It hardly seems worth posting, as shadow-banning has reduced my “views” total from over 300 to as low as 16. Roughly a 95% decrease. I tell myself it is a sign of honor. Someday in the future, anyone who wasn’t shadow-banned during these trying times will bear the mantle of disgrace, and be seen as something of a collaborator.
I would like to give credit for the decrease in views to my bad poetry. However one sign of being banned is that old posts without poems, which once appeared in search-engines because they had garnered over a thousand “views” (and in one case over 25,000), and which therefore continued to draw people to this site even years after the post was posted, abruptly stop attracting anyone. For example, here are the stats for a formerly popular old post called, “Why We Don’t Domesticate Deer.”
I should point out the post contains no poetry, and no politics about Global Warming, Sea-Ice, Vaccines, or Falsified Election Results. It was originally posted before Trump was even president. The only thing which might be deemed “political” was a mention that culling the wild deer population avoids starvation on the part of deer, and, occasionally, of poor people. Therefore the only reason for the abrupt cessation of “views” is that I, as an individual, am seen as being worthy of censoring, by some faceless bleep.
In any case I never really wrote for fame, which seems to harm people more than it ever helps them, but rather because I enjoy writing. I enjoyed the web because people responded to my writing, which was a lot better than the faceless rejection-slips I received when I attempted to interest editors in my work. I enjoyed even trolls, more than rejection-slips.
Before I discovered the web (around 2003) I wrote for the few who would listen. People in campgrounds and churches and at parties heard my songs. I did that for thirty-five years, so it is easy to return to that.
I still comment at other sites, though the discussions do not seem as instructive as they used to be. You used to get more links to sites that emphasized the point that the person you debated with was trying to make. Now, too often, you just get smeared, or get cancelled and your comment vanishes. But some places still have some adult debates, or goodhearted silliness.
Recently there was a slightly facetious post by Kip Hanson on the WUWT website about whether eating lentils would halt Global Warming, and the comments devolved at one point into some old, grade-school poetry about the digestive effects of eating beans. I could not resist the challenge, and composed this:
Beans! Beans! They make you dance
To escape your own flatulence!
Beans! Beans! You’d better run
To escape the climate-harm you’ve done
For sphincters in quite vegan asses
Produce stench whose harm surpasses
Several other greenhouse gasses.
This just demonstrates that once a poet, always a poet. Even if you are an old dog.
On the road to tomorrow the old dog
Does not strain the leash any more.
His tired eyes blink blandly through milky fog
And cats don't fear him. He will not implore
His Master for treats, nor yank him down stairs
In a scrabble to nowhere, as if ahead
Was always hidden treasure although there's
Nothing to be seen. Instead the dog's led
Meekly, heeled without wish to strain faster
Or sniff slower, content to cross green grass
Within the peace of walking with Master
On roads to tomorrow. I think this means
That the old dog may not tug, but still leans.
I may not post for a while. I need to think, (and also to do my blasted taxes, though it seems like paying a government to screw me).
I try to see the bright side of things, and one nice thing about having an elderly mother-in-law to care for is that, even at age seventy, I still get treated like a young whippersnapper. Of course, this also means that like Rodney Dangerfield, “I get no respect”, and it can be a bit wearing at times.
I tell her not to walk her dog up to a dangerous curve on a nearby country road, especially when it is narrowed by snowbanks after a storm, but later look up the road and see traffic stopped up at the curve, and even a front-end-loader stopped in a driveway beside the road with its scoop full of snow, as an elderly woman slowly crosses the road right on the curve with her alarmed little dog (who knows better) in tow. Her eyesight is bad, and this causes her to scrunch up her forehead and look cross even when she isn’t cross, and this apparently made people afraid to blare horns at her. In any case, she has proven no young whippersnapper is going to tell her where she can walk her dog.
Multiply this by twenty times and life starts to get draining. By fifty and she is almost as exasperating as the government, which seems to want to take a system that worked and utterly screw it up.
Lately life has left me feeling drained. It didn’t help matters that they stole an hour of sleep from us last Sunday, with the nonsense of Daylight Savings Time. Then we got hit by a major snowstorm. My wife and I were so worn out that a very nice Saint Patrick’s Day dinner we had on Saturday was in some ways just more work.
We sat down on Sunday and tried to plan a vacation, but even that made us tired. A sense of absurdity kicked in. When even vacations make you tired, perhaps you are nearing a sort of world-weariness some state is spiritually advantageous. I forget how the quote actually goes, but it is something like, “When even opulence makes you weary, your heart is making space for the Lord to walk in.”
When my wife and I got home after dark something happened worthy of a sonnet. Maybe it wasn’t a “sign” but I’m certain a Viking would call it an “omen.”
