LOCAL VIEW –Dust Versus Crust–

Robert Frost wrote a poem I often recite in the winter woods, as it is short and easy to remember:

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I rued.

This poem seems to typify the way a northern mind grasps at straws of beauty, in order to survive the general state of depression that deepens as the long northern winter goes on and on and on (and on.)

After Christmas, what holiday is there? New Years? What is that? Is turning a page on the calendar really worth rejoicing about? And the birthdays of defunct people, who had far more dignity than modern politicians, tends to depress me more than they inspire me, for I am reminded how dark our days are. And finally, you have to admit “Ground Hog’s Day” seems downright desperate, in terms of holidays.

Eventually we have to become self reliant, and display the sort of guts Robert Frost displayed, finding the beauty he shared in his poem. It was a dark day, a day he “rued”, yet he found something bright, not only for himself, but for me, (for he shared it with me [and countless others] though he never knew me).

It is nice to be able to share, but apparently some at Google do not think certain individuals, such as myself, should be sharing. If they feel a certain view is politically incorrect, (such as my view that arctic sea-ice is not going to be melted away by 2013 as promised, because it hasn’t), then they will seek to prevent people from sharing their views by artificially reducing the possibility their posts will be seen on Google’s search engine.  Power corrupts, and Google has apparently sunk to the level of a third world dictatorship, by virtually “disappearing” political opponents.

To be honest, I prefer being virtually “disappeared” to the reality version, for in many ways being unknown and unseen is everyday, for artists. Even Robert Frost went years without being well known, and many artists are simply not born for fame. Great singers have remained the cherished property of a small church choir their entire lives, radiating their beauty to a select few, making a poor congregation wealthy even as the world never knows what it is missing. This actually happens more often than not; the greatest comics perform before a crowd of eight at a backwater bar, as the wealthy go impoverished.

Despite obvious shortcomings, wealth and power tricks and fools people, and therefore those at Google deem it wise to stifle Freedom of Speech, and consequently live in a sort of self-created deafness. At best perhaps some think that, like members of Boston’s old, Puritan “Watch and Ward” society, they protect the innocent from some sort of “porn”, (by studying a great deal of it themselves). But the poor are neither as innocent nor naive as some suspect, and the soap that cleans a slum is not made by calling slums illegal, nor by making talk about back alleys be whispers.

In any case, where bringing up a topic such as “arctic sea-ice” once was a way to generate “hits” at a website, now it generates dead silence.

I find this a bit winter-like, and depressing. To share, and generate a will to censor rather than reciprocal sharing, is like being warm and catchinga cold blast from the north. It seems the upper crust is attempting to forbid sharing, in a sense denying the dust that delights, and leaving only a day “rued”.

The snow is glued to the swaying forest
And the northern blasts can’t shake any loose.
There seems no subtlety to this contest.
There is something solid in the crunch of boots
Across a frozen scene, something as starched
As the hairstyles of evening newscasters.
Where is the dust of snow falling from arched
Hemlocks, jostled by crows, that old masters
Wrote poems about? Is it too delicate
And too precious for times given to louts?
No, for the crunch of boots pontificate
Of a glue that was wet, before “Ins” became “Outs”.
Warm wet winds during the night, as I sleep,
Makes all trees birches, with oaths they must keep.

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Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against sitting in a warm penthouse sipping brandy. I’d do it myself, if invited. Nor do I have anything against an above-it-all attitude. (Brandy has that effect.) It is just that feeling above it all can result in one looking down their nose and becoming haughty, and sneering that others are mere children, mere dogs.

Be that way, if you must. The children and dog will not mind, as long as you leave them alone to play. The dog will play keep-away with a stick, delighting in the attention of ten kids running after it.

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Do you know what I think? I think those who scorn children and dogs are strangely threatened by the fact children and dogs have no real interest in money or fame, and would rather play in the snow than perch in a penthouse. Therefore they want to butt in and make children and dogs see they are important. They demand respect. They will outlaw sharing, unless you obey their rules.

But life goes on outside Silicon Valley. Alas for the Googlites, who make a winter without warmth, even in sunny California.

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Local View –Western Zephyrs–

Perhaps it is due to my recent bout with the ‘flu, but my recovery has involved being in touch with a mystical side of myself I’m not certain my Christian brethren would entirely approve of. I am “communing with nature” more, which suggests there is something I am communing with. This sounds dangerously close to worshiping a false god, when God is the only One worthy of worship. Christians are clear about that. However I think many Christians unknowingly worship money and fame, without being aware they are worshiping a false god, whereas “communing with nature” doesn’t necessarily involve worship. You are just having a chat with an invisible entity. Perhaps having a chat with the invisible is dangerous, if you believe the only invisible thing you should be involved with is God.  However fame is invisible, and money is merely paper, unless you value its invisible component. Unless and until a person completely renounces the value of money, they have no business scolding me for valuing the west wind.

I wasn’t even aware I was valuing the west wind until Joe Bastardi, making a trivial aside during one of his podcasts, mentioned there was something special about the west winds that deserved a name. He said the wind wasn’t a true Chinook, but like a colder Chinook. He called it a something-or-another Chinook, (likely he should have called it a “Chinook Modoki,” to be truly meteorological), but I was aware I was instantly dissatisfied. But why?

It deserved better. There is something amazingly kindly about west winds in January, especially after a period of bitter north winds. Even though west winds remain below freezing (this far north), it isn’t a cold that makes you wince and cringe, and life relaxes a bit. This in turn makes me want to sing some version of “Zippity do dah.” The poet in me just wants to praise the west wind. (Not worship the west wind. Just thank it, as one would thank a friend.)

However as soon as you call an inanimate thing such as the west wind a “friend”, you look a bit loopy. So be it. When no one is looking, I’ll smile and wave at a small dust-devil of leaves swirling across the pasture.

I suppose I have always secretly agreed with the ancient Greeks, who stated that these whirls are actually lesser angels, called “zephyrs”. The whirls have a mind of their own, and can be mischievous. I saw this first when only aged fifteen.

