LOCAL VIEW –Northern March Madness–

We hear rumors from the south
Of warm winds in Georgia pines
But we keep our skeptic chins
Down in our scarves,
For we’re hardened by the north
And the way that winter whines
As with Jolly Roger grins
His saber carves.

Our spirit starves
As their rhododendrons bloom.
As they frolic in the sun
We trudge the gloom.
As they rhapsodize and gush
We wade the slush.
Don’t speak to me
Of springtime glee.

Where down south ball players practice
Way up north we just do taxes
With our smiles like battle axes.
Where they sunbathe, our hard fact is
We have plum run out of gladness
And know differing March madness.

If you look at the map below you can see how the warm surge of springtime rushing up the east coast of the USA runs into a sort of wall, and fails to make it into New England. I can’t tell you how typical, and how annoying, this is. Notice the innocuous, little low just south of Nova Scotia, supplying just enough kick-back to keep cold ocean air flowing in from the east.

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What this means is that instead of warm winds from the south, and balmy temperatures that make even crabby people smile, we get temperatures just above or just below freezing. (On the occasions when we do get a southerly blast it is probable it will be swiftly followed by a front and icy northern winds.)

About the only good thing is the fog, which tends to “eat” the snow. I wrote about why it happens in an old post which has been surprisingly popular over the years, especially in March.

https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2013/02/02/why-fog-hates-the-snow/

The exception to this rule is when temperatures hover right at freezing, like they have here the past few days. Then the snow doesn’t seem to melt fast; rather it just turns to slush. The world seems particularly unappealing, and I see no children in the playground when I pick up kindergartners.

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The scenery, as I drive, isn’t at all that inspiring,

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And our own Childcare playground holds little attraction, as it is basically reduced to slush.

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To top it off, my muscles all ache due to the low pressure, and I have a cold, and I could go on and on about all my reasons to feel very different from a gamboling lamb in green, spring pastures.

By the times the older kids got off the school-bus yesterday afternoon I was working on my third degree of sainthood, and then all the boys seemed to be in especially rebellious moods. Only two wanted to go on the scheduled hike, and the rest shoved their hands in their pockets and slouched with sharp shoulders.  They needed only cigarettes dangling from their lips to look like a bunch of bookies. (To be honest, they looked like I felt, which I suppose demonstrates I was only outwardly a saint, and inwardly was a bookie.) I decided to just let them slouch, if that was their desire, and took two for a short hike, and then, as I returned, a slushy snowball whizzed dangerously close to my head.

In the manner of a true saint I patiently explained how snowball fights were against rule #291B,  and then turned to attend to a smaller child, when, Ker-POW!   A slushball hit me squarely in the forehead.

I thought about remaining a saint, and decided against it. Instead I told the boys they had better run, because rule #291B has a sub-clause, 15P, which allows staff to pelt little kids with slushballs, if the staff has a just cause, and getting hit on the forehead is a just cause.

Mind you, I confess there is a schoolmarm who sits invisibly  on my shoulder and advises against rioting. Also I did look over that shoulder to make sure my wife wasn’t watching. Lastly, I am well aware that there is no such thing as an orderly snowball fight, and that any attempts to moderate the fray will be about as successful as they are in professional hockey; sooner or later the fun escalates to a full-fledged fight. In the end I ignored all that stuff, and just did my best to paste youngsters with snowballs in the snoot.

Did they enjoy it? Man Oh man, did they ever! There were only two episodes of tears, (which isn’t half bad, looking back over the years), and in both cases the boys didn’t retire to the sanctuary of the “little kids” (who were watched by the staff further up the hill), but rather soon rejoined the chaos with their tears forgotten.

The odds were twelve to one against me, (after three girls joined the battle because it looked like such fun), and I confess to being mortally wounded on a number of occasions. However I have taken good care of my throwing arm this winter, (after destroying it a couple years back), and I was surprised how much of my old skill returned, once I was properly warmed up. I remembered some of the old tricks, such as lobbing a first snowball in a high arc, and then, while they are still looking up at it waiting for it to come down, throwing a second low-ball in a straight line. (The trick is to have both snowballs arrive at the same moment.)

