did was to go upstairs and knock a hole in his chimney, stick in a grate, and enclose the hole with a metal door. The next time he had a fire downstairs he scooped up a shovelful of red hot wood coals, took them upstairs, and laid them on the grate. Then he likely shut the door almost all the way, but kept it open just a crack, to see what happened when the smoke passed through the red hot coals. Apparently the smoke did ignite, passing through the coals. The wasted smoke was no longer wasted.

However then, Ben being Ben, his pragmatic side kicked in, and he likely did some sort of “cost analysis”, and decided all the work wasn’t worth it. (If it had been worth it, every chimney in Philadelphia likely would have had a Franklin Gizmo in the flue.) Instead it seems Franklin focused on burning the smoke in the stove even before it started up the chimney.

And that is where Franklin’s thinking, 250 years later, splices into mine. Why? Because I too have had to focus on unburnt smoke going up my stovepipes and chimney. Why? Because such smoke can build up on the inside of a chimney as deposits of creosote, which does two bad things. First, it can block the flue to a degree where the stoves smoke, and second, if the creosote ignites the resultant chimney fire can burn the entire house down.

This might seem a good reason to heat with electricity, but the problem is that such electric heating is prohibitively expensive. Propane was affordable when Donald Trump was president, but Fraudulent Biden’s anti-fossil-fuel agenda has made propane prohibitively expensive as well. Therefore I have resorted to wood, which we have an abundance of in my area, although heating with wood involves a lot of work, which is why people gave it up for fossil fuels.

Besides lugging the wood from the woodpile to the stoves, which I tell myself keeps me in shape, (cursing softly under my breath), one must also care for the flues, which is downright dangerous for an old codger like me. However a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do, even if elderly. Anyway, I have to live up to my grandfather, who cracked a vertebrae falling out of an apple tree he was pruning at age 86. (My grandmother was so mad she sold his ladder before he got home from the hospital.)

Therefore, due to Fraudulent Biden, I’ve been doddering about up on ladders and atop the peak of the roof, with chimney sweep brushes and heavy sections of stove pipe, making sure my flues are safe. I never even once fell and cracked a vertebrae, so I guess you could say I got away with it, this year. So far we have saved quite a bit of money, by burning wood. FJB

However this has gotten me interested in the creosote I collect when I clean the flues. I say collect, because I do not throw it away, which I suppose more normal people would do. Instead I find myself remembering Benjamin Franklin, and see the creosote as unburnt smoke, which should have been burned and should have heated the home. Could it not be used as fuel?

Besides reminding me of Benjamin Franklin, the creosote I collected also reminded me of a Mark-Twain-like humorist who wrote very popular cartoons for newspapers until just before I was born. Named E G Webster, on Thursdays he often wrote cartoons which seemed to apply to my interest in creosote.

Now my wife and I tend to vary, in terms of what we think is important, but we agree a warm stove is a nice thing to have in cold weather. However the ashes it produces, plus the spiders, centipedes and pill bugs that come in with the wood, do not fit my wife’s idea of a cozy hearth. In fact, back when propane was affordable, I thought she’d be glad to be done with the wood stoves altogether. To my surprise she didn’t like warm floor registers as much as warm stoves, so we didn’t quit wood altogether. But she does like the area around the stove kept clean, while I tend to turn it into a Ben Franklin laboratory. Not that I have any test tubes, but I do have ongoing experiments.

One experiment involves avoiding creosote building up in the stove pipe or chimney, (so I don’t have to dodder about on the peak of a roof at my advanced age). To achieve this aim it is best to have a blazing fire. However Nature conspires against this aim, by driving rain or snow into sheltered woodpiles, whereupon even dry wood behaves like a sponge, and becomes sodden stuff difficult to light, and very liable to just sit and smolder, producing lots of smoke but little heat or fire, and clogging your chimney with its smoke.

My way of avoiding a smoldering fire, and achieving a hot fire, largely involves bringing the firewood inside and heaping it high by the stove, so that it dries out before it goes into the stove. But I don’t always keep up with this task, and sometimes must bring in wet, snow-covered wood from the porch, and put it right into the fire, in which case the fire needs some help. The help tends to be stashes of various sorts of kindling which produce a brief blaze beneath the wet logs, which I hope gets the sodden wood to quit smoldering and start blazing. Birch bark is best, (but if you have used up every scrap of kindling you have, corn chips are a good, greasy emergency-substitute).

