LOCAL VIEW —Duster’s Bluster—

I’ll count my blessing, as a second blizzard intensified explosively out to sea just far enough, on Friday evening, to clobber Maine, but only clip us.  I’m not sure I could take more snow-removal, though I suppose you do what you have to, when you have to.

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(In the lower left of that last radar shot you can already see the next storm coming.)

As the blizzard hit Maine the winds on the west side began to pick up, as the isobars tightened. (Click, or open to new tabs, to clarify and enlarge maps.)

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Temperatures plunged in the roaring wind, and it was 2.6° (-16.3° Celsius) on Saturday morning. I was hoping the snow would have been just damp enough to form a crust and prevent drifting, but if any crust did form it was too fragile to stand up to the wind, which soon was digging down into the powder snow heaped up by last Tuesday’s blizzard. As the sun rose white in dazzlingly clear skies, the air was sparkling with tiny flakes of wind lifted snow.

I watched from inside at first. There was no way I wanted to go out in that wind. I’m not hot-blooded like my middle son, who headed out to cross country ski with his girlfriend.  When I decided I could hazard the heated cab of my truck and go to pick up some hay and grain for my goats, I passed “Windblown”, the local cross-country-ski area where I once worked and even ran a snack bar, twenty-five years ago, and saw business was booming, so I suppose my son isn’t the only person who enjoys being incredibly uncomfortable.

The roads were dry, and then you’d suddenly hit a place where the snow had drifted over the tar. Usually it was when there was an open field to the north or west, but occasionally it would be in the trees, and know the tree trunks must have formed some sort of coincidental, funneling tunnel. Sometimes the pavement would simply be powdered white, but in a few places the road would abruptly be deep, rutted snows. You had to make sure to keep your steering straight, and neither accelerate nor brake, until the pavement was dry again.

It was a wind that made you wince, and my goats had the sense to stay out of it. They’d found a south-facing area under the barn where they could stand in the sun and avoid the wind. They are not at all pleased by deep snow, as they don’t like walking where they can’t see what their feet are trodding upon, and are far less likely to wander and eat the neighbor’s shrubs, once the snows get deep. They are also more crabby, and take it out on each other, and give me glances as if they are contemplating taking it out on me, so I strongly advise them not to even think of it. The cold gives them a voracious appetite for the grain, and they are even less dismissive of hay than usual.

The chicken’s water was frozen, so I had to attend to thawing the dispenser and refilling it with warm water. By then my fingers felt like blocks of wood, and even my dog was standing by the door of the truck, ready to head home, which is unusual.  Temperatures had already started down, after reaching the day’s high of 12.7° (-10.7° Celsius.)

It was nice and warm at home. One of the benefits of deep snow on the roof of a 250-year-old house with lousy insulation is that it acts as a blanket, Also the pipes are less likely to freeze, with the foundation tucked in by white blankets of drifts. However I became suspicious when I noticed it was 70° by the front entry and only 60° on the kitchen where the wood stove was roaring, so I checked the thermostat for the propane heat. Sure enough, my son had turned it up, as like most young men he prefers his girlfriend warm. But he doesn’t pay the bill.

Now it is down to -3.5° (-19.7° Celsius) at 6:30 on a Sunday morning, and the wind has died down.  Already we have a winter storm warning for 7-12 inches of snow on Monday, with the high temperature during the storm expected to be around 10° (-12° Celsius). That’s a nasty cold snow, and makes today’s expected high temperature of 25° (-3.9° Celsius) seem downright balmy.

The power grid is being tested to the limit by the cold all over New England, and the wisdom of shutting down two power plants this January, because our president doesn’t like coal, (and Big Oil doesn’t like competition), is seeming less wise. So far we’ve only had one short brown-out, (when a transformer fire caused all sorts of frantic adjustments to be made to keep the power going), but people will really howl if the power goes off just as everyone sits down to watch the Superbowl. But that probably won’t happen, as so few businesses are operating on Sunday night. Monday will be the first real test, with many businesses starting up and running at full blast, even as many kids stay home from school and household electricity usage stays high.