We're a couple old fools who have flunked a test.
Though we both make our bed we seldom get rest.
We try to treat all like they are a guest
Yet stumble and fall while doing our best.
We drove home in darkness. Silent was night
And our drive looked the same, lit by our light
But into its beams flew a shadowy sight:
An owl, with wide wings braking its flight.
It lit just above us, wisely looked down,
And melted away my face's sad frown.
Why should we interest this soul of the air?
What had we done? And why should it care?
I have no answer, but cannot refute
That souls from above us do give a hoot.
The Spring thrushes haven't come winging north
And all we have is our tiny winter birds
Hopping through twigs, but now they're bursting forth
With spring songs, heedless of how absurd's
Their pert joy, in a world howled white by snow.
They know what is still unseen by my glum heart.
Maples also stir sap, as they too know
Though they lack even bird brains..................................Just how smart
Is a man when, even though he's aware
The calendar speaks of spring, he can't help
But fight a demon of depressed despair
Which turns his crooned songs to a whipped dog's yelp?
Come on, sad heart; you can fake a few grins.
Pluck a bright banjo. Put away violins.
It has been a battle to even build a snowman this winter, with strong thawing so frequent. The children at our Childcare love an igloo, but often they have melted away even before the walls were halfway up. We did complete one in January, but it collapsed in a cold rain and soon was just the white letter “O” on the brown lawn. The one above is our most recent effort, over six feet tall and called “The Leaning Tower of Igloo”. It is also “The Last Igloo”, for two reasons. One reason is that it is March, and the sun is higher and stronger. Though we still have more than a month before pussy willows begin to bud, the snow shrinks so swiftly at times it is hardly worth shoveling it. The second reason is that I’m getting a bit old for such effort.
Not that a man is ever too old for a snow fort. I don’t doubt some stuffy bankers think they are beyond such childish sport, but that is because they never test their resolve. They stick to their daily duty and never dare leave the sidewalks and scoop a handful of sticky snow. If they did they’d realize they were like an alcoholic sipping just a single sip of whisky. Once they started they could not stop.
Nor is it that snow brings out the child in a man. In fact it is the other way around. Snow brings out the man in a child. There is something deeply civilized about the urge to build. After all, what is the dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome but Michelangelo’s glorified igloo.
Of course, I am no Michelangelo. Maybe I could be, if I had so many working for me, but I had to move the slushy snow, and my back stiffened up so I couldn’t flex as well, which is why the two sides don’t match.
Nature seemed to approve, as a retrograde gale up in Labrador brought us subfreezing gales and turned the slush to rock, and crusted the snow so the kids could run over the snow without sinking. Rather than melting my igloo nature preserved it. And the kids seemed to approve of the igloo as well.
Not that it will last. But the maple syrup other old men are tapping from trees will not last either. Some things are not made to last, but rather to be enjoyed, and hopefully this sonnet is such a thing.
The trees have sprouted buckets, and also tubes
Of modern plastic, as maple weather
Freezes the thaw each night, and frugal rubes
Get rich off sap. With skin like old leather
They concoct ambrosia, and city people
Escape concrete to inhale fragrant steam
And to worship, without any steeple,
A lifestyle so long lost it's like a dream.
At daybreak a big man can walk upon
A crust on snow that was practically slush
The day before, breathing puffs in the still dawn,
But I don't inspect buckets in that blush.
As winter birds sing spring songs, what I do
Isn't work; it's the play of my last igloo.
How great it is to laze in the morning,
To roll over, drift in and out of dreams,
And to arise without some screamer warning
Scheduling screeches snide timelines of schemes...
...To awake refreshed, without any girding,
And without feeling God is incomplete
If I fail to cross a T. If I sing
Or if I don't; if I'm sour or I'm sweet
Will not bring the universe to it's knees,
And the whole universe could abruptly pop
And God still would be God. Knowing this frees
Me from my stress. All my worry can stop.
Infinity's pretty darn big, I've decided.
A Unity boundless cannot be divided.
In jackstraw-sunbeams stray, bright flakes sail
As the chilling winds wail through the wires.
I chisel at walkways, cast salt from a pail,
And throw extra oak on all the fires.
Winter drudges on. Half the woodpile's gone
Like an hourglass running out of sand,
And though the days lengthen, it seems each dawn
Breaks colder, and that hope's fires I fanned
Went out. Sap's stopped running into buckets
By maples, and I tire of the many
Sounds of snow, hardly heard as a truck gets
Angry at ice. Some snow makes barely any
Sound at all. It starts silently falling
And men make the whining with all their stalling.