I take this job seriously, and have been at it for over thirty years, so you’d think I’d have it down and there would never be problems, but often my wife thinks other things are more important than stacking wood by a wood stove, or collections of twigs and birch bark or splinters of firewood. For example, a wedding, or funeral, or sick mother with two sick children. Or countless other things. In any case with attention diverted both fires dwindle down to embers, and the heat in the house drops down dangerously close to 49 degrees, whereupon the propane heat kicks on and we must pay through the nose. For another example, we come home late and just want to go to bed, and I throw wood on the fires but don’t shut down the draft enough, and by morning the fire has only a few coals left.

I have managed to keep the fires going , because I like to be able to tell people, “We’ve only had one fire this winter. We lit it in October.”

However there have been times when the wood is wet and the embers are few and I have only a little birch bark, when the fires definitely haven’t leapt to life, but have smoldered. It was when faced with such situations that I began to play around with creosote as kindling.

I had it in pails and paper sacks, and basically divided into two sorts. The first was from the stove pipe above hotter fires, and was thin flakes of gray.

And the second was much blacker, and from a stove closed down much as weather warmed in the spring, from fires that smoldered a lot:

As I began experimenting I was somewhat surprised my wife didn’t criticize all the bags of black and brown crud around her hearth, but actually demonstrated a keen interest, by asking the exact question I was asking: “Won’t that stuff just evaporate, go up to the chimney, condense, and block it all over again?” I could only answer, “I intend to find out.”

I then found out creosote is pretty wonderful stuff. For one thing, it burns without producing ashes. I guess it is like candle wax. The grey stuff hardly burned, and simply turned to red coals that shrank until they vanished, but seemed to put out more heat than wood coals did. However the blacker stuff was amazing. Likely because it was created by cooler fires, is seemed to possess more “volatiles”, and blazed like crazy for a while before becoming red coals that shrank to nothing without producing ash.

The trick seemed to be to gather together a little bed of wood coals, and then just put a crumb of the black creosote on top. It would melt, start to bubble, and then leap into flame, and then you could add more crumbs. The fire you then created had uncanny ability to dry sodden wood and turn a smoldering fire into a blazing one. I surmise creosote burns hotter than wood does, perhaps even nearing the heat of a coal fire. If I put a big chunk in, the size of the one in the picture above, the fire became wonderfully hot wonderfully fast. This is important to me, first thing in the morning, because then my primary interest is in sipping coffee, and not fussing with fires.

A problem then arose. The fires I was creating were so wonderfully hot I would never again clot a chimney so badly, and would never again create such wonderful creosote. I should treasure my limited supply. Therefore I kept my black creosote in a special bucket, and had the inferior grey stuff in a bag, among other collections of different grades of inferior sorts of kindling and bark. The area around the stove grew a bit cluttered, but I was defeating the drabness of January with the enlightenment of Ben Franklin, whereupon H.T. Webster struck again:

My wife swept in and tidied up. All my various samples of creosote got dumped into single bucket, and all the carefully sorted types of kindling got shoved into the woodpile with the drying firewood.

Two thoughts crossed my mind.

The first was, “Benjamin Franklin never had to deal with this crap!”

The second was, “The place does look better.”

And January is not so dull after all.

LOCAL VIEW –2017 Boston Blizzard–Winter’s Revenge (With post-storm update)

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In order to fully comprehend the irony adopted by New Englanders, its important to understand the weather has been attempting to play us for chumps, with many signs of an early spring.  A couple February storms had given us a quick three feet of powder snow, but then mild breezes swept north and the snow vanished with amazing speed. Signs of an early spring were everywhere. The pussy willows budded (wearing warm coats, which shows you they, at least, are not fooled by the weather).

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Mosses greened on the forest floor:

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And, of course, we had a hard time keeping coats on the kids, at our Childcare. Even when they sort of kept them on, they seemed to think they served better as sails in the warm gales from the south.

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The sap was running so fast in the maples the sugar-makers furrowed their brows with worry that it would be a bad year, with the run of sap over-and-done in a flash, and I was amazed by how quickly the ice vanished from ponds.

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Usually in late February we are still tromping across the ice, and it is March first when I start to be very careful, because strong spring sunshine has a way of thinning ice even when it is below freezing. (I think the ice may be like the roof of a greenhouse, and warms the water just beneath.) This year I didn’t worry about that, and instead had to keep an eye out for kids falling in at the edge. There is something irresistible about water,  to children in the spring.

