LOCAL VIEW –Hurricane Heights (and heat)–

I have seen summers in these hills when we never make it above 90°F: Gray, rainy summers where we were hard pressed to ever make it above 80°F,  when east winds off the cold Gulf of Maine could even keep temperatures below 60°F. Such summers always left me feeling cheated, for I grew up down on the flatland’s west of Boston where it was far warmer. A true heatwave of three days topping 90° is rare in these hills, and therefore I was pleasantly surprised to see this forecast for the start of July:

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I love hot weather, even though I don’t get to kick back and watch the corn grow as much as I’d like.  Perhaps it just reminds me of being young and spoiled. I can recall laying on my back on a hot day as a boy, holding a Popsicle up in the air and letting it melt drop by drop into my mouth,  and feeling perfectly content. Or, perhaps there was a sort of unrest, but it was the unrest of peace, of listening to a symphony.  There was no to-do list.

I’ve had some heart-to-heart talks with God recently about whether it might not be wise to spoil me in that manner again. How is it I am not worth spoiling, now? Certainly I am as perishable, if not more so.  Yet now, if I tried out laying on my back and letting a Popsicle drip into my mouth, I’d get “the look” from my wife. When I try to watch the corn grow, I see the weeds grow instead. Rather than relaxed, summer becomes hurry-hurry, worry-worry, scurry-scurry.

The ironic aspect to the frenetic pace of running a farm-childcare is that I, in some unspoken ways, seek to spoil the kids. I want them to catch what I caught from being spoiled by my own Depression-era parents, who experienced too much poverty and toil and war, and wanted a better life for me. Therefore I fight my losing battle with weeds so they might munch edible-podded peas at their leisure, and teach them the old maxim, “Plant peas on Patriot’s Day (April 19) and pick ’em on Independence Day (July 4).”

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And I struggle with cords and pumps and chemicals and filters, because there’s nothing like splashing in a pool to make a heat-wave bearable. (Our local ponds are OK, as long as you don’t mind leeches.)

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And then there’s the exasperation of fishing, of teaching how to put a worm on, and take a fish off, a hook; of tangle after tangle after tangle after tangle; of casting that is flailing and shoots hooks into shrubbery or another child’s hair or puts my life in danger, all for the dubious honor of seeing a child catch a first fish that isn’t virtual.

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And then there’s the modern, liberated, young suffragettes. Back in my day, girls didn’t even want to go fishing, and thought fish and worms were icky, and they certainly didn’t gross out their guide by kissing fish.

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Kiss frogs? Maybe, because a frog might turn into a prince. But I don’t want to see what sort of prince a fish turns into, and sure as heck don’t want him hanging around young girls at my Childcare.

But I digress. The point I was making was that all sorts of effort goes into making an idyll, all sorts of hurry-hurry, worry-worry, scurry-scurry, all sorts of exasperation and irritation….and then all is redeemed. A light descends and softens a child’s eyes, and just the way they look around at God’s green creation tells me that they “get it”, and that I have successfully passed the baton I received from Depression-era parents on to a new generation.

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The mistake people (including myself) seem to make is to visualize the descent of the Light as being conditional. After all, the Depression-era was a brutal time, yet people who went through it seemed to grasp that Light could be found in small things, even in simply sitting, whereas Baby-Boomers who were spared the brutality and were pampered strangely knew thirst and discontent. The attempt to exclude brutality at times led to exclusiveness, to a sort of gated-community of “the elite” which, rather than an ivory tower, became a vacuum, devoid of the very air that hearts need most.

To me the escape from this conditional exclusiveness seems to be to cultivate the attitude of a little child: Children accept the cards as dealt, while the grown-ups attempt to bully and bribe the dealer. It is the grown-ups who scramble to come up with four hundred dollars a month to pay for an air conditioner. For a child, when it’s hot, it’s hot, and when it’s not, it’s not.

I love the warm mornings, (all too few
This far north), when I can sit on the stoop
And watch the dawn grow last webbed drops of dew
Before the day bakes, and watch last bats loop
And dart, and hear first birds sing, and not put
On a shirt.
                       It’s like I’m a boy again,
Though I’ll confess I wince walking barefoot
Now.
                Once I lost shoes in June, and then, when
I looked again for those shoes, it was fall
And they didn’t fit. I could tread over
Sharp stones and barnacles, and I recall
Broken glass didn’t phase me.
                                                           Now clover
Is what my feet prefer to tread upon,
But still I love the feel of summer dawn. 

One reason I was able to be content as a child was the sense the Depression-era grown-ups were taking care of things. True, there would be occasional shadows, times I intuitively sensed all was not well,  but for the most part I was blissfully ignorant about things such as divorce, mother’s-little-helper pills, and the Vietcong. I was nearly eleven before the assassination of John Kennedy first deeply shook my faith. Before then I had a sort of heedless and thoughtless faith.

Now my faith is more thought-out. Now I am the Baby-Boom-era grown-up, taking care of things. It doesn’t matter how inadequate I feel; it is my turn to be the elder. My faith allows me to  sit back and enjoy warmth that is rare in northern lands, but my contentment is not complete, for I am always on the lookout for trouble. When it’s hot I keep peering west for the purple skies of thunderstorms, and to the high clouds, for hints of a hurricane.

Many of my ancestors were involved with trade and sailing ships, and were  forever scanning the skies. A hurricane could turn a fat profit into a total loss, and therefore they were always on the lookout for “hurricane heights.”

What were “hurricane heights”? I can’t say. A lot of that wisdom was lost with the last captain of the last coastal schooner. All I can say is that they studied the sky in a way we cannot imagine. I know nothing of the nuances they knew, but do know they noticed high clouds don’t move the same direction low clouds move.