I was just finishing up a leaf-raking job for a rich man with a palatial house that had two wings extending to the northeast and northwest. His lawn stepped down through a series of terraces to a road, and across the road was a pasture, and at the far side of the pasture I saw a dust-devil of leaves start whirling. I immediately muttered, “Don’t you dare”, but the whirl of leaves came steadily across the pasture, growing larger and larger and containing more and more leaves. It crossed the road and came up between the two wings of the house, and then proceeded to promptly die, dumping a rain of around three inches of leaves over the area I had just finished raking. It looked worse than before I had begun. And wouldn’t you know it? My wealthy employer chose just then to come out to see how I was getting along with the job. He shot me the funniest expression.

These zephyrs are not always unhelpful. Fifty years later, just last week, I was struggling to get a twilight campfire going out in a pasture at my Childcare, but freezing rain had coated all my wood with ice and the fire was barely smoldering. I was huffing and puffing, being a human bellows in an attempt to get the fire hot enough to dry the wood in the deepening dusk. Just then a most inconsequential-seeming whirl of leaves came across the pasture. Perhaps because of the fire’s slight updraft, it swerved to the fire and just stopped there for around 45 seconds. It seemed to get bigger due to the fire’s heat, and all the coals glowed cherry red as it whirled its wind around the fire. By the time it moved off the fire was blazing. I tipped my hat and thanked that particular zephyr, as it wandered away into the darkening woods.

There. I have done it: Confessed I am a mad poet. But don’t worry. I keep it to myself, and know how to behave in public.

Nor do I pray to the west wind. I seriously believe there is only One God worthy of worship. However he does employ a lot of angels, which, although in some respects mere robotic automatons of God’s Will, are enchanting because God’s Will is enchanting, loving because God’s Will is loving, and are humorous and mischievous because such joy is not outside of God’s nature. Just because a poet is in some respects a friend of angels doesn’t mean he worships them.  Give me a break, you fellow Christians, who I have noticed praying to a few outside of the One God, (such as the Virgin Mary, and Saint Cuthbert).  Cannot I just rhapsodize a bit, without being accused of some foul heresy?

Anyway, in the end of all ends all the glory rolls back to the Creator. When I adore my wife I am not worshiping a false god, for I recognize Who made her. In like manner one can be in the world, but not of the world. Money is not evil, when used correctly, but love of money is.  When one has the joy of a good friend one should recognize a good friend is a manifestation of God’s glory.

This heavenly mood I’m in seems a typical response I go through, after feeling like hell with the ‘flu. However even when in such moods one should be in the heavens without being of the heavens, because even that enchantment is not the end of ends God has in store for us.

But I wrote this sonnet after standing in the west wind, in a Zippity-do-dah mood.

Wearing feathers plucked from a flaring sunset
God’s angels of the west wind balm the pines,
And though I don’t hope for spring, I have met
Lost memories in this cold’s kinder designs.

What is that music just beyond hearing?
What’s that scent mixed with the sweet balsam fir’s?
Who am I looking for, without fearing,
Who I haven’t yet met? The cruel winter’s
Bitterness knows a pause, and all awaits
Something announced by the golden kindness
Of the west wind. The harsh face of Fate’s
Softened by surprise. A world gone mindless
Is reminded. I see every man stunned
By the swinging doors of banks left abandoned.

In conclusion I should add that being in a heavenly mood does not mean I am allowed to neglect worldly details, and one detail of our long winters is that long thaws in January, with lovely west winds, are often followed by a ferocious February. Therefore my poetic streak has a pragmatic side. The next sonnet will likely involve woodpiles.

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LOCAL VIEW –Sickbed Sonnets–

We’ve had the ‘flu passing through our neck of the woods pretty severely this year, to a degree that not even my over-developed sense of humor can take lightly. When a local mother-of-four succumbs, the joking ceases. There is nothing like death to jolt people from their petty concerns. Things that seemed very important two weeks ago are not even remembered.

To a certain degree that was what my sense of humor was always all about. Things that people care deeply about, seen from a different angle, don’t matter a hill of beans. To some it is of paramount importance if Bobby asks Susie to the prom, but when both are too sick with the ‘flu to attend, all the fuss about what clothing matters becomes absurd. My mischief has always been to see the absurdity before the prom is cancelled.

I tend to be a good friend to have when you have been through a rough spell, and have lost the things that status-seekers crave. When you are a winner you have a girl at either elbow, but when you are in a losing streak they vanish, and people avoid you like you have the plauge….or the ‘flu. But I always had a soft spot for losers. Why? Because losers see beyond the superficiality of money and popularity and power, and know a person is still possessed of a heart and all a heart’s needs, even when they are down in the gutter. What really matters is deeper.

To get the ‘flu tends to be a reminder, a tap on the shoulder midst the hectic hubbub of ceaseless pettiness we call “important”. It is a reminder that we are mortal, and that our efforts to deal with death by completely avoiding the subject are going to eventually be in vain.

I think I was made especially aware of how fragile our worldly dreams are because my father suffered the indignity of getting polio at age 34, after going through all the trouble of becoming a surgeon. After college, after graduate school, after internship, he finally “had it made”. Then some stupid virus came and ruined everything. And although he fought his way back to being a top surgeon, he was a cripple. Like an athlete who has made a comeback, he was an investment with small print, like a loaf of bread with an expiration date in the near future.

Local football fans are facing the same expiration-date-inevitability as the heroic local quarterback has passed age forty. (Also he hurt his hand during practice before the “Big Game” this weekend.) Even heroes like Tom Brady face what the rest of us face, though he is doing it in the spotlight, and people speak of “Tom Vs Time”. The rest of us do it in dark moments of our lives, in sickbeds as we face the ‘flu.

For me the redeeming side of being sick was that it reminded me that there is something beyond the superficial stuff we tend to be too engrossed in. What matters when you are incapable of pursuing Money, Popularity and Power? It is what I call Poetry. Or perhaps Heaven.

Actually being sick was not all bad, when I was a boy, because it let me play hooky from school. Once the worst was past, I got to look out the window without getting in trouble for doing so. I got to avoid the schoolmarm-emphasis on worldly stuff, stuff that matters in terms of Money, Popularity and Power, and instead to just be dreamy, and roam the realms of heaven. I did not much like the part of the ‘flu that involved terrible aching and vomiting, but there was something to be said for a fever of 104°F, when it came to opening up vistas of unusual imagination. It was like drugs without the expense or risk of arrest.

Unfortunately my most recent bout of the ‘flu didn’t involve much fever, nor altered consciousness. Basically it was all achy muscles and upper-respiratory congestion,  which reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood and makes you mentally slow. Worst was I was able to get up after a weekend in bed, as my wife stayed in bed a week, and this meant it was up to me to run the business, though I was definitely in an enfeebled state, and not truly recovered.

