LOCAL VIEW –Yo-yo Spring–

We get one day of glorious sunshine, and everyone walks about with silly smiles pasted across their faces, and then we get six days of cold rain, whereupon there is a lot of sulking. In other words, it’s your typical New Hampshire Spring, culminating with the appearance of the most affectionate creature known to man: black flies. They absolutely adore humans. Humans are mean, and do not return the love. Or perhaps we are more spiritual, and love what cannot be seen: Namely the wind. (Because the wind blows the blasted black flies away.)

The effect of this is to make people manic-depressive. Oops. Sorry. I forgot that scientific studies have refuted the psuedoscience, and proven there is no such thing as manic-depressive.

The effect of this is to make people bipolar. (Scientific studies of bipolarism are not yet finalized).

Even ancient people understood this, with celebrations beginning with April Fools Day and culminating with traipsing about a May Pole. Of course, now we are more modern and wise, so instead we have military parades celebrating the mass murder of people who work hard, succeed, and become rich, and we throw confetti for communists. (We’ve become so much wiser).

To celebrate this madcap  moodiness I was going to write a poem starting, “Spring is like a yo-yo…

Indeed children at our childcare bounce up and down like kangaroos, only they also bounce off walls, which kangaroos avoid as a rule, and therefore I get hopping to move them outside, even if it is pouring. And it has rained a lot. You might think I’d get scolded for cruelty to children, but my wife fortunately subscribes to the old Swedish motto, “There is no such thing as bad weather; only bad clothing”, so I don’t even get in trouble for getting kids out in the mud.

A couple days ago, while watching the human-kangaroos jump dead center into every mud puddle they could find, I began to think the manic moodiness has a reason: It was getting a lot of accumulated poison out of their systems. Likely winter builds up all sorts of crud in bodies, and a good work-out flushes it out of the system. Even the goats, despite their age, were gamboling in the pasture like lambs, and eating lots of greens, which also cleanses the system.

The smaller boys do not gambol; they attack me from every angle, slugging and tackling and head-butting. Or perhaps this too is a gamble, because one of these days I might punch them back, (as a way of enraging the state inspectors and watch-dogs, and consequently getting retired from my childcare business), (Yippie!) but for the time being I just prissily say, “No, no. Naughty, naughty. It is not politically correct to maim your teacher.” I say this to them as they lie looking up at me, stretched-out flat in a puddle. They are in that position because, through there may be laws against belting children, they have not yet made a law against my ducking and dodging, and, when children attack from all angles, I make a Spanish Matador look like a clod. Meanwhile I am thinking of ways to put all their energy to good use.

I had just hit upon the idea of digging a ditch and planting potatoes, and likely was looking up and thanking God for the stroke of genius, which explains why I wasn’t looking down, and got hit by the charging child. The small monster head-butted me at roughly twenty miles an hour just to the left of my solar plexus, (over my operation scar), and I thought it might flush a lot out of my system in a hurry.

But such is spring. Even the flooding creeks, streams and rivers are flushing refuse downstream. I looked at the boy and said nothing, so I can’t be arrested or charged, but the child did look worried, as I decided “Spring is like a yo-yo…” simply wouldn’t do for my poem, and decided upon, “Spring is like a colonoscopy…

You will be thrilled to learn I never got around to writing that poem. I was too exhausted from planting potatoes. I thought we’d only manage to plant three or four, and then the kids would all start whining, “Can’t we stop?”, but they really got into a groove, (or trench). They wanted to dig, dig, dig, and I had to break up fights over who would next hack with the hoe. They were tireless. We planted all the Pontiac Reds (that ripen early for summer potato salads), the Yukon Golds, Kennebecs and Katahdens (for late summer and autumn mashed potatoes), the Burbank Russets (for winter baking), and the Peruvian Purples (for weirdness). By the end I was whining, “Can’t we stop?” but the merciless slave-drivers shouted, “No! Onward! Onward you lazy wimp!”Yo 1 IMG_4782

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I tried to take a break by pointing out meal-worms and millipedes and mites, but the only thing that slowed some them was a bright crimson mite, and even that was merely for a moment.

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Then the other mites drove me on.

So that explains why I am hunched over holding my back in a manner befitting a man of my advanced years. My shuffling manner of walking, on the other hand, involves a hike. I thought hiking with the older children might be safer, as they tend to dawdle. I was wrong.

We headed off to look at a tree the beavers had nearly-but-not-quite gnawed down last summer. It was amazing that the tree didn’t fall over. But perhaps our beavers are under achievers.

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I wanted to see if winter winds had knocked the tree down. When we arrived we saw a snapped-off hemlock’s top had not only flattened the tree, but buried it.

Now, the hemlock may not have been a big hemlock for the west coast, but it was big for the east; I couldn’t get my arms more than halfway around it, yet it was chopped down by little carpenter ants and by a woodpecker who was after those ants.

Now by now you are probably rolling your eyes, and think I must be pulling your leg about beavers that can’t cut down trees, and woodpeckers that can, but I tell you in our neck of the woods our woodpeckers are not those cute little birds that go “tippity-tip-tap” like Broadway dancers. They are a foot and a half tall with wings nearly three feet across, and give a crazy yell like a jungle monkey,  “Kook-Kook-Kook-Kook-Kook-Kook!” If you happen to be climbing a tree and one comes around the trunk and you are eye to eye with it,  you arrive at a swift judgement: “This dude is crazy. He has the eyes of someone who hit his head into a tree sixty thousand times.”