After fifteen years as a “child care professional” I’ve dealt with my fair share of tantrums, and deem myself, if not an expert, then rather good at dealing with them. They, (or it), are (is) basically a person who has been pushed past their limit, and who has “lost it.” Sometimes it’s the child and not their parent.
The word “tantrum” itself is sort of interesting, for it likely is a word with multiple roots, which is to say similar-sounding words from different languages with vaguely applicable meanings were spliced together into the word we now wield.
One root is French, and means the noise made by trumpets, a fanfare, the French “trantran”, an imitative word for hunting horns, or an uproar. A second root is the German root “tand” which described vanity, especially shallow and even silly vanity. And a third root is Welsh, “tant”, which means to be stretched thin, and can be used for tempers, the strings of a musical instrument, or the tendons of our body. In fact the Latin derivation for “tantrum” may be from what gives us the word “tendon”, the verb “tendere” which means, “to stretch thin”.
In any case, all that reason went into what means losing reason, and what we locally call, “throwing a spaz.”
One reason I think I am good at handling tantrums is that I myself would be the pot calling the kettle black if I pretended I was above “losing it” from time to time. In a sense my life has been one long tantrum against a society which seems increasingly nuts. It is everyone else’s fault; their insanity makes me insane.
When I see a small child losing it I remind myself I may be in the presence of genius. Winston Churchill was said to be a hellion at school; his classmates remembered cringing and thinking, “Don’t say it, Winny; don’t say it,” but he would always say it, whatever “it” was, to the teacher, which meant, in those days of corporal punishment, he had to be caned. However part of his genius was his ability to stand up to dictators.
I would also be a hypocrite if I denied the fact that, from time to time, I myself haven’t just blown off my responsibility and played hooky, in a sense acting out a tantrum. In July of 2017 I wrote a long post called “The Forthright of July” about how all the people who promised to help me weed the garden had skipped town, and were enjoying freedom as I was a slave to the garden, and it ended with me skipping the weeding as well, and writing this sonnet:
Going to the beach on a hot July
Mid-morning with the stain of brass heat draped
On every bough and street, and in my eye
Even shadows hazed gold, nothing escaped
The heat…but I am. Like a boy
Playing hooky, the consequences fade
In the face of surging, giggling joy.
While it may be true we’ll sleep in beds unmade,
Face stern principles, grip hungover foreheads,
That’s all far away. Now we’re on our way
To the beach, and like flowering dawn sheds
The dark dreads of night, joy drives gloom away.
We’re all going to die, but boys playing hooky
Have light in their eye, and life’s their cookie.
Of course, there are consequences to playing hooky. If you don’t weed you wind up with a weedy garden; you reap what you sow. If you can’t do the time don’t do the crime. If you have your way you must pay. That is something I must communicate to the small child who is throwing a tantrum.
However one element of a tantrum is a refusal to communicate. The child is fed up with talk. They want their way and don’t care what you say.
The State of New Hampshire requires a certain amount of “adult education” for teachers, which is something I could tantrum about, but usually don’t. When I first opened my Childcare with my wife I’d already raised five children, coached boy’s teams, taught Sunday School, and volunteered as my wife ran a small town’s recreation department and swimming pool, yet some of the young women teaching “adult education” were half my age. (Now, as I approach my seventieth birthday, they’d be a third my age.)
My teachers were fresh out of college, had no children, and were brimming with bright ideas which tended to be contrary to the bright ideas which were in fashion ten years earlier. For example, the idea of “time outs” was all the rage for a while, but then suddenly were called “oppressive” and were frowned upon. Likewise “permissiveness” seems to come into fashion until it is called “spoiling”.
In actual fact one needs to use “time outs” when they work, and avoid them when they don’t work. No single approach works; one shouldn’t be swayed to one side and a single approach; one needs a full repertoire, and sometimes even that isn’t enough, and intuition must supply some new approach out of the blue. However I did attend the “adult education classes”, if only to learn what new laws I was breaking.
One law I broke involved “physical restraint”. When we first opened our childcare people were terribly worried about “abuse”. Small children are very physical, but even hugging was frightening to some, who feared sexual perversion. We all needed to be finger-printed and get background checks, before we were even allowed on the premises. (Even a farmhand who shoveled the stables on weekends when we were closed was officially supposed to be fingerprinted, though I broke that law at times.) Any sort of corporal punishment was taboo, and even to physically grab a child and snatch them from danger was seen as a last resort, (as if one had time to carefully analyze during such an emergency.) However when a child was throwing a tantrum and disturbing the rest of the children I’d grab the little sucker and cart him outside, ignoring his or her screeching and caterwauling, and also likely ignoring the latest law.
