LOCAL VIEW –The arrival of Robins–

(Photo credits: European Robin, (left)  Wivelsfield School @ http://www.wivelsfieldschool.org/classes/robins/  and American Robin (right) Miss Young’s Art Room (1st graders) @ http://missyoungsartroom.blogspot.com/2013/05/1st-grade-audubon-robins.html )

The first robin of spring is the subject of many poems and much folk lore, but is also the source of great misunderstanding between Europeans and  Americans, because we are talking about two totally different birds. One always needs to be careful, when dealing with symbols. After all, one man’s spider is a blood-sucking trapper, and is another man’s stringer of cobwebbed dewdrops at dawn.

The European’s fondness for robins may be due to the fact the little, pert birds like to hop about investigating the soil just behind a plow, and they are unafraid of humans and easy to tame. Before Christ they were said to be a favorite of the god Thor, and after Christ they were said to have been stained by Christ’s blood when they flew up to try to comfort Him on the cross, singing in His ear. That red breast was also said to be made redder because they took pity on souls in purgatory, and brought them water, and were burned by the fires.

American Robins don’t seem to have the same history and symbolic lore, but I refuse to get all competitive about it. I’ll merely mention our robins are twice as big, and can kick European robin’s butts any day.  Ours are edible, though we’ve become politically correct, (if not poetic), and not many people hunt them any more. Also European robins lay ugly brown eggs, while ours lay eggs of a beautiful sky  blue. Their robins are squeaky flycatchers, while ours are melodious thrushes, and John Keats never wrote poems about flycatchers. (What rhymes with flycatchers?) But I only mention this as scientific fact.

Anyway, our robins are back, and it is a great relief to me and a friend of mine, as we had noticed a scarcity. Usually a gang or two of American robins hang about all winter, usually in the swamps. They are so dull-looking that some once thought they were a separate species, and dubbed them “wood robins.” However they are just less dandied-up during the winter than they are when attempting to woo each other in the spring. (Just like humans.) They are also less polite. There is something about a gang of winter robins that hints at the mentality of a mob. However there were none to be seen last winter, despite the fact the winter was mild.

I figured that they had learned not to hang around after the previous winter, which was particularly brutal around here. I saw them in the swamps that winter, but not last winter. It makes no sense that a bird would hang around the north when the winter was bitter, and head south when it was mild. So I figured they decided they didn’t want to take the chance, and had headed south before winter even began. They all vanished during the final days of August

Some say birds can’t learn in this manner. They say birds follow “patterned behavior” and “imprint”. An example is that, when whooping cranes are raised by sandhill cranes (because the second egg of a whooping crane nest was placed in a sandhill nest, in an attempt to increase the population),  the young whoopers “imprinted” on sandhill parents, and became so convinced they were in fact sandhill cranes that they refused to mate with other whooping cranes.

I assert our robins are not so dumb as that, and it will be difficult to prove me wrong. (It is best to chose the high ground, if you decide to start a fight.) Others may assert there were no robins around this winter because the stay-north robins all froze, the prior winter. I just demand that they produce the corpses. They can’t, so I win.

However I was concerned by the lack of robins this spring, especially as both winter-robins, and the children at our farm-childcare, have a love of the withered apples on a crab apple in our pasture. The children, who will not touch good food prepared by loving mothers, like the apples because they are sour three degrees beyond inedible, and later, when they are too brown to eat, children like them because it is forbidden to pelt each other with them, and children are not known for always honoring rules. Withered Crab Apples IMG_1810

These crab apples are so amazingly sour that no bird will touch them all winter, even when snows are deep and famine makes foxes unfriendly. (Maybe they get sweeter after a winter’s worth of frost; I’ve never tried them once they turn brown.) Then, during the last week of March or first week of April, the robins descend.

The gang of robins is more like the Hell’s Angels than anything remotely poetic. For one thing, they don’t sound like thrushes, and just do a quick, clear chirp, their “alarm call”. For another thing, though no other bird has expressed the slightest interest in rotten apples, they chase other birds away. How the heck am I to write a “first robin of spring” poem about such unseemly behavior?  Consequentially, I never have.

I intend to make up for this shortcoming on my part, for, when I think of it, even among humans, spring is not noted as a season of good behavior.

This year, because I hadn’t seen a winter-robin all winter, I suddenly realized that this rowdy gang of birds was indeed a sign of spring, and, along with my friend, I worried about the chance something terrible had happened. As is often the case with worry, it was a waste of time, for yesterday a couple robins appeared, and today the entire gang descended.

During the summer robins are spread out, and chase each other from each others territories, so you seldom see more than two birds on a lawn. But today they were everywhere you looked. The pasture seemed covered with them, though I suppose there were only fifty at most, hopping here and flying there and chirping that alarm-call all over the place.

Robins arrive 1 IMG_2144

One slightly poetic thing they do, for no reason I can fathom, is to sometimes allow a few bluebirds to join their gang. It is likely sheer racism, as bluebirds are also thrushes. I hopefully looked about today, seeking a bluebird, because it is a heck of a lot easier to write a poem about a bluebird, than a pack of unruly robins. However there wasn’t a bluebird in sight. Robins arrive 2 IMG_2145

The crab apple tree is partially hidden by by the white object in the upper left of the picture above. That useless white object was erected for a wedding, and now sits there and gets in the way of my mowing, and makes people wonder if I’m some sort of Zen Buddhist. I’m not, nor are the first robins of spring.

They are in that crab apple tree and glutting themselves on the rotten fruit. I tried to take a picture, but few wildlife photographers run a Farm-childcare, and have a bunch of kids tagging along. Not that I want the kids to tag along, but small children have an amazing ability to see when adults are up to something interesting.

If I silently raised my camera to take a picture of a rare and endangered species, a child would bellow from far away, before I could frame and focus, “Whacha takin’ a pick-shoor uv?” Nor can I even get that far. Long before I even get close to the rare and endangered species, the children can tell, just by the way I’m walking, that there is something wonderful that they, (simply because they want to see it, and yell so loudly that they want to see it), will never see.