One thing I noticed about the upper-respiratory congestion is that you cannot produce as much heat.  It is like the damper for your inner fire is closed down. Your metabolism limps. When you stand outside, the cold sinks down between your shoulder blades. Likely the creeping chill could kill you, if you overdid it, so I used every excuse to keep the children at my Childcare indoors. I kept the place open, but we did not live up to our reputation as a place that focuses-upon and rejoices-in the outdoors. Heck, the outdoors is not worth dying for.

Not that it isn’t good to stir your blood, and cough the crud from your lungs, with some vigorous hiking, if you keep it brief.  But I waited until the wind died. Then, once outside, I kept moving even when the kids dawdled, impatiently striding back and forth like a captain on a deck. Also I built blazing campfires whenever possible, (though I suppose the smoke wasn’t good for my lungs). Lastly I fled back indoors as soon as I could. But I did get some photographic evidence that we did fight the ‘flu by stepping out.

The recent thaw resulted in flooding, but then winter froze the flood even as the waters sank back down, leading to ice left high and dry by the flood.

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The kids were fascinated by the formations, and rejoiced that they could shatter the ice without getting in trouble for breaking stuff. The air was filled with the tinkling smashes of what sounded like hundreds of champagne glasses.

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Then they burned off a lot of steam running and sliding

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And plotting ambushes of the the other children and teachers.

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But, to be honest, I did not feel my ordinary delight in watching children bring their heavenly wonder to a hike. The ‘flu had me at low ebb and I was barely able to tolerate the usual and typical misbehavior. Tolerance is a gift, and I was in short supply, and and bad words barely were restrained from blurting from my bitten lips. Tolerance? I could barely tolerate going to work. Someone had to do it, but I didn’t feel I was getting my proper share of pity for being the poor old geezer stuck with the job of pretending he was the the healthy one in a ‘flu epidemic. I had to pity my wife at home, and pity the parents who looked a bit green around their gills as they picked up their pitiful children, who also looked a bit green around the gills. But who pitied me?

In terms of what the government thinks matters, surely a ‘flu epidemic puts a dint in things like “economic recovery”. And for churches who care most about their collection platters,  a ‘flu makes the congregation less “giving” and more needy. In terms of “production”, and Money, Popularity and Power, the ‘flu is ruinous. It’s depressing, and exhausting, and all I did when I got home was open cans of chicken soup, and then collapse in bed.

It’s incredible how much time I’ve spent sleeping. My sleep schedule is all out of whack. When you crawl into bed at seven in the evening and don’t get up until seven in the morning, then there will be times in the wee hours you are staring into the darkness, watching the years pass before your eyes, and not necessarily feeling all that poetic or heavenly about what you witness.

Who needs that? Where was the poetry? Where was the sense of playing hooky from responsibility, and gazing out the window? Out the window was only darkness. So I’d thrash out of bed and stump downstairs and crank up the heat and make my computer screen my window. If I couldn’t manage the poetry, I’d let other poets do the job. I’d hop in my time-machine and travel to the time of the first Queen Elisabeth, and Shakespeare.

One thing that struck me was that, while Shakespeare was operating a theater and making money with his pen, for many poetry was a world outside of the ordinary interests in fame and wealth. There were no million-sellers, but rather manuscripts were copied by hand and handed around between friends. It’s amazing so much was preserved and later printed. Even Shakespeare’s works were on the verge of being lost, before the first folios were printed. The world of art existed in a universe all its own, beyond the control of the elite yet moving even kings and queens.

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Of course, one might say it was only the elite who had the capacity to write, but what fascinates me is the hints that the ordinary man was also interested in the poetry. Shakespeare’s plays were popular among the illiterate, and parts were memorized and recited on the street. People did not need to be literate to delight in doggeral, and there was plenty of criticism of both the Catholic and Protestant sides of the gathering storm in Europe. The common people had minds, and used them, even at a time when lives were short and cheap, and living situations were often squalid.

One thing I’d like to know more about was the thirst on the part of the illiterate to become literate. Where I now see all too much “dumbing down” going on in education, looking through my time-machine I seem to see there was an eager and powerful drive at that time to learn. Little schools popped up in odd places, and when people noticed a child had a mind open to learning, there seemed to be a real zeal towards educating that promising mind.

One way to measure the value people put on learning, and higher forms of thought, is to consider how expensive it was to mail a letter. A penny could buy a loaf of bread, or mail a letter. During times of famine the loaf was small and of low quality, and at the same time the price of a letter might rise up to four pennies, yet still people had a craving to communicate. Writing was so important that the English government even instituted penny postage as a law of the land. Why? What was so important about allowing people to write each other? Likely the wealthy realized promoting commerce would be good for business, and they could become richer. However greed alone was not in control. There were undercurrents of political opposition involved.

Robert Burns was unusual in that he became popular in the late 1700’s, and his death was greatly lamented in 1796 even as he died. Yet he was not stuffy, nor did he write above people’s heads. Here’s his “Epitaph On My Own Friend”.

An honest man here lies at rest,
As e’er God with His image blest:
The friend of man, the friend of truth;
The friend of age, and guide of youth:
Few hearts like his, with virtue warm’d,
Few heads with knowledge so inform’d:
If there’s another world, he lives in bliss;
If there is none, he made the best of this.

One thing interesting to me, as I drifted along in my time-machine, is how much other poetry was anonymous. You can see perhaps only the slightest hint of a Jacobite sentiment in a poem by a Scotsman, but he thought it best to keep his name from being associated with a work. Or perhaps we see only initials, and wonder who the poet was. Yet the poems endure. Who was “R.A.D.”, writing from his sickbed in 1799?

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And who “G.H.D.”, writing around 1815? What made him reluctant to publicize his name? (Perhaps he was toeing some line the official church did not approve of toeing.)

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By the 1840’s the greed of the wealthy Scottish landowners had been made all too obvious by the Clearances and Potato Famine, and a Scottish church existed that refused all donations from the wealthy landowners, so that members would feel free to speak. Still authors kept quiet about their names, as they dared speak what seems fairly orthodox to us today, but was shocking at its time ( or shocking to certain wealthy individuals who deemed themselves above judgement.)