Last year the cold came down further west, and we were on the eastern edge of the below-normal blasts, but it looks like New England will be right in the bulls-eye for the cold as February starts, and people west of the Great Lakes will get spared.

Here are the maps of the lull before the next storm. (Click to enlarge.)

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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.

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 —UPS AND DOWNS—

The last oppression of cold crested Saturday, with morning readings down at -1.3°  here (-18.5 Celsius.)  A sneaky arctic high pressure had bulged south behind a weak storm passing to our north, and rather than the warm-up computer models had promised, we had an extra day of cold north winds to endure.

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All day Saturday the chill winds blew from the north, and temperatures never crept out of the high teens, and in the evening temperatures again began falling, and were down to 15° (-9° Celsius) as night fell. Then they halted, as the crest of the high pressure passed over, and the wind died.  Then south winds began to blow and by dawn the temperatures had risen overnight to 25° (-4° Celsius).  As the rising sun faded into a grey smear of cloud temperatures swiftly climbed past freezing, and as church let out at noon and a mist of rain began, they passed 40°. (+5° Celsius.)

It was our first thaw in days, but the ground hadn’t had the chance to thaw, and in fact was still well below freezing. The powdery snows, packed and polished beneath the tread of tires and feet, were instantly glazed by an amazingly slippery sheen of ice.  Even as the rain grew heavier and water flowed over the tar, the layer of greasy ice persisted and even grew, as Facebook, Twitter and Cellphones went wild with reports of skidding cars and road closures.

Typical. We can’t even have a rain without making a winter-event out of it.

I had my driveway nicely covered with both sand and grit from my coal fires, but the glaze covered that so perfectly that simply walking from my parked car to the front steps was nearly impossible. I must have looked absurd, with eyes bugging, and spread palms well out from my hips, and feet far apart, attempting to shuffle up the slightest incline, and only winning briefly before slowly sliding back.  I had to walk through the front garden, where the snow crunched under my feet, to make the front steps.

Ridiculous.  After all, the air temperatures were over forty, and the rain was so warm it didn’t freeze at all on twigs or the windshields of parked cars, yet still the earth remembered the cold.

The air brought messages of hope, but earth
Remembered the cold. Mild rain froze on streets
And made walking a joke, a laughing mirth
Where a man of pompous dignity greets
A snuff-nosed grandmother all waggle-kneed
As she walks clinging to window boxes.
They proceed like drunks, with the cautious speed
Of snails. It’s a good fate for two foxes,
For they have looked at messages of hope
With icy regard. They live for their pensions
Which they endured cold for, and cannot cope
With warm messages. It creates tensions
When into a world that only knows cold
Comes word of worlds that are warm, spoken bold.

 Obviously my response was to write a sonnet, for it was just as obvious being responsible, and doing what was on my “to do” list, would be tantamount to suicide. I had planned to restock the porch with firewood, but to walk with arms full of wood over such a treacherous surface would be unthinkable. So I thought up a sonnet instead.

Soon the rain was heavier, and it was unthinkable to go out in that, but my goats don’t care what I think, so I had to go feed them. I slithered out and headed off. The roads had been heavily salted and were bare in most places, but here and there the rain had washed the salt away and a new glaze had formed, and made my truck act in a way that made my hair stand on end.

I stopped in at the local market on my way, where a surprising number of people gathered to gossip about how terrible the driving was. It made me scratch my head a little. If the driving was so terrible, why did they do it to go to the market? I didn’t ask, for the answer was obvious. The “Big Game” was approaching, and they were not going to miss the game to drive to the market for cigarettes. (Addiction is a terrible thing, but the things people will do to avoid withdrawal-symptoms can bolster ones belief in the power of the human spirit….If only that power could be channeled towards good.) (Of course, not all were there for cigarettes. Some were there for beer, or snacks, or, in a few cases, the addiction may have been to the market’s gossip, itself.)

I continued from there to the gossip of my goats. They were muttering to themselves, huddled under the barn, trying to figure out what their human is up to.