Modern meteorologists know about such differences through studying surface maps, which show the direction low clouds move, and comparing them with upper-air maps, which show the direction high clouds move. They have a huge advantage over the captains of coastal schooners, because they not only know how the high clouds are moving far to the west, and far to the east, but at times, when the sky is completely overcast, they know what high clouds are doing directly overhead, which the captains of schooners might not know.

But the captains of schooners had an advantage over modern meteorologists. When modern meteorologists blow a forecast they suffer embarrassment, yet seldom lose their jobs, but when the captains of schooners blew a forecast they lost their lives, or, if they crawled ashore, they had lost their cargo and therefore their livelihood.  Therefore what those old timers knew about high clouds involved an immediacy, urgency, and focus which modern meteorologists can’t imagine.

Also the captains of coastal schooners were not reading tickertape from a distant buoy or squinting at a satellite’s picture; they were right on the interface between sea and sky. They were right there, and there’s no buoy or satellite than can substitute for a man’s skin and hair. I often wonder if the most amazing discoveries concerning insights gleaned from the movements of high clouds were made by captains who died ten minutes later. Those sailing ships were not designed to handle hundred knot winds. Yet amazingly some captains survived hurricanes, in ships completely demasted yet controlled by a storm jib on a bowsprit. And when these crippled ships limped back to port their captains brought weather-data you do not learn in colleges, but can hear echoes of to this day, in taverns by the sea.

Me? I’m in awe of both the bygone oldsters and the modern meteorologists. What I know about “hurricane heights” is but crumbs a mouse gathers from a banquet. And what I gather is this:

Hot spells in New England tend to end with thunder, and also with a change in the movement of high clouds. When it was hot high clouds came from the southwest, but after the thunder they come from the northwest. Then it is delightfully cooler, with northwest winds. And upper air maps shows a “trof” (meteorologist spelling) crossing  New England. It is like a the dent a schoolgirl makes in a jump-rope, when lifting it up and down, and will be followed by the bump in the jump-rope, called an upper air  “ridge” (ordinary spelling).

As this upper air ridge approaches the refreshing northwest breezes die, and winds shift to the southwest, and people await the next summer hot spell. However worry-warts like me me get anxious, and start scanning the sunrise sky for hurricane heights.

Joe Bastardi called such ridges, “a ridge over troubled waters,” (a pun on an old Simon and Garfunkle song). Old schooner captains also worried when summer ridges past. They searched south for hurricanes. And true to form, as a hot ridge recently passed over New England, tropical storm Chris formed just off the Carolina coast, to the south.

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Such a hurricane shouldn’t trouble me, for they nearly always are steered out to sea by the upper-air “trof” following the upper-air “ridge”. Maybe such storms only concerned the captains of coastal schooners, because they too went “out to sea”, right where the hurricanes went,  and then those captains confronted conditions lubbers can’t imagine. (There was no Cape Cod Canal, and in order for New York City to build its tenements Maine lumber had to be shipped far “out to sea” to get around Cape Cod.)

Even people who stay ashore on the coast face high surf and rip tides, as such hurricanes go “out to sea”. But my farm is inland, up in the hills. Barring an unimaginable earthquake, these hills aren’t going “out to sea” any time soon.  Why should I care?

It is because the upper atmosphere does not always behave like waves going up and down on a schoolgirl’s jump-rope. A school-girl’s jump-rope never breaks off a bump into a circle that gets bigger and bigger and becomes a hurricane, boring from the surface right up into the upper atmosphere.

Once such a circle appears on meteorological maps they become an entity that has a life of its own. Usually they are steered by the steering currents, but they are also an impediment to the flow, like a boulder in a river, and therefore they have an uncanny capacity to alter the steering current. They can even steer the steering current. They impede the steering current to such a degree that upper-air winds are deflected. With a hurricane in the way, rather than aiming northeast the steering currents may be deflected north, or even, on very rare occasions, northwest.

Meteorologists who are wiser than I describe this as a “positively-tilted trof” being replaced by a “negatively tilted trof”, with the result being that a hurricane that ordinarily would go out to sea curves north or, very rarely, northwest.

Even when the hurricanes come north they tend to weaken over the cold shelf waters, and to suck dry air in from land, and have the most intense winds by the “eye-wall” collapse. Also they tend to curve away northeast at the end, which keeps the strongest winds east of my hills. Thus all the storms of my lifetime have been breezy and warm summer rains,  with some branches and rotted trees falling (and perhaps knocking the power out for a few hours). The next day’s news has pictures of surf and banged-up boats down on Cape Cod and in Buzzard’s Bay, and there can be flooding due to torrential rains, but the news  is never as bad as I know it could have been. In a sense I’ve spent a lifetime scanning the skies for hurricane heights I’ve never seen.

And what is this worst case scenario I envision? It is a hurricane that doesn’t dawdle over a colder shelf waters, but rather accelerates up the coast, cutting northwest as it plows inland, putting my hills to the east of the eye-wall. The blow-down of trees would be unimaginable to people now alive.

Actually I can’t say such a storm has never occurred in my lifetime, for Hurricane Carol took that track when I was one year old. I don’t remember it, but do recall being shown the fallen trees in the woods as a boy. They were trunks all laying the same way, on scrubby hillsides, and as we hiked I heard my Dad talk with other grown-ups about the older, mossier trunks being from an earlier hurricane (1938), and my grandfather commenting one summer was wetter (I can’t recall which summer) and that meant one hurricane uprooted trees and the other hurricane snapped them off.