I was very gentle but very firm. Once things had reached a certain point I felt it was wrong to give in, for it was like attempting to appease a small Adolph Hitler. I reached this conclusion when we first opened our Childcare, before I had learned many of the tricks I now use to distract the child from refusing to communicate, luring them into a conversation.
This particular child had learned to throw a fit to get his way at home, and needed to learn that different behavior is required in public, where he was one of twelve small children. Like many children he liked routine, and complained when things didn’t happen in the same order, but he also didn’t like the part of the daily routine where “play time” turned into “circle time”.
“Circle time” involved singing songs and playing games which taught children a so-called “curriculum” involving learning colors, shapes, numbers, and opposites such as above-and-below. Personally I found such “curriculum” tedious and saw children learned the same things if you just used the words in other activities, but “circle time” did seem to teach a lot about having good manners and working as a team. However this little boy didn’t like putting away a toy truck and sitting in a circle. He had older brothers who taught him rude words, and looked at me with an innocent face and said, “Fuck circle time.” He had just turned three-years-old.
I knew the boy’s father would have just laughed, and might have even praised the lad, while the boy’s mother would have just rolled her eyes and walked away. However I decided to do battle, for, though I know one must chose their battles, this fellow was definitely testing a limit. Also I knew appeasement wouldn’t work. If I left him playing with his trucks and attempted to conduct circle time with the other eleven children and the other teacher, he would not play quietly in the corner, but would roar his truck through the middle of the circle. Therefore I broke several laws.
New Hampshire has a rule that states there must be an adult for every six children under five years old, but for a while the other teacher had to deal with eleven, for this small boy needed one-on-one attention. Other laws involve not hurting children, and children seem to instinctively know they deserve some sort of protection, and bellow “You’re hurting me!” even as you are being as tender as you can possibly be. “Ow! Ow! Ow! You are hurting me!” they screech as they claw, bite, kick you in the shins, and break your glasses. “Stop! You’re hurting! Aurrrrgh!” Meanwhile you remain calm, move them gently away from any walls they can bang their head against (while accusing you of banging their head against the wall), and attempt to engage them in a conversation, which of course is the one thing they don’t want to do.
They don’t want to talk. They want to get their way. The entry point to a dialog is usually an argument about who is hurting who. I very calmly say, “I am not hurting you. You are hurting yourself. Why are you doing that?” In the case of this small boy, to even ask such a question was infuriating, and made him all the more determined to get his way.
For an hour and a half I sat on the front steps on a lovey summer morning with the boy screaming. I wondered why some neighbor didn’t call the police, and also was starting to think I’d chosen the wrong battle. I wondered why the boy didn’t lose his voice. I wondered why the sky stayed blue and the sun still shone and the birds kept singing and the leaves stayed green. I began to yearn for an aspirin.
In a sense the boy had won, for he had completely avoided circle time, so I was asking him if he wanted to stop screaming and go in for snack time. However he seemed to feel if he stopped screaming he’d lose, and continued. I had assumed he’d lose at least his voice, after an hour, but he seemed inexhaustible. I continued to not give in, firm but gentle, asking quiet, repetitive questions. Then, abruptly, he grew quiet. I silently praised God, and then I asked the child, “All done?” He nodded. “Can you go inside and not scream?” He nodded again. I released my gentle grip and we stood up to go in, and as we walked inside he reached up and took my hand.
The interesting thing, to me at least, was that the boy never threw another tantrum. I imagined that in some way he had tested a limit, and met his match. Not that he didn’t complain and whine at times, but for the most part he was more cooperative than the other tykes, after our battle.
It became a lodestone for me, “Never give in to a tantrum”, however I’ve become better at avoiding such battles. And I’ve never again had one go on so long, since that summer day. (Sulking doesn’t count; sulking is not the same as a full blown tantrum.)
This Monday will be my seventieth birthday, and retirement is looming. When dealing with various tantrums the past month I’ve felt a surprising thing: I might actually miss them. Not that they are pleasant, but the communication that occurs within them is unique and interesting, once you get it going.
One law I suppose I break midst the battles of tantrums involves calling a child a “baby”. There is a fear doing so could scar the child’s psyche for the rest of their life. (What is the difference between a “scarred” and a “molded” character? I’m never entirely sure. What a drill sergeant calls “molding” nearly everyone else would call “scarring.”) Anyway, I’ve heard one way around “scarring” is to avoid saying the tantrumer is a baby, which is “labeling”, and instead to ask questions about how babies behave, as opposed to how “grown ups” behave; (five-year-olds consider themselves “grown ups”, when with three-year-olds.) I’ve broken the declines of a couple of tantrums the past month by utilizing the word “baby” in a hopefully correct way. If it was incorrect, all I can respond with is, “all is fair in love and tantrums”, and also, “if you don’t like it, fire me”.