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And out of this soil rose the chronically unwell Robert Lewis Stephenson, long neglected as being a mere writer of children stories like “Treasure Island” and of horror stories like “The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, (in the 1973 2,000-page “Oxford Anthology of English Literature” Stevenson was entirely unmentioned), yet a poet in his own right.

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He wrote his own epitaph for his grave, in Samoa, where he died in 1897,

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

And so, after this reading,  I’d go back to bed in the dark of night with bits of poetry gleaned from my sickbed time-travel, and a sense a hint of heaven was gloaming the dark outside my window, though true dawn was hours away. And perhaps that is something you need when sick: The idea of a life after death, after ruin, after failure, after being retired against your will and put out to pasture in some meadow uncomfortably close to the glue factory.

I didn’t much feel like rising at dawn. Extra rest seemed a good idea, but, as I said earlier, sometimes you are stuck with running the show. Though I’d rather dream out the window of existential topics, I was stuck with being the pragmatic pillar. Me! Of all people! I can’t tell you how indignant it made me feel. But there did tend to be a brief moment, just when the coffee and aspirin were kicking in, that I thought maybe I could whip off a sonnet. Maybe I could quit the dratted pragmatism just long enough to rhapsodize about other-worldly beauty. But just then my phone would chirp, and I’d be plunged into the banal.

This was particularly aggravating because I had made a New Year’s Resolution to focus more on writing and less on Childcare. In a most pragmatic manner I had inked out the decrease in income I’d endure, hiring more to work for me, and working less myself.  But the ‘flu makes a mockery of worldly plans. And it probably serves me right. Who ever heard of a pragmatic poet?

In any case, I often tell people I took my retirement when I was young and could enjoy it. I even went through a Gothic spell of morbidly contemplating death, which is an activity usually reserved for old men. Therefore I can’t expect to get another retirement, now that I’m doddering, can I? It wouldn’t be fair to those poor fellows who worked hard when young and now collect pensions. Now it is their turn to go through Gothic spells and behave like bohemians. True, they look a bit silly behaving that way at their age, (and it also seems to involve revolting amounts of Viagra), but they earned it, while I have earned the non-retirement I endure. (For all I know they may envy me as much as I envy them, for the grass is always greener on the other fellow’s grave.)

It was while glumly considering my non-retirement during this long, long week, that it suddenly occurred to me that I didn’t need to write a sickbed sonnet. I’d already done it, back in my Gothic period, back when I was a happily retired man of twenty-one in 1974. Not that I wasn’t busy. I was involved in all sorts of unprofitable efforts surrounding a commune, and also running a landscaping business to scrape together just enough to get by on, when I suddenly was clobbered by a late May springtime ‘flu. None of my hippy friends rushed to my aid, as I think all assumed I was merely sulking in my room, and therefore I was abruptly alone for several days, and used the chance to write sixteen sonnets. Or, not exactly sonnets, but 16 stanzas with the rhyme scheme of ABCBADCDCDEFEFGG. Today I went up to the attic to see if I could find the old poem, and, though I couldn’t find the final draft, I did find, to my great delight, among spiderwebs and thick dust, the notebook holding the original draft.

Forgive me for sharing what in some ways is juvenile, but I think in another way the old poem holds the vision of heaven seen most clearly from a sickbed. (Some of the poem was written while having a fever of over a hundred.)

                 FEVER DREAM

10:00 PM
Bedridden, burnt by fever’s blaze,
I toss and turn within a flame
That warps all with wavering light.
Nothing seems to stand the same.
All is twisted to my wild gaze
That sees all routine and plans
Dissolve, as do day and deep night,
Confused to chaos as fever fans
The destruction of what I held
As real, knew was rock firm,
Trusted until mocking madness welled
Into my broiled brain, forced me to squirm
Half-asleep through unmeasured days
And, half-awake, war the night’s blaze.

All I knew to do cannot be done.
I cannot work, nor can I play,
And even thinking’s not the same;
When I wish green my thoughts flow gray
And leap, like thunder from a gun
Of ambush, and distort, forming
Abstracts sickening; somehow lame
Though nothing in my brain’s wild storming
Can be crippled, for nothing’s real
Enough to be believed. I know
Logically these sights are false, but feel
Panic, for they remain, and show
A tumbled world I can’t accept.
The clay conspires where I stepped.

2:00 AM
A tennis shoe has teeth, and grins
At me up from a cloud of red
And flaps his tongue with elegance.
I can’t remember what he said.
A scolding finger shakes, and pins
Me desperate. I can’t recall
And that is bad, and I can sense
It’s angry as it’s growing small.
One pink finger upon the black
Background, very small and terrible
For small it gains and will attack
And overwhelm the weak quibble
Of reason I scratch the black for.
Reason’s old lock fell from the door…

5:00 AM
O Morning’s first cool growth of green
Fills my window with wideness,
Distance and openness that destroys
Fever’s clamps, pinches and hot press.
Liquid birdsong cools the view’s sheen
Of clearness: So clean it wavers,
Flows green, joins the bird’s joyous noise,
Becomes taste a Cezanne savors,
Becomes a hand to cool my brow.
O the arms of wide open morn!
O to be rocked in a lullaby’s bough
And to give up, right now, being torn
By my mad mind. Now’s not too soon
To sink in the calm of a swoon.

7:00 AM
I wake again, and see the sun
An inch or two above the earth.
O I value ny short sweet sleep
Beyond all my measures of worth,
For rested I can face the dry run
Of fever time, of short wry naps,
Short gasps awake, and long times deep
In the world in between. Perhaps
half alseep, but without rest;
Perhaps awake, but without chores
To do or plan or beat breast
About. My fever’s chaining roars
Make be be free on a huge shore.
When was it I felt this way before?

8:00 AM
Three inches high, the sun is white
With a tint of rose, and it slides
Summer soft through my north window,
Slanting to the wall where it rides
Slowly downwards. It’s rose-white light
Slips as slowly as snails explore
When afraid, yet its a great show.
When have I felt this way before?
The light is a square, a pooled sheen
Of rich softness. An apple tree’s
Leafed twig bobs its shadow. I’ve seen
This picture move in a sweet breeze
Like this before, framed on my wall…
I remember now! I was small.