To my boyish mind  it seemed such hurricanes must happen fairly often, but here it is 64 years later and we haven’t seen anything like them since. The scrubby hillside is now reforested with 64-year-old trees, and the fallen trunks have been melted down by rot and are mere green stripes of moss on the forest floor, with peculiar piles of stones at the ends, showing where the ripped-up bottoms once thrust tangles of earth and stones and writhing roots, and my grandfather said I should look for exposed arrowheads. Where the Depression-era elders saw two such storms in sixteen years we have been spared, but perhaps, just as the tree trunks have faded, so has the public’s memory of what can happen.

The sensationalist media is so eager to hurry on to the next headline it seems to have amnesia, like a person with dementia, only a person with dementia at least has some long-term-recall, even when they can’t remember where they put their car keys. The media is worse, with a forgetfulness more like a person who has smoked way, way too much marijuana, who cannot even remeber what car keys are for.

The media doesn’t even seem to fact-check any more, crowing a single day of hundred degrees is a big deal the Great Plains, where it once was over 110°F, day after day after day after burning day, during the nigh-intolerable Dust Bowl summer of 1936. Then, on July 13, 1954, it touched 120°F in Kansas, there were 100 degree temperatures noted in places from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and when you took all the high temperatures from all the station across the USA, north and south and east and west, the average was 95°F. (See post at realclimatescience.com) .

When the media ignores this striking past to sensationalize the more modest present, they not only make people less respectful towards what our forebears endured, but also make people unaware of what might happen again, (because it happened before). I have concluded that, in a strange way, the media generates a discontent where people once knew contentment despite hard times, and fosters a foolishness where people once were wise.

I refuse to be that way, so I sit and scan the summer’s warm dawn skies for hurricane heights, seeking high scarlet feathers and dappled intricacies from the southeast, at peace, but ever watchful.

But still I love the feel of summer dawn
Though I know her ways. She can’t disguise her
Devilish tricks. Her smiling lips won’t stay upon
My smile. She’ll leave. I’m older, wiser,
But still her kisses are reminding me of
A place I hope to return, after death:
The land before birth; a landscape of Love;
A time without time that takes away your breath.
Most have amnesia, and forget the breast
That fed them, and the peace before that time.
The work-a-day world puts all to the test
Like hamsters in wheels, or lemmings that climb
In a terrible rush to get to the top,
When the way to be wise is to stop.

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A WRITTEN RAVE DELETED

I have been working on a post I titled “Sick Of being Polite”. Scribbling my feelings was very gratifying, but I hesitated to publish what I produced, because it did not seem to involve my highest instincts. Then the news I heard on my radio confirmed that highest instincts were not involved.

The news involved Maxine Waters, who was also sick of being polite. At a political rally she stated, (regarding Trump’s staff and those who work for immigration law enforcement),  “If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them! And you tell them that they are not welcome, anymore, anywhere.”

This smells like the start of a Civil War. Why? Because the instinctive response is to hit back, and to tell Maxine Waters she is not welcome, anymore, anywhere.

She has inspired people to harass Trump’s staff when they go out to eat with their family. So the the response is to harass Maxine when she goes out to eat. She has inspired people to leave dead cats on the doorsteps of those who work for immigration law enforcement. So the response is to leave a dead cat on her doorstep.

Working in Childcare as I do, I see a lot of such tit-for-tat behavior among four-year-old’s, and am called upon to break up the fracases and make peace. Therefore it behooves me to behave like an adult when Maxine Waters (and her followers) behave like a four-year-old.

But it is not easy.

In the back of my mind a sweet song’s playing
Classical riffs like Mozart must have heard,
But out in the front donkeys are braying
Political guff that’s sounding absurd.
I prefer the music, but to hear it
You need to cease the ceaseless yammering
Of tripper-uppers. I loath and fear it
For it turns eloquence to stammering.
What a din they make! What a fit they have!
How are luteists to begin their strumming
When mobs interrupt? What fool’s-wit mobs have,
For, like tirading children tantruming,
They command music silence its song
While they never sing. It’s utterly wrong.

NOT LOCAL –LOCUSTS–

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My wife and I felt we needed a break from our routine, and wound up at a beautiful farmhouse in a small town, inland and away from all the traffic and hubbub of the coast of Maine.  The house was surrounded by tall black locust trees at the height of their bloom, and the perfume in the air was enchanting.  I felt we had escaped pettiness.

In the evening twilight I did a bit of lazy research about black locusts, as it is one of the most valuable types of lumber, if only you can find wood that hasn’t been drilled into Swiss cheese by a annoying beetle.  Not only is the wood one of the hardest, it also burns hotter than all other firewoods, nearly matching the BTU power of coal.  Americans felt the tree was so valuable they transplanted it beyond its natural range, perhaps greedily gloating over the future supply of excellent lumber they’d harvest,  but then around the year 1900 the beetles spread like a plague, and rather than prime lumber people had wormy and worthless wood, and trees that tended to snap off in strong winds and then send up thorny shoots from roots and stumps.  The tree became more of a weed than anything else.

On the bright side, black locust does stabilize unstable hillsides prone to erosion, and does fertilize the soil with nitrogen, but….there is also a not-so-bright side: Black locust is invasive, in landscapes that are naturally prairies.

Black locust seems one of those “if only” plants, a tree with great expectations, but a disillusioning  reality.  The blooms are so profuse and sweet they are a bee-keeper’s delight, and result in a rare and delicious honey, but…..(and there is that word “but” again)…it only blooms for ten days.