Unless…unless…I figure out a way to show them.

(As an aside, amazingly, we found a way to let small children see baby foxes outside their mother’s den, a couple of springs ago.   Even more amazingly, my amazing wife even got some pictures:

https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2013/04/18/baby-foxes/      )

However there are times my wife’s brilliance seems to be the exception to the rule. The rule would be that if you want to take pictures of a landscape devoid of wildlife, run a Childcare.  And if you want to have photographic proof that robins never, never gorge themselves on rotton crab apples, walk in my shoes. I couldn’t get within fifty yards of that tree before the loud children scared the entire flock of robins, all chirping their loud alarm-calls, to the far side of the pasture.

So you can forget photographic evidence. You are going to have to trust me on this. There were a lot of greedy robins in that tree.

This brings me around to the conclusion that my mother didn’t raise me to be a wildlife photographer. She liked books, and I can only suppose she raised me to use something you are stuck with, when the camera doesn’t work:  Words.

I’d rather use a camera. A good picture of rowdy robins in a crab apple tree would be worth a thousand words. But it looks like I’m stuck with words, and must somehow compose a sonnet about how biker birds are a sign of sensitive spring.

(If there is a blank place below, it means I gave up.)

I don’t see what is so spring-like about
Robins. They arrive like a biker gang,
Chase winter birdsong away, and just shout
Their short, “Chirp! Chirp!” alarm-call. Give me the twang
And trill of red-winged blackbirds in the reeds
And I can thrill of spring. But these robins
Just bully about, and I have my needs:
My weepin’s; my wailin’s; and my sobbin’s.
Robins don’t understand poets like me.
They grub worms; then, worse than Adam and Eve,
They crab apples. So, unspiritually,
I hate them, and feel they only deceive…
…But then, after apples, they make poets blush
For they launch to treetops and sing like a thrush.

LOCAL VIEW –Animal Crackers 1A–

The high pressure has passed out to sea, and the wind is swinging around from north to south, but staying from the west, which keeps us dry. Sometimes, as the winds swing around from north to south, the difference between the cold eastern side of a high pressure cell and the warm western side of a high  pressure cell is marked by a nice, neat warm front. That didn’t happen today. Even as I felt the air grow more kindly, the sky remained more or less cloudless. Perhaps, if I had really taken the time to study the sky, I might have noticed a warm front was trying to form, or starting to form, or existed in some sort of protofrontal state, but I was otherwise occupied. Also the weather map shows no warm front, even as the air warms.

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The above map shows the warm front forming well to our west, and the yellow evidence of high clouds to the north of the front, and extending east past the end of the front right over where I live in New Hampshire. When I step outside I see a night sky gone starless. Does this mean the warm front is rapidly extending eastwards? Is there a hope of rain?

During the day the democratic sunshine falls equally, but is employed unequally, and creates all sorts of chaotic local variances that messes up the flow from the south,  but at night all that chaos ceases. A southerly flow gets more of a chance to do its thing in an organized manner, and one of its things is called, “warm air advection,” which can create a lovely mass of nighttime thunderstorms that wake you at dawn with morning thunder and the delicious sound of your garden getting watered for free.

So I eagerly look to the radar, to seek signs of showers in the southerly flow.

20150524 rad_ec_640x480 Blast. Not a shower in sight, east of Michigan.

It looks like the drought is going to continue, as yet again the warming occurs without much of a front. The best I can hope for all the upcoming week is that the southerly flow creates some afternoon thunderstorms, which tend to be hit-or-miss in nature, but tend to hit some areas more than my area, which tends to be missed more often than hit, (unless winds swing around to just east of due south, in which case we can get clobbered by our loudest thunder.)

The drought means someone has to stand about with a hose watering the poor plants in the parched garden. Fortunately, as a writer, I can afford to be a gentleman farmer, and hire a staff of three gardeners. Unfortunately my writing never sells because I can’t be bothered to brown-nose, and this means my staff-of-three in the garden consists of three 62-year-old complainers who work for free, called “Me”, “Myself” and “I”. (I suffer from triplophrenia, you see.)

As we stood about watering the plants today we had pretty much decided that the entire idea of farming is a losing proposition, especially if you are 62-years-old.  If you are young and suffering from an excess of hormones, farming is a great way to get exhausted and sleep well without doing the exhausting stuff that winds you up in jail. However by age 62 we are suppose to know better. So, why the -bleep- do we farm?

After discussing this question we decided we didn’t want to go there. The question is one that a fool psychologist would ask, and expect you to pay him for supplying him with an answer. This never has made sense to us. If he doesn’t know, he should be paying us for answering his questions.

Then the psychologist would pretend he knew it all along, which would be ridiculous, because the answer he would come up with would be nuts. He would want to charge us more for making up some name for us. Maybe it would be DADAD, which would stand for “Digging A-lot-of Dirt-with Affection Disorder.” Then he would try to charge us even more money for some drug that would make us bland and uninteresting, and likely unable to dig dirt and garden. Isn’t it ridiculous? The three of us decided we should call him a FAFAS, which stands for….never mind. (If I told you what FAFAS stands for, psychologists might sue, which also makes no sense. How can they call other folk names, and expect other folk to pay for being disparaged, and yet  then expect other folk to pay them even more for “defamation of a professional’s character”, when the other folk get irate over being disparaged and call psychologists names back?)

We three have some mighty interesting discussions, as we water the carrots.

By the time we got to watering the broccoli we had pretty much decided we weren’t going to pay to become bland and uninteresting, but rather would figure out how to charge other people for answering their questions about how it is we have wound up the opposite of bland and uninteresting.

One idea we floated was to write a book about one of the benefits of farming that can’t be measured with money; namely: How enchanting it is to be so closely associated with animals.