I’ve stopped giving them hay, because they waste 95% of it. They nose through it, tossing it aside for the stray blackberry leaf. And once the tossed-aside hay has touched the mud, they sneer at it. They are surprisingly fussy, and I’ve known farmers who, after feeding their goats, pick up all the tossed-aside hay and feed it to their cows, who have no problem with it. But I have no cows, so the hay is wasted. And then the goats are so hungry that they, having wasted their hay, bust out to eat the bark off the neighbor’s expensive flowering crab apples, or bust into the barn to eat a rare and valuable 1939 copy of Life Magazine.

I discovered, at the feed store, a hay that snobby people serve to their horses. It is compressed into large pellets, and is a blend of alfalfa and timothy, and my goats eat 95% of it. Though it is, pound for pound, three times as expensive as a bale of hay, I did the math and figured more of this stuff was winding up inside my goats, dollar for dollar.

My goats can’t do the math, and are distrustful of all changes, and are trying to figure out what I am up to. I still give them hay, but it is the stuff they already tossed aside, and I only give it to them so they will have something to toss aside. After all, winter gets boring, if you are a goat, and I don’t want to deprive them of their fun.

However they are extremely suspicious of the delicious green cubes I mix in with their grain. Not that they don’t fight among themselves to eat first, but they regard me with deep suspicion. What am I up to? They know there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Then I headed home. The thaw was starting to sink in, and rather than a glaze over packed powder, in places things were turning to deep slush. As I drove I clicked the truck radio to a sports channel, to hear news of the Big Game, and heard an absurd waste of breath about how the people of New England should respond if the local team, (the “Patriots”), lost. Oddly, it seemed another version of “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”

In my opinion, the people of New England have been served an incredible free lunch. I state this because I, as a boy, suffered through long years when New England’s Baseball, Football and Hockey teams were losers. (The Basketball team was a glorious exception to the rule.) Because I have know the suffering of thirst, I can recognize the past decade-plus as a Garden of Eden.  The football team has been especially good.  It always has winning seasons, nearly always makes the play-offs, has advanced to the semi-finals a record number of times, and now was on the verge of advancing to the American holy grail of the “Superbowl” for a record number of times.

However the group of sports commentators focused not on gratitude, but how ungratefully people should behave if the Patriots failed. (The Patriots didn’t; they clobbered their opponent, but the commentators didn’t know this yet.)

I was so disgusted I shut the radio off. To me it demonstrated how people (who are unable to do what the people they criticize do) demand too much. It doesn’t matter how superb a coach or athlete is,  or how many times they have given you the reflected glory of a championship, the day they lose the Big Game you somehow have the power, the right, and the ingratitude to throw them under the bus.

(And if you are a surgeon who has saved many lives, the day you tire, and fail to save a life, the lawyers, who have never saved a life, descend and…)

Life has its ups and downs just like the weather does. Lawyers are trying to figure out how to sue the weather, but I suspect the weather will always laugh at them.

I got home in time to stock the fires, though it was so warm we hardly needed stoves, and then headed off to see the Big Game at my Oldest Son’s house, (I gave up on paying for TV a couple years ago.) The good guys won, if you are from New England, though they have won to a degree where most of the rest of the nation despises them, preferring the “underdog”.

By Monday morning the surge of warmth was consolidating into a low to our north, which was sweeping colder air our way in its wake, first with a cold front bringing Pacific, Chinook air, but eventually with a second cold front bringing back the arctic.

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Despite the lack of Arctic air, it was still January, and temperatures dipped to 29.7° (-2.3° Celsius) last night, which meant all the slush had turned to stone, and all the rain-washed surfaces were slick ice. So I started today driving to the town garage in twilight and shoveling sand into the back of my truck and then driving to the Childcare and spreading it about the lots. Then I had to deal with getting bags of grain and hay for goats, and lastly with getting bags of coal and splitting wood and stacking it on the porch to get ready for the coming cold.  I ache. So I suppose I could call it a “down” If I so chose, however recently a number of friends have pointed out to me, pointedly, that I am darn lucky to be able to do this stuff at age sixty-one, so I guess I”ll call it an “up”.

As I worked I listened to the sports commentators on the truck radio, with the volume turned up loud so I could hear outside the truck. I had to shake my head. The same fellows who were going on and on about how unforgiving they should be, of the local team lost, were relishing the local team’s victory in a manner that can only be called “gloating.”