If only. If only you could line up all the positives without all the negatives you could have tall trees producing honey in the spring and firewood in the fall, excellent lumber, and even the tree’s pods can produce food if the poison is removed…..but….the negative is part of life, on this sad planet, and you wind up with a thorny, runty invasive species with wormy wood. The only way to get any good involves lots of hard work….but….I’m on vacation.  Who needs hard work on a vacation?

It is very nice that I get to see black locust at their best, as tall trees untroubled by beetles, because the beetles don’t like the extreme cold of Maine’s winters (or the high mountains of Black Locust’s original range.)  I can breathe deeply of the perfume filling the twilight, because I lucked into the brief period when they are in full bloom. And lastly, I can just lazily browse my way through the internet, rambling without ever working (because research is not work, but rather is fun, for me).

Because this tall, beautiful tree can become a scrubby invasive species out on the prairie, it occurred to me that locusts can be like locusts of the grasshopper sort. If you want to raise wheat on the treeless prairie, you want neither sort of locust, and have to go through all the work of using insecticides or herbicides,  and facing all the environmental hazards of using chemicals,  and who wants to contemplate a problem as complicated as that, when goofing off on vacation?

Instead I decided to wander off into the topic of what sort of locust John the Baptist ate, when he was out in the wilderness, subsisting on “locusts and honey”.  Was he eating the pods of a locust tree? Or was he eating grasshoppers?  Surely, when you go back to the original Greek the two words are not the same.

Somewhat amazingly, it turns out the two words are similar even in the original Greek. The Greek word “akris” means “grasshopper” and the Greek word “enkris” means “honey cake”. And wouldn’t you just know it? This similarity got a fuss going between vegans and non-vegans, way back in the early days of Christianity.

Apparently Saint James was vegan, and at some point a certain sect insisted that all Christians had to be vegan, which created a hubbub, because other Christians stated Christians were freed from dietary restrictions and could even eat pork.

Well, well, well!  The more things change the more they stay the same.  But I will say this: One thing I am not about to do, when on vacation, is enter the squabble between vegans and non-vegans. That sounds too much like work, to me.

In running a Childcare I spend far too much time breaking up fights. Small children can rage and declare war over absurd things, such as the ownership of a certain stick, in a forest holding hundreds and hundreds of sticks.  And to be quite honest, adults aren’t all that  different, with their devious power-struggles involving elaborately crafted and silly schisms. (It is not merely in “Gulliver’s Travels” that people war over whether to open boiled eggs at the pointed side or the rounded side.)

Such nonsense is tiresome to the mortal soul.  Sometimes we need to take a break, to just walk away from all the silliness, and just fill our eyes with the vision of white blossoms billowing against a blue, blue sky, and fill our lungs with the ambrosia of black locust perfume.

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Like a soul walking up and out of hell
I once waltzed away, last day of school,
From ostracism, from a principle
Who was mindless, from teachers who were cruel,
From wicked classmates prone to snickering
At my tears, and entered into landscapes
That knew mercy, with night skies flickering
With God’s lightning, and sunrises all escapes
From bullying routine. My barefooted skin
Felt dew between toes rather than hot shoes,
And rather than a sergeant’s discipline
My orders were to rest. I’d paid my dues
And wandered through green landscapes of healing,
Astounded at what Kindness is revealing.

 

LOCAL VIEW –Snarling Starling–

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A starling has nested in the outlet for the drier at our Childcare. It is able to do so because we only use the drier to dry snowsuits, and the snow is at long last gone. The children are fascinated by the process of building a nest, and now by the hoarse, creaky cries of the hidden chicks. I point out things the kids might miss, such as the fact the mother bird carries away a “dirty diaper” (fecal sack) to keep the nest clean, and also that starlings are related to myna birds, and part of their song includes noises they hear and copy. Few starlings live past age five, but a few can live over a decade, and the older they get the more elaborate their songs get, and the males with the most elaborate songs attract mates first, and have better success at breeding.

There may be a poem in that.

My mind can wander strange places, as I watch starlings, including landscapes I don’t tell the children about.

I have always had ambiguous feelings towards starlings. I blame my big sister, who had an uncanny ability to lay brutal guilt-trips, and my father, who could be brutal in his environmentalist zeal.

An example of my big sister’s power involved my butterfly collection. She did not approve of me killing beautiful bugs, but I persisted in collecting specimens, out of her view. However I could never catch a tiger swallowtail, despite hunting them with my net for several boyhood summers. (This is quite unlike my middle-son, who to my amazement would walk up to a tiger swallowtail on a flower, as a toddler, and gently cup it in his hands, and then open his hands to observe it briefly, before it winged away.) I had no such luck, as a boy. Perhaps the butterflies deduced my evil intent. I could spot a tiger swallowtail a hundred yards away, and then I’d creep up on the insect with agonizing slowness, raise my net, and it would always flit away. However, after countless failures, three summers later I at long last netted one, and walked into the house expecting some sort of ticker tape parade.  I proudly placed my catch on the kitchen table, in a jar that had holes in the lid. My sister arrived at an instantaneous decision. Without hesitating she took the jar to the front porch, removed the lid, and set my captive free. Then her blue eyes coldly  looked down her long nose at me, and she just dared me to object.

