LOCAL VIEW –First Frost–

We have had a summery fall, with a few summer-like waves of refreshing Canadian air, welcome because they push out the heat and humidity, but the southern warmth quickly pushed back north, hot and muggy but usually dry, until at long last a southern surge  brought us some rain, which our parched landscape accepted with a deep sigh of gratitude.

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That single band of warm rain, bececting the southern border of New Hampshire, gave us more rain than we’d received in the entire month before. It was slightly less than three inches. So parched was our landscape that the brooks didn’t even rise. The land sucked it up like a sponge. The drought wasn’t ended. But at least the woods didn’t crisply crunch as I walked through them, after that extended torrent (between 4:00 and 8:00 AM), and I wasn’t searching the historical records for evidence of state-wide forest fires any more. Instead I worried southwards, about hurricanes. (Notice, in the map below, the ex-tropical storm off the Carolina coast.)

20160919-satsfc As the welcome wall of moisture swept north, a flimsy, poor-excuse-for-a-cold-front basically faded away over us, as we sank back into a tropical flow from the south. Up in that flow came a poor-excuse-for-a-hurricane. It had no rain, and no wind, but wonderfully strange skies. They were hurricane skies, without the hurricane.

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When it really became obvious the skies were different was when the skies gave way to a hurricane sunset. When I was young, old-timers warned me to be wary of sunsets that were not just red in the west, but crimson wall-to-wall, from west all the way overhead and down to the east, especially at the time of the “line storm” (when the sun crosses the equator).  “Red at night, sailor’s delight” was not true for the “blood sun”.

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In a sense it was as if a atmospheric gap passed over us with a sign on it, “This Space Is Reserved For A Hurricane”, but no hurricane chose to utilize its reservation.  I found it odd. It seemed especially odd because several tropical storms have milled about over warm waters without showing the slightest inclination towards the explosive development that sailors once dreaded. In like manner fronts have approached New England this summer, and had signs on them, “This Space Reserved For Severe Thunderstorms”, and we got not even a sprinkle nor a grumble.

Only a true Alarmist would gnaw their nails about no hurricanes and no severe thunderstorms. It is a blessing, (though we could have used a little more light rain). However I thought it was wonderful that, even though we did not get a “line storm” right at the solstice, (the time the terrible 1938 Hurricane passed though New England, completely changing the landscape in three hours), a sort of Space-reserved-for-hurricane passed over at the right time, with a hurricane sunset. It made the old-timers I once listened to seem less out-dated.

When I was knee high to a grasshopper, the old-timers I annoyed were all born in the 1800’s, and could remember when sailing ships were still common. Right up into the Great Depression men in New England made decent money shipping cargo up and down the coast on schooners. They lived lives Insurance Companies would now frown upon, and endured the whims of the weather, and therefore knew things about what the winds do that we have forgotten, now that we use satellites in outer space to tell us which ways the winds blow, and seldom step outside and wet a finger.

Now I’m the old-timer, but even though I’ve lived much more of my life outdoors than most modern people do, I’m not as smart as those old sailors were. Also, when it comes to satellites, I’m not as smart as the young. At times I think I epitomize the worst of both worlds. However perhaps I am a bridge between the two worlds.

One thing the old-timers knew about, back when more than half of all Americans lived on farms,  was that when the nights get longer the Canadian air-masses, so welcome during the summer, when the nights are too short to do damage, gain power. It is the power of longer nights, leading to frost. Frost does great damage to the productivity of a garden, and the old-timers would anxiously sniff the air on cool nights, even in August. By September they expected frost, and this was especially true when conditions were dry, (because moister and lusher foliage has a power to resist frost which drier foliage lacks.) Around here the first frost was expected around the solstice, and any extension of the growing season was deemed good luck.

However the modern forecasters, parked indoors by their computer screens, were completely blind-sided by our first frost this year, on September 26. This sort of surprised me, because usually those fellows will use the slightest excuse to puff their self-importance, setting off wailing warnings on weather-radios, and many’s the time I’ve been awoken at three AM by my weather-radio warning of the slight possibility of frost in mountains fifty miles north of here. This year there was no warning. Low temperatures were predicted to be around 40°F (+4.4°C).