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And even if they don’t fall in, children can find ways to get very wet.

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But this was February, and old, cantankerous anachronisms like myself are not fooled. We know March comes in like a lion.

The cold front that came was fascinating to me, for it was very dry on both sides of the front, so there was no line of showers or thunderstorms. However I did notice the sky, which had been perfectly blue, suddenly had a few small cumulus to the north, coming south fairly rapidly. I was herding a small gang of 6-9 year-olds out to the bus stop, and the sky was so fascinating I was unimpressed by a drama occurring between a boy and girl right in front of me.

The “official rules” state one cannot “save” their place in line with a backpack, but one girl was seeing if she could break the rules, and the boy objected. Rather than seeking me (as I am judge and jury) he booted her backpack about fifteen yards away, which breaks another “official rule.” The girl then flopped on the ground and sobbed, achieving a level of decibels that might make a jet airplane cower. The boy folded his arms and sneered at her. Rather than giving the children any attention, I pointed at the sky and exclaimed, “Will you look at that!”

The other seven children were shrugging and rolling their eyes, for the drama was everyday. Perhaps that is why I was giving it so little attention. No matter how much I arbitrate, that boy and that girl always seem to enact the same drama. However the young girl was having none of it. She was bound to get my attention by hook or by crook, and was working herself up into a hysteria, as the boy just tugged the brim of his baseball cap down over his eyebrows and looked all the more ruthless. I pointed off at the horizon. “Look! Entire trees are swaying. Big wind is coming!”

I have a reputation for attempting to deal with some petty squabbles with distractions. (I basically change the subject.) Perhaps this explains why absolutely no one payed any attention, as a roaring noise approached. The thaw had uncovered the unraked leaves in the pasture…

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And suddenly the leaves stirred and then swirled up like a vast dust devil and came charging towards us. “Here it comes!” I shouted, and then we were hit by a blast of wind I would guess was around 70 miles an hour. The seven children who were onlookers all screamed for the sheer joy of screaming, the hysterical girl became owl-eyed and silent for roughly a second, before starting anew, and the tough boy burst into tears, for his favorite baseball cap took off for Europe. Meanwhile a mother was just arriving with her five-year-old, and looked around at all the screaming and sobbing midst swirling leaves with deep concern, as her child looked about with a sleepy expression, and then smiled in approval. I just shrugged and said, “Don’t worry. It goes with the territory”, and then went to retrieve the boy’s hat from across the street, as the bus came lumbering down the road. Roughly fifty seconds later the wind was dying down, and the noise was the bus driver’s problem, and peace returned. However I could feel the difference in the air. By afternoon flurries were dusting the landscape, and the mud I had told the children to stay out of was becoming hard as iron.

March had definitely come in like a lion. The expression that is used in many lands, “If you don’t like the weather wait a minute” is said to have originated in New England (when Mark Twain lived here) but everyone else says it originated in their neighborhood. I don’t want to start any fights, so I’ll just quote what Mark Twain actually wrote:

“I reverently believe that the Maker who made us all makes everything in New England but the weather. I don’t know who makes that, but I think it must be raw apprentices in the weather-clerk’s factory who experiment and learn how, in New England, for board and clothes, and then are promoted to make weather for countries that require a good article, and will take their custom elsewhere if they don’t get it.

There is a sumptuous variety about the New England weather that compels the stranger’s admiration — and regret. The weather is always doing something there; always attending strictly to business; always getting up new designs and trying them on the people to see how they will go. But it gets through more business in spring than in any other season.

In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of four-and-twenty hours. It was I that made the fame and fortune of that man that had that marvelous collection of weather on exhibition at the Centennial, that so astounded the foreigners. He was going to travel all over the world and get specimens from all the climes. I said, “Don’t you do it; you come to New England on a favorable spring day.” I told him what we could do in the way of style, variety, and quantity. Well, he came and he made his collection in four days. As to variety, why, he confessed that he got hundreds of kinds of weather that he had never heard of before. And as to quantity — well, after he had picked out and discarded all that was blemished in any way, he not only had weather enough, but weather to spare; weather to hire out; weather to sell; to deposit; weather to invest; weather to give to the poor.”