I have nothing against appreciating victory, however these fellows had shown their true colors in their pre-game nervousness, when they faced the prospect one always faces when playing a game: The prospect of losing. The prospect of “down”.

These fellows are of the crowd who states “we” won, when the local team wins, but rather than “we” states “they” lost, when the local team loses. What they fail to comprehend is that what makes a great team great is that they stick together. There is no “them” on a good team, among its members. You share the “downs” along with the “ups.”

If the spectacle of grown men running about chasing a silly ball has any meaning, it is because the efforts of the athletes can teach us things that have meaning in our own lives. To me, the meaning comes from the teamwork. It comes from the fact that, in any given play or situation, some are losing and some are winning in the individual battles with opponents. Some are “up” and some are “down”. The adjustment that then is made, the way the stronger help the weaker, the way the individual talents compliment each other, is what can turn a good team to a great team.  That is what I learned to watch for and to admire, back when the idea of the local “Patriots” team winning more than it lost was but a fond dream, and I continue to watch for the same thing today, now that the fond dream has come true.

To put it in another way, if I, as an American, really believe that “United We Stand, Divided We Fall,” then I do not associate myself with winners, calling them “we,”  as I disassociate myself with losers, calling them “they.” Instead I believe we are all in this together, and are all on the same team.

I have a brother-in-law who actually does more than believe this. In the summer he is very busy running two businesses, but in the winter both businesses, (a house-painting business and an ice-cream-stand,) go through times that give him a lot of free time. He therefore joined a group of men who rush to help fellow Americans, after bad weather, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, have clobbered such people with a “down”.

Tornadoes are the most blatant and obvious “downs”, because they can hit with very little warning, and don’t care a hoot if you may have been in the middle of an “up” only minutes before. Their power is something you might want to see on film, but never first hand. (While driving cross-country this fall I passed through a forest north of Little Rock, and every tree was without a branch. It was a forest of trunks.)

People who have experienced having a tornado make absolute mincemeat of all their hopes and dreams tend to be cynical about life having an “up” side. My brother-in-law confesses that one of the nice parts of his volunteering is that the people he helps are in a state of disbelief about his arrival; they are so “down” it is hard to believe anything as “up” as fellow Americans arriving to help can possibly happen. Occasionally he will drive to get donuts for his crew, and a crowd of local people will spot the logo on the side of his truck, and spontaneously start cheering, as if he is the winning team.

However my brother-in-law does experience a lot of the “down” side of weather. The same weather that arrives up here in New Hampshire as a pleasant January Thaw may have brewed tornadoes in Alabama. What is an “up” here may be a horrible “down” there, and I am proud my brother-in-law can rush down to show them we are on the same team.

One of the worst “downs” I heard about involved a tornado that was a sort of meteorological fluke, and the people were unable to get any warning from the weather bureau that it was coming. There was a thunderstorm, and a sudden roaring like a freight train, and people had between fifteen and thirty seconds to react, before their homes were reduced to kindling.

The saddest tale he told me involved a young mother in a mobile home, who had only seconds to react but who did what the authorities advise, which is to flee, babe in arms,  to the bathroom and crouch in the bathtub. Then her home was completely destroyed. The sheet-metal roof was torn to strips like paper, even as wind propelled straws with such velocity they penetrated the sheet metal. Two by fours were twisted to splinters that stabbed the woman’s face. Concrete cinder-blocks were lifted like leaves and then slammed down, smashing the bathtub and the woman’s legs. Worst of all, her baby was sucked from her arms, and vanished into the grinding, roaring darkness.

Talk about a “down.” When they found this woman midst the wreckage she didn’t seem to care about her crushed legs. It was all, “My Baby! Find my baby!”

They did eventually find the baby. It was a half mile away, propped between the forking trunks of two shattered trees. And it was cooing and babbling and, amazingly, completely unharmed.

Talk about an “up”!  And the interesting thing about this “up” is that it had nothing to to do with the efforts of mortal humans after a natural disaster. Rather this “up” was an impossible happening within the “down” of the disaster itself.

Memo to self: Do not rely too much on logic, for “up” is found in unlikely places.