I was a boy and school was out
And suddenly I was set free
From all the routine I had known.
My parents did their best for me.
They gave me a room and stayed out.
They gave me books but no lessons.
Life’s painful rules I wasn’t shown.
I wore fine clothes and gobbled tons
Of food, but remained thin and wild
Through racing about the country side
And staying up late: A spoiled child
Reading books with dreamy eyes wide.
With school out my friends were gone.
Society-less, I journeyed on.

What painter touched those far, far clouds
Silver and purple? Who carved curves
And moved them, boomed them, in sky swells?
Who swooned those sweet swallows quick swerves?
When the shy flicker, who through leaf shrouds
And rich woods usually blasts
Wagging away from my slow stealth’s,
Flies sky high above tall trees masts,
Flickering above the valley’s bowl
From hilly wood to hilly wood,
Is it his soul, or my swamped soul,
That swoons? O! If I only could
Burst raves of song for his great flight,
His journey into giant light!

O those feelings! Sometimes at night
Out of nowhere they would appear
So marvelously I’d dash across
The room and in wild, sudden fear
Haul open the windows. My fright
Was so great I’d almost cry out,
But to who? About what? A loss
Overwhelmed me. I’d hold back my shout
And also the next day’s sung praise.
Who understands what fever-mad
Men babble about, or what their gaze
Sees, or knows? Its pitifully sad
For fear’s not squelched; Joy wilts inside
When men are afraid to confide.

Time forces the most dreamy child
To dream less, to repress the far
Flung mental mountains for whats’s real,
Or said to be real but will mar
The beauty of life; the fresh, wild
Spontaneous, child-like beauty
Of life, by clipping with sick zeal
The wide-reaching wings of wild, free
Thought, one wing light and one wing dark
But together beating out of night’s
Ignorance, driven by the heart’s spark
Towards the embrace of a Great Light.
When wings are clipped flight’s work is lost
As is black fear, but O! The cost!

A flock of birds squats by the sea
With every wing clipped, and each
With few fears. A great, sandy bar
Juts far out, protecting the beach,
And no bird has any time free
To do other than gobble food
That thrives beneath each rotting spar
And stone, in sand, and nicely stewed
In muddy low-tide pools. What fools
These gulls are! Their clipped wings
And all their inventions and rules
Are to ensure that they are kings
Of one small beach. For all their squawk
They’ve never heard of the Great Auk.

High in clouds the one Father Gull
Smiles on his fledglings who won’t fly.
He has ways to grow new feathers
On their wings, to patiently pry
Open the rusted lock of dull
Reason and dull rules from the doors
Of their minds. He changes weathers
And sand bars slip away from shores.
Disaster, death and fever strip
Old routines and customs, gripped tight
By the birds, away with one rip.
The wisdoms He gave to soothe fright
And ease growing pains they used to play
Wing-clipping games, so He sweeps them away.

Away! Away! I see wisdom
Scattered among tumbling clouds
And shaken birds rising as one flock
Shattered; wild, white wheeling crowds
Searching screeching upwards, freed from
Their illusion of paradise.
The Wisdom waits, and won’t talk.
Birds must find it with their own eyes
To realize what It’s always said
But logic’s lock is off the door…
Noon
I wake. My fever spins my head.
I’m tied in blankets on the floor.
The window’s light now frames my face.
I’ve drempt a dream I can’t erase.

All that I’ve learnt’s near nothing now.
What I knew as a boy’s now gold.
All my hard developed good habits
Are but good habits. I have told
Myself to do, and will allow
Myself to be pleased that I’ve done
What was needed…sometimes…but rabbits
Bound into the air. Big crows run
With the barreling breeze. Bent back
They still strive on, so I hurl
Quick joy up to the blustering black,
Feel fear, and only know that clouds pearl
Over, rolling slowly to sea,
And that is where I want to be.

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Ah, to be twenty-one again, when even getting sick was invested with such drama it could go on for sixteen stanzas!

LOCAL VIEW –Shuddering–

And still the winds are roaring this black dawn
When stars stab cold knives and the sift of snow
Hisses by my door, and before the roar’s gone
The next blast rattles the sash. The window
Looks out darkly. I see I should have done
So many things back when weather was warm
But now it is too late. I can blame no one
And can do nothing but endure this storm
Shuddering. Hope is too far away to grasp
And the east dawns no sun, but a cold moon
Instead leers skullish on bent hills. I would clasp
Your warm love and warble the sweetest tune
If only Your smile hove into sight.
It’s in darkest dark I remember the Light.

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Iced dawn spills over the shuddering east
And reveals a white world that has drifted.
The pre-storm chores I shirked are now least
on my list. Priorities have shifted
In a world white as an unwritten page.

Who will write the first words with a trail
Of blue footprints? The house is like a cage.
I’ll bolt and walk a signature as winds wail.
I will pace a poem, although drifts erase
My tracks like shifting sand. My words are like
A small child’s sand castle by the stern face
Of unthinking surf, yet still I will hike
Across a hillside, and my tracks will spell
The magic only poetry can tell.

What a cruel day! Not a true sub-zero day like they have out in the plains, but close enough, with a high of 7°F and winds that wouldn’t have the decency to knock it off.

Added to my Saturday chores of taking the recyclables to the recyclable center (where none of the equipment worked in the cold) and going to the bank, (bad hair days), were added things to do outside in an unkind wind, such as rake the big drifts from a roof before the drifts gained weight with rain and collapsed structures. And get my bulky, broken snowblower up into the back of a pick-up truck to be taken off and repaired. Or face a path I’ve had to shovel three times by hand already, drifted in.

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But when I step back I see that same wind scoured the driveway free of snow.

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All things considered, my neighbor across the street likely had grounds for a lawsuit. Fourteen inches of snow buried my fences to the bottom rail, but the cruel gales stripped all that snow to the ground-level crust of a pre-Christmas snow,  and deposited it all in his drive.

Simply to be out of doors was an ordeal, and surreal. All the faces you met were pained and wincing, and I had the odd sense I was in the dog house, as everyone looked mad at me. Had I done something Friday night I couldn’t remember? No, because I’m not that young anymore. I had no hangover when I awoke, only when I stepped outside.

The buffeting was like the blows of a boxing match. A man who fought Mohammed Ali stated no jab hurt, but after a while you noticed his jabs made you feel a bit dizzy. And Mohammed Ali himself stated that the fifteenth round of a fight was like functioning in a dream and in a circus.  You’ve been knocked for a loop but refuse to go down for the count. Somehow you keep tottering about, still battling.