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If people with gardens actually depended on the government, they might be pissed off, because with adequate warning a sprinkler can be set out in the garden, and a slight spray of water can extend the growing season. (Not that things grow much more, as the sun gets lower and weaker. One year, close to the water on the coast of Maine, I managed to protect my garden nearly to Thanksgiving in November, and what amazed me was how stunted the growth was. It was nice to have things fresh from the garden, but I recall the Swiss Chard grew short, squat leaves, like triangles.)

The small scale farmers around here don’t need the government to tell them to expect frost in late September. Either they protected their tomatoes,  or else they said, “the heck with it.” When the frost came without an official warning, the really angry people, I expect, were the little old ladies who had their hot-house plants out on the patio, and saw them killed, because the weathermen didn’t warn them. And it is such ladies, and not farmers, that the weathermen should kowtow to, for such ladies have the big bucks and donate to PBS and the meteorology departments of colleges.

Me? I wasn’t angry. I expected frost. It happens. Heck if a change of government will change the date of the first frost. It happens. It really seems primitive and savage to me that some think anyone but the Creator controls the weather. I see little difference between savages who think throwing a virgin into a volcano can control nature, and those who think buying curly light-bulbs and separating green bottles from brown bottles can control nature.

I mean, if you believe in such stuff, shouldn’t you just go to the Creator, and say, “Begging your pardon, Creator, but could you please make it snow this Christmas, after folk have finished their shopping?” Isn’t it a little bit insulting to the Creator to think you can control Him? “Your attention please, Creator, I have purchased curly light bulbs, and henceforth You will do as I say!”

I was part of a generation that felt it could boss the Creator absurdly. “Your attention please, Creator, I have purchased a tablet of LSD, and henceforth you will expand my consciousness as I say!” (What a fiasco!) Therefore, now that I am an old-timer, I am less inclined to tell the Creator how to run the universe.

I am more inclined to attempt to emulate Abraham Lincoln. When asked if he wanted the Creator to be on “our side”, his polite, considerate (and, by modern standards, politically incorrect,) response was, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”

In order to be like that, one has to be humble. One has to be able to confess they are not in control of all things. In such a situation one should heed little children, because they have no control whatsoever. Call it Karma or whatever-you-will, they have no control of the situation they are born into.

There actually was a Child-care philosophy that was all the rage, a while back,  that focused on giving children more of a sense they were “in control.” Rather than saying, “Get in the car”, you were suppose to say, “Would you like to get in the car?” The aim was to stimulate a child’s creativity (as if they needed any help with that!) The fear was that, by bossing children around, you were crushing their talents. What was discovered was that too much freedom made children feel abandoned. Walls were not seen by the child as being like a prison’s, but instead walls sponsored a cozy sense of safety. A child did not want the deep responsibility of being in control of everything. They wanted to trust those details to the grown-ups.  

The trust of children is quite amazing to witness, in cases where the parents have serious problems, and you might think a child would prefer foster care. Even when parents are heroin addicts and both are in jail, a little child will prefer them to  saintly foster care. Parents are a “given”, just as weather is a “given”.  Just as we don’t control the weather, children don’t control their fate, yet they are a heck of a lot more optimistic and cheerful than most adults. Like the captains of old schooners, they sail through situations that would turn an insurance adjuster a deathly shade of green. Therefore I watch children carefully, to see how they respond to a first frost.

 

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Is that young man cursing Big Oil, or Big Green? Is he cursing Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton? Or is he not cursing anyone at all, and instead just filled with wonder?

As I get older I get younger. Maybe it is because I have to deal with kids so much, or perhaps senility is creeping in. Increasingly, cursing seems stupid. Increasingly, wonder seems wise.

When I think back to the old-timers I knew in my youth, it seems they were less troubled by not being in control. Just think how anguished a modern insurance agent would be about a cargo vessel with no engine, dependent on the whims of the wind. Yet the old-timers simply accepted the whims of the wind as a given, and worked like mad responding. In like manner, a first frost got everyone working like crazy to save what they could from the garden.