One event involved a small girl throwing an absolute fit about having to put on snowpants when it was “too hot”. It was barely above freezing, and the snow was wet, which made snow pants all the more advisable, but she was flopping about on the floor and kicking her feet. I stroked my beard sagely and then inquired if she was behaving as a baby might behave. She glared at me and informed me her mother said she was THE baby. I then gestured at a two-year-old who was putting on her snowpants close by, and asked, “How about her?” The girl grinned and said, “No, she’s not a baby.” I nodded like Spok on the old Star Trek show and said, “Interesting. I see.” Then I had the five-year-old sit in the sun on the porch with snow pants she didn’t have to put on, unless she left the porch. After sulking a while she put them on and rushed off to play.
However I got an interesting insight from the exchange. I’ve read about how, in Victorian times, the upper classes in England, both women and men, required “dressers” in order to get into their fancy outfits. I’ve often thought what a pain (a royal pain) that would be. It would be bad enough to not know how to drive a car and to require a chauffeur, but to not know how to dress? But…I had just heard a five-year-old explain she was a baby while a two-year-old was not. Perhaps the girl was going to be the next Winston Churchill.
Then I had another exchange with a tough young boy who enjoys “rough-and-tumble” and often laughs at getting clobbered. I’ve seen him kick the shins of boys older and bigger than he is, and when he is promptly shoved and sent flying flat on his back, he laughs. It is as if he enjoys the attention so much he disregards the pain. However one time he was whining and whimpering about how his snow-pants were tucked wrongly into his boots. I had eleven other children to dress, and perhaps was frazzled, and a bit short. I said I’d get to him, but he wanted attention right NOW. So I pointed at the two-year-old, who once again was getting her snow pants on (because she takes great pride in doing things “all by her self,”) and I said, “A baby can do it.”
Apparently I’d thrown down a gauntlet, for the boy thrust out his jaw and challenged me with, “I’m not a baby! You’re the baby!” I smiled and said, “You know, you may be right. When you kids drive me crazy, maybe I do become a big baby.”
The boy’s face was split by an ear-to-ear grin, and he went outside guffawing loudly. Apparently he had forgotten all about how uncomfortable the cuffs of his snow pants were.
Another day; another tantrum dealt with.
After the tantrum, the small, tired child
Reaches a little hand up while walking
With the elder, secure that they'll be smiled
Upon. There is no need for talking.
The big hand gladly takes the little one's.
All is forgiven, and the elder's pleased
More by the gesture than by the loud drums
And cymbals of worship. All stress is eased
And the rich nothing of peace's well-being
Slants like sunbeams in the late afternoon
Of summertime: Gold more worth seeing
Than the cold kind. Do not say, "God, come soon,"
For He's already here. I, in my pride,
Have tantrumed, but He's here at my side.
There is a growing hubbub locally, regarding a shot of pure arctic air coming straight towards New England. I’m feeling a bit smug, for I have been insinuating as much for two weeks. I’ve been one of those sour old men who scowls when the weather is lovely, and who seems like a wet blanket on any festivities. Sorry about that. But allow me to defend myself.
For one thing, I’m not really scowling. My eyes are just bad. What I’m actually doing is peering. I’m scanning the horizons for thunderheads, because, for the second thing, someone’s got to be on guard while the rest of you party-animals whoop it up. Thirdly, if you really want to bum-out a party, remind everyone that someday we’ll all die. I’d just rather it be later than sooner, so I’m always watching for the next problem, (and the next problem may be that I get thrown out the door.)
Muttering various things about cross-polar-flow and direct-discharge-of-arctic-air may not be a way to be the hit of a party, so I try to do it wearing a lampshade on my head and tap-dancing on a table, which seems to be a TV weatherman’s way of getting attention. But extreme cold can be serious, though it is rare south of the border. People north of the border in Canada, or up in Alaska, know extreme cold can kill, and are less liable to take it lightly.
In New England things have to line up just right, and Hudson Bay needs to be frozen over so its waters don’t warm the winds from Siberia. The winds have to come from the north, so the Great Lakes don’t warm them to the west, and so the Atlantic doesn’t warm them to the east. Also coming straight from the north tends to align them with the north-south undulations of the landscape (which makes rivers run mostly southwards, and lakes like Lake Champlain long and skinny, north to south.) By coming down long valleys the winds avoid bopping over hills, which would have a warming effect and turns cold winds into watered-down, east-coast versions of a west coast Chinook. But, if the winds avoid all warming and meet this north-to-south criterion, they become what old-timers called, “The Montreal Express”.
Often, but not always, such a discharge of arctic air is on the west side of a departing storm system. The current scenario is of the rarer sort, where the outbreak is primarily due to the configuration of an upper air trough.