This probably explains why this post begins with two sonnets. The jabbing wind had punched me into a mental state which some get called “poets” for being in, while others wind up in institutions.

Even as I emphasis how bad it was, it wasn’t near the worst. New England has seen such blasts twenty degrees colder. So I have no real reason to complain, especially as the winds finally died down a bit in the afternoon. At long last the Blizzard was fading away towards Baffin Bay and Labrador.

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The map shows the massive arctic high bringing modified polar air all the way down to Jamaica and Costa Rica. But here it was not modified. Here we got the real deal.

After experiencing “the real deal”, few find New England as attractive as Norman Rockwell made it look.  There will be an upsurge in homes for sale in this area next spring. Quaint has its limits, and the pathways of art are not for all. Where Norman Rockwell produced paintings and I produce sonnets, many turn their backs and skedaddle. Can’t say I really blame them.

*******

SUNDAY MORNING 7:00 AM -12°F (-24 °C) 30.31 and at last the wind has ceased.

 

 

LOCAL VIEW –The Rapids Freeze–

The way to defeat “cabin fever” and to avoid going “shack whacky” is to grit your teeth and go out into the cold, so I decided to practice what I preach and went out to take some pictures of the Souhegan River freezing up, (with the Patriot’s game on my car radio), yesterday. It was well worth the discomfort of getting out of the comfort of my car, from time to time, to take some pictures.

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The Souhegan is basically a brook as it comes north from its headwaters down in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, but it quickly gathers other brooks, and back in the day (when water power was the only power) it fueled a number of small mills in my town.  It was enough, back then, to make my out-of-the-way backwater a center of industry, even though it was up in the hills, as people went where the power was. Later, when railways were invented, my town chose to prevent the railway from expanding because it was thought the railway would “attract the wrong people”, and that was the death knell to many of the local industries, and the town faded to its current backwater status. However one mill survives at “High Bridge”, having transitioned from an age when fabric was for clothing, to making fabric for body armor and dirigibles and even spacecraft landing on Mars.

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And just downstream is where I began freezing my fingers, taking pictures of the freezing stream.

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A few miles downstream lies Greenville, where the mills prospered more, for they did allow the railway in, (though it no longer goes that far.)

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North of there the river is a favorite place for white water kayaking in the spring,

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It was amazing how much of the water was iced over, but I couldn’t stop as the snowbanks and traffic made pulling over too dangerous. Further on, just past the Temple-Wilton line, the river passes beneath an abandoned bridge, (I think built by New Deal workers in the Great Depression).

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On the west side of Wilton another stream tumbles down from Temple Mountain to join the flow.Brook 21 FullSizeRender

The water gurgles and mutters and gargles from holes in the fast-forming ice

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And the old railway still reaches this far.

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Driftwood is frozen in place where water tumbles over the first dam.

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The second Wilton dam’s pond is solid ice

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And I simply had to crunch along the road, despite biting winds and blaring traffic, to see beneath the dam.

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Check out the outlet pipe. (And the graffiti beyond it).

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I wonder what the old water mills did, when it got this cold? (And where do the teenagers now go?)

Then on to Milford, as the river turns east.

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And more hidden artwork from warmer days.

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And onward to the Merrimack River and then southwards to the sea.

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The cold can not stop it. Ice cannot clamp
The water’s yearning for the distant sea
In its vice. Like a happy old tramp
Offered a steady job, it will flee
All restraint but that of its double banks
And the steady tugging of gravity.
So do not cold-shoulder with icy glance
The inevitable progress of the free.
Do not think you can keep children ever young
Or prevent the innocent from finding Truth,
For though arctic winters have come and stung,
Forever fluid is the river called “Youth”,
And though your white may clench from bank to bank
Underground gurgles will sing and will thank.

It pays to practice what you preach, and to walk the walk besides talking the talk. Although I may have appeared a foolish old man, out taking pictures with a cell-phone in a wind that could freeze the bleep off a bleep, heedless of the whizzing vehicles flying past with incredulous onlookers, (or sort of heedless), I had no symptoms of cabin fever as I headed home. In fact I noticed that, once you have spent time trying to find the perfect angle for a picture, and the right views to capture an idea, your eyes seem to become stuck in the habit, and even when you are not taking pictures any more the whole world looks strangely photogenic, and you see beauty you usually overlook.

Last but not least, you never know what you will find, if you just get out and look. I was seeking river ice. Who would dream I would find graffiti?

LOCAL VIEW –Winter’s Wolves and a Slinking Mink–

How futile was my dreading. Winter comes
Like clockwork: Shorter days and longer nights,
Neatly ledgered by almanacs.
                                                                Volumes
Of prayers can’t prolong summer: Fall blights
And the north winds preaches, as it bites,
Of a snow-covered wolf pack slinking nearer
Until the bad manners burst. (Impolite’s
Uttering, with a mouth full of flakes.)
                                                                              Mirror
Lakes of new ice are dusted white by gusts
Of arctic malice, as winter wolves howl,
But life goes on.
                                 I abstain from my lusts
For summer-breasted days like a spooked owl,
For, though driving in snow’s straight from hell’s pit,
The unlicensed children aren’t bothered a bit.

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We got four inches Saturday night and four more today (Tuesday). No big deal, except it made a lot of work for me. I like work, when it is writing, and all other forms of work…well…I try to keep them at a minimum.

Running a Childcare involves keeping a parking lot clear of snow, (and clearing the walls of snow the town plows heap into the lot’s entrance and exit). Four inches is usually no big deal, as I have a snow-blower with a thirty-inch mouth, and I bothered to make sure it was running well, before the first storm hit. Usually, especially when the snow is a fluff of powder like the first storm’s was, I can jog behind the contraption with it set in sixth gear. And that is how things started out. But then the contraption spoke a word slowly in a deepening voice, and word was “Below.” After that it refused to run, despite all my mechanical knowledge (which you could fit in a thimble.) I then made a phone call to a local small-engine-repair genius, only to discover he was out of business (thanks to a former president I will not glorify with a name.)

This meant I had to resort to a primitive implement called a “snow shovel.”  Don’t laugh. I know most modern and civilized citizens think such objects are merely a matter of lore, but in my youth I was highly skilled at using them. At age 64 I have discovered knowing is not the same as doing. I get on fairly well, performing the ancient art of shoveling, for a rather short period of time, before I discover shovels are downright comfortable things to lean against, and clouds and stars are well worth observing.