Perhaps it is working with computers so much that makes people think they are in control. People have the sense that they only need to rewrite the program, and any glitch will be fixed. Before you know it people are attempting to create a reality that is “risk free”.

That is not how the Creator made the world. A “risk free” environment is a bed you can hide beneath, and even there you are mortal, and, after hiding for seventy years, you die.  At some point one wants to come out, and face the sky, and maybe even sail.

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Now stand back, all you bankers of men’s hearts,
For I am going to stay the wheels of time
And command leaves stay green, when first frost starts
To spill paints across the hills. I’ll climb
The clouds and yank the slumping sun back north.
My hair will turn dark again, without dye.
I’ll again gush ardor, (whatever that’s worth),
And make fall’s maudlin poems be a lie.
I’m tired of autumn songs being so weepy
So I’ll derange the seasons with tulips
And wake poor bears just when they’re sleepy.
The only frost will involve my mint juleps.
And then, when asked why I’ve altered Creation,
I’ll just explain it’s my standing ovation.

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LOCAL VIEW –Sapping Taxing Times–

The most miserable times of my life were when my parents separated, and told me nothing because they wanted to “spare” me. (As if a child doesn’t notice a disappeared father.) I think the second winter was the worst, likely because I gradually was worn down by the unceasingly insidious depression, and very quietly underwent a childish breakdown, culminating in a ferocious case of influenza that laid me so low I spent two weeks in bed, including a couple of days of hellish fever dreams (which made me very able to understand and even help people having bad trips on LSD, a half-decade later.)

The good part was that, when I was finally allowed out of bed. it happened to be the first day of winter vacation, so I missed three weeks of school, altogether. Sometimes I think this may have contributed to my recovery more than anything else, for school was poison.

I’d been skipped ahead a grade, which made me the youngest and smallest boy in my class. Being skipped ahead was suppose to challenge and uplift me, but I didn’t find school particularly uplifting.  It was a time of life when twelve months makes a big difference, and all the other children had gone (in my eyes) utterly mad, due to the onset of hormones, while I retained the sanity of childhood. Not that I didn’t boyishly blush when girls smiled at me, but they had stopped doing that, because I seemed to shrink to a point where I practically looked up at their kneecaps when I danced with them. I can’t really blame them for not wanting me to ask them to dance, but, at a time I really could have used some affection, I became the opposite of a status symbol at school. It was no fun going there. A sick bed was preferable. Perhaps even dying was preferable.

I’m sure I sound melodramatic, but it truly was a time when affection came in crumbs, few and far between. My mother had always been distant, and now she was overworked as well, a single-mother pulling twelve-hour-shifts as a night-nurse. The heat was turned down to save on the oil bill, and we suddenly had only 40 watt bulbs, and the darkness and cold was creeping in on me. I never got hugged. It was a very big deal when I got a “Mighty Max” winter coat. That felt almost like a hug, but then the fever hit.

I know affection mattered, because the day I suddenly thought I might be feeling much better was the day my mother efficiently brought the daily hospital-tray with soup and crackers to my sickbed, and matter-of-factly mentioned, “Some girl named Sandra asked about you at the market. She said she hopes you’re feeling better.” I suddenly felt warm and fuzzy. Sandra and I went back a long way.

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It is strange what small things can separate times when you constantly feel chilled and shivering, from times you feel so warmed that you can play for hours in the snow and never feel the cold at all. As a boy a girl’s smile could do it, but I never even saw Sandra’s smile, and her parents took her off to Florida for that vacation.

Vacations were always a blessed break from the humiliations of school, but that particular vacation seemed especially blissful, as I did all the things that boys do well, and skipped all the humiliating botheration of dances and sporting teams and homework and tests.