I confess I wanted to break her nose, but she was a foot taller and I knew that I’d likely lose any brawl I began.  Also she was much smarter, because she was four years older, so I knew I’d lose any argument. An example of this follows:

She liked cats, and had a tuxedo cat named James Bond, but I liked birds, and was attempting to raise a featherless chimney swift chick that had fallen out of its nest and wound up in our fireplace. Everyone told me it was doomed to die, but I was on vacation and had few chores and empty hours to fill, and decided to dedicated that part of my boyhood summer to feeding the chick every time it cried. I named it “Squawk”, and fed it tiny balls of rolled up bread mixed with the yoke of an egg. To everyone’s astonishment, the chick didn’t die, and began to grow pin feathers. But then my sister’s stupid cat decided to get into the act. When I had Squawk out for a feeding, and went into the kitchen for egg yoke and bread, James Bond leaped up on the table and began lashing at the defenseless baby bird with his wicked claws. With a scream I attacked the cat, which fled to my sister, who held it in her arms, and both regarded me smugly. My sister was very disapproving when I used the worst word I knew in 1964 on her cat. (In case you’re interested, the word was “finky”.) Her blue eyes then looked down her long nose and she devastated me with a massive guilt trip. She said, “Its all your fault. You should have never left your bird where a cat could get at it.”

I then desperately attempted to nurse Squawk back to health, but the chick had a bad gash on the back of its head. It died two days later, liberated from pain on Independence Day. I had even sacrificed going to see fireworks to tend to my chick, and that is darn hard for a boy to do. But I did leave the chick to climb up a hemlock in the back yard to see if I could glimpse the fireworks I could hear thudding in the distance, and when I climbed back down and returned to Squawk, I saw he had died. I felt horrible guilt, and have never cared all that much for fireworks ever since.

It did seem puzzling to me that my sister had no pity for Squawk, and cared so much for James Bond, as my grandmother and father both loved birds and hated cats. What was even odder was that earlier she scarred my boyhood with a spectacular scene she made in the defense of a baby bird.

This earlier event occurred because my father had a great love of bluebirds. We never saw any, because an ice-storm had reduced the population, though they had been common in New England during my Dad’s boyhood. Ordinarily their reduced population would have slowly recovered, however their nesting sites were taken over by “invasive species”, especially English sparrows and starlings. Therefore, to help bluebirds, my father devised bird houses with entrances too small for starlings to enter. English sparrows were smaller and could enter, but when my father became aware an “illegal alien” had moved in, he’d go to the bird house and, because he had added a hinged trapdoor to the bottom of the birdhouse, he could abort the nesting,  by removing the nesting materials, or the eggs, or, if he was late, the baby chicks.

It was an occasion when he was late that my sister threw her fit.  Dad worked too hard at the hospital, but finally had a May evening to potter about the yard, and my sister and I were delighted to see him and to have the chance to tag along. Or we were delighted until he removed the peeping English sparrow chicks from the birdhouse. Apparently my sister didn’t mind that bluebirds were homeless. All she could see was that my father was going to abort defenseless chicks, and she flung herself at my father with all the passion of Pocahontas defending John Smith. “Nooo! Nooooooo!” she screamed, but he went right ahead and crushed the English sparrow chicks, for the sake of bluebirds that we never saw.

At that point I found myself slowly backing away. My sister was too short to look down her nose at Dad, but her blue eyes were baleful, and his identical blue eyes looked down an identical nose, and I suppressed a scream. I think I was gifted with a sense of prophesy, and could see that someday psychologists would make a lot of money off those two.

Not that therapy did the slightest bit of good. My father went right on rubbing my sister’s fur the wrong way, and my sister  went right on rubbing my father’s fur the wrong way. I could give humorous examples that happened when he was over eighty, but this post is suppose to be about starlings.

What I deduced, as a boy, was that I had best figure out things for myself, because both my father and sister were too busy with their own politics to be kind to me. And what I deduced was that starlings might not be unmitigated evil.

I deduced this because another “invasive species” my father sought to eradicate was the Japanese beetle. Some brainless liberal introduced them to the USA because “they are pretty.” However my father loved flower gardens and lush lawns, but Japanese Beetle grubs destroyed lawns, and destroyed his flowers, and therefore part of my boyhood involved crushing beetles the same way he crushed English sparrow chicks. I kept score, and one summer I killed over a thousand beetles on flowers, but I couldn’t help but notice I didn’t kill a single grub in the lawn. What could kill such grubs? It was a “eureka” moment when I realized the chief predator was starlings.

Starlings could be “good guys”.

This was a relief to me, for, if you delete the sight chance I might be 1/16th Native American, then I too was, and am,  an “invasive species”. So what if my family tree shows four ancestors on the Mayflower? Those Pilgrims were an “invasive species”,  and even if they have lived here four hundred years, my sister felt we still should be ashamed and feel as guilty as all get out. I liked Indians a lot, and actually wanted to quit school and go into the woods and “be an Indian”. I also felt pretty bad about how they were treated, and my sister even tells a tale of stopping at the door to my room, and peeking in, and seeing me on my knees praying that Indians be treated better. But I also knew that for the first two hundred years my ancestors were in New England the Indians spent a great deal of time planning and plotting genocide, and wanted to crush my ancestors like Japanese beetles.

At age eleven I was given understanding that put me way ahead of the curve. And I think my father and sister were also ahead of the curve, for they were debating the idea of “illegal aliens” nearly a half century before it became a world-wide issue. Only now are some starting to say what my father suffered for saying. Only now are some starting to say what my sister suffered for saying. But nobody listens to me.

And what do I say? Starlings can be good guys. And your worth is not determined by what you look like or where you come from, but rather by what you do.

Some brainless liberal introduced starlings to the USA because they wanted birds that appear in Shakespeare’s writing out their American window. Those 40 birds now number in the millions. I think that, if they admired Shakespeare so much, they instead should have attempted a sonnet.