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I tell you our woodpeckers are much tougher than your woodpeckers, and if you don’t believe me take a look at this tree:

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I  was getting a bit tired and figured I could scare the kids into heading back if I told them any woodpecker that could do this sort of damage was likely nine feet tall and ate small children instead of ants. The kids were terrified.Yo 5 IMG_4763

Obviously I needed a different strategy, so I whined, “Can’t we go back?”  But no, they insisted, “No! Onward!  Onward you lazy wimp!”

I tried to discourage them by saying we were going beyond the point where kids from the Childcare had ever ventured before. It didn’t work. There is something about the spring that awakes the Danial Boone in people, and rather than discouraging them I only challenged them. Pioneering became abruptly attractive, even to kids who ordinarily whine about walking six feet to hang up a coat. Without asking permission they went plunging off into the puckerbrush, and I had to follow, because I’m paid to keep an eye on them, but I did have misgivings, because a couple of the kids ordinarily go “eek” at a mouse and “ick” at a mudpuddle, (and Danial Boone hardly ever did that). I knew they might change their minds.

Also we were venturing into a landscape not even many adults venture into any more, (though in the old days a few might seek native trout in the swampy thickets.) It is a flat area filled in by glacial sand that around nine little brooks brought down steep slopes from a small mountain, in an area where all nine brooks come together like the fingers of a nine-fingered hand. Beavers then built a most amazing series of curving and branching dams, in an attempt to control nine brooks, and dug canals to connect the brooks, and, over the ten-thousand or so year since the glaciers retreated, they collected a deep layer of mud behind their dams. Occasionally the beavers had to leave, after they ate every tree in sight, but the first trees that grew back were the birch and alder and aspen they like, so they’d move back and rebuild their dams.  Currently the area is largely abandoned, with only a couple beavers around, and the water level is lower in most places and trees are starting to grow back. Even though the dams are rotting away they still form walkways through the canals and areas of mire, and the kids had a fine time exploring deeper and deeper into the swamp….

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….but then the rain started to get heavier, and one girl didn’t like it. The other four didn’t mind the rain, but commiserated with their friend, and all turned on me with accusing eyes. “This is all your fault!” they stated.

“My fault!?” I exclaimed. “I wanted to go back! You were the ones who wanted to go out into this quagmire!”

“Yes, but we are young and irresponsible. You are suppose to know better!”

“Ok! Ok! We’ll head back.”

“Then why are we heading forward?”

“Because forward is the shortest way back.”

“But we want to go backwards! Backwards the way back!”

“No, forward is the way back”

“You are talking nonsense! You are trying to drown us all!”

“Look, you are going to have to trust me on this. You just said that you are young and irresponsible, and I know better.”

“Well obviously we were wrong! Help! Mr Shaw is trying to drown us all!”

“Stop yelling! Unless you want to be rescued by a helicopter.”

“Ooooh! That would be fun! Let’s keep yelling! Help! Help!”

I was starting to feel a little embarrassed, imagining what a person outside the swamp might think, hearing the girls scream. Four of the girls were joking, but I was a bit worried about the one who didn’t look like she was joking. Meanwhile the three boys were completely indifferent, and deaf to the girls, seemingly adopting insensitivity as the best policy for dealing with the opposite sex.

The path got tricky towards the edge of the swamp, as the spring floods had washed away most of the old dams. I had to pick my way carefully to find a path that kept water from getting over the tops of their boots. Two boys helped me by plunging ahead and finding the deep places, but they didn’t mind the water in their boots. The smallest boy, aged five, followed me and carefully put his feet where I said, and crossed with his feet dry. All five girls failed to follow instructions, and when water poured into their boots they seemed to have a very good time screaming, and right up until we were three feet from the dry land kept shrieking it was better to head back. (I am convinced some girls simply like to scream for the joy of it.)

Then we had a brief contest, emptying water from boots and declaring the winner of the most-water-in-a-boot contest. Then we left the woods and took a safe road back to the Childcare, with me glancing anxiously at houses abutting the swamp, to see if faces scowled out windows at me. Even now I’m a little amazed no one overheard, and no one dialed 911.

Later parents told me they heard from their children they had been on a wonderful adventure. So it looks like I won’t be reported for child abuse. My retirement is delayed. But not denied. One of these days I’ll get reported, and then, “Free at last! Free at Last! Great God Almighty! Free at last!”

Spring also cannot be denied. During the dark, dank, drizzly spell the woods refused to pause like blooms in a florist’s refrigerator, and a haze of yellow sugar maple blooms spread through the twigs.

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Slowly the grip of cold, dank mist weakened,
And though low cloud oppressed, just as dark,
It was as if a lightness was wakened
or a bright spirit indented its mark,
Not on couch cushions like a creepy ghost,
But in every heart, as a sense of ease.