Towards the end of that vacation I did one of the dumb things that boys do so well, which usually make girls detest them. I meant to get a pretty girl’s attention with a snowball, but she turned at just the wrong time and stooped, and the snowball plastered her face like a pie. She was tearful and also absolutely furious, and I felt pretty bad about the attention I had successfully earned, but just then a stroke of genius flashed through my brain. As she ineffectually attempted to fling snowballs into my face I pretended terror, and backed away further and further up a roadside snowbank, until I pretended to fall off the top into a snow-covered bush, uttering a long, drawn-out wail. When I popped my  head up through the snow to see how effective my act had been, I saw the girl laughing, with a warm light in her eyes, and, at the very least, knew I wasn’t loathed any more.

Though my small success didn’t put me up there with Don Juan or James Bond, I felt pretty good about myself after that. To my surprise the sensation lasted even after school started. I didn’t suddenly get “A’s”, or abruptly become the shortest person ever to make the basketball team, but my mood was so good I did manage to stay out of troubles I found for myself, back when I felt bad. There is something about a cringing person that makes you want to give them a swat, but no one wanted to swat me any more, and in fact I was so charming and cheerful that even my fantastic excuses-for-undone-homework brought out the mercy in the grouchier teachers. It amazed me, and I felt like I was on what gamblers call “a roll” and baseball players call “a streak”. It is a wonderful thing, but no one really knows how it happens. In my life it always seems like a warm avalanche overwhelming, set off by the smallest pebble of kindness.

On that long-ago  March First a warm west wind was blowing and the air was filled with the hope of spring, and I climbed to the topmost branches of a tall hemlock next to my home and swayed in the wind, pretending I was up the mast of a clipper ship, and thinking how great I felt, and how great life was, and how odd it was to be free of the gloom that had plagued me all winter. For the first time in my life I felt the urge to express joy in a poem.  I ran out of gas nearly as soon as I started, but I still have the poem:

Spring is here;
It’s that time of year.
Snow will melt quick
And turn into ick.
Another thing to say
Can wait for another day.

Another day came, and went, becoming another decade that came and went, until now it is more than a half century that has come and gone, and still the First of March always gives me a strange sense that hope can appear from darkness, whether the darkness be night or winter or sickness. There is something miraculous about dawns and springs and healing. It is something beyond the dour mathematics of intellectual pragmatism. It defies the tax-accounting, insurance-adjusting mentality, which sees the ravages of time and speaks only of depreciation. Instead it speaks of appreciation.

I think it is a good thing that this mood hits me at this time of year, because it is at this time of year I have to face my taxes. I absolutely loath the paperwork, (perhaps because there is no excuse for not doing homework, at my age),  yet I often grumble the IRS is wise to hit us right when winter has us at our weakest, and we’re least prone to revolt. Boston-Tea-Party-Hero-ABHowever even in April you can push a people too far. Taxes are due April 15, and April 19 remembers Lexington:PatriotsDay1Some think such nonsense is left in the past, but it isn’t. Patriot’s Day is no picnic any more. Boston-Marathon-Bombing

Maraton Victims 58f086c80d57462f94b6836743ec689d-58f086c80d57462f94b6836743ec689d-0-9429Once the prospect of war would have made me thirst to enlist,  (even if I enlisted to be bloodied protesting as a pacifist), but now the glare tends to leave me glum and depressed, and fails to uplift me to the mood I felt as a boy up at the top of a hemlock. The gradual deepening of shadows across the landscape of our times depresses me, and reminds me more of being a boy in my sickbed, fearing the shadows in the corners of my room. I feel old, less strong, less able to take on the lunacy I live amidst. Once I’d take on a tiger on a dare, but now I’m not so sure that would be wise. After all, I’m getting to an age where I’d get some odd looks, if I climbed a hemlock to feel the wind in my face. Even a snapped-off hemlock leaning at a 45 degree angle might test me, though I confess I was tempted, as I watched a boy scramble up one today.Climbing Hemlock IMG_1836

It would be nice if the government treated us elderly geezers with respect, but the elderly might as well be a pack of Rodney Dangerfields. We get no respect.Dangerfield P_Rodney_Dangerfield_1

As soon as a parent or parents has at long-last gotten a child through college, the government increases his or her (or their) taxes, by taking away the “benefit earned” by having a “dependent” on tax returns.  (That word “benefit”irks me, for I am not the one “benefiting” from paying taxes. The government is.)