The chief discussion among meteorologists seems to be whether the Great Lakes can generate enough uplift with their unfrozen waters to make the trough “U” shaped, which will make the discharge less direct, or whether the trough will be “V” shaped, which is most direct and a worst-case-scenario. Then there is a brief but nearly total breakdown of those southern powers that ordinarily keep the north in check, and ordinarily push back against the north. Instead, the north pours south, as if a dam had burst.
It isn’t the cold that kills you as much as it is the wind. A roaring wind can make temperatures behave far colder than they actually are. You can walk about in a minus-ten calm without fear of frostbite, but when winds howl frostbite can occur with nasty speed. And, should you be foolish enough to be caught out in such a wind, with no shelter to flee to, death can soon follow.
For this reason, the local weather bureau is doing its best to scare everyone indoors on Friday night and Saturday. I’d obey, but I’ll have to go out to feed the goat and chickens. You’ll seldom see an old man move faster.
In the meantime, we watch the blob of Siberian cold moving slowly down the west coast of Hudson Bay
And we look at a map that ordinarily might not seem all that threatening
And, to be honest, I’d ordinarily be more worried about that small low over North Carolina coming up the coast and blowing up into a surprise snowstorm, though currently any snow it makes looks like it will be light and stay south of us
But, like I began this post by saying, I’m always scanning the horizons and scowling. Actually I should stop that. Instead I should be praying for survival. We humans are basically hairless creatures designed for warm places like the garden of Eden. How did we wind up in a landscape that wants to kill us?
But then I consider the smallest winter birds: The titmice, juncos, nuthatches, chickadees. How can such minute balls of fluff survive in these bitter blasts? They are not much bigger than spit, yet they survive where spit freezes before it hits the ground.
Cruel winter entertains a kindly mood.
I walk at night without a scarf, as eves
Drip and icicles shorten. Still, I brood
As moon carves bluet sky to dawn. Thaw decieves
My skeptic side. Day brings the chickadees
Out from hiding, daring to hop on twigs
Exposed, though last week a bitter breeze
Could have killed them. They flit and do their jigs
And sing their lie, "Spring soon," and I wonder
How such diminutive fluff balls survive
The cold. Did our Great Creator blunder?
With winter huge, can small warmth stay alive?
Yes, they do, and it fills me with hope
For this world's a big chill and I'm a small dope.
It is an old, local, gallows-humor to say, when winter becomes especially obnoxious, “Have you surrendered yet?” You hear it at the local market, when someone walks in with a sour expression, having a bad-hair-day. Oddly, the soured expression usually vanishes and a grin flashes. It is as if the one accosted feels strangely recognized, and less alone in their misery. (You figure out the psychology. I’m too tired, having had to deal with so much slush and heavy snow my expression is likely soured, and also I’m having a bad-hair-day.)
Winter has a way of coming up with some new angle, some twist you have never seen before. I suppose that is one thing that keeps the dreariness from being too dreary: One looks about with interest for a new annoyance that was never expected.
This year the wonder is a strange lack of wind which has allowed the snow to build up on the boughs of trees to levels I haven’t seen before. Or, perhaps I once saw it, when I was young and could afford skiing, and rode ski-lifts to the tops of mountains where the rime could really build up on the spruce and fir trees, but they are trees designed to simply bend and curl over and endure the weight.
This is not the case for trees at lower altitudes. Eventually they break, and once you start to hear the cracking, sometimes like the report of a gun, coming from the woods, you start to notice the lights flickering, and perhaps make ready for the power to quit by filling a bathtub with water and lighting a candle.
My last local post described the storm that left our Childcare without power for nineteen hours. It did little to remove the snow from the trees, for the usual blast of northwest winds didn’t follow its passage. Instead the trees looked beautiful, and also dangerous.
Such heavy snow is sticky and great for making igloos, but perhaps such igloo-construction is unwise, for a man of my advanced years. In fact I know it is, for I was barely able to creak out of bed the next day, and headed for the aspirin bottle even before the coffee pot. Ahead of me my schedule foresaw there was heavy slush to clear up from the front walk of the Childcare, and I decided after that I would lean against a tree and watch the kids play. That may not be much of a curriculum: To not be at involved at all, but I could always say the woods were too dangerous to walk in, with burdened limbs crashing down.
But for play the children wanted to sled, and fresh, heavy snow is not good for sledding. The sleds just sink, making a sort of crater on the hillside. One must pack down the snow, but small children are not all that good at packing, it turns out. So I had to show them, slowly and laboriously tramping a wide path up the hill. I attempted to involve them, but their footprints tended to wander off and not stick to the planned route. Apparently it was too boring to pack a straight path.