However locally the cold is coming down, We nudged up to 34.3° today, (+1.3 Celsius), but it may be the last time we are above freezing for a good, long while.

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LOCAL VIEW —Sneak Attack Cold—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The radar showed almost no precipitation across the entire country.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

THE LOCAL VIEW —The coldest warm-up—(updated)

The forecast low last night was 10° (-12° Celsius), so when it was down to 1.9° (-17 Celsius) at 9:00, it was fairly obvious the forecast was a “bust.”  However then temperatures began to slowly rise, as just about the coldest “warm sector” I’ve ever seen appeared on the weather map. By morning it was up to 7° (-14° Celsius), which means the forecast was still a “bust”, but perhaps a little more understandable.

As I hustled about stirring the embers of the wood fires and getting them going I could hear the furnace running non-stop, which meant the inside of the house was down below 57°. I blamed the coal fire, which never really caught, and was only producing a small, feeble, red glow from beneath a pile of unburnt coal. The ashes beneath were blocking the flow of air, so I carefully poked a few holes to the dim glow and hoped it caught, and then dashed out the door.

Outside I could see the twilight was nearly windless, but the smoke from chimney was drifting ever so slowly away to the north.  So the map was right. We were in a warm sector.

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As I pulled into the farm to open the Childcare I could see the nearly full waning moon sinking to the west. It seemed midst an odd, ominous, grey haze, that looked more like low scud than high clouds, though the rising sun soon showed it was actually high clouds. I noted the look of the sky in the back of my mind, where it now sits with the looks of thousands of other skies.

I decided I was being subjective to call it “ominous.” After all, we were in a warm sector, and a tiny little storm, (perhaps an updraft caused by the Great Lakes),  was passing to our north. The air was calm, and some the arriving children were giving their parents the typical hard time about having to bundle up.

After dropping six tykes off at kindergarten I stopped in at home to have a quick glance at the latest map.

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I didn’t like how the isobars showed northeast winds behind the mini-storm moving up the Saint Lawrence Seaway. If they pushed the front south of us the air behind the cold front wouldn’t be moderated by the Great Lakes, but would come straight from the frozen north.

I checked the Great Lakes using my usual radar, but it showed nothing. Sometimes that radar doesn’t pick up the low stuff, so I checked my Wearherbell radar, and it showed a wall of snow moving due south off Lake Ontario. (I’m not sure why that radar is more sensitive; it just is.) (Unfortunately I haven’t learned to steal pictures from its screen yet, but will advertise the cool Weatherbell site just the same.)

Seeing the radar echos of snow head south gave me the sense we wouldn’t be getting any lake-warmed air, but rather would get the “Montreal Express.” Therefore I should hustle to take advantage of the “warmth” while it lasted. When I checked the thermometer I saw it had made it up to 11° (-12° Celsius.)

I didn’t hustle much. I was paying the price for some lovely insomnia, and withdrawing into the world of weather maps when smarter people are sleeping. Now I was kicking myself for being so stupid. Like the old song goes, “You’ve had your way; now you must pay.”

It seemed to me that, if I’m going to practice escapism, I really ought retreat to the year 1971 and work on my novel. (I’m about done a “teaser”, which I may publish on this blog.) However the fun of escapism lies in the sense of escape from responsibility, and it would be too much like responsibility to work on my novel, so I wander off into the world of weather.

Actually, when I think deeply about it, if I was born to be a writer, then one of the most wonderful sidetracks of escapism was to get married, a quarter century ago. As soon as you get married you get hit by a whole bunch of marital responsibilities. Little did people know I was actually being irresponsible, as a writer. It’s been my secret wickedness, to look like a model citizen, coaching little league and so on, but actually practicing escapism to my heart’s content.

However now I’m getting old, and one of these days, hopefully not too soon, I’m going to meet the Maker who made me. My understanding is that He sees through all our ways of fooling others and ourselves. I’m a bit nervous He’ll ask to see my novel, like long-ago Algebra teachers asked to see my math homework.  I doubt he’ll fall for the excuses that used to fool, or at least entertain, my long-ago teachers. Therefore I’d best get to work.