Vegans and Animal Rights Activists think they care about animals, but tend to live too far away from the eat-or-be-eaten reality of a farm to truly understand both what is beastly about beasts and what is beautiful about beasts. Often, when they lecture farmers, they come across like spinsters lecturing mothers about motherhood.

We decided the best animal-character to use, to underscore the eat-or-be-eaten aspect of our farm, would be “Victory” the fox. Of course, we don’t raise foxes on our farm, but this vixen has spared me the bother of raising chickens by defeating all my fences, and over and over taking all my chickens to feed her cubs with. (Victory has repaid me by raising two litters of pups where the children of my Farm-Childcare can sneak up, peer through underbrush, and watch baby foxes play outside of a hole in the hillside.  Considering I myself never saw this, even when I discovered where vixens lived, until I was over sixty, I know the kids at my Childcare are lucky, and that my Childcare is special.)

Victory got her name because she always won. Even when my free-range chickens were reduced to being limited-range chickens, and finally demoted to penned-up concentration-camp chickens, Victory laughed at my fences. However this year things are different, due to one of my goats named “Muffler.”

(How Muffler got her name is a story for another evening, but I will mention her brother’s name was “Tailgate.”)

Even when Victory ate all our chickens, we kept being given more. People would purchase cute and fluffy Easter chicks for their children, and then be horrified that the cute creatures lost their fluff and became the thinly-feathered and gawky creatures called “pullets”. After dealing with ugly, stinky pullets for a week or two they became all too eager to get the smell from their homes. Therefore, even though I would be glad to be done with chickens for once and for all, over and over I would wind up stuck with more of them. Then they promptly thrive on our farm. Even if they have been complete failures, as egg-layers, they abruptly start laying left and right, which I find a bit of a nuisance. After all, they are suppose to be a business expense. They are not suppose to be productive. That will only get me in trouble with the IRS, which will demand a full account of all the blasted eggs these free-range-hens are laying all over the place.

Suppose I found an egg and ate it. Have you any idea how this would complicate my taxes? There is a whole formula involving “home use”, and I don’t want to open that can of worms. It is obvious to me that, if I ate an egg, it would bankrupt me, because farm-fresh eggs taste a hundred times better than store-bought eggs, and therefore, if store-bought eggs cost $3.00 a dozen, I should charge myself a hundred times as much, or $300.00 a dozen, for farm fresh eggs.

You may think I am exaggerating, but I recently bought a store bought egg, and was amazed how it failed to behave like an egg, when I broke it in the pan. Where a fresh egg has two whites, (a watery white that spreads out, and a jelly that clings to the yoke,) this egg had only one, slimy white that wasn’t clear, but sort of cloudy.  Also, where a fresh yoke stands up from the pan like a half moon, the store-bought yoke lay as flat as the white did. Lastly, where a fresh yoke is vibrantly yellow, even verging on orange, the store-bought yoke was an insipid yellow, like the color of a manila folder. There was no way I wanted to put that store-bought crud in my mouth after I fried it. It didn’t even smell right, but in the interests of science I tasted it, and it didn’t even taste like an egg. Mostly it tasted like 90 days in a refrigerator, but behind that stale freezer-burn flavor was the blank-eyed derangement of assembly-line-chickens, kept in cramped darkness by people who do not share my belief that part of farming is to be closely associated with animals.

Because store bought-eggs taste like blended freezer-burn and abscess-existence, the IRS would obviously expect me to get $300.00 a dozen for each dozen of my delicious, farm-fresh eggs, and my chickens lay dozens upon dozens. I’d have a hard time accounting correctly, in a manner up to IRS standards, because the truth is: I have a hard time even finding where the cotton-picking free-range chickens have laid the blame things. But I know the IRS would doubt me, if I gave them that excuse. They think people have nothing better to do than to hunt hidden eggs and keep careful accounts.

Therefore I have nothing to do with the eggs. I will not touch them with a ten foot pole. I leave the work of collecting eggs to Myself and Me, and it is those two who will have to go to jail, for eating several thousand dollars worth of scrumptious eggs, and not even declaring it on their taxes.  (Come to think of it, I don’t think those two even bother with taxes. If the IRS ever catches on, they will be in big trouble. Likely I’ll be in trouble as well, because the IRS will figure out I don’t pay those guys anything close to minimum wage, and don’t withhold their taxes.)

It would make my life a lot simpler if Victory would just eat my chickens, and be done with it, but this year Muffler has decided to become a defender of chickens, and every time Victory advances across the pasture Muffler goes trotting out to meet the vixen, lowering her horns. Victory sits down and cocks her head inquisitively, refusing the indignity of backing off from a mere goat, and when Muffler then paws the dry pasture and advances further, Victory trots away to to the left as if she always intended to go that way, and was only pulling over at a rest stop to enjoy the view. for a moment.

The chickens were quick to catch on, and now, as soon as they spot Victory, they hustle to get behind Muffler.

I’d have no hope anything would rid me of my blasted chickens, however a clumsy hawk has recently appeared, who I call “Lurker.” Either Lurker is very young or very old, but whatever she or he is, he or she is a lousy hunter. She swoops down on squirrels, but her talons grab at the turf three feet short of where the oblivious squirrel is busy. The stupid squirrel deserves to be dead, knocked into the next world without knowing what hit him, but instead it is totally scared out of its wits, and does a jump which holds several twists and back-flips. (You can almost imagine a row of Olympic judges holding up cards reading, 9.7; 9.9; 9.8; 9.7.) The shock is so huge that I think all our red squirrels have been turned into gray squirrels. Then the squirrel escapes, streaking off flat-out at top speed, as Lurker dusts himself off and laboriously flaps slowly back up to the tree tops.

Lurker decided my chickens looked like more easy prey, and began frowning down from trees near their coop, but just before he could do me the favor of relieving me of the tax burden of chickens, a gang of local crows noticed him, and harangued him with swooping choruses of cries, until he fled away under the canopy of trees.