Not that the economy has much to offer our young graduates when they leave college. Many are unemployed, and they are not avoiding getting a Real Job as I once did, (claiming my real work was to be an “arteest”). Modern youth would work a Real Job if they could, (and in fact they must, to pay off their absurd college loans), but no such Real Jobs exist, thanks to the stupidity of the government’s economic planning, (and the stupidity of they who taught. In fact I think colleges should only be paid with a percentage of graduate’s actual earnings.)  In any case,  the parent must continue to help out, if they really care.

I think this is now a financial fact, and living-with-parents no longer should involve the shame it once did, (as long as the young adult doesn’t waste themselves away, playing video games in their parent’s basement.)

My middle son graduated with a (seemingly) fairly useless college degree in Biology, but he isn’t sitting around waiting for the perfect job to open up (where he would get paid for studying The Songbirds Of Paradise). He’s constantly sending out applications for such  dream-jobs, while working two humbling jobs (at a hospital and coffee shop)  just to meet the mortgage-sized payments on his college loan. So of course I am not going to charge for a spare bedroom. The colleges get the money, as the parents get the shaft.

One thing I am particularly envious of is my son’s energy. After two jobs he keeps right on going, charging off to do something that interests him, such as borrowing a “camera trap” to set up in the woods. (He only seemed slightly discouraged when this effort only rewarded him with 63 pictures of Gray Squirrels.)

Recently I pottered outside to see this odd stuff strung from trees in my snowless backyard:Tapping Maples 1 IMG_1832And this was on my back porch as well:Tapping Maples 2 IMG_1831

I know this is the newfangled way of tapping maples and making maple sugar, and begrudgingly confessed it was amazing that my son had done so much with so little money. He basically bought cheap plumbing-tubing and borrowed stuff. However he soon had a crowd of friends laughing on that porch, as they boiled sap on a Sunday, and I had to be careful changing out of my Sunday-go-to-meeting pants in my own bedroom, because the crowded porch was just outside that bedroom’s window. All the noise and laughter made me grumpy. Largely I think I was just plain jealous.

Mostly I was envious of the energy of youth, and the ability of youth’s hope to forge ahead without seeing all the glitches and pitfalls inherent in hopeful plans. (My son now has a hundred gallons of sap and no free time to boil them). (But we do already have a half gallon of maple syrup; I’d never have the energy to do that; it took me all season last year to get a half gallon, because I only tapped a single tree.) (As I get older my projects get smaller.)

In conclusion I simply have to confess I’m confused. I’m not sure how much of my grouchy mood is mere jealousy, because I don’t have the energy to do what I once did, and how much of my grouchy mood is justified, because I’m an elder, and I deserve respect, damn it all,  and not increased taxes, damn it all. Though my body may be depreciated, I deserve to be appreciated.

TWO SONNETS; POWERLESS AND POWER-MAD

Your will be done, but I tire. The long drought
Stretches like a dry winter: No snowscapes
Catch full moonlight. No victorious shout
Proclaims impossible dreams. Now I pout
Like a child disgruntled, or a dull Jack
Created by too much toil. Let Your song
Be freed. Let me sweetly fall back in love,
For what is work without love? I long
For the quick glance I’m always singing of,
But You seem indifferent. Give one glance.
For I know the difference one glance can make.
It’s been years, but beaming eyes can lance
The dragon of despair, and make a heart break
The chains of aching gray, as sweetest tears
Flow freely. Look at me. It’s been years.

I have seen how tiresome are the trinkets
Of wealth and fame, and how foolish are those
Who trample to gain, who sow cruel thickets
Of penned pain, and reap thorns without a rose.
They tramp pompously strutting through the lush landscape
Of my life, proof positive that to win
By grabbing is about as sweet as rape,
And the only smiles gleaned are a skull’s grin.
I’d rather remember the kind, whose deeds
Gained not wealth nor fame, but blossoming smiles
Even from soured faces. Such caring truly feeds
The hungry; heals the sick. As I cross the miles

Left to cross, I want to see that flower.
So give me not wealth or fame, but that power.