I remembered the technique of ricocheting a snowball off a tree-trunk, or breaking a snowball into shrapnel in the branches above a target, or the strategy of pretending to ignore someone, and then throwing when they are not looking, or simply looking left and throwing right. I needed all my tricks, outnumbered as I was, with stealthy children creeping up from all sides. When they did nail me, I let loose howls of agony, which they greatly appreciated. When I charged them in feigned retaliatory rage, they fled screaming in sheer delight.

When parents came the kids didn’t want to leave, but eventually it was over. Oddly, I was sweaty but energized. I’d felt old and tired before we began, but felt thirty years younger afterwards. Something that had been withering up in me was cut loose and ran free.

I had a strange sense I had seen this before, many times, and if fact in some ways had seen it every March.

I recalled a half century ago throwing a snowball at a young doctor who was walking home from the market with milk, and how surprised I was that it turned out he had an excellent arm, and could make and throw snowballs at a rate of what seemed like two per second.

I remembered my Dad telling me of an April when the students at MIT were going crazy under the pressure of cramming for exams before Easter break, when there was a late, heavy fall of sticky snow.  Being engineers, they decided to build a wall, and a good place for the wall seemed like across Memorial Drive. (In 1938 there was a far greater lull in the traffic between the morning and evening rush-hour).

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Of course such a fine structure needed to be defended, and when the police arrived they were pelted with snowballs. The police of that time didn’t resort to teargas, and instead replied with snowballs, and apparently were better at battling than the students, who were slowly driven back to their dorms, throwing their final snowballs from upstairs windows. There were no arrests, and afterwards everyone felt wonderfully refreshed.

It is March Madness, and gives the schoolmarm perched on my shoulder something to ponder.

Not all that seems war-like is evil.
Burst free from the landscapes of gray.
Go wild with Dame Springtime and she will
Paint scarlets like dawn breaking day.

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SNOWS IN TROPICAL ZIMBABWE, AFRICA

This caught my interest because I have been watching the southern hemisphere to see if they have any signs of the meridienal  meridional flow that afflicted the northern hemisphere during our most recent winter.

First, I should say it is early in their winter. June 1 in the southern hemisphere is the equivalent of December 1 in the northern hemisphere. Second, I should state we are talking about a part of Africa north of the Tropic of Capricorn, which is like talking about land south of the Tropic of Cancer in the northern hemisphere.

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In other words, we are talking about snows south of Florida, similar to the snows by Mexico City or in Vietnam or Saudi Arabia,  last winter.

To be a bit more specific , we are talking about Zimbabwe.

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Now, when you first hear reports of a foot of snow in the land of elephants and giraffes and rhino, the first thing that crosses your skeptic mind is that it must be one of those internet hoaxes. And perhaps cynicism is increased because Zimbabwe is currently a warped place, home of the hundred-trillion dollar bill.

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Now, compared to a hundred trillion, two hundred thousand is next to nothing. As a comparison, it is like comparing a hundred dollar bill to a tiny coin worth a fifty-thousandth of a penny. Therefore, even if you have a load of two-hundred-thousand bills, it may be what you send a child to the market with, to buy a loaf of bread.

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(This is what you get, when you print money you don’t have. This is what the USA is headed for, though the Teacher’s Union thinks it has a secure pension by supporting fools who print money they don’t have.) (Their entire pension will be worth a single bill in the above little boy’s arms.)

(Zimbabwe was once the breadbasket of Africa, but was ruled by a white minority. Now it faces starvation, due to political correctness. Rather than a white minority it is ruled by a black despot. Thanks a lot, all you do-gooder outsiders.)

(I could launch off into a long rave at this point, but let it suffice to say that I am highly skeptical of any news from Zimbabwe.  Gosh, “news from Zimbabwe” is nearly as ridiculous as the bogus prattling from “The New York Times!”)