I consoled myself by remembering my cellphone has a gadget that counts how many steps I take in a day. But it turned out this odometer thought I must be cheating, to take such short steps. All my tromping didn’t count as steps, to my deep disappointment. All I got was more weary than ever, as the kids got some slow sledding over the wet snow, as the long day ended.
There was still plenty of ice glinting in the treetops, as yet another storm approached.
It was another slushy storm. You could tell it was going to be hard to forecast where the rain-snow line would set up. They were forecasting a burst (or “thump”) of six inches of heavy, wet snow, changing to freezing rain and then rain, which didn’t sound good. The lights had been blinking all day, even without any added snow. But there was nothing to do but watch the storm come rolling east through the Ohio Valley on the weather maps.
The question was how soon the coastal development would develop, and how far north the warm air would surge, and how strong the “cold air damming” would be, and whether any sneaky cold air would creep under the warm air from the northeast as the coastal low “bombed.”.
Ordinarily such stuff fascinates me, but I was pretty achy, and the way the lights were flickering messed up my laptop’s ability to stay on the sites I tried to look at, and my weary brains had trouble staying in focus as well. After a easy-to-make dinner of hotdogs and beans I glanced out the window and saw it was snowing to beat the band, and then thought I’d lay down for just a bit to digest greasy hot dogs, but utterly konked out. (Just to show how tired I was, I left a lone beer on the table, with only a single sip of it swallowed).
I awoke at 3:30 AM and thought it might be wise to undress for bed, but then remembered I hadn’t put wood in the fires. Blearily I hobbled about, attempting to avoid clattering and clanging too much, as my wife has been as weary as I, and she was softly snoring. The power had been off, and the digital clocks were blinking on various devises, but we have some clocks that are battery-powered, which is how I knew it was 3:30 AM. The fires had burned down to embers, and it took time to get them going again.
At some point I went out on the porch for a couple logs. The air had a mildness unlike what I expect in January, and a quick glance down the steps showed that roughly three inches of snow (7.62 cm) was swiftly wilting under steady rain. The changeover had come earlier than expected, which I was glad to see. Hopefully the snow would shrink, and flow down the drains without the floods we had in December. I prefer snow melting to shoveling the stuff.
The lights flickered again as I glanced at the radar before heading back to bed. There were no warning signs of cold air and snow sneaking south as a backlash, and instead signs that a “dry slot” would end the rain earlier than expected. (I am located in the orange heavier rain, between Lowell and Keene.)
That “dry slot” did me a favor, for I overslept. I know when I oversleep, because it isn’t pitch dark out. I leapt out of bed, threw on my clothes, and rushed to clean the slush from the walks at the Childcare before the customers arrived. The morning was mild, and I had only to wipe the wet snow from my windshield, without needing to scrape at any frost. Yet there was still ice in the trees, and in fact the morning was sparkling, with the trees shimmering silver.
It is important to drink in that silver shimmering, for all too soon your eyes must drop to what you must shovel.
I did the front walkway, and no customer was inconvenienced, because the fact of the matter was most everyone in town was behind schedule, because the power outages messed up everyone’s clocks. Also the constant surging and blinking of the electricity supply messed up other switches in modern conveniences. I faced a freezer and a water pump that had quit. But fortunately I had five young men arriving at my Childcare and five snow shovels, and, rather than sullenly waiting for the school bus, they made some money shoveling the Childcare’s emergency exits. They trooped onto the school bus richer, as I, only $20.00 poorer, watched the snow slide off my “snow-shedding roof” and undo some of their work. Though they broke a couple shovels, they were a good investment, for they did free up my time, allowing me to get the freezer and pump working again.
(All I did was un-jam the switches; I don’t know how power surges manage to paralyze such devises, but working them once undoes the damage: With the freezer I only needed to turn the dial until it was “off”, and then, with the tender fingers of a safe-cracker, turn the dial in the “on” direction, and the freezer abruptly hummed and worked. The pump involved exposing and physically manipulating a pressure switch, but with the same effect: The pump started humming, and faucets gushed water again.) (Few things are so disconcerting as an empty faucet.)
I had proven I can function to some degree without coffee, but I was not happy about it, yet at this point there appeared, from the shimmering glitter of the sunshine, an angel. It was my wife, with a steaming extra-large coffee she got at the take-out window of a local coffee shop. Abruptly all seemed right in the world.
“Not so fast”, said this winter of slush. As I abandoned my wife to a small crowd of merciless children, driving off to do a quick errand, the coffee fueled a brief euphoria. The sun was shining off the wet road as if I was on a highway to heaven, but just then a tree branch chose to unload about ten pounds of slush and ice, down, down, down, and smack dab in the center of my windshield. I only slightly indented my Jeep’s roof. Why the windshield’s glass wasn’t cracked I cannot say.