I’d likely have the job done by April, but fortunately a couple of young whippersnappers were around (my youngest son and my son-in-law) and they were in the mood to humiliate elders they ought to honor. For every square foot I cleared in my pottering manner they cleared ten, a bit like tornadoes. In any case, the job was done with surprising speed, and I likely deserve carbon-credits and praise from believers in Global Warming for not utilizing fossil fuel….but don’t hold your breath….because they say I count as a fossil.

And that is just the snow-created work involved in my Childcare’s  parking lot. At my Childcare itself there is also a major change in how you deal with the active minds of children, once snow falls. (Some call this “curriculum”, which seems a bit absurd, when you are talking about four-year-olds.) They had great fun raking leaves and jumping in leaf piles, but the first snow means you have to put away the rakes and take out the sleds. But this means I have to remember where the heck I stuffed the sleds, in the barn, last April.

Lastly there is something called “rescheduling” that snow causes. School gets cancelled, for piddling amounts of snow, but parents still have to work, especially during the “Christmas rush”. Therefore all the parents of school-aged children, who ordinarily are only at my Childcare until the school-bus comes in the morning, and after the bus drops them off in the afternoon, become parents who beg and plead that we allow them to work, by watching their school-aged children all day long. Fortunately, the people who govern the Childcare of New Hampshire allow you break the legal limit, in terms of how many children you are allowed to shelter, in the case of an “emergency”. However this does not make it easier for my staff, who ordinarily see the older children depart before the younger children arrive, and the younger children depart before the older children explode off the school-bus in the afternoon. To have all these children at the same place at the same time is like mixing oil with water and expecting salad dressing.

Over the past decade I, and especially my wife, have gotten good at handling the chaos caused by cancelled school. However it made (and makes) me think. Ordinarily, by law, we each are allowed to handle six children under six-years-old, and, if we are two handling twelve, we are also allowed to handle five more children over six-years-old, for a grand total of seventeen. When school was cancelled we’d handle more, perhaps as many as twenty-five. This makes me think, because in the public school it is quite normal for a lone teacher to be expected to walk into a classroom and handle twenty-six, (not just in an emergency, but on a daily basis).

Obviously a double-standard is involved. The politicians and “teacher’s union” have enacted laws to keep me from getting rich. If I was allowed to watch 26, and my wife was allowed to watch 26, do you have any idea of how much money my Childcare could make?

We’d also would be dead by now. I have no idea how public school teachers keep their sanity. Furthermore, ex-Public-School-teachers, who have worked at my Childcare, inform me my place is heaven, compared to Public Schools. It is a real joy for them to actually focus on individual children, because they only have six, rather than being asked to govern a stampeding herd of twenty-six.

Former teachers  demonstrate amazing abilities, developed during their time in  Public Schools. Ordinarily, when one child has a “crisis” that demands the attention of a member of my staff, that employee deals with that child, and I am left in charge of the remaining eleven. I am then challenged, and feel tested, keeping control only eleven. But what if a child was having a “melt-down” in a Public school, and I was all alone with twenty six? (I’d be fired the first day, for re-instituting corporeal punishment; that’s what.) When I watch former Public School teachers deal with a group’s escalating enthusiasm at my Childcare, I feel a sense of awe. They seem far less challenged than I am, as if they thought, “Only eleven children? Piece of Cake.”

Don’t take this wrongly. I am in awe of the Public School teachers, not the Public Schools. (And as far as the “teachers union” is concerned, I think they are out to kill teachers, for they have insisted upon the awful working conditions teachers endure.)

In conclusion, snow creates a chaos at my Childcare slightly like the everyday situation at a Public School: IE;  We have what seems like too many children, without a truly clear routine. Where a Public School may welcome the time-off of a snow-day’s cancellation of school, it doesn’t cancel anything for me; it doubles my trouble.

But isn’t that typical, for winter? Winter doubles your trouble. Snow is stuff that just means where you once could walk you now must wade. Snow only means more work…..or does it?

When I look at nature, I seem to see most animals dislike winter. Few animals don’t take steps to avoid the season altogether. Birds and butterflies migrate, or hibernate like bears and woodchucks. The landscape can seem lifeless. But I like to take the children out to look for life in winter.

These are images from the only open water remaining on the flood control reservoir abutting my Childcare. My youngest son, after helping me with shoveling, took these pictures of a mink, fishing by the outlet to that reservoir.  (To get the pictures he crept up and hid behind the concrete outlet, and then poked the camera around the corner without revealing more than his hand.) Mink are less adapted to water than otters, but my son said this mink was only under the ice ten seconds before popping up with the sunfish.

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Winter doesn’t stop life. Life goes on.

(Mink photo credits: Israel Shaw)

LOCAL VIEW –Old Man Winter–

Norman Rockwell 1937-christmas-gramps-in-snow

As I get older I seem to look forward to winter less. I’m not as hot-blooded, and where I once threw snowballs without gloves and saw my hands glow a ruddy red, my hands now turn blue at the slightest excuse. Not that I still don’t hope for a white Christmas; I just hope we get around an inch at daybreak, and it melts away by Christmas afternoon.

It was said, back when I was young, that the Indians called an old man “one who has seen many winters.” I’m not sure how true that statement is, in terms of history, but it says something about how winters tax a man.  Like the taxes of a greedy government, winters sap you, and take so much out of you that you get tired of paying. However, for the poor, there is no escape to Florida, and therefore the mind has to adopt some sort of strategy, in order to endure the coming insult to our physical forms. After all, if you believe in evolution, we are jungle monkeys, at home in a Garden of Eden, and not upon tundra.

Even if you don’t believe in evolution, it has been a long, long time since we dwelt in Eden. Even if you don’t believe in evolution, perhaps we have been bred like dogs into certain breeds. Even if you don’t believe in evolution, it seems obvious that people to the north have whiter skin than people to the south, as sunshine is necessary, to produce Vitamin D,  but you can get too much of a good thing, in which case sunshine causes skin cancer.  God does amazing things to protect His children, and white skin allows people to get enough vitamin D where sunshine is low and weak, while dark skin prevents skin cancer when the sun is high, hot, and burns.