However I was alerted to the fact the news of snow in Zimbabwe might be real when I heard that the Zimbabwe government said it was a hoax. Sad to say, what some governments say is, isn’t, and what they say isn’t, is.

Also the web has become so all-pervasive that even in fourth-world situations people “tweet” and “Facebook.” Images began to appear on the web, just as they did from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait last January. (Even the most strict government censorship hasn’t yet stopped the posting of images of local landscapes.)

Now, in the tropics so-called “snow” is rarely the fluffy stuff we know in the north. In fact it is usually hail. However a tropical thunderstorm’s hail is common enough to attract little notice, and usually is melted away in an hour or two. What attracts notice, and is called “snow”, is more like we would call “sleet”,  and usually falls in a narrow band associated with a thunderstorm, (a quarter mile wide or so). In Zimbabwe the band was miles across, and, as was the case in Kuwait last winter, had not been seen before in the living memory of the oldest resident. It was what Alarmists like to call “unprecedented.”

Out at the edge of the band we see tweets of people snapping pictures with cell phone of slightly whitened patches of ground. Zim 2 snow4Then, as we move towards the middle of the band, the accumulation gets thick enough to scoop up handfuls. It was thick enough to remove some leaves from some trees.

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Towards the middle of the band the snow-sleet-hail was a foot thick, and travel was difficult, even as it all melted to slush in the tropical heat.

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Trees were stripped of leaves, rabbits died in the open, as did birds, and the farmers faced hardship that was real. The government, rather than helping, accused farmers of a Facebook fraud.

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I may be reading too much into the above picture, but judging from the faces of the women, I would not like to be in the shoes of the Zimbabwe government. AK-47’s can intimidate a people only so far, and then bullying runs out of gas. (As an aside I should note that the government was alarmed enough by discontent in this area (southern Zimbabwe) to allocate several million (real American, not Zimbabwean,) dollars to string electricity to this area, but all the money went to the politically correct, and not a cent to stringing wires.)

I may be reading too much into my world view, but I think the politically correct are in the wrong shoes. It is not just in the USA that the (slightly) different Donald Trump is shaking the foundations of political correctness. Far away, in ancient Persia, the home of the modern Islamic Revolution, the government’s politically-correct secret police are reporting that over a million people are involved in an illegal activity punishable by death, called “converting-to-Christianity”.

I may be reading too much into climate science, but increasing numbers are converting to skepticism, even if it is politically incorrect. A foot of sleet in Zimbabwe doesn’t help matters, even if it is merely a meridienal meridional pattern.

I may be reading too much into human nature, but I feel you can fool some of the general public some of the time, and you can fool the politically correct all of the time, but you cannot fool all of humanity all of the time.

LOCAL VIEW —Not A Peep—

The frogs have gone silent. Spring is on hold
As the forest reverts to wraps of white.
The whining child complains he is cold
Despite the high sunshine’s dazzling light.

How fickle is hope. A weather-vane’s swing
From warm south to cold north invalidates
The misty-eyed vows made when hope was king.
Dethroned, he slinks to the shadows and waits.

Who will believe him, next time he strides forth?
Has he no shame? No sense of remorse?
And will I ever learn, or bet on the horse
That threw me? It is par for the course
That the whining child is soon seen heading
For the hills, to go joyously sledding.

There are many reasons the workers at my Farm-childcare are fed up with winter, and this is only one of them: (Or actually over 50).

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The spring peepers were singing for only a single day last week, and then the cold came charging back to shut them up. On Monday morning the drive to work crossed a dust of snow swirling on the frozen pavement. We were hoping the dusting would be only a dusting.

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The weekend’s howling winds had flattened the basketball hoops.

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And then it just snowed and snowed, until we had more than we got all winter, and pulling into work next day looked like this:

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About the only consolation was that, in December, it would have been pitch dark at 6:15 AM.

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We had to take things out that had been put away until next winter.

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Some children got more exercise than others.

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But the sun is as high as it is on Labor Day, and the snow can’t stay long.