Light airs swung south, as, from some southern coast,
Kind angels came cruising on a merciful breeze
And every heart lifted, without sun to see,
And clenched buds loosened lacy greenery
Despite dark skies. Smiling invisibly
Fortune changed, and was so kind to me
I laughed aloud, and raised up my eyes
And felt warm glances pierce the cloudy skies.

LOCAL VIEW —BURNING WEEDS—

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The goats busted out and ate the tattered Brussels sprouts and kale, as they have keen eyes and go for the last green things in sight, but that is fairly normal for my farm. It is so normal that my wife made sure to pick all the kale except for tufts at the tops, and my middle son and his girlfriend stripped all the sprouts larger than a pea from the Brussels sprouts, which is one reason they looked so tattered. I myself like to leave the sprouts and kale out a bit longer, as frost improves the flavor, but the family knows my goats. The goats are a reason the family doesn’t know how much frost improves the flavor. It is a flavor that I alone know about, and never have been able to share.

There’s still around 25 pounds of potatoes to dig, still in the earth, saved underground because the children at the Childcare get such obvious joy from digging them up, plus there’s also perhaps ten pounds of parsnips underground, which the goats can’t get to because they haven’t learned how to dig…yet. (I once had a dog who would sneak into the garden to dig up a carrot, and then trot off to surreptitiously eat it.)   (The pigs are off being smoked, or they’d be out there digging them up.) For the most part the garden is finished for another year, and its weedy earth stretches out as a forlorn mockery of my aspirations, and of a dream I wanted to share.

The dead weeds, which are plentiful and in some places tower six feet tall, are especially galling, as they remind me I’m older and couldn’t work, last summer, the way I once delighted in. (I was a strange young man, I suppose, because I got pleasure from toil. I suppose toil was for me something like jogging is for other folk, though jogging was an activity that almost always seemed a complete waste of time, to me. Why jog when you could get as much exercise and more from hoeing? Why work out in a gym when you could toil in a garden, producing stuff you could eat,  which tasted better than anything from any grocery store? If you toil, you should reap a benefit, either a crop, if the garden is your own, or a paycheck, if you garden for another. I can’t imagine paying a gym. It makes no sense to toil, and then pay others for the honor of doing so.)

Even more galling is the fact it is November, and I’m suppose to be counting my blessings and be brimming with Thanksgiving spirit. It is the time of harvest, and we should be grateful no hailstorms hit, nor clouds of locusts, and there is something to harvest. Not much, in the case of my garden, but a little is better than nothing. Instead I seem be harvesting a strong sense of irony.

I know I’m older and should cut back, and last spring I really meant to only have a little, modest garden, that a doddering old guy could easily manage, but the enthusiasm of others tricked me into the usual insanity of spring. There is a reason for April Fool’s Day.

The days were getting longer so fast everyone went nuts. They were filled with wild-eyed aspirations and a manic nature that convinced me that they meant what they said, and would help with the weeding and more. So I went and rototilled the usual quarter acre, and planted like crazy, and then, around the end of May when the weather got hot, I looked around and wondered, “What happened to the weeders?” After spring fever ebbs people come to their senses and go home, but someone must face the consequences. In my case the consequences happened to be one mother of a garden I couldn’t possibly keep up with.

My harvest is towering weeds, and I am suppose to be thankful? Unlikely. There is a reason for Halloween’s morbid ghosts and goblins. The days are getting shorter so fast that everyone goes nuts. Gloom and doom invade and infect the psyche, and thankfulness is work, and an exercise of vigorous spirituality. I’m not there yet. (This may explain why Thanksgiving occurs weeks after Halloween. It takes time to muster thankfulness)

At this time I am in the autumn of my life, and am reaping what I sowed, and, to be frank, on some rainy mornings it looks like towering weeds. I gripe to my Creator for making me the way he made me. Why did he make me the sort of guy who stands up to a corrupted boss and tells him to go to hell? That is no way to last the decades it takes to collect a pension. In my experience, it was a way to be immediately fired.

I really do marvel at my peers who managed to put up with abysmal jobs for atrociously long periods of time, and now can sit back and collect pensions as I work.   Of course, some died before they collected, and some died amazingly quickly after they retired, and some seem…and I do not know how to put this politely…stunted.

For example, imagine being a schoolmarm over the past thirty years. It just seems to me that there have been numerous things, which honorable people would object to, that they have meekly turned a blind eye to, because making waves might threaten their pension. Drugging small children might be one example, and teaching the scientific falsehood of Global Warming might be another. Now they get their pension, which is a god they have worshiped more than standing up for the Truth. They fully expect to benefit for behavior I find revolting. They expect taxpayers like myself to make their old age cushy. They will be extremely upset if they reap what they sow in another manner, and the economy collapses, and hyperinflation means their pension check supplies them with enough money to buy only a single biscuit,  even as the students they drugged at age six threaten them, as drugged adults aged thirty-six. Schoolmarms would call such a fate utterly unjust, which to me suggests that they lived intellectual lives that never looked too deeply into the long-term consequences of their actions, which just might indicate that, for the sake of a pension, they allowed their psyches to become stunted.

Of course, they are the ones now getting pensions as I work my fingers to the bone and likely will die with my boots on, so perhaps all my talk is just a bad case of sour grapes.