As an old grouch I began warning people to keep their guard up as soon as this winter had a nice spell in January. Then I looked very smug when we got three feet of snow in early February. Then, when that melted, I pouted only a little while, before I remembered the winter of 1887-1888 was remarkably mild and snowless, before THE blizzard of 1888 struck on March 11, and lasted until the 14th. New York City got four feet.

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It is always good to have some history, if you want to be a pessimistic old grouch, and spoil another’s good day. However it is quite another thing to actually predict when such a storm will happen. Here I must be humble and state I bow before the ability of some meteorologists, especially Joe Bastardi and Joe D’Aleo, who gave me a heads-up over a week ago on their Weatherbell Site, when the computer models were still waffling with a wide variety of possible solutions.

I know just enough about meteorology to know how many things can go wrong with a forecast for a storm. I have suffered considerable agony over such forecasts, for when I was young a storm was a gift from heaven, freeing me from the purgatory of school and allowing the sheer paradise of play. My opinion of the white stuff has considerably altered since then, but I still recall the shamefaced TV weathermen explaining why certain storms of my boyhood failed to manifest. They could veer out to sea, or they could “elongate” and become two or three weak storms rather becoming a single gale, or, worst of all, they could hook inland and turn the snow to pouring rain.

A lot of things have to happen right, but when they happen they can happen fast. I recall reading a description of the blizzard of 1888 from the perspective of fishermen, (I can’t offer a link, because I have never found that article again), and apparently even the sailors were fooled. The sail-powered Long Island fleet was trying to sneak a trip in, on a balmy spring day, and suddenly the sky swiftly grew black and they heard thunder, and it was a battle to get back to shore, and not every boat made it.

This abrupt development of a storm (not a lone thunderstorm but a gale many hundreds of miles across) is dubbed “bombogenesis” by meteorologists, and while the word has not yet been accepted by Webster’s Dictionary, it does express the explosive nature of the development. Joseph D’Aleo is an expert on how it occurs, and to simplify his excellent explanations, (found on his Weatherbell site), what occurs is that a “lid” which has been holding ocean-warmed air down, and keeping it from rising, is abruptly removed as a high pressure’s descending air moves away. Then the uplift is further enhanced by one or two jet-streams.

One fascinating thing about jet streams is that they don’t merely move in a straight line, but corkscrew in a clockwise manner at the front and a counter-clockwise manner to the rear (facing forward.)  Therefore if the back of a departing jet lines up correctly with the front  of an arriving jet, the uplift can be extreme, and storms go from having a lid on them to having every encouragement to explode upwards.

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What amazes me is the ability some meteorologists have to see when this “might” occur, days in advance. I think meteorologists deserve far more credit than they get, for giving us fair warning. Everyone is eager to make them a laughing stock when they are wrong, but they sometimes are right, and when they are right they deserve thanks, because, to be honest, I doubt we’d have a clue these storms were coming without them.

I like to test myself.  I spend a lot of time outside, and like to see if I can tell when a storm is coming, by only using what I can gauge with my own eyes. I saw very little that clued me in this past week. Not even my goats seemed to be wary.  Yesterday morning there was a weak low down in the Gulf of Mexico, and a small storm rolling across the Great Pains, and a “lid” of high pressure off the east coast.20170313 satsfc

The radar showed some snow over the midwest, but no sign of a bomb to the east and only a few sprinkles of rain in the Gulf.20170313 rad_nat_640x480

We’d been experiencing bitter cold:  -2° on Sunday morning and 3° on Monday morning (-19° and -16° Celsius) with Sunday’s bitter winds giving way to Monday’s calm. Rather than falling the pressure kept rising, to 30.17 at noon on Monday. High clouds made the skies gray around noon on Monday, but then it cleared off. I joked it was a gorgeous day, and people were foolish to be rushing about, but they continued. The stores were crowded with people stocking up, though there was no sign of a storm. In fact it was the dull sort of day worthy of one E.B.Webster’s “Life’s Darkest Moments” cartoons.

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I was able to salvage some of the afternoon by allowing the older boys (8 years old) to start a fire on their own, and then showing them tricks to success when they failed.

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However the future still looked dull, though word came school had been cancelled at the public schools, the following day. (Our childcare has never been closed.) Then the evening map showed some signs the northern and southern lows were “phasing”

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And the radar showed the “lid” was coming off at the coast, but it looked like mostly rain.

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Still, the moon was bright, and the barometer was high, only slightly falling, 30.15 at 7:45 PM and 30.11 at midnight.