I see all this stuff, as I stand there watering my radishes in a drought. Watering radishes would be a pretty boring job, and fairly unprofitable, considering the price of radishes, but there is this benefit which I, (and also Me and Myself), derive from watching foxes and crows and goats and hawks and chickens.

Vegans and Animal Rights activists may think this story is charming because my chickens are still alive. They apparently don’t care for the hungry hawk’s rumbling stomach, or Victory’s hungry cubs. However today I was in the mood to personally strangle those chickens for doing something even Vegans would find deplorable.

Vegans would like the part of my garden dedicated to organic spinach and lettuce. I water the greens a lot in the drought, as they love water, and to keep them from being parched by the water-sucking weeds I’ve made sure to heavily much between the rows.

But then my free-range chickens decided to rearrange things. They should be called “free-arrangers”,  because they discovered there were no bugs in the exposed, sun-baked soil, but there were a few bugs under the mulch. Therefore the hens went and, in a most meticulous manner, hopped scratching down the rows, removing all the mulch from between the rows, and heaping it on top my tiny, tender lettuce and spinach seedlings. In other words, they created a situation that was more favorable to water-sucking weeds than my spinach and lettuce. In fact, as I went down the rows, putting mulch back where mulch belonged, I saw some lettuce and spinach plants couldn’t withstand the abrupt shift between bright, hot, dry sunshine, and the the cloying crush of mulch’s mushroom-house humidity. Beneath the mulch they had swiftly gotten moldy and died.

Vegans may be spiritual about a lot of things, however everyone has their breaking point, and I think that, if they were faced with the prospect of having no lettuce and no spinach, they might be at odds with Animal Rights Activists, and shout, “This free-range chicken business has simply gone too far!

In which case they are coming down to earth with a thump, and entering the down-to-earth reality of a farmer. Often it takes losing what you care most about to ground you.

The fact of the matter is that many who think they care about nature have little idea nature is a eat or be eaten reality. They live upon scaffolds built upon scaffolds built upon scaffolds, up in an Ivory Tower created by Academics, Economists, Bureaucrats and others who don’t have to farm, and can eat without having any idea what life in the dirt entails.

Me, Myself and I think it might be helpful to such people if we described the world of sharing space with eat-or-be-eaten animals, with a series of “Local Views” called “Animal Crackers”.  After ten or so episodes we’ll publish an eBook and make a large amount of money. Then, at long last, we’ll be able to sit in the shade, sip mint juleps wearing the gray suits of a plantation-owner, and watch others water our garden.

We won’t give up on gardening or go indoors. If we did that we’d miss the animal’s antics and lose the enchantment of farming. In fact the hard part of writing the best seller will be going indoors to write. I don’t think I can handle such deprivation, and Myself agrees, but Me says we can get a laptop and do our writing outside.

(And, if there is one thing sure to make it rain and end our drought, I’m fairly certain leaving a laptop out on a table by the garden will do it.)

LOCAL VIEW —Cool Pool—

It is a beautiful, cool,  morning without a cloud in the sky, and with yesterday’s blustery winds fading into calm. The birds are in full chorus, with a rose-breasted grosbeak a newcomer to the neighborhood.

Rose breasted Grosbeak download

It continues bone dry, as it seems all the rain gets wrung out in Texas and the Great Plains. The hot and muggy air has been repressed all the way down to Florida.

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The river of moist air that has been streaming up from Texas to Minnesota, and then arcing east over the Great Lakes, and arriving here dried out, continues to make fools of the Global Warming Alarmists who get a lot of press with their dire pronouncements, and then turn out to be spectacularly incorrect. For example, Texas was suppose to be getting a “mega-drought”.  Almost as soon as this pronouncement was made, it started raining down there.

It is uncanny how swiftly the weather proves Alarmists wrong. They seem hexed. Where a coin-flip would seem to give a person at least the chance of being right half of the time (even if the reasons given are incorrect), Alarmists are stunningly inept, when it comes to making dire forecasts.  I can’t help but wonder if some divine power is involved.

Not that the press reports Alarmist’s blown predictions. Increasingly people on both the left and the right are expressing contempt towards the press, which is increasingly obvious, when it comes to being blatantly biased.

Another example involves the statement last winter that New England’s deep snows were due to Global warming putting more moisture in the air.  We immediately have a drought. In fact the year-to-date numbers (as of May 10) show no warming and no increased moisture.

NE Cold yeartdeptnrcc-4 NE dry yearpnormnrcc-2

Sigh. It is a pathetic state of affairs when the only investigative reporting is found on unfunded and obscure blogs like this one, while the people who are funded and do get press perpetuate falsity.  They deserve to be hexed.

 

LOCAL VIEW —Change in Plans—

The first map shows the snow the GFS computer model was saying we’d get the day before yesterday, and the second map shows they have changed their minds for Southern New Hampshire. We have gone from being in a sort of hole, in terms of snowfall, to getting six inches.

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This is typical of the virtual world of virtual weather. You can’t truly trust the forecasts you get, or use them to make plans. At best you can get a lot of “mights” and “coulds”, but you had best remain on guard. After all, it is winter, and this is New Hampshire, and storms can brew up out of the blue. “Prepare for the worst as you hope for the best.”

I like the way Joseph D’Aleo and Joe Bastardi operate at their Weatherbell site, for they point out the times you ought to be wary, without the pretense of being specific and pretending they can state when a storm will hit, down to the minute. Or, when they do venture out onto the thin ice of such specific forecasts, they make it clear there is a probability of missing out on certain details. After all, a shift of fifty miles in the track of a storm can be the difference between a foot of powder snow and no precipitation at all, or a foot of powder snow and rain. At times hitting such a forecast from several days away is the equivalent of threading a needle from across a room using long chopsticks. (It can be done, but is a huge challenge, especially when you get only one chance.)