So what have I got to be thankful for? Over forty-five years ago my generation set out to radically improve the world, to make it a planet of “Truth, Love and Understanding”, but the way things have turned out it has seemed those who worship filthy lucre (and that includes pensions) have done far better than those who have been willing to sacrifice prosperity, promotions, and even pensions, for Truth.

In a symbolic sense it is as if back in 1969, during the so-called “summer of love”, I set out to make a fabulous garden of social reform, and now I am confronted by towering weeds, dead and brittle in the November winds. So what does a farmer do?  He adds fertilizing ash to the soil of his garden, by burning the weeds.BURNING WEEDS 2 IMG_1169

In the above example the weeds grew over six feet tall after the six foot tall edible podded peas were for the most part harvested. My excuse for not weeding was that peas have shallow roots, and weeding harms the pea’s roots more than it helps them (but the truth is I am old, tire quickly, and when tired I gain strength by writing about arctic sea ice, rather than weeding.) We got a fine harvest of peas in June and July, but the weeds had all August to climb the chicken wire and at their highest towered seven feet tall. They looked big and tough, but a single match swiftly reduced them to ash, which is better for next year’s crop than their seeds. It was a heck of a lot easier than pulling all those weeds up, and disentangling them from the chicken-wire, and lugging all the dead stuff to a compost pile. The flash-fire even sterilized the chicken-wire.

However, outside of my little garden, in the larger, symbolic example I have highlighted above, it is frightening to think of supplying such a match. This world has already seen such conflagrations. Anger towards schoolmarms manifested during China’s “Cultural Revolution”, when China got rid if all its teachers. They destroyed to such a degree that, once they got over their madness, no teachers could be found to teach the next generation. They had to seek out the undergrads who had managed to survive the madness, (perhaps by being part of the madness), and promote them to the position of professors in colleges. And in Cambodia under Pol Pat the madness was even worse, for it was not only the schoolmarms who were eradicated, but the students like myself who butted heads with schoolmarms. All you needed, to deserve death, was to have a writer’s callous on the middle finger of your writing hand. That would have included me.

Obviously I don’t want to promote any madness that kills me. I don’t want to wind up like Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, who opposed the death penalty, yet got his head chopped off by the devise he promoted as a more humane form of execution, during the time madness overtook France.

Therefore the match that burns weeds should be simple Truth.

Back in 1965 I was the youngest and smallest boy in my eighth grade class, yet had to confront a towering, grey-haired schoolmarm with her incorrectness. The “correct” answer in our textbooks and in her tests, concerning what built mountain ranges, was that the Earth was cooling, and cooling caused contraction, and therefore the skin of the earth buckled like the skin of a withering apple. However my older brother had given me a book about a new idea called “continental drift”. I had neither the power of Mao nor Pol Pot. All I could do was speak the Truth to an elderly woman who taught by the book. I still can recall the lost look in her eyes, when a little punk like me asked her to rethink the curriculum she’d been teaching for years.

Now, somewhat amazingly, fifty years have passed, and I still don’t have the power of Mao or Pol Pot, and yet still speak the Truth to schoolmarms who do things by the politically correct book. Or, at least, I think I do. From time to time I have to stop and take a hard look at myself.  Perhaps I am now the old, tradition-bound elder resisting new ideas. Perhaps the new ideas are to drug small boys and promote Global Warming, and I am just an old dog who can’t learn new tricks. But I always conclude that the very fact I am taking a hard look at myself is proof I am not hidebound, and am not stuck in some out-of-date textbook.

For Truth itself never gets old and never changes. It is a lodestone with which you test your ideas for their iron. It is only when your ideas become a curriculum you do by rote, year after year, never testing it, that we drift from truth into sterile traditions.

The politically-correct tend to sneer at scriptures as being merely musty traditions, and to feel they are following some sort of new and improved version of Truth, a sort of newer New Testament and glossier gospel. However if they actually opened their dusty,old Bibles and examined the ancient scriptures they might see their behavior described.  They might read the suggestion that bad things happen to those who focus more on smart-sounding, politically-correct political alliances than on being honest to Truth. The prophet Isaiah warned the Northern Kingdom not count on crafty alliances, but they didn’t listen, and the Assyrians led them off to captivity, and in the same manner Isaiah warned the Southern Kingdom, and they didn’t listen, and wound up led to captivity to Babylon.  In those cases political correctness and smart-seeming alliances didn’t pay off. However King David was utterly different, and likely looked nuts to those who promoted sacrificing Truth for political purposes and crafty alliances, for he put Truth first. In Psalm 118 the poet David states, (and I substitute the word “Truth” for the word “Lord”):

It is better to trust in the Truth
Than to trust in man.
It is better to trust in Truth
Than to trust in princes.

All the nations surrounded me
But in the name of the Truth I cut them off.
They surrounded me on every side
But in the name of the Truth I cut them off.
They swarmed about me like bees
But died as quickly as burning thorns;
In the name of the Truth I cut them off.

I was pushed back and about to fall
But the Truth helped me.
The Truth is my strength and my song;
He has become my salvation.