Back and forth; back and forth; mother starling
Never stops. Shrill, her fledglings’ crying maws
Gape for more and more. But you, my darling,
Are seldom so demanding, and do pause
To weigh the greenness of the lush, swift spring.
Back and forth; what quick industry bird brains
Display, without wages, without thinking
Of going on strike like a man complaining
He needs vacations. But you, now winking,
Say nothing. Back and forth; does that bird
Ever sulk, and gripe fledglings aren’t thankful?
No. Absurd’s her way to end the day. I’ve heard
Her singing! What gives? I want a tankful
Of whatever she’s drinking. You, darling?
You watch the spring and watch me watch the starling.

LOCAL VIEW –Final April Foolishness–

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I suppose there was no reason April shouldn’t end as it began, with slush mixed in with the raindrops hitting the windshield between swiping wipers. May will be different. Temperatures are suppose to rise from 37°F (3°C) this morning to 81°F (27°C) Wednesday afternoon. We’ll whiplash from winter to summer with no spring.

No, that is an exaggeration. Hiking with the children at the Childcare there were signs of spring, though they were signs I associate more with the final days of March than with the final day of April. The moss was greening on the boulders by a brook in the woods.

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And a raspberry mist rode the gray twigs of the swamp maples. When you draw close you see it is minute flowers.

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I like to point out such details to the children. Often they are oblivious, and walk on absorbed with whatever fantasy they currently are engrossed by, but once in a while I’ll see a child screech to a halt, set back on their heels by the beauty they’re midst.

Beyond doubt this has been the coldest April I’ve seen in many a year, and there is a sort of egotism that wants to use words like “worst” and “unprecedented”. Sadly I cannot glorify in such vanity, for people such as Joe Bastardi (on his blog at the Weatherbell site), have the time to dig deeply, and inform me we are only in third place in the satellite era, for both 1983 and 1997 were colder. Nor can I use the chill to silence those doom-and-gloom Alarmists who constantly bleat about Global Warming, for despite the chill over North America the planet as a whole is slightly warmer than normal.

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Sometimes I just shed the tension that seems to walk hand in hand with sensationalism, wherein things must always be “best”, “worst” or “most” to deserve attention. Instead I drop the need to be champion. It feels comforting to just relax, and quietly say, “One more April is in the books.”

For in fact there is beauty to see in every April, whether they are hot or cool, and coolness has it’s good side. I can recall years when the heat had everything pass in a rush, with the daffodils blooming and withering almost before you could see they were there. And one of the saddest springs I remember saw all the trees in my boyhood neighborhood turned from reality to memory, because a heavy, wet snow fell after all the leaves were out, and entire trees were broken down. (May 9, 1977). It is not always good to have the leaves rush to unfurl.

*******

Another day is breaking.

Better to take the days as they come. A day can make a difference, for, though the temperature is again 37°F, today every bough is shining as a white sun crests the hills.

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And the daffodils, neither burned by frost nor shriveled by heat, are as perfect as they’d be from a florist’s refrigerator.

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And the invasive lesser celandine unfurls a happy mat where I once had a lawn, petals opening even as I watch.

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And even the unkempt grasses where I do have a lawn are shining.

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I made it! Made it! I made it to May!
And all wintry thinking is fading!
All grayness and gloom is ebbing away
Though the leaves are too small to start shading.
The glades are so full of bright sunshine they smile
And the woods are warmhearted and golden.
I want to go walking for mile after mile
And hear how the bird-songs embolden
My lips to start whistling brand new songs
And my eyes to start dancing with clouds.
Begone all you woes! Begone all you wrongs!
Begone all you Gothic, funeral shrouds
For I’m off to the woods with nothing to say
But I made it! I made it! I made it to May!

LOCAL VIEW –Unsprung Spring–(With Snowy Monday Morning Update)

Spring sprung like the squirrel’s black silhouette
Through the inked claws of naked branches
Against a slate sky overhead. It can’t get
Any colder in April. My spirit blanches
At the breeze, and the poor squirrel flees
My upturned face, though I mean it no harm.
It skitters tree to tree, and all my pleas
That it pause go ignored. I cannot charm
It, nor woo it with prayers. Where’s it going?
Why won’t it stay? Cold winds keep on blowing
And sleet only stops to start the snowing.
Sanity ducks, and my numbed hope’s knowing
A shivering song’s the best I have sung.
I’ll plod many more miles, before this spring’s sprung.

This is one of the coldest springs I can remember. I can remember an April back around 2006 or 2007 that started out bitterly cold and snowy, and was actually colder than the mild January we had that year, but it relented by the middle of the month. This year there is little sign the cold will be relenting.

Not that we don’t get our spells of brilliant sunshine, but it hasn’t fooled the trees. The buds are just barely starting to bulge a bit. However it does fool the children. They explode off the school bus at our Childcare full of an energy I equate with spring, for it is boundless, though they do bound a lot.

I suppose I could plant the peas, but the rototiller  has a fouled carburetor. Anyway, I have to clean up the tree damage caused by roaring winds, because March went out like a lion and April came in like a lion, and I’m not lying. The kids wanted me to leave the tree as a low budget playground toy, but it blocked an important path.

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The locals call this sort of leaning tree a “widow maker”, because they can do unpredictable things as you cut them down. Not that one has ever nailed me, but I have seen them swing or roll, and I cut with care. You need to notch the top and then cut from the underside, or else the slumping log pinches on the saw’s blade and you can’t remove it. This particular tree simply thudded down at the base, with the branches still hung up in other trees, so I was presented with a tree in the same situation, only slanting a little more steeply. I kept cutting and cutting, with sections thudding down and the tree becoming tilted more and more steeply, until the tree was vertical.  Then I cut a final chunk off, and the tree was dangling. Hmm. I cut logs off until what remained of the tree was at chest level, at which point the dangling section of tree didn’t seem likely to crush me, so I tugged at it and brought it down. Nor did I totally ruin the playground toy, for the children like rolling logs down the hill.