This shock brought me back to earth, and reminded of a poem I wrote at age sixteen called “Thaw”, and also of being aged fourteen and a time I threw a snowball which plastered the center of a windshield of a Cadillac, while I was out “raising hay” during a January Thaw with a close friend, and how we got chased a long way through winter woods by a huge, burly man who looked a little like he might work for the Mafia who came exploding out of that Cadillac. In both cases the message seemed to be, “Don’t get too cocky; winter isn’t over yet.”
If I get the time (which seems unlikely) I’ll expand the above paragraph into a post about what life was like for a teenager in the 1960’s. But for now I’ll just be an old man in the 2020’s, and end with a sonnet:
The thaw made snow get heavy. The forest
Lost what was limber, and tall trees lumbered
Like ships wallow when they're sorely distressed
By freezing spray: Boughs burdened, so some bird
Alighting pressed the final, fatal straw
And a crack like a gun's shocked the cowed glades
And a crashing and thudding maimed a flaw
On many a fine tree, so summer's shades
Will know pockets of light, but summer is far,
Far from my thinking. Winter's just begun
It's onslaught, yet has done so much to mar
My peace of mind that I now want to run
To warm taverns where jovial drinking
Scoffs at the way the slush has me thinking.
Usually our storms depart with strong winds in their wake, but this one was amazingly windless. Here is a picture of the pine boughs bent down over my woodpile this morning:
That picture points out some trimming I need to do, but my wife and granddaughter put me to shame, for rather than grouchy they go out for a walk to appreciate the beautiful way the world is changed. Where I see the wires they see the trees.
Maybe if I write a sonnet my mood will become less sardonic.
The storm was wondrously calm. Not a flake
Was blown off a twig, but instead they clung
Where they fell, and made all a frosted cake
Of white. It was a soft snow which stung
No cheeks; a warm snow which made for wet roads.
There was no skidding; no irksome whining
As tires spun; but still boughs bent under loads
That became a burden. Who is designing
This gentle start to an ordeal? It's like
A soft quilt is tucked up under the chin
Of man not ready to die, who'll strike
The quilt away and shout, with a brave grin,
"Not so fast, Wily Winter! Seducing
Can't hide the storm troopers you're loosing!"
(Oops. Started poetic, but I guess I slipped back to my sardonic side, there at the end.)
The storm was calm because the primary low kicked ahead energy along the “triple point” where it occluded. I call such energies “zippers” because they tend to follow where the cold front catches up to a warm front, “zipping up” part of a storms warm sector into an above-the-ground occlusion. When such “zippers” reach the right conditions they “bomb out”, and swiftly have pressures far lower than the primary low, and in fact the primary low and its occlusion may become a minor, “secondary cold front” in the circulation of a gale, in which case the pines roar and the snow is blown from the boughs. However in the case of the last storm the secondary low was slow to form from the “zipper”, and there was very little pressure difference between the primary and secondary low, so the snow drifted down with little wind. The “zipper” gave us a burst of heavy snow either side of midnight on Friday morning, and then as the remnants of the primary low followed we got another twenty-four hours of light snow, ending after midnight Saturday morning. The first burst gave us roughly five inches, and the lighter snow gave us two more.
In the national map below you can see the weakening primary storm lagging behind over us as the secondary strengthens out to sea. (Also note California is drying out as the big Pacific gales are further north towards Alaska.)
But what interests me is that we got snow and not rain. Some of the computer models were seeing rain, as they don’t handle sneaky cold very well. The models are programed to see the atmosphere in terms of small cubes of air, but sometimes the cold air creeps close to the ground, “under the radar” as it were, and the models don’t see it until it is upon us. That is why I have been noting, for over a week, that the “fisherman’s map” I like to look at seems to always have “heavy freezing spray” to our north.
Now here’s what makes me sardonic. If enough cold air can creep down to give us snow when the anomaly maps show us in a cherry red warm spell, with maps looking like this:
What will happen if the models are correct and the cherry red turns to frigid blue in ten days?
I’ll tell you what will happen. At our Childcare children will make pristine, new-fallen snow looking like this:
Look like this:
And maybe we’ll even be able to complete an igloo before it melts away. That’s our third attempt, starting to rise in the distance in the picture below. (Only the walls; the snow wasn’t sticky enough for a roof, yet.) (This picture does a fairly good job of showing a sort of snow-blindness that occurs when the sun is hidden but the sky is bright, and light snow is falling. One’s ability to see contrast between dark and light fades.)
Next storm due Monday, and perhaps another Wednesday night. Feeling sardonic yet?