It is likely that David would appear to be a complete whack-job to today’s politically correct elite: A man prone to lust, rage, self-pity and black depressions. However David was a poet who was a king, and led his small nation to greatness against all odds. In like manner America’s founding fathers likely appeared to be whack-jobs to the politically correct royalty of Europe, for rather than accepting the Byzantine corruption of how things were done, they attempted to construct a constitution more closely allied with Truth, and in doing so they led a little string of colonies along a coastline to greatness, against all odds.

Truth seems to have the power to defy all odds, and to completely ignore political correctness. The next, great world power always seems to spring up from the most unlikely places. In 1480 Spain was two obscure kingdoms at the very edge of Europe. Great Britain was some offshore islands. If anyone had suggested, back then, that a pope would give Spain legal rights to half the planet, or the sun would never set on a future British Empire, the political experts would have scoffed. It would have been tantamount to telling modern experts that the Navajo Reservation would be a future world power.

Truth doesn’t care about the opinions of experts. Truth sees the truth, and if your establishment has become a field of dead weeds rattling in November’s wind, Truth supplies the match. There is no need for us mortals to raise the blood-stained hands of Pol Pot or Mao, for Truth can take care of itself. There is no need to plot the death of billions in the name of population control. Truth can take care of itself. Where mortals make a mess and a field of weeds, Truth enriches the soil with ashes.

And this applies to me as well. Should I become an old weed, I accept the match Truth shall light. I actually rather like the image of going out in a blaze of glory, and dying with my boots on rather than collecting a pension, and thinking how Dylan Thomas wrote,

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

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LOCAL VIEW —RED FLAG—

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(Note new, dry high pressure over New England, and potential Hurricane Ana off Florida)

It has been another breezy day of warm temperatures, brilliant sunshine, and humidity down around 20 %. Perfect conditions for having a brush fire explode, though perhaps nothing like the conditions they experience out west. Out west it can be dry from the lowest root to the tip top of tall pines, and once a fire gets going entire trees explode into flame. Our drought is only at the lowest level, and doesn’t reach far underground, however our woods are messier than I can ever remember, and there is enough dead wood laying about the average forest floor these days to make a fire more than just burning leaves. However there were no nearby fires today: Just a beautiful day with the trees rapidly greening, and rapidly screening the view through trees with a green mist.

Yesterday branches were silver and bare
And I could watch a flicker wing its way
Through the trees to a far maple, and there
Land and look back sharply, as if to say,
“Mind your own business, you nosy human.”

Today a green fog is growing from twigs.
Golden green mist is swirling, blooming
From branches, hiding the birds that do jigs
and can-can along limbs, happy to be hid.
I spy on their antics with my radar.

If they wished privacy, they’d put a lid
On their joy, but that isn’t how spring birds are.

Are we the same? And is it so wrong
That when no one’s watching we burst into song?

There is something intoxicating about the whole world going golden green under glorious sunshine. It gets under your eyelids and drives the winter darkness from your brain. The only thing that keeps the glory of this time of year from rivaling the glory of peak foliage in October is that the singing birds must be fed, and this involves swarms of biting black flies.

BLACK FLY BLUES

Outside the sun is golden
But I ain’t goin’ out of doors today.
Outside the blue sky’s gorgeous
But inside is the place I’m goin’ t’stay.
I’ll be a couch potato
Til those pesky black flies go away.

I’ve heard God’s love’s in everything
Even in that pesky little fly.
I found this thought impossible,
So I grabbed one, and looked him in the eye.
He said, “Hey man! I love you!”
He’d made a point no woodsman can deny.

They love you head down to your toes.
They also love the inside of your nose.
They even love your armpits
And not too many folk are fond of those.
They’re part of God’s creation
Sort of like the thorns upon a rose.

See that flycatcher winging?
He loves black fly. Black fly he’s glad to see.
Hear that tree swallow singing?
Black fly fuels his springtime rhapsody.
The bitter flies among the sweet.
You can’t have half and own ecology.

Outside the sun is golden.
I guess I’ll budge my butt and face the swarm.
Outside the blue sky’s gorgeous
But I know clouds of black flies make a storm.
If this world was too comfortable
The next world wouldn’t tempt us to reform.

I did get out midst the swarms, to face various messes made by my trying to avoid the bitter and enjoy the sweet. One mess I made involves burning last year’s weeds in the garden even though there was a red flag warning. (It’s no use trying to get a permit, for the idiot bureaucrats will tell you to wait for a rain, when rain makes weeds too wet to burn)

Farmers have burned weeds for at least 250 years around here, as it kills a lot of bugs and bacteria and viruses that can hide out in dead stalks and infect this year’s plants, and also because the ashes fertilize the soil, and lastly because burning is a lot faster and easier than laboriously removing all the old, dead stalks by hand. And I was smart enough to keep the fire from spreading. However it was amazing how swiftly it burned, how hot it burned, and how busy I was kept rushing about keeping things under control. I was so busy I failed to notice that hidden under the weeds were some important garden hoses, until several were melted just enough to be useless.