I have started to wonder if there are some other traits which have been imparted to northern people, that help them deal with winter. Because I run a Childcare, it seemed a good place to study the way the young react to the change in seasons, to see if they have any behaviors that seem northern in nature.

My study seemed especially insightful because modern children live lives so insulated from the outdoors, as do their parents. Parents chose our Childcare because they believe the outdoors is good, in theory; in actual fact they work indoors and only a few get out for hikes on the weekends. Therefore the children, who unknowingly were about to become subjects of my highly scientific study, were pure, and not corrupted by earlier experience of the outdoors. I could see responses that were fresh, and showed primal instincts.

One thing that became clear was that “shelter” became abruptly more important, as days swiftly grew shorter.

Not that children don’t build structures in the summer, but these are largely “forts”, and are built for warfare. “Warfare?” you ask? Yes, sad to say, but children do have a less than harmonious side, and build all sorts of forts that display sexism (“girls only” and “boys only”) and ageism (“big-kids-only” and “little-kids-only”) and even status-ism (“cool-crowd-only” and “uncool-crowd-only”), and then they steal sticks from each others forts and then rage about the robberies. You’d be amazed by how much time I have to spend overseeing the ownership of sticks. We have no toy guns at our Childcare, but over and over I hear either, “He keeps aiming his stick at me!” or “He stole my stick!”  Sometimes I can muster the wisdom of Solomon, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do; I’ll break the stick in two and give you each half,” but other times the only escape is to get away from the forts altogether, by going on a hike.

It was on hikes I first noticed the sudden interest in shelter. During summer rains I have a hard time getting children to bother with raincoats, and often wind up carrying raincoats they shed, as they delight in becoming drenched. However, as the sun sank lower in the southern sky at noon, the rain-clouds darkened, and suddenly the children wanted not only raincoats, but umbrellas, though the wind was from the south and rain wasn’t all that colder. As I happened to have seven umbrellas, I handed them out to the children, taking notes, for my highly scientific study, of this sudden interest in shelter.

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The rain then stopped, and you might think I’d then wind up carrying seven umbrellas. In actual fact I only wound up carrying five, because some sort of greed kicked in, and two umbrellas became some sort of status symbol. I had to break up fights, and teach “sharing”, and have them “take turns”. However it was when we entered the forest and were beneath the shelter of trees that I got a surprise. They all demanded their umbrellas back. It wasn’t because the rain had started again. It was because they wanted to build a shelter. I took a picture, for my highly scientific study.

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When we returned from our hike and I collected the umbrellas, (slightly the worse for wear), I became aware of a second attribute seen in northern children, which seems unlikely and only was revealed due to a mistake I made when I first opened the Childcare ten years ago. Back then I thought kids might be interested in old fashioned stuff, which is basically Neanderthal by modern standards: I showed them how to split wood with an ax and lay a campfire.

Big mistake. There is nothing more exhausting than having to oversee children swinging axes, and children by a campfire is nearly as bad. However the activity was incredibly popular, and the older children infected the younger with the desire to wave axes and feed fires. Any hope the interest would die away as the older children moved on from Childcare to more formal schooling, and I ceased to actively promote the activity, was dashed by the children who remembered the year before, and pleaded, “Please, please, Puh-leese can we chop wood and have a fire?”

To some degree it is gratifying to watch a boy grow from barely being able to lift an ax to becoming proficient at reducing a fat log to kindling. At times I think the Neanderthal were on to something. Rather than Ritalin they gave boys axes, and rather than drugged faces they saw faces that shone with pride:

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But there is no getting around the fact I have to work pretty hard to teach a boy to split wood with a Neanderthal implement. Some might say it is easier to just send them off to fight Arabs, so we can be lazy and just spin the dial of a thermostat, heating our homes with Arab oil. Never mind that the back yards of some homes are forests full of dead trees and fallen wood, (which is great for the local populations of woodpeckers, but represents an increasing forest fire danger during droughts).

Never mind that. That is a loaded subject for some future post. Instead let us face the fire-danger wood-stoves present us with. The poorer people in this area are still Neanderthal, and still burn wood, and fires do escape stoves, and houses do burn down, which means the fire department needs to educate children about what to do in a fire.

One thing that upsets children is that a fully dressed fireman looks, and even sounds, like the evil Darth Vader of Star Wars movies. Firemen entering homes to save children have seen them take one look at their rescuer and run the other way. Therefore they come to my Childcare and show that they are smiling, nice people,  before they dress in scary-looking gear. Even though the children have seen the nice people put the gear on, they still tend to be scared once it is on.

Shelter 4 FullSizeRender To be accurate, as a reporter, I should add it is somewhat amazing I was even able to take the above picture, because the Darth Vader appearance of the firemen completely freaked-out a two-year-old, who was wailing in my arms. He wouldn’t let go, even when they took off the costumes and let the other children experience the sublime joy of sitting in a firetruck.

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Perhaps what the two-year-old was trying to tell me was that, no matter how amazingly nice firemen and fire-women may be, something scary is involved in the subject.

For that matter, something scary is involved in the subject of fire, and even in the subject of winter. Both freezing and burning are scary.

Children are not as stupid as some seem to believe. (For that matter, neither are adults.) It is futile to gloss over reality with an insipid belief we can be spared a very real thing: Old Man Winter is coming, and will turn turf into tundra, and unless you befriend the dangerous realities of fuel and fire, you will die.

Some seem to believe children should be buffered in over-heated classrooms, with nature only seen on video screens, and spared knowing of the bitter winds that bluster and buffet outside. It likely a heresy for me to say this, but I think such mollycoddling harms, for the results of my highly scientific study suggests children are happier, healthier, and smarter when allowed to learn what their northern, Neanderthal genes already yearn to learn about, which is not the subjects of grammar, “social studies”, and algebra, but rather the subjects of shelter, fuel, and fire.

The sun is low at noon, and by four o’clock
The west is aflame: the sun is a fire
In the boughs of pines that bitter winds rock,
And their trunks send long shadows across mire
Turned to stone tundra. It’s north we’re heading.
The farm pond skims with ice too thin to tread;
There is no skating, no snow for sledding;
But the west grows dark with approaching dread
And the children aren’t fools. They want a fire.
I have solar lights that cast blue firefly
Dimness, but they want orange to inspire
Dancing and warm mirth. Should I not try
To teach fire is something other than danger?
Winter’s too cold when fire’s a stranger.