I only worked a little, and then took a midday, after-lunch nap, and when I awoke the wind was picking up, and my new thermometer told me temperature had peaked at 16.7° (-8.5 Celsius), and was starting down. Cumulus was rolling in from the northwest, surprisingly purple for clouds that were relatively shallow. I’d gotten a fire going out in the pasture at the Childcare, but as the wind picked up it swirled and occasionally roared like a blast furnace, streaming sparks downwind. As the wind swirled about no one dared stand too close, so it didn’t warm people as much as yesterday’s. Flurries of streaking snow filled the air, which swiftly became bitter. It had dropped to 8° by the early sunset and dipped below zero at around 8:00, and is now -4.7° at 9:30. (-20° Celsius).

I’d say our “warm spell” is over.

Usually each day has at least one scene that stands out in my memory as particularly beautiful and poetic, or at least as possessing the charm of a Normal Rockwell painting. I was thinking today it would be during the milder morning, however instead it was during the afternoon.

Yesterday, when it was colder but calmer, most of the kids ignored the fire and made their own heat with their winter play. They sledded, before two small girls noticed they could scrape the snow off a flooded part of the pasture and find very smooth ice beneath.  At first they played in a private world of their own, but other children became intrigued and came over to see what they were up to. Despite their strenuous objections others began cleaning the snow away from their own sections of pasture, and then someone discovered that by turning a chair upside down a sort of snowplow could be pushed about. This created quarrels about who got the chair, which I solved by finding other chairs.  At first there were a number of small areas connected by a system of roads, but this expanded into a single long oval of smooth ice, and the children invented a new game of running and then flopping and sliding on their stomachs, as darkness fell. Most completely ignored my warm fire.

Today they went right back to their new fad, ignoring the sleds altogether, and for the most part ignoring the bitter wind and swirling snow. Then, just as the front was passing and the weather grew most snowy and brisk, they noticed my middle son over by the rooster cage, opening the door.

Last winter the beastly bird stayed out all winter, but by spring he was croaking more than crowing, and his comb looked a little worse for wear, so we decided to move him into the barn this year. Then we put it off, as the bird is mean and I’m the only one who can handle him. I grab his neck and squeeze, and he becomes compliant. (I also am the only human he backs away from. He attacks everyone else.)

I went when I saw my son was having some difficulty getting the bird to leave its pen and enter a small cage. The rooster didn’t see me sneaking up, and I was able to nab its neck and flop it into the cage, but my son didn’t close the door swiftly enough, and the bird flappingly fluttered right out and back into the pen, (which is difficult to enter as it has a low, chickenwire roof to deter hungry foxes and owls at night.)

Now now the rooster was more on guard, and wary, and I had to creep around the sides of the pen poking with a long, dead, sunflower stalk. All the children became excited, and crowded around the pen helpfully shrieking and waving their arms, attempting to get the rooster near the door again, but he was too smart.  He ran everywhere but near the door, hiding where he could, under his small house and a few rooster toys, and always regarding me with deep suspicion and mistrust. After a while he got tired, and then exhausted, and then my son did a surprising thing. He crawled into the pen and gathered the rooster to his chest in a most tender way. Even more surprisingly, the rooster didn’t rake him with its spurs, but instead became meek and humble, and accepted the cuddling embrace. I shook my head in disbelief as my son popped the big, docile bird into the cage and closed the door.

They put the cage on a freight-sled I use for firewood, and headed towards the barn, as I headed back to tend the fire. It was then I got my scene-for-the-day, for it seemed every child was waltzing along beside the sled. They had a new fad: Bringing the rooster to the barn, and it made them all completely happy for five minutes, dancing beside the baffled bird as the snow swirled in the gloaming.

After that it was getting dark, and so cold we all headed inside.

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(Click these maps to enlarge, or open to a new tab, to get a larger and clearer view.)

10:00 PM. -5.6° (-21° Celsius).  Wind still roaring in the pines, but a little less. Jupiter brilliant beside the moon in a cloudless sky. You can bet I have the coal fire burning better tonight, and it’s cozy here where I write, but only 60° in the next room, despite two other wood fires burning in other stoves. 250-year-old houses need snow on their roofs and drifts about their sides to be really warm in a winter wind, and we have neither, until perhaps next week.