Oh well, they were very old hoses, and had sprung leaks anyway, so I went and got new hoses. But I also decided to splurge on a “soaker” hose, because that seemed smarter than standing out in a swarm of black flies, watering by hand. And indeed it was wiser, and freed me up for other tasks, and other swarms of black flies, which annoyed me so much I hurried home at the end of the day, glad to get indoors, and forgot to turn off the “soaker” hose. That in turn resulted in just enough of my parched, drought-dried garden being turned into a mud-bog that my rotor tiller got stuck in the mud today, which involved extra effort midst an especially hungry swarm of black flies.

And so it goes. I seek the sweet, but can’t avoid the bitter. I suppose it is “The Law of Unintended Consequences.”  It seems to permeate so much of life that at times progress seems impossible, and I wonder how it is mankind has progressed at all. One gets so discouraged that, at my age, one can become an old grouch and frown at any suggestion of change. Fortunately progress is possible, but only if you face the bitter.

Nothing tastes quite so bitter as confessing a mistake. Engineers know all about mistakes, which may be why they invented “Murphy’s Law.”  Even the most beautiful bridge may turn into a “Galloping Gertie”.

Rather than a red flag going up when we seek an improvement, (because we expect failure),  the red flag should go up when we fail to confess our mistakes. How are we to learn from our mistakes if we don’t dare confess they exist? Engineers actually go out of their way to have their mistakes pointed out, because they’d rather see a mistake before they build, than see the mistake after they build, in the form of a structural collapse. However in other areas of life people are not so wise.

When was the last time you heard a politician confess he made mistakes?  Likely never. Instead he will spend millions on smear advertisements sneering at an opponents mistakes, as if mistakes were degrading rather than human, and worth damnation rather than often being laughable and even lovable.

Today I got to avoid the black flies by being something that likely has made my mother sit up in her grave. I am now officially “Chairman of the Diaconate” of a church. It is a peculiar twist of fate I never expected, and which all who knew me as a young bohemian artist would have said was utterly impossible. It only happened because our church has crumbled from 200 members in 1999 to roughly 40 members today, and no one else wanted to touch the job with a ten foot pole.

In some ways our church has been a “Galloping Gertie,” but no one has wanted to be a true engineer and simply be honest about confessing. Way back when the red flags of the first schism first flew, I was a voice in the wilderness when I said we should have what I called a “forum”.  I was frustrated by a lot of arguments which stated it wasn’t “Christian” to be blunt, open and honest.

Partly it was because the pastor is expected to “honor confidentiality”, as if he followed the pseudoscience of psychiatry and social workers. Partly it was because Christians feel it is wrong to gossip, and when gossip occurs they “turn the other cheek”, and either refuse to listen or, if they listen, refuse to respond in any way other than a very cold shoulder.

None of this furthered communication, in my eyes, but heck, what do I know? I haven’t been to divinity school, and, even though I read the Bible with interest, I am lousy when it comes to memorizing in that way that lets you quote chapter and verse, and it is important to quote chapter and verse when dealing with many Christians. It is no good to say, “Someone said something somewhere, and the gist of it is…”

In any case, despite a lot of efforts to reform, involving various classes about “how to mend the broken” and “how to heal the hurting,” I watched my church continue to crumble like a Galloping Gertie. Our efforts at correction were about as successful as correctional institute’s efforts to reform hardened criminals. It was frustrating and also embarrassing, because Christians are suppose to be good at healing, and aren’t suppose to resemble hardened criminals.

It was especially frustrating to our pastors, who did all this by-the-book stuff that failed to work. Our final pastor, perhaps hurt and bitter, told me just before he resigned, “If I go you will find no other pastor willing to come to this church, because you have such a record of un-Christian quarreling and pastor-smearing, and, without me stopping all you quarreling, the few people still part of this church will be at each other’s throats, and the church will be dead within six months.”

Not the most auspicious benediction, you must admit. And I confess things looked very bleak, as we could no longer afford a pastor to lead us out of the hole we were in. We barely could even afford to heat the church, last winter. Furthermore, much of the deaconate resigned when the pastor did, which left me and another guy in charge of the “spiritual well-being” of the church. Neither of us really wanted to be the “chairman”, so we flipped a coin, and I lost, and became the chairman.

I had no desire to pretend I was a pastor, so I simply said we did have a pastor, and our pastor was the Lord. I figured that was the Truth, but I confess it also got me off the hook, in terms of being responsible.  Then I said what I had been saying all along, which was that we should have a “forum”.

If nothing else, this sparked a lot of discussion about whether forums were Christian, or some heathen Roman concept.   During these discussions I wasn’t able to quote anything chapter and verse, but fortunately my wife is good at that stuff, and could tug at my sleeve and supply me with chapters and verses, (which is sort of like ammunition.)  Also, when I asked her, “Where does someone say something like…” she was able to give me references, and sometimes multiple references.

One thing I remembered the church doing from long ago, which had sort of faded away over the years, was something called “The confession of sin and assurance of pardon.” It turned out this was from 1 John 8-9, and, very loosely translated, says that modern politicians have it totally backwards when they say they are without sin, and then smear their opponents. The actual quote goes, ” If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

I liked the part about being “purified from all unrighteousness”, even if it did seem highly unlikely a church as rowdy, disobedient and fallen as ours could be fixed. So I suggested we give the confession-business a try.