I didn’t trust the mess coming out of Texas two days ago, just because I’m a winter-wary Yankee, and it turns out my grumpy and suspicious attitude is more correct than a billion dollar computer, as I awake this morning to a “winter storm watch.”  Even that has a sort of disclaimer, “The storm track is still somewhat uncertain. A track further northwest would bring heavy snow further inland. A track further southeast would bring less snow.” Ummm…I could have told you that two days ago.

The one thing they left out was, “Warmer air could change the snow to rain.”  That is actually something I’m wary of, as the pattern this winter has been for dustings of snow from the northern branch Alberta Clippers, and rains from the southern branch storms that cut west of us.

Below are the maps from two days ago (top) and the maps from this morning (bottom). (Click to enlarge.) You can see the first radar map showing the last clipper’s snow ducking south of us, as the southern feature moves southeast to the Mississippi delta from Texas and brings all sorts of Juicy moisture up from the Gulf of Mexico, seen in the second radar map.

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What puzzled me a little was the failure of the clipper to pull any of the very cold air to our north south, as it passed. As it approached we had a day of streaky-gray skies, with here and there a band of blue sky, and temperatures rising from 16.5° to 29.5° (-8.6° to -1.4° Celsius). The clipper couldn’t seem to get its act together, and decide whether or not to develop a secondary on the coast, (something I’m always wary of,) and passed over us as an indecisive confusion in the late evening. Temperatures fell back to 19.4° during a night that was overcast, but as it cleared yesterday morning there was no blast of arctic air in its wake.  Instead it was a delightfully windless day, with bright sun.  The slightest dust of snow had fallen overnight, so that gray surface of the trampled frozen-slush in the Childcare playground looked lightly salted.

I’ve never understood why, as the days start to lengthen, it is far more obvious in terms of the sunsets. The sunsets are already a half hour later, while the sunrises are only five minutes earlier. Yesterday I had the feeling, perhaps illusionary, that the sun was a hair higher, and kinder.

Of course, the pessimism of old Yankees is pounded into my skull, so I always remember the rhyme,

When the days begin to lengthen
Then the cold begins to strengthen.

There is actually wisdom in those old words, for the summer-warmed waters that protected us from arctic blasts in October and November have been chilled, and in the case of Hudson Bay have frozen over. In the case of Lake Erie the water was so chilled that nearly the entire lake froze over during the last arctic blast

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It is for this reason that, though days start getting longer on December 21, the average lowest temperature isn’t reached until around January 19.  Then, because temperatures are so low, lakes tend to go right on freezing and snow cover can go on expanding even as temperatures (on average) first begin to creep back up. Lastly, because ice-cover and snow-cover go on expanding, conditions improve for the attacks of the most murderous cold right into February. It wasn’t until February fifteenth that the old timers would mutter (sometimes right in the middle of a cold wave or snowstorm), “Winter’s back is broken.”

I can recall sub-zero (-17° Celsius) cold waves into March, and roughly a decade ago we even had an arctic attack in early April, with fresh snow cover and temperatures in the single digits.

However there was something about yesterday that tempted one to, if not lower their guard, to at least pause and close their eyes and look towards the sun. It actually got just above freezing briefly, reaching 33.2° (-0.6 Celsius), and there was little wind.   I like the feel of the faint January warmth in the sun on my face, and the orange view seen by shut eyelids.

 I actually think this is a therapeutic thing to do, especially after hearing of psychologists who charge big bucks to treat people with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) by having them look at light bulbs. The old timers called SAD “winter blues” or “cabin fever” ( or “going shacky whacky”), and stated the cure was to get off your butt and go outside, which is a lot cheaper than a psychologist. To find a south-facing wall out of the wind, and simply to bask a bit, facing the sun, is not only cheaper than looking at a shrink’s light-bulb, it is far more pleasant.

I tested it out with the kids at the Childcare, and they agreed. We all went to the south-facing wall of the barn, and looked up to the sun, basked in the warmth, and listened to the birds with our eyes shut. Finches and Chickadees were peeping nearby, and a crow was cawing far off, and the raucous cries of a couple of blue jays came belting across the pasture. It felt better than a light bulb,  and sounded better than a psychologist, too.

Not that I had all that much time for such experiments. My wary and pessimistic side had me squeezing in some time to visit a country garage to purchase some cheap snow tires for my 20-year-old truck, and have them installed. (Usually I don’t bother, as I know how to drive on snow and don’t have all that far to drive to work.)

A country garage is the closest thing left to an old blacksmith shop. People tend to hang around such places, and the conversation tends to be frank, forthright and funny. (There was even an old law, dating from the time of the Vikings, [I think], that one could not be held to anything they said at a smithy, for the ringing of the hammer on hot iron had a hypnotic effect.)

I’m not exactly sure how I managed to be so stupid, but I stood about blabbing too long, and abruptly realized I had to go pick up the children at the kindergarten, and had no vehicle to do so with.

My plan had been to drop off the truck and go for a leisurely walk through the forest to my house, and use my youngest son’s car, (which we are storing for him), to drive to the Childcare, where I’d pick up my wife’s van to go get the six kids. Instead I took off down the road walking like those ladies who walk way too fast, in an attempt to keep their figures slim.

About a third of a mile down the road I cut into the woods, heading down the driveway of a man who likely doesn’t know that his drive is actually part of the original road that crossed this town before it was a town. I think it still is a public way, but I always feel a bit like I am trespassing. Usually he isn’t home, but it was just my luck that he was just leaving, as I came striding down his drive in a absurdly purposeful manner. I gave him a friendly wave, and to my delight, and with a degree of astonishment, I saw him smile and wave back, as he passed.

I have worked long and hard to establish a reputation for being a cantankerous anachronism, but this is the first sign I have seen that I have succeeded, and am the proud owner of the image of being a sort of weirdo, but a harmless one.