UPDATE — 6:30 AM

The temperature is a balmy -12.5° (-25 Celsius) to start the day. I checked all the taps, and thought no pipes had frozen, until I went to flush the toilet a second time. That’s a new one. A vole likely dug a new hole by the cellar wall. I’ll have to hit that pipe with a hair drier, after the Childcare is opened up.

Even Boston made it below zero, at -1°.

I noticed it is relatively milder west of the Great Lakes. It was -10° on the east side of Lake Ontario at the Watertown shore, but +10° in Toronto on the northwest coast of the same lake. Backwards of the way it usually is.

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LOCAL VIEW —SLUSH—

Nothing like a morning of slush to sour a mood.

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Yesterday turned into a mad rush to get things done before the snow ended our lovely open winter. My youngest son loaded up a U haul to head back to his first apartment down in the big city, as he enters his last full year of college. He has odd taste, when it comes to interior decoration, and took some junk from the farm, including an old coca cola cooler that dates from around 1960 and must weigh 200 pounds, even with the refrigeration unit removed. Believe it or not, he’s turned it into a bedroom bureau. I don’t ask questions, as the first four kids have trained me well.

When I got home I discovered the two cord of wood I had ordered had been delivered. Unfortunately the young fellow who operates the dump truck is not too deft, when it comes to dumping wood, and he had only managed to get half of the wood where I wanted it. (He was nowhere to be seen. It was a dump-and-run delivery.)  A lot of the firewood spilled out into a driveway I share with a neighbor, effectively blocking it. So I faced a change in plans, and spent an hour chucking logs off the driveway.

By then the sky was purple and lowering, and the first flakes were wandering about. I headed off to Peterborough to grab some feed for the goats and chickens, some “cubed” hay (because the goats are utterly wasting the ordinary hay, playfully tossing it into the air, poking around for a stray raspberry leaf, and trampling the rest). I also grabbed three sacks of coal.  (150 pounds—$27.00.)  I figure we’ll be needing it next week, when its below zero.

Then I rushed to the farm to unload it all before the snow got heavy. It was still at the point where it swirls around the surface of the highway, but the tar is dry.  Ar the farm the goats were agitated in the growing gloom of the early evening. They know when bad weather is coming.

Then at last I could head home to unload the final three sacks of coal and hurl some wood in the cellar, for the third wood-stove down there that I only light when it gets bitterly cold, and the floors need warming.  I was in a wry sense of humor about all the physical work I’d done. It seems to be a sort of rule that, whenever I get most pathetic and pitiful about being old and decrepit and unable to hoist and haul and grunt the way I used to, reality conspires to prove I am a liar, because I’m forced to do it.

As dark descended it got snowy out and we got a swift two inches. I sat down in front of the computer to work on my novel, but my eyelids got in the way. I decided I’d lay down for an after dinner nap before amazing the world with great art.

The next thing I knew it was five in the morning, and I could hear water trickling off the roof. It sounded like a good day to stay inside and work on a great novel, so I headed down for the aspirin, which comes before coffee after a day like yesterday, and as I passed by the computer I noticed by feet were abruptly cold and wet.

The roof was leaking. It is something that seems to happen on a regular basis when you have a 250-year-old house, even after putting on a new set of shingles. The irony was not lost on me that this particular leak (from an surprisingly tiny ice-dam by a dormer) dripped right beside my computer.

My first response was to simply place a pot on the floor, but the incessant “ploink, ploink, ploink” sound makes even the most dedicated artist stray from inspiration to creative cursing. So, once I was sure I wouldn’t awake my wife, I headed up to the attic to track down the leak. I stuck a couple of pots up there, and will clamber out onto the slushy roof once the rain stops.

Great art will have to wait a while. As I look out the window I can see that, even though the three inches of snow has settled down to around an inch of heavy glop, with battleship gray patches showing where the puddles are,  the plows have raised a barrier at the end of the drive that looks to be a foot tall. That has to be about the most miserable stuff on earth to shovel.

The exercise will be good for me, I suppose, but my creativity will be limited to cursing. “Slush,” seems a good curse, right now. “Slushing shushity slush!”