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A great project will never be completed, as the shell-shocked grass gets back to greening.

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We had two successive mornings with temperatures down to 13 degrees (-10.6 Celsius) and nothing looked eager to bud out, however I noticed something, looking at the trees.

AS13 IMG_2411The lichen on the trunks of the trees had changed from an ashen gray to a very light pistachio green. I thought the kids might be interested in this, and told them to gather around, and explained a little about how lichen is actually two lives living together, a fungus and an algae.

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I went on to explain how lichen can live in the frozen north, is completely untroubled by frost, and grows as soon as it gets above freezing. I explained moss also is quick to respond to the slightest warmth.

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I can find this sort of stuff very engrossing, but when I looked up, expecting to see small faces filled with wonder, I saw my class was like April snow, and had faded fast.

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Fortunately my wife didn’t see this interlude. She would have reminded me I’m suppose to keep my eyes on the children, not on the lichen.

Local View —Sap suckers—

If you linked to this post to learn about the woodpecker called a sapsucker, you can move on, because this post is about humans thirsting for the light after winter darkness, with that light seeming as vital to human survival as sap is to the buds of trees.

I am feeling elated about seeing another spring, mostly because I was downright maudlin in the autumn, and basically figured I’d be pushing up daisies by now. One of the benefits of being prone towards hypochondria is how darn good you feel when you don’t die.

One of the things I did last fall was to plant a mess of bulbs all over the place, thinking it was sweet of me to plant flowers I might never see, and that maybe I’d be fondly recalled when they came up and bloomed in unexpected places in the spring. In some cases I think it is the voles that are fond of me, as they got a free lunch, but here and there I can see a few starting to appear.  I’m glad to be here to see them.

We are not suppose to store up treasures here on earth, where moths can eat and rust can corrode, but rather we are advised to store up treasures in heaven. I’m not sure the tax collectors agree with that. They want us to sow so they can reap. At times I get fed up with them, for at times it seems doing the right thing is never a rewarding thing, here on earth. They have taxed my patience and taxed my philosophy, but I have seemed to come up with a bulletproof attitude in my old age. I know that, if I plant bulbs, the greedy will come to pick the flowers, but I also know where I have planted, and they don’t know about such things, for they don’t plant. They don’t know where to look. In many cases, by the time they register that flowers are blooming, and rush to pick them, the bloom is past its peak, and they wind up looking like ridiculous misers, hoarding withered flowers. I get my simple pleasures,  and they get to look like fools. I probably should pity them, but confess I do get a good laugh out of my way of looking at them, (even as they likely get a good laugh out of me).

In any case, considering I was not all that sure I’d be here, I’m getting a lot of joy from this spring.  It has occurred to me that a lot of the trees around here are my age, or even older, and this means I never planted them. I am the beneficiary of some one else, who I never knew, who planted them. In some cases it was a forgotten man, and in some cases it was a forgotten squirrel, or a wind I never knew blowing seeds through the air, but I do know it wasn’t me. I make sure to thank them.

I seem to be thanking a lot more than I used to, and am thankful even for the annoyance of this weather map and radar map:

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You can click these maps if you care to enlarge them, but they basically show a storm zipping up the coast of the USA, and giving us, on the first full day of spring, which happened to be a Monday and the start of a workweek, a picture like this:Spring Snow IMG_1976If you look at the picture you’ll notice signs that the driveway was hand-shoveled. I did it, which is pretty good for an old guy who thought he might be pushing up daisies by now. I just didn’t want the awful noise of the snow-blower, for only four inches of fluff. It was a joy to be out. When the drive was half done I mentioned, to an employee at the childcare, that I didn’t want to hog all the pleasure, and would trade jobs if she wanted to escape the kids and just enjoy the silence and beautifully white world. She jumped at the chance. It was a beautiful, brief time of whirling white.

At first the kids, who tend to only be half-wake when they arrive, only wanted to hear stories, or play with dolls or blocks, but soon they wanted out, and after the usual battle to dress them all, the silence outside was broken.