About halfway down the drive towards the fellow’s garage the true lost highway veers off to the left, shown by parallel stone walls heading off through the woods. The fact the highway was major is shown by the fact the walls are further apart than most country roads, but the surface between the walls shows little sign of being flattened. It is also now full of trees, though there is a winding path used by snowmobiles, dirt bikes and four-wheelers along it. Some fool had been along it, in a dirt bike, judging from the tracks in the shallow snow, as had deer. However I was in too much of a hurry to tread softly and peer through trunks for the local wildlife. The inch of snow was an incredibly crunchy and starchy crust, and I made such a racket striding along I likely attracted deer and foxes who came to see, from a safe distance, what on earth was making such an ungodly crunching.

After fording a small brook on a single plank that some kind person had lugged into the wood, I strode over a final rise and began descending towards town, and there things became interesting. Any downhill dent tends to be used, by the laws of gravity, as a way to remove rainfall, and after thunderstorms this ancient highway becomes a brief brook, an intermittent stream that exists so rarely it doesn’t make any maps. However, during the winter, after the ground freezes and water can no longer sink into the sponging soil, the brief brook comes to life during winter rains, and then, because winter rains are often followed by a cold front and plunging temperatures, this brief brook freezes before it can make it down to town. In other words, it forms a sheet of glare ice on part of the ancient road.

Usually I can walk beside this ice, however, because we have had a fair number of winter rains this year, the brief brook was surprisingly wide. I went from walking like a woman on a diet to walking like a Monty Python spastic, thrashing about but amazingly keeping my balance. At times, when the ice grew steep, I had to speed up and run to keep my balance, and aimed for the next patch of crunchy snow where there was traction enough to slow down. By the time I broke out of the trees in my back yard I had actually broken a sweat, which is difficult to do at my age, as your sweat-glands don’t function the way they did when you were young (and needed to shower and use deodorant twice a day.)

I was last in the line of cars, but not late to the kindergarten, to pick up the children. I had a somewhat smug feeling, and was proud my cardiovascular system hadn’t seized up on me, and may have even muttered, “I still got it”, to myself. (I am careful to keep such news to myself, for if my wife ever finds out she’ll expect more work from me.)

***********

But that was yesterday, and yesterday’s gone. Today I am understanding why dieting women do all those voluptuous stretching exercises before and after walking in their silly manner, and why they walk on a regular basis, and not one time at age 39 and then again at age 61. Quite a number of my muscles are telling me they haven’t been exercised so strenuously in a long, long time, and are objecting in a manner that has made me walk, today, in manner funnier than any dieting woman.

When I got home from work I thought about stocking up my porch with firewood in a manner appropriate for just-before-a-storm, and decided, “the heck with it”.  The snow isn’t suppose to get heavy until mid-morning. I’ll do it in the morning.

However the “Winter Storm Watch” is now a “Winter Weather Advisory,” and we could get 3-6 inches. I can’t say I much like the slug of moisture shown in the maps. (Click to enlarge.)

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The only good thing is that there is no arctic high parked just north of the storm. It won’t be “blocked”, and ought to move in and move out swiftly.

I feel this is just the beginning, a sort of “warning shot”, and am glad I bothered get snow tires for my truck.

It was down to 11.5° (-11.7 Celsius) as I hobbled about this morning, got up to 29.1° (-1.6° Celsius) as I hobbled about at noon, and has settled back to 19.9° (-6.7° Celsius) as it starts to cloud over this Friday night, and I thankfully remain seated.

LOCAL VIEW —Christmas Bluebirds—

We are experiencing a truly kindly spell of late December weather, if you are an old coot like me, and have grown less fond of cold with time.

Not that I can’t remember being young and hot, and walking with a girl I was trying not to fall in love with, (and failing), and being warm through and through, though it was so cold the snow on the road squeaked as we walked over it. Also I can remember being desperate for snow, for I was running a lunch-counter at a cross-country ski area. However those are memories, and the reality is the present, and the Christmas present was mildness for an old coot, this year

What was really remarkable was a finger of warmth that reached the tops of the hills where I lived, but not the valleys. Indeed it was 43° atop Mount Washington, at 6000 feet, and only 40° at sea-level at the coast at Portsmouth. It was 39° in the Merrimack River Valley at Manchester 40 miles to our east, and 38° close to the Connecticut River in Keene 40 miles to our west, while here temperatures spiked up to near 60°. (57° in Jaffrey, 7 miles to our west.)

You can dimly see the finger of warmth in this temperature map, poking up into south-central New Hampshire (and also all the way north to Burlington, Vermont):

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On Christmas morning the sun came out and the breeze felt like April’s. Because we had the stoves going before the warmth came north, it was actually hot in the old house. I stepped out onto the porch and instantly remembered a Christmas back in my youth (1965?) when it was so mild I was running around outside flying a new toy helicopter barefoot.  I dedcided to stay outside to enjoy the mildness, figuring it wouldn’t last, as a front had come through to bring us our sunshine and clearing.

Temperatures did drop a little, but not much, and I could do my chores without gloves or a jacket.  My middle son was out with bird-watching gear, and announced by cell phone that a small gang of bluebirds, and a male and female cardinal, were by the house. I hurried, but didn’t see them, yet could hear them off in the distance, which seemed very evocative and symbolic of something just beyond my ken. (My son’s pictures:)

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There was something so summery about bluebirds and cardinals being about on Christmas morning that I decided it must be my Christmas miracle this year, and a auspicious sign.

Then I sat back to wait for the cold to return, as it surely must. A warm wave in the winter is like the water drawing down on a beach; you know the water draws back further for the bigger waves. However though the cold has rushed down to chill western cities like Denver, it is taking its time coming east: (The first map shows our Christmas storm passing well north, with us on the southern mild side, and the second map shows two days later, with the east still spared the arctic air plunging into the west.) (Click to enlarge.)

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The radar map shows snow along the battle lines between the cold west and the warm east:

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This battle line could brew up some big storms, as it works its way east, before the cold air eventually engulfs the entire USA. However for the moment we get a pause, a time of peace. The wind has died and the winter sun shines. Bluebirds are about. Obviously it is time for a sonnet.