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While I had the saw out I cleaned up some birches that were weakened by the goats gnawing off bark a few years ago, and couldn’t withstand the past winter.

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I dragged the boughs over to the goats, who, at this point in an endless winter, appreciate any change in diet.

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Already the sun was dimming, and soon the view changed from April back to February.

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It turned out it was a good thing we’d cut wood, for a campfire was appreciated.

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It’s especially hard to get children to wear hats and gloves in April snows. It is as if they can feel the high sun even through clouds. (I can’t).

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In November such a snow can hang around for days, because the sun is so low, which is annoying if you haven’t finished raking the leaves. In April the high sun can melt such a snow in hours, which is also annoying, if you want an excuse to avoid raking the leaves you didn’t get around to raking in November.

April snows aren’t all that unusual this far north. The locals call them “poor man’s fertilizer” because some sort of reaction puts nitrogen from the air into the snow, and when the ground is unfrozen that nitrogen can penetrate down into the soil. But what was unusual this year was that the cold wouldn’t quit. Unfrozen parts of the reservoir skimmed over with fresh ice, and the children’s sand-pile reverted to “candle ice”.

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Dawns saw dustings of snow.

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Finally, last Friday, a warm surge from the south fought north, and the very edge of it made it to us, before the cold to the north, and the cold waters of the Atlantic, fought back with a back-door-cold-front, and with chilling winds from the northeast. It was over 80°F (27°C) in New York City on Friday, and nudged over 60°F (14°C) here. I made the children wear rain pants due to mud, but their coats were strewn all over the playground, and they relished running in short sleeves. But …..then yesterday (Saturday) saw a mild morning give way to a return to the cold,

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And now the Sunday morning radar map looks like this:

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That really does look like a February map. Oh well. I suppose if we are going to be miserable we might as well try to set a record, but I don’t think I’ll be putting on shorts and running in the Boston Marathon, tomorrow morning.

UPDATE; SUNDAY NIGHT

After a gray day with temperatures never above freezing, (very unusual for mid April), and a freezing drizzle glazing over everything, it has suddenly started snowing just as I was thinking of going to bed. A quick check of the radar shows this:

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The snow over Boston and Hartford is unexpected, as the rain-snow line was suppose to be further north. Also the blob of moisture came straight up from the south, so you’d think it would create rain or freezing rain. But it ran into such a wall of cold air it is creating snow. Let me check the map.

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The map also makes it look like we should be getting south or at least southeast winds, judging from the isobars. But we are getting “cross isobaric winds”, due to that big arctic high pressure over Hudson Bay.  We are getting northeast winds. You’d think there was a storm southeast of Cape Cod, rather than a storm due west, over the Great Lakes. This is nuts.

I’m glad I’m not a weathermen. They are only now moving the “winter weather advisories” south, and still have no mention of snow. Locally it is snowing to beat the band. My thermometer must be malfunctioning. It says it is 24°F (-4°C) out. Let me check nearby official sites.

Nearby it is 25°F in Ringe, New Hampshire. Even if it warms up, it looks like a messy Monday Morning. If it doesn’t warm up….

It seems even more unlikely I’ll be donning shorts and running in the Boston Marathon.

MONDAY MORNING UPDATE

Going Viral:

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Got out of bed and checked weather on cellphone:

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Hmm. More snow on Friday. But next Monday? Sunny and over sixty! Alleluia!

Well, I can dream, can’t I? But today is today. Trudge out to car:

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Arrive at work:

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Back roads are not suppose to be snow-covered in mid-April, but the snow fell during the night, when the sun could have no effect. As soon as the sun gets high in the sky it will penetrate the clouds and the roads will likely catch the rays and turn slushy and wet. Right now they are packed snow and very slippery. I think the road crews were caught off guard. Many trucks already had the plows removed from the fronts and the salters and sanders removed from the back. The roads were actually clearer in January.

Surprisingly, the weather is so absurdly bad people were cheerful, in a definitely ironic way. Hopefully the children haven’t put their snowsuits away, with our playground looking like this:

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Hopefully this snow will be swift to melt away, though it is amazingly sleety and dense. Shoveling two inches feels like hoisting ten. But as this snow lasts, covering all of New Hampshire and much of northern Massachusetts, it may cause an upward blip in the rather amazing snow-cover graph for North America. Ice-age, anyone?

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As a final note, though I know it will deeply disappoint many, I have decided against making an appearance in shorts in the Boston Marathon, today. I’d consider sled dogs, but it has turned to a cold rain down there.

Currently the snow doesn’t show on radar, but it is out there, fine like drizzle, and gusted by a nasty northeast wind. Thunder is heading up our way from down by Philadelphia. If it gets interesting, I may update again.

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LOCAL VIEW –Arctic April–

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers…

                                                        T.S. Eloit

April is a tantalizing month in New Hampshire, for it can hold the heat of summer and then see that warmth followed by snows. At times this leads to crushing disappointment, but I always disagreed with T.S.Eliot, who called April “the cruelest month”. Down deep I knew the “tantalizing” wasn’t like the Greek legend of Tantalus. It wouldn’t go on and on and never end.  After all, it has an expiration date of thirty days, and is followed by a wondrous thing called “May.” But there is no getting around the fact there is a sort of madness in the air. “March madness” is followed by “April Fools.”

I blame the brilliant sunshine. At this latitude the days are getting 3 minutes longer every day, or 21 minutes each week, and the route Old Sol cruises across the sky is noticeably further north, and his brilliance is suddenly as high as it is on the final days at the beach in boyhood summers, however whereas the shortening of days brings the melancholic madness of Halloween, lengthening days brings overriding optimism.