I have been flabbergasted by how things that never worked abruptly began working. Despite my hopes regarding a “forum”, I feared honesty might enflame people and make things worse, but rather than muddying the waters, a clarity descended. I can’t really explain it, but will, at the risk of sounding like a psychologist promoting pseudo-science, describe some stages I’ve seen things go through.

Stage one involves person A saying something to person B that makes B feel troubled. Honesty does little good at this point, because the red flag is only a “feeling”, and even if B is honest with A and says, “Something about what you say troubles me”, he cannot give any specifics.

Stage two involves person B going to what amounts to a support-group. He does not seek out people liable to disagree, finding that prospect disagreeable, but instead seeks people who tend to agree, finding that agreeable. This support-group allows B to explore the feeling and develop an idea, which is often unfavorable towards A.

Stage three-X involves B afraid to confess the idea to A, as it seems rude, and a smear. However A does learn of the idea because someone in the support-group talks to C who talks to D who talks to E who tells A. By then the idea has been embellished and twisted by the game of “telephone”, and A is hurt, and then resentful, and a schism develops.

Stage three-Y involves confession. B is not afraid to go to A and confess the idea, whereupon A may be taken aback, but at least has the chance to respond directly to the idea.

What I saw then happen (and hadn’t happened in years) was something I hoped for, but still it amazed me.

First, as B spoke the idea a sense of humbleness appeared, and to some degree the idea seemed a bit lame. Without the support of the support-group it became more frail and vulnerable to questioning, (like an engineer putting a plan out for peer-review).

Second, as A responded it quite often turned out some degree of misunderstanding was involved, and was cleared up. (This is like an engineer getting his plan corrected by peer review.)

Third, sometimes A experienced a revelation, as they saw something they would never have thought of on their own, and rather than resenting B they thanked B.

That is a very clumsy explanation of what I have seen starting to happen in my devastated and humbled church. I wouldn’t say we are “purified from all unrighteousness”,  but some sort of purity is definitely within the clarity that has mysteriously decended.

The thing that is clear to me is that the red flags our hearts feel are not repressed and ignored. The initial feeling is a red flag, the support-group clarifies the red flag, and then the courage B demonstrates when he goes back to A and confesses brings the red flag to A’s attention. In this manner the bitterness of mistakes are not buried, and instead mistakes are learned from.

For the benefit to manifest, you have to prefer the bitter to the sweet, for a support group is sweet, but having to leave the support group is not so sweet.

I suppose it only works when you bring the red flag in a spirit of confession, rather than a spirit of righteous indignation and accusation. There has to trust. If your red flag turns out to be a false alarm, you need to feel trust that you are not shamed for your honesty, but rather are better off for being honest. If your red flag turns out to be on the mark, the person receiving it must feel benefited, helped, cared for, loved.

In any case, I find it somewhat astonishing to see peace, clarity, trust and even laughter returning to a church that seemed so down and out. Even if we are still a dying church, it is at least a death with dignity.

So that is what I did for a while today.  I preferred the bitter to the sweet, but the result was a sweeter sweetness.  And talking with old friends was definitely sweeter than thinking about what wasn’t spoken, midst a swarm of black flies.

Lastly the above explains why, though I dug the trench for the potatoes today, I won’t get the potatoes actually planted until tomorrow.

LOCAL VIEW —THE COLD HOLDS—

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This morning’s map shows the weak storm #3 has passed to our north. The window shows the first hint of orange dawn to the clear east, with temperatures at 21 (-6 Celsius) despite a lack of snow cover to assist radiational cooling.

The hope in the map is the warm front towards the Canadian Rockies. A Chinook has made it across the Divide, and may interrupt the arctic flow from the north. However we are still in the arctic air.

The orange dashed line extending back west from Low #3 to the Great Lakes is a trough, created in part by those relatively warm lakes dimpling the high pressure with rising air and low pressure at the surface. That rising air creates the “Lake Effect Snow” which is making the news.  Though the snow is in narrow bands, where it falls it has approached record 24-hour snowfall totals of near six feet.

Imagine one day you have only a little snow in your yard, and the next morning you look out and see this:

Buffalo-snow-buried-house-jackie-parker-223x300

At your workplace 20 miles away there is no snow. Will your boss believe you?  Probably not.  He will demand you show up for work. So you open your front door and see this:

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It looks like it will be quite a job to get to your job.  It is enough to make a weak willed person despair. However fortunately there is something strong deep within the heart of men that refuses to despair, or…well…maybe it despairs for a while, but then gets bored with despairing. Humor comes bubbling up.  One refuses to be beat by mere little bitty snowflakes.  One grabs their shovel, again opens the door, and:

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Sometimes the way people respond to calamity makes me happy to be included as a member of the human race.  (These pictures are from Roy Spencer’s site at:  http://www.drroyspencer.com/2014/11/that-epic-fickle-shovel-off-to-buffalo-snow-an-all-time-u-s-record/ )

Those bands of snow dried out, as they moved east from the lakes to here, but we did get a few light flurries last night, that made it all the way here.

It is still looking like we will get a thaw over the weekend, which will allow us to either dig out from under feet of snow, over by the Great Lakes, or perhaps get some last minute chores done, before winter sets in for keeps around here.