I awoke to how wonderfully fashioned
Is a winter day, though the low sun is weak.
 
Faintly flavored, as when tea is rationed
And one sips a thin cup, one should not speak
Or one may miss the taste.   The breathless air
Is hushed; the sole birdsong is over a near
Hilltop, and is the scratchy cry of a rare
Christmas bluebird: Very faint; very clear.
 
I tell my noisy brain to be quiet.
I’m tired of its racket, and how it squints
At silence like bats in sunshine.
 
                                                    “Try it,”
Speaks the silence. “See My fingerprints
On every bough; with each breath you draw
See it takes no thought to wander in My awe.”

LOCAL VIEW —CUTE AND GRAY—

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(Click maps to clarify and enlarge)

A weak front moved through today, mostly with mid-level clouds that I like, as they dapple the sky with subtle hues, and can be particularly lovely  when the sun gets low, and the sun is getting pretty low even at noon these days.  Our days will as short as the last day of January, tomorrow. It isn’t as cold, because there are many lakes and bays between here and the North Pole still “remembering” the summer sunshine, and until they are all frozen and the landscape is all snow covered, the cold is moderated as it comes south. However one by one those lakes are freezing over, and even Hudson Bay starts to freeze over in November. I remind myself to cherish every moment remaining, when I can scuff through the leaves in a snow-free woods.

The air behind this current front is Pacific air. Likely it poured off Siberia and then was warmed by several thousand miles of ocean, and then was warmed further by the Chinook effect of crossing over the Rockies.  The next batch of arctic air will  come down the east side of those Rocky Mountains, and be warmed by neither Pacific nor Chinook. The first map below is the current map, with the cold air far to the north, but the second map  is 60 hours from now, and the sub-zero Fahrenheit air (gray, and, in Celsius, minus 17.77777777778 degrees, to be precise,) has stormed right through Montana and into Wyoming,  and is already spilling east to bother me, though it hasn’t gotten here yet.

20141109 A gfs_t2m_noram_1 20141109 B gfs_t2m_noram_21  (click to enlarge)

(Map credits to  Dr. Ryan Maue at the Weatherbell site.)

With this kind of cold air coming, you would think that I could enjoy the relative mildness of the current air, but I don’t always live up to my own standards. Even slightly cold air bites the back of my hands like it never did when I was younger. I suppose my skin’s gotten thinner. I can even understand why other geezers my age flee to Florida, (though I could never stand the traffic, and crowds of other geezers.)

It doesn’t help much that my church is just a dwindling bunch of geezers, with a geezer Pastor who is in a bit of a sermon-slump. He seems pretty much convinced churches are dying out in New England, and has a morbid fascination with the process of becoming extinct. One book he had us read was “Autopsy Of A Church.” It’s not the most uplifting stuff. Today he even managed to make the Beatitudes depressing. I won’t go into the details. Let it suffice to say I wasn’t pleased. Now I’m probably in trouble with my fellow geezers, because telling your pastor he’s a real downer is apparently a symptom of a dying church.

It just seems to me that the Beatitudes were suppose to cheer the downtrodden up. Somehow today’s sermon seemed to portray it as eight steps in a wonder-plan,  with the final step being that you become a social outcast.  I have to admit I’d never thought of it that  way before. I’d always thought that, where most people think a streak of bad luck means God is punishing you, Lord Jesus was saying He especially loves people who suffer.

In any case, I walked out of church with an expression like a prune. A gust of wind bit the backs of my hands. I was in no mood to head off to the farm and deal with a population explosion of gray squirrels.

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(Photo credit:  http://www.animalspot.net/eastern-gray-squirrel.html )

It’s bad enough that I have around four days to get two weeks of work done, before the hounds of winter come howling.  I also have to deal with twelve squirrels, as the local weasel apparently headed off to Florida, and two pairs of neighborhood gray squirrels managed to each successfully raise a brood of four, at the very end of summer. They are all frisking about, as cute as can be, causing an incredible amount of damage.

I set rat traps, but apparently the squirrels are a bit too big for those over-sized mouse traps. They got clobbered but not killed. One has no hair along his spine, and another has a crooked tail, and a third looks a little cross-eyed, but they are still frisking about.  So I got my varmint rifle, but apparently someone else in the neighborhood has been taking pot-shots with a .22, for soon as I stepped outside they were gone. I could barely see their gray tails flicking as they headed off into the woods. What was particularly aggravating was the fact that as soon as I put the rifle away, (you have to be careful with guns when you run a Childcare), they would reappear, more frisky than ever.

Then I heard them up in the airspace-attic of the Childcare.  There are vents up at the peak of the roof,  securely nailed and with screens, but apparently, when twelve squirrels all say :”heave-ho” at once, they can rip entire vents out.  So I had to cut squares of thick wire hardware-cloth and teeter up there on a ladder, with the wind biting the back of my hands and the ends of the wire drawing blood, using a staple gun to close up the openings with squirrel-proof screening, as I took the badly-gnawed vents down for repairs.

While I was up there I glanced down towards my garden, where my popcorn is ready for picking. Popcorn takes 110 days to grow, and then has to dry on the stalk, and, with the last frost on May 29 last spring,  it was a feather in my cap to get any crop at all. However, as I looked that way, it looked like, rather than ears of corn, the stalks held gray squirrels. All twelve were frisking about in joy and delight.

That popcorn was suppose to be for the children at my childcare! Those cute squirrels were depriving cute children! A cold emotion came over me, and I decided the childcare curriculum for next week would include, “How to make a squirrel pie.” I would use my “Have-a-heart traps,” which would be renamed “Have-a-pie-traps.” I would use peanut butter for bait. Squirrels can’t resist peanut butter. (After all, they kept coming back to the rat traps for peanut butter, no matter how often they got clobbered.)