The uplift of mood is quite obvious in the children at our Childcare, and I notice that when they aren’t bounding like spring lambs they have a tendency to sprawl in the sunshine, no matter how bitter cold the winds may be. One moment they are charging ahead on a hike, and the next I look back and see them halted by a patch of checker-berries.

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The temperature swings can be amazing in April. Our record highs tend to be up around 90°F (32°C) while our record lows are down around 5°F (-15°). To our south the land is warming and fruit trees are in bloom, while to the north snows linger.

The retreat of the snow to the north is accompanied by the reverse of what you see as snows advance south in the fall. Where temperatures are abruptly colder as soon as the ground is snow-covered, temperature are abruptly warmer as soon as landscapes are are snow-free. Where a white landscape reflects the sunshine a brown landscape absorbs it, and during the shorter nights the thawing turf remembers the days warmth, but white snows still provide an excellent base for radiational cooling.

In October north winds have less power despite the far longer nights, for the northern lakes haven’t frozen and their waters radiate heat remembered from the summer. Lakes steam like soup in the chill of dawn. Now the situation is reversed, for the same lakes are ice-covered, and the ice remembers the cold. People who have measured the temperature of lake’s ice (and arctic sea-ice) have discovered the thick ice on northern lakes can be colder than both the water beneath and the air above. The ice remembers the winter, and until it is gone it has the power to resist the onslaught of spring.

Some years the ice vanishes more swiftly than others, but this year the snow is slow to go.

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This is not good news if you are thirsting for spring, and also if you are thirsting for proof the planet is warming. If anything, it can be used as an indication of a coming ice-age. The longer the snows last to the north, the longer the landscape reflects the sun’s heat, and the shorter the arctic summer will be. An ice-age begins when the prior year’s snow fails to melt before the following year’s begins falling.

I don’t even want to think of such a possibility, for I’m craving warmth. And, to be quite honest, in the records available in Concord, New Hampshire, going back to the late 1860’s, I tend to see we have always had extreme variety in our Aprils. The temperatures have been recorded in three or four different locals in Concord, over the past 150 years, so the precision of the records isn’t perfect, but the record-highs and record-lows neither prove the world is warming nor that it is chilling. For example, on April 7 the record high is from 2010 (87 °F) yet the record low is also recent, from 2003 (8 °F). But then the very next day you see the record high is from 1871 (92 °F) and the record low is from 1888 (15 °F).

I know some like to torture and tease these statistics to prove temperatures have risen a few tenths of a degree, or fallen a few tenths of a degree, but my mother always told me it was rude to tease. Anyway, what’s a few tenths of a degree when the weather is wild and temperatures can soar and plunge over seventy?

I have to deal with blunter realities, watching other people’s children, and one thing I have to watch is that the little ones stay off the ice. If there is any greenhouse effect around here, it is that the ice on a pond is like a roof of a greenhouse over the water beneath, heating the water beneath so that the ice thins, even when the temperatures stay below freezing. Children, and even adults, can’t comprehend under brilliant sunshine, ice that was safe on Monday becomes unsafe on Tuesday, even when north winds blow bitter and cold.

The brilliance of the sun is intense, and I have to watch out for sunburns even when children wear mittens and hats. The soil thaws even when it is below freezing, which is quite the opposite from November, when days are four hours shorter, and under the low sun a crust of frozen soil refuses to thaw (when you want to dig the last potatoes) even when south winds warm.

And, of course, as soon as the soil thaws a primitive urge to plant awakes, and absolutely everyone wants to start digging.

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I tend to resist the spring-feverish urge to plant, for I’m an old grouch and have been embittered by years of having many volunteers in April, urging ambition, and then seeing them all mysteriously vanish when the weather gets hot in June, and weeds display an ambition all their own.

Also I remember many April warm spells that were followed by snows.  As a landscaper I had to develop a tactful way of reining back my elderly customers (that my wife called “my harem”) because they were possessed by a sort of panic when the weather got hot, and the tomatoes were not planted. When I couldn’t dissuade them either the tomato plants were killed by late frosts, or they turned a strange hue of purple in cold rains, and then sulked a long time, refusing to prosper even when other tomatoes, planted later, swiftly grew.

In other words, I’ve developed a whole slew of excuses that help me to avoid hard work. In actual fact the old Yankee farmers worked the soil the first chance they got, and planted things like peas, that do not mind the cold. They burned 4000 calories a day, using every hour of daylight to eek a hardscrabble livelihood from a stony northern landscape. Woe unto us, if the survivalists are right, and we are thrown backwards into such subsistence,  for I have become modern in my old age. I prefer getting my peas at the grocery store, and anyway, I doubt I have 4000 calories a day to burn, at age sixty-five.

If I did farm, I’d have to wear a white suit with a black string-tie like a southern plantation-owner, and order others about. I’ve paid my dues, when it comes to planting peas in mud with red hands as wet snow flies. Now I prefer sitting back on the first warm day of April and being the voice of doom and gloom, saying, “It’s going to snow again,” and then smirking when the entire north of the USA sees snow, like it does this morning.

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The problem is that, though I get better and better at avoiding work, work seems to like me. It tags along like a puppy and won’t go away.

As the warmth comes north and fights the arctic, and the arctic fights back, we can get some wonderful winds. The trees roar and sunshine flashes between sliding clouds. A million pine needles each individually glitter threads of blinding white in the dawn, doubling the dazzle, and then, as the wind roars to a crescendo, you hear a crack and crash from the woods.

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Trail is blocked. Sigh. Time to get out the chainsaw.

Hmm. Maybe April is the cruelest month, after all.