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However so high is the sun that by a little after lunch time the snow was shrinking, and the engineering of snowmen was downsized, because resources were shrinking and it was obvious they wouldn’t last long.

Sap 2 IMG_2068And so penetrating and brilliant was the sunlight that by afternoon the snow was completely gone by the south-facing wall, where the boys played with trucks (allowing us to clean the indoors before closing).Sap 3 IMG_2076

Of course the trees felt the sun, and the maple sap began flowing like gangbusters. My son, who has tapped 20 trees, can’t keep up, and now has 90 more gallons collected than he’s managed to boil on the back  porch.Sap 4 IMG_2089

I know how much work is involved, and my ambition has dwindled over the years, until now I only have a single tap, for the entertainment of the children at the Childcare. It never fails to amaze them how swiftly the sap comes dribbling from the tree, when you drill the hole, and they line up to take turns simply watching the drops tap the bottom of the bucket.Sap 5 IMG_2097

A lot of boiling is involved to make the syrup or candy. This late in the season it takes 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup, and a gallon of syrup only makes around three pounds of candy. The older kids were telling the younger kids how good the candy was, remembering from last year, but they had forgotten how long it took to boil all the water away. They wanted immediate gratification, so I told them we could skip the bother of boiling, and even could skip the bucket, and they could just drink the drops as they came out of the tree. Even though you can barely taste the sugar, the kids were amazingly enthusiastic, and lined up to take turns, and wanted “seconds” and “thirds”. Sap 7 IMG_2105Sap 6 IMG_2102

Even though I’ve seen all this before, I was strangely thirsty to see it again, because for some odd reason I seem to either be seeing it for the first time, or for the first time in fifty years.

How is it people forget how they craved
The spring when young; the way they sniffed sunlight
Like they’d gone prehistoric, preferring caved
Corners of south-facing cliffs to the bright
Nesting of their electric living-rooms,
And ran their eyes over greening tree tops
Like fingers through hair. Reborn from the tombs
Of midwinter gloom their eyes sought snowdrops
In dead garden leaves, with the sun so intense
Even the dead leaves made eyes squint happy,
And even without flowers one sniffed incense,
And even without poems one was sappy
As the wanted light filled ones very veins.
I cannot forget it, while this pulse remains.

LOCAL VIEW –FIRST SNOWFALL–

I had plans to finish up some work on the clapboards at the end of my 250 year old house today, but awoke to temperatures of 23° (-5° Celsius) and frozen slush coating everything. I was pretty grouchy. October 18 is too darn early for snow. However the sun was brilliant on the horizon, and there wasn’t a breath of wind.First Snow 5 IMG_0760

It is hard to remain grouchy when it is so gorgeous out, but I tried my best. If I am to achieve my goal of becoming a cantankerous anachronism, it will require hard work and practice. So I put on my sourest expression and looked for things to gripe about.  I noticed my wife had left my granddaughter’s baby carriage had out, and it was all soggy with snow.   First Snow 2 IMG_0755Also the phlox flowers in the garden were frozen.First Snow 1 IMG_0753 Furthermore, the above photograph was suppose to be artistic, with the snowy car in the background, but it only reminded me I have to trim that yew. Also rake the leaves, and it’ll be harder with them wet.

Even as I was grouching to myself about that the leaves began falling. There wasn’t a breath of wind, but sometimes they are merely frozen to the twigs, so that the first beams of sun melts them free, even in a complete calm. In fact one leaf, as it falls, can jar others free, and a slowly developing slow motion avalanche of color crisply slides down the side of the tree. Formerly I’d sigh, and wax poetic, but as a practicing grouch I now grumble about how all the leaves are covering my firewood and keeping it from properly drying. The heap of firewood is to the right of the road, in this picture.First Snow 4 IMG_0756 You can see all those messy leaves all over the road. It’s enough to make you roll your eyes to heaven.First Snow 3 IMG_0758

Oh well. I figure Sunday’s suppose to be a day of rest, anyway. I’ll get back to practicing my grouchy expression first thing on Monday morning.