Then, this morning, the storm had appeared on the coast, with the barometer starting to fall more swiftly to 29.98, and light snow falling outside.

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The rain had changed to snow as it pushed north, and after bottoming out at 17° my thermometer was refusing to rise.  It looks like bombogenesis for certain.

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Update.  Only one boy showed up at the Childcare. Everyone is hunkering down, as the forecast is ominous for the afternoon, with gusts to 60 mph and perhaps some freezing rain briefly mixing in to break branches and perhaps knock out our power, in which case I guess I won’t update, (Ha ha).

Barometer is falling rapidly to 29.65, and temperature has nudged up to 19°. (-7° Celsius)

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Snow is moderate. We have 4 inches. The real heavy stuff is not far to our south.

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Update: 1:41 PM  Heavy snow and windy. — 23° — 29.38 and falling rapidly.

Update 3:30 PM  Heavy snow and windy — 23° — 29.16 and falling rapidly. Snow may slack off as dry slot pushes north from south of us.

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Update: 4:08 —24° — 29.06  Windy but snow slacking off. Now it is fine, sifting flakes penetrating chinks of clothing on a strong wind.  No way am I heading out to clean-up quite yet, but I can take a picture out my front window.Z12 IMG_4447

5:00  –24°–  –28.98 — No snow shows over us on radar, but the fine stuff is still falling. The wind is going to make clean-up problematic, as places will drift back in. In fact, by raising walls of snow either side of a walkway I may merely make a deeper place to drift in. Therefore perhaps its wiser to stay indoors?

6:07 PM  –24°– –28.86– Dry slot over us on radar but steady light snow falling

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9:50 PM Clean-up done at childcare. Snow was not light and fluffy. It was starchy and fairly heavy. Hard to gauge depth, due to drifting. I’d guess 16 inches.  Wind slacked off, with occasional big gusts. Snow was fine and didn’t show on radar, but in the past half hour big flakes began falling, and abruptly appeared on the radar.  Barometer 28.88 and steady. Temperature 23° (-5° Celsius) .

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Update:  1:00 AM  –18°– –28.99–Still some light snow

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7:00 AM 9° — 29.13 —  Blue skies we had about another inch, but lots of drifting.


11:00 AM  Sunny 19°; Barometer 29.15 and steady. Winds surprisingly light, considering how tight the isobars look on the map. Backlash snows well to our west over New York State.

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I had to do more clean-up due to drifting, and also due to the fact State Law wants all exits clear. (I think it is so Child Care Professionals can escape the building when the kids are about to drive them bonkers, but I could be wrong about that.) There was a two-hour-delay, so the older children got to stay with us longer before the bus came. I tried to look appropriately sad about leaving the din to go out into the gorgeous sunshine, but my frown was upside down.

The snow was stiff and starchy and the snowblower has only five blades working because a rock broke a sheer-pin on the sixth, so the blower crept through the deep snow with exasperating slowness. I’d say it moved at around a yard a minute.

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There were some emergencies that couldn’t wait for a path to be cleared. There was no heat in the childcare, and I assumed the air-inlet was blocked by snow, and that I needed to trudge through the drifts. (Inlet just beyond blocked exit).

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I was able to clean the inlet with my pinkie finger, and saved the day. This is the fourth time I’ve been a hero with a minimum of effort. Ice was starting to skim the upstairs toilet, but I realized the upstairs heat had been accidentally turned off, so I fixed that problem by turning on the heat. Then the water pressure was low, and I became aware a pipe had frozen and burst because a window had blown out in the basement of the old farmhouse, which seemed major, but I fixed the window by picking it up from the floor (it had six panes and not one broke), and jamming it back where it belonged, and then the broken pipe turned out to be a side-line leading to an outdoor spigot, so I simply turned a faucet handle and shut off that line (to be fixed when the weather was warmer), and just like that I’m a hero again.

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Then I could get back to clearing the exits. Unfortunately the blower only clears snow two feet deep, which is only enough for a dog door in some exits.

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I was thinking of telling my wife that in an emergency people could crawl, but after further consideration I broke down and used an old fashioned shovel. I’m still alive.

Now all eyes are looking to the Canadian prairies. An Alberta Clipper is expected to slide down from there over the next few days, and again there may be bombogenesis on the coast.  Never a dull moment.

From Joe Bastardi’s blog at Weatherbell, here is how one model sees the snow this weekend. (Cape Cod gets hammered, and we only get an inch….fine with me.)