As I came down the ladder in this grim mood I learned an astounding thing:  Squirrels are psychic. They had vanished. I could understand them vanishing when I came outside with a varmint rifle, because they could see the rifle, but to have them disappear when I was thinking grim thoughts? They had to be psychic.

Then, as my grimness faded into wonder, I decided they couldn’t be psychic. There must be some other reason. So I started to look around. Suddenly I stopped. Up in the leafless branches of a big, old oak tree beside the Childcare was a frowning, gray hawk. (I think it was a Cooper’s Hawk.) Compared to cute squirrels, it looked very mean.  It was cocking its head left and right, scouting out the situation. It looked tired and hungry. Then it met my eye before I could look away.

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(Photo credit:  http://www.lloydspitalnikphotos.com/v/birds_of_prey/coopers_hawk/coopers_hawk_F5R8024-01.jpg.html )

It’s a funny thing about hawks: They will sit up in a tree for hours as you work, and never budge, but as soon as you meet their eye they will fly away. It is as if they recognize they have been recognized. However as this one flew away I could see it didn’t fly far, and I also imagined I could see a cartoon balloon above its head, reading, “Memo to self:  Delay migration. Much food here.”

Not that I won’t set the have-a-heart traps, but I may not catch any squirrels.

And the moral of the story is this:  Sometimes your problems are cute, and the solutions are not.

Hawk and squirrel image_preview (Photo credit: http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/gallery/2007-winners-and-finalists/RETHAW_ArdithBondiNY07.jpg/view ) (This hawk is a red-tailed hawk.)

 

THE LIMPING SUN

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It has always fascinated me how much warmer it is on the autumnal side of the Winter Solstice, and how much colder it is after the Solstice. I tend to look at the sun and say, “The sun is as low now as it is in X.”  I do this especially in the spring, when it seems the snow will never melt, but the sun is getting higher and more powerful.

After a quarter century of putting up with this sort of muttering, my wife now rolls her eyes, and occasionally asks me why I can’t enjoy the present without comparing it to something else.

However I can’t seem to help myself. Today I’ll look out across the nut-colored landscape of Oak Autumn, check my almanac, and say something like, “Today is ten and a half hours long, the same as it is on February 13, when the world would be white and all the ponds frozen.”  My wife might then ask me if I have so much free time I can check almanacs, and I will hurry off, because if I leak out that I have free time she might ask for help with some task. Even after a quarter century I haven’t taught that woman how to loaf, though I’m still working on it.

The dwindling sunshine hits home around Halloween. I think it spooks northern people and makes them a little crazy, which is why we have the strange holiday “Halloween” now. (The opposite craziness, in the Spring, is “April Fools Day”.)  In pagan times, in Ireland, people thought the spirits of the dead began to walk abroad in the early evenings, and hid indoors with an offering placed outside their front doors to placate the dead. If they did have to go out into the dusk they would disguise their identity by wearing a mask. St. Patrick apparently felt this was nonsense, and to show that Christians were not afraid he sent little children out in the dark to eat the offerings at other people’s porches. (I’m not exactly sure how the little children came to wear masks.)

Though New England gets much colder than Ireland, we are further south and our days don’t get as short, but it still is distressing how swiftly the sun gets wan and weak in October. The days are nearly an hour and a half shorter at the end of the month than they were at the start. The fiery brilliance of the sugar maple’s flaming foliage has given way to the muted browns of the oaks,  and the green cornstalks have turned brown and rustle crisply in the windy fields. The summer birds have all gone and the dawns are more silent, and alien birds from the north are passing through.

The drenching nor’easter we got at the end of last week is remembered, as the fallen leaves are still wet below the surface of their drifts and piles, despite dry northwest winds as the storm slowly moved off. The low, limping sun simply has lost its power to dry things.  I remember, from back in the days when I made a bundle of money by raking up other people’s leaves, that a fall rain made the job far heavier and harder. Leaves took a long time to dry, before the first snow, whereas they dried swiftly after the last snow melted, because the sun is so much higher, and the days are three hours longer, in April.

Even as a strong young man this might have given me a reason to loaf, but with five kids I needed the money, and therefore raked leaves in the fall. Now I do have a reason to loaf, for I don’t get paid a cent for raking my own leaves, however my wife seems to think leaves look bad. I think they look lovely, and in any case, they’ll soon be hidden by snow.  (I don’t much care about the grass being killed beneath the leaves, for my dog has done a pretty good job of killing it already.)  However females seem to judge the character of a man by the color of his lawn, so I’ll likely get started raking the lawn, any day now….unless we get an early snow. There is always hope.

The problem with an early snow involves our pigs. I don’t have winter quarters for them, and snow and cold means that a lot that goes into feeding them goes into keeping their body heat hot. After all, they are pink things running about stark naked. Therefore I’d best get them to market. I’d do it, but I have to rake leaves. However I have trouble raking leaves when I’m so worried about those poor pigs. (“There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza…”)

The above map shows the last storm leaving, but a new storm coming. We were suppose to get a nice, mild spell, according to the forecasts based on computer models, but once again Joe Bastardi and Joseph D’Aleo said otherwise on their blogs at Weatherbell, and once again they have beat the world’s biggest computers with mere brains. Brains may not be able to beat computers at chess, but brains do much better than computers playing the game of chaos, which is what weather and humanity amount to.

The computers now show the low crossing the Great Lakes will dig in and deepen, as it arrives at the Atlantic. What is left of Hurricane Ana, a mere impulse barely able to dent the isobars as it penetrates high pressure crossing the Rockies, will dive southeast and add energy to the east coast trough, and another nor’easter will form this Saturday. It may suck enough cold air down behind it to create some snow.

Sigh. I was planning to avoid telling my wife about this forecast, but the blasted, tweeting, newfangled Facebook alerted her. Now I’ll have to both rake leaves and get pigs to the market. It’s either that, or go out and purchase a good Halloween mask.

Bears have it better. They hibernate.