The weather was cold but much more bearable at the Childcare yesterday, because the winds grew lighter. In the afternoon we built a fire to roast potatoes in, and had to break through and lift a crust of two to three inches of frozen dirt to reach the potatoes.  It was like lifting a lid, and seeing potatoes beneath.

UPDATE

Here is a satellite picture of the clouds blooming up on the upwind side of the Great Lakes, and snowing out on the downwind side.  This should be ending today, but we’ve already had a few flurries from scattered, low, windblown cumulus, which makes 4 days with at least flakes in the air (though none on the ground). That’s all we get from “lake effect snow,”  in terms of precipitation, here 500 miles to the east. In terms of temperature, the air is warmed considerably by its passage over the lakes.

Great Lakes Screen_shot_2014_11_20_at_6_32_40_PM

(This picture is from Dr. Ryan Maue’s blog at the Weatherbell site. He only posts occasionally there, but he posts many times a day on Twitter.)

Dr. Maue also noted that the upper Mississippi River is closed due to ice up by Minneapolis and St. Paul.  This is the earliest closure of those locks since records started to be kept in 1969. Prior to this closure, the earliest closing was November 24, back in 1989.

LOCAL VIEW —Backwash—

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At this time of year there are great surges and counter-surges of air from north to south and south to north, and we are currently in a counter-surge from the south. People appreciate the mildness much more, after a shot of cruel cold.

With the clocks switched an hour backwards, it is now dark when the parents pick up their children at our childcare after work. We had our first evening fire last night out in the pasture, with some of the children roasting small cubes of pork on pointed sticks, and others roasting potatoes on the hot coals. The parents tell me it makes quite a scene, as they drive in.

This morning found me grumpy, as the Democrats won here in New Hampshire, and that means more paperwork and bureaucracy for a small business owner like myself. I wanted to sit and sulk, but two young boys were full of energy, and bouncing off the walls indoors, so I took them out for a walk. The boys are only at our Childcare for an hour, until the bus comes, but an hour can be an eternity, not only for boys, but for my staff. Sometimes it spares everyone to just go outside, especially when the morning is mild.

We headed off to the nearby flood-control reservoir next to the farm.  I was trying to teach them to walk quietly so we might see some wildlife, but they were so exuberant and loud that it is likely that even hibernating woodchucks stirred in their sleep, underground, a mile away. In my grumpy mood I decided to teach the boys a lesson.

I didn’t actually lie. When we came to the edge of a clearing, and I told them to pause and peer before moving out into the open, and instead the boys utterly ignored me and walked right out chattering away like a flock of grackles, I pointed off to the distance and said, “Did you see the deer over there?”

This wasn’t a lie, because it was a question. I didn’t say I saw a deer. (And I actually did see a deer “over there” years ago.)  I then added a deer will slip into the woods as soon as it sees you, so you only have a moment to see it, before it is gone. That isn’t a lie either.

To the boys it may have sounded like I was saying a deer had been there in the present tense, and that the deer swiftly vanished in the present tense, but I didn’t actually say that. (Obviously I have been studying politicians too much.)

My deception did have the effect of making the boys become quieter. They were disappointed about missing the sight of a deer, and more somber, as we approached the dam. I told them to walk up the slope slowly and quietly, and to only poke their heads gradually over the top of the rise, and then demonstrated by holding my hands flat, like the brim of a hat, up by my forehead, and then gradually lowering my hands to my nose, like I was looking over the top of a fence, and then owlishly looking left and right.

My expression must have been too exaggerated, for both of the boys nearly fell down laughing.  Then they proceeded to exaggerate their stealth, by crawling up the slope like a couple of Apache approaching an encampment of the US Cavalry.  I didn’t mind. At least they were quiet.

Then we were unexpectedly rewarded. The boys had been so noisy that I didn’t think a creature would be in sight, and at first the waters looked still and deserted.  I was trying to think of some way to make the effort seem worthwhile, and was quietly saying, in an ominous tone of voice, that it might be a sign of a bad winter that the ducks were heading south without stopping this year. (I figured saying this might make seeing nothing more interesting.) However even as I spoke I saw a motion on the shore of a small peninsula that juts out into the middle of the reservoir. I pointed towards the ripples expanding from the that shore, and then we watched a mother otter and her two nearly-grown young swim out and away from us. They kept lifting their heads like periscopes to see us better, and then diving: Long, sleek and shiny.

The boys thought it was interesting, but their attitudes were matter-of-fact. They had no idea how special the event was. I didn’t mind. At least they had seen that it pays to be quiet when exploring the woods and fields and shores, and that is not easy to teach. In fact that behavior is nearly impossible to teach,  because even when you manage to keeps kids relatively quiet for a relatively long period of time (like 45 seconds) you usually see nothing, and therefore cannot prove silence is worth it. This time we had proof, and that seemed like a gift to me.

I guess it goes to show me: Maybe the side I want to win doesn’t always win elections, but I can still occasionally win in other areas of life.

But now I must endure five tedious hours of “adult education”, ordered by a bureaucracy that wouldn’t know an otter if it bit them. So I don’t always win, either.

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(Photo credit:  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f3/RiverOtterSwimmingOregonZoo.jpg )