Z16 ecmwf_snow_72_ne_23(2)

2:30 PM  29.22 and steady. 21°,  and partly cloudy; some high clouds of the “junk” variety, but mostly low cumulus looking suspicious, like we might get some flurries.

10:00 PM –29.41– –14°–Scattered flurries

Thursday, 7:00 AM –29.55– –13°– Partly cloudy (Overnight low 10°)



LOCAL VIEW –Leave It To Beaver–

It is winter vacation for the schoolkids, but not a vacation at our Farm-childcare, for the kids need something to do and there is no snow. All that is left of the little snow we have had this winter are some shady places where the snow was trodden down and compacted, turned to slush and refrozen,  and became the slick ice one has to be very careful about, when walking over. It is in the distance in the picture below, especially past the gate to the upper right. The amazing thing is that a year ago the snow was nearly up to the upper rail of the fence. What a difference a year makes! I had to snow-blow a path across this playground, last February, for the snow was over the smaller kid’s heads.Beaver 1 IMG_1711

The toddlers have no care, crossing the treacherous ice just through the gate to the upper right, because they haven’t far to fall, and wear such muffs of snowsuits that when they hit the ground it only makes a fluffy sound. Older people have farther to fall, and parents tend to be under-dressed because they are coming from work, and I noticed something funny, watching parents cross that particularly treacherous patch of ice, when they pick up their kids at the end of a long and hard work day. They take tiny, little steps, and walk with their arms out. In other words, they walk like a child just learning to walk. Meanwhile their own toddler is long past that stage. They charge across the ice like someone who learned to walk days and days and days ago, and for them it is great fun to fall down.

Older children, who have reached the vast age of six, tend to be more easily bored, and I have to figure out what to do with them, when there is no sledding, and no snow-forts, and no snow-man building. (The option of skating involves skates, which involves logistics I won’t bother go into, beyond saying I have been remiss.) In the end I have a bunch of kids roaming about a stark New England which is known for its rocks.

Beaver 2 IMG_1727If there is anything worse than falling on ice it is falling on rocks, and if there is anything worse than falling on rocks it is falling from rocks from a tree.Beaver 3 FullSizeRender

The risky behavior of kids doesn’t actually bother me all that much, because I figure part of childhood is to fall from various places, and back in my boyhood I felt a bit inferior because the other boys had gotten more stitches than I had. One reason I opened my Farm-childcare was because I felt sorry for modern children, who live a sort of virtual and bubble-wrapped existence, where the only time they are allowed outside it is into a concrete playground more befitting of a prison, or perhaps a kennel, than a childhood. My wife largely agrees with me, but beyond a certain point we do tend to differ. For example, she doesn’t like the idea of boyhood involving stitches. Or girlhood. And therefore the above pictures make me a little nervous. My wife might see some danger in them I don’t, and might even forbid my posting them on our childcare-Facebook-page, because she wouldn’t want parents to needlessly worry.

Apparently I am always causing parents needless worry. What I tend to say is that the worry is stupid. That is why it is called “needless.” However just when I am on the verge of telling a parent exactly that, my wife gives me a certain look, and sometimes a certain kick in the shins under the table. I then remember she is in charge of “Customer Relations.”  I head off to have fun with the kids, and she takes care of the diplomacy.

Actually it is a relief there is no sledding. Even if you take kids to a hill that is practically flat, kids somehow manage to make it dangerous. They will sled standing up, and then standing on each others shoulders. So actually a lack of snow is safer.

The problem is: What to do?  Kids make a lack of snow dangerous, as well.

What I do is refer to H.T. Webster, who was a fantastically popular American single-panel cartoonist who wrote his last cartoon the year I was born. (It strikes me as amazing that he is so unknown only a half century later. He belongs up there with Mark Twain.) If there is a situation you have trouble finding the words to describe, he likely has a cartoon that describes it. For example, what is wrong with a lack of snow?

Beaver 8 lifesdarkestmoment

My response to this dismal situation was to take the kids on a hike to a beaver pond I knew of out in the woods. After all, beavers are a good example, are they not? They display industry and other good qualities do they not?

Well, actually, back when I was young and a few still actually knew how to cut down a tree with an ax, if a chainsaw wasn’t available, one of the worst insults you could make to a man with an ax was that his chopping was “Beavering.”

Beaver 4 IMG_1747You see, the problem with cutting down a tree in this manner is that you really have no idea which way it will fall. (There are some examples of the tree falling on the beaver doing the cutting,  though such failures haven’t caused the extinction of the species.) (Nor will the examples of similar behavior, now being enacted in Washington DC, cause the extinction of the human race, though I sometimes think our population might decrease significantly.)

In the above case the beaver experienced a problem I have often seen humans with chainsaws experience. Even when humans cut correctly and employ ropes and “come-alongs”, they are dopes and try to fell a tree to the northwest when the wind is from the northwest and gusting, and the wind then gusts mightily and snaps ropes or rips pegs from the earth, and blows the tree to the southeast just far enough to become incredibly tangled to the branches of a tree to the southeast. Rather than a tree lieing flat on the ground you have created a “widow maker”.

(This is off topic, but I should confess that I know about this because I made this mistake,  and created a “widow-maker” back when I couldn’t make a widow, because I was unmarried and aged twenty.

After telling a wealthy customer I’d have their tree down in a jiffy, and waving bye-bye as they left to go shopping, a lone gust of wind blew the tree I was felling the wrong way. It fell much more steeply than the above example, and inclined over the customer’s patio at around a 45 degree angle. I had an hour to hide the evidence of my ineptitude, and, because I was young and stupid and desperate, I ran up the trunk with my chainsaw, cut the limbs keeping the tree from falling, and then, as it fell, reached out to another pine, and climbed down the other tree’s trunk. Then I cut like crazy, swept up the saw dust, and when my customer returned from shopping, all they saw was a nice and neat stack of logs. Live and learn…..but don’t forget to thank God you haven’t died in the learning.)

In the above example, the beaver saw the tree only just barely start to fall before getting snarled in the branches of a nearby tree. The rodent then probably swore a bunch of beaver curses, before going to cut an even huger tree. (Beaver only cut such big trees when they have exhausted the more choice species, which are poplar, birch and alder. The above tree was a beech, and the below example is an oak, which beavers rarely eat. Look at the chip the boy has in his hand. That is one bite, for a beaver.)Beaver 5 IMG_1751

If a beaver could take such a chunk out of solid oak, just think what a chunk it could take out of you, if you went wading into the water to cuddle with what you took to be an over-sized Micky Mouse. Beavers have killed dogs that went swimming into the water after them. This is important information to pass on to the young, even if my wife thinks it might be a bit too gruesome, and, because the young man in the picture had stated he wasn’t afraid of an over-sized mouse with a flat tail, I had told him the mouse could take a chunk out of him as big in the chip in his hand, which accounts for his expression. (My wife will deal with the diplomacy with the parents, later.)

There are no pictures from the beaver pond, because the mild winter has made the ice thin, and the kids had to follow me like duckings behind a mother duck, to stay on the safest ice. Of course, humans are not ducklings, and they strayed, and every bit of my attention was used up keeping them from walking blithely to places when they would plunge waist-deep in ice-water. They did see the amazing dam the over-sized mice made, and the amazing lodge (which I called an “igloo” of sticks and mud), but I lost about five pounds keeping them away from the places the currents (and the beavers) make the ice weak. Consequently, there was no time to take pictures.

My tougher friends tend to kid me and make me a bit defensive about the fact I am basically a baby-sitter.  (Calling me a “child-care professional” is like calling a garbageman a “sanitary engineer.”) And I confess I blush a bit when I am like a mother duck with a string of ducklings. It just doesn’t seem macho. James Bond never is caught dead in such situations. But it does help me to appreciate mothers. You can have no idea of the attention it demands, and the calories expended. But, unlike mothers, I go places that make mothers frown.

My poor wife has to put up with me.  She tells me I can’t post pictures of children playing with trees that could fall and crush them. She explains that just because I know that it is physically impossible for the tree to fall, the parents will not know that, and therefore I am not suppose to post pictures like the picture below.

Beaver 6 IMG_1752

All I can say is that I haven’t lost a kid yet. Furthermore, the kids experience childhoods as free as the one I long-ago experienced, and hopefully get a transfusion of freedom in their veins.  I figure America is finished, if we old coots can’t hand the baton of Liberty to a new generation.

Pray for me. Pray first that the accidents, that inevitably happen, only are the little ones, when they happen to me. And pray second that the so-called “liberals” don’t find out, for we know how “liberal” they actually are. Beaver 9 31