LOCAL VIEW –Christmas Dispirit–

As a person brought up as an Unitarian, it was my understanding that all that was referred to as a “miracle” in the Bible had a scientific explanation.  For example, when Moses parted the Red Sea, it likely was that he just happened to be at the right place at the right time; it was explained to me that the sea often withdraws just before the onrush of a tsunami. The Jews crossed a low area at the right time, and when the Egyptians tried to follow, the onrushing tsunami got them.  Easy peasy. All explained.

There were other miracles harder to explain, such as Jesus walking on the water, and these events tended to be brushed away as exaggerations or lore. Or, if that sort of blunt dismissal seemed impolite, the miracles simply were not mentioned.

This attitude tended to be a sort of wet blanket on a lot that seemed wondrous to a child, including Christmas. It was as if some felt it was their duty to stamp out amazement. I recall the words “it’s only” were often used to dismiss the remarkable, as in “it’s only a meteor” or “it’s only northern lights.”

If I had to take a guess at what made this pragmatic dourness so strong an attitude in New England, I’d say that in the mists of the past (the late 1600’s) belief had spun out of control into the realms of hate, resulting in the witch trials New England is infamous for, and no one wanted to go back there again.

Also, because Boston had stood at the forefront of modern medicine for over a century, one nudged against a conflict caused by modern medicine challenging some traditional attitudes towards healing. Healing was formerly a wonder largely in the hands of God, but when “germs” were introduced as a new idea (around 1830) the idea that germs existed seemed to challenge God’s power and authority, (not that cleanliness wasn’t stressed, in the Bible.)  A hundred years later the discovery (actually a rediscovery) of antibiotics completely amazed people, to a point antibiotics were called “miracle” drugs.

Up until that point the prognosis wasn’t hopeful for sufferers of certain bacterial infections such as staff, tuberculosis, or syphilis. Whereas blood poisoning might kill you swiftly, (a president’s son died from a blister on the heel he got playing tennis, in roughly twelve hours), slower bacteria such as tuberculosis often caused a long and miserable death. Syphilis basically rotted the brain, adding madness to the prolonged misery. People nowadays can’t imagine the sudden change brought about by penicillin, especially when it was new and bacteria had no resistance. Hopelessly doomed people became well over night. It was as if Christ walked through a hospital, laying His hands on people and making them instantly well, only rather than a marvelous Man it was a little pill. There was a huge surge of hope and gratitude, and no one even thought of suing the doctors (for a while). Nor did people seem to remember to thank God.

Antibiotics didn’t cure viral infections, or cancer, but it was assumed a new pill would come along and cures were just around the corner. Anything seemed possible. In a sense there was faith, but now the faith was in pills (and vaccines) .

This belief-in-pills reached its most ridiculous levels in the field of psychology,  where belief-in-God was described as a neurosis or fixation, and the agony and ecstasy of spiritual search were explained away as being due to hormones and dopamine levels. Some of the pills handed out to doctors and by doctors as free samples are now known to have had horrific consequences, and are banned, but at the time the cure for a housewife’s depression was “mother’s little helper” and amphetamines, and suburban women walked around with eyes like locomotive headlights.

Children are observant and not as foolish as some think, and I was aware some housewives (including my mother) sometimes behaved a bit oddly, without understanding the connection to pills. But children accept a lot they are told without question, and I did learn to scoff at “non-scientific” beliefs at some early age without even thinking about it. I felt a lot of childish wonder, but it was largely about the latest scientific discoveries. Both the scoffing and the wonder seemed to largely come from my father, who was a surgeon.

Walking in the woods with my father was, for me, an experience in heaven, for he had a tremendous awareness of the interrelations between various plants and animals, (what is now called “ecology”, though no one used that word back then). He saw, or seemed to glimpse, a Whole, a sort of Oneness, and, without ever hearing the word “God” mentioned, I was enchanted and enthralled. (I never said “it’s only nature.”) Unfortunately these walks were few and far between. One reason the suburbs were so insidiously empty was because all the Dad’s were gone, being workaholics elsewhere. This physical divorce between the workplace and the home eventually effected marriages.

When divorces went from being very rare to quite common in the late 1960’s it didn’t make wives happier, and it only made the suburbs worse. It was around this time my mind began to grapple with the possibility something was missing. What was missing was obviously “Dad”, but there was something else, a sort of “spirit”, and it was especially noticeable around Christmas.

It did not occur to me I was on any sort of spiritual search. The very word “spirit” had negative connotations. “Spirit” seemed linked with superstition, and also with being childish, with a belief in a sort of Santa Claus. Instead, when I thought at all, I felt I was scientific, and after something science hadn’t discovered yet. Rather than an unscientific word like “miracle” I preferred the word “coincidence.”  I had noticed a glitch in the data that might suggest an undiscovered element, a sub-atomic particle, an unseen gravity (such as a “black hole”, which was just then being considered as a possible explanation for oddities noticed through telescopes.)

It was a very empty and gray time, as I remember. At age fourteen I spent a lot of time slouching around with a young Jewish pal nicknamed “Skeeter”, mostly grouching about how unjust young females were and how they should smile at us more, but also talking about other topics, including God. I recall talking about a media report “God is dead”, and deciding He couldn’t be dead because God was a concept, and a concept has no pulse or heartbeat, and therefore can’t be alive, and therefore can’t die. Also the media confidently announced scientists had “created life in a test-tube” (actually they had strung together a molecule resembling DNA), and both Skeeter and myself became depressed by that news, because if man could create life then God seemed strangely useless. Why this depressed us I’m not sure, but then, we could be depressed by just about anything at age fourteen, and these sullen moods tended to alternate with zany moods where Skeeter and I  bounded about like deranged gazelles.

When we were in slouch-mode we tended to walk with our hands thrust halfway into the front pockets of our jeans and our shoulders sharp and cynical. I tended to suggest things we might do to make the dull town more interesting, and Skeeter tended to supply the brakes. We did manage to go few places we should not have gone, without being caught, and did get in trouble at times, but those are stories for another evening. For the most part we walked and talked and did nothing. I often would scorn him for doing homework and getting good grades, and regaled him with tales of all the fun I’d had while he worked, and sometimes the tales I told were even true.

One secret crime I can now confess. The statute of limitations is up, after fifty years. There was a mysterious person in town who would sneak into the church, even after they began locking the doors to stop him. This person wildly rang the bell, for from ten to thirty seconds, often in the dusk before the sun was up in the morning. Skeeter could hear the bell, and knew it was me, but Skeeter kept the secret. He was a friend I could trust, and I told him other secrets I held close to my heart, which I told no one else.

As Christmas approached one year I began to ventilate to Skeeter all my mixed feelings about Christmas. As a Unitarian I was amazingly uneducated about what the holiday actually celebrates, because one thing about Unitarians of that time was that they didn’t need to go to church unless they felt like it, and in my parent’s case that was never. Or, to be more accurate, when I was small they did go on Christmas and Easter, and we did say grace before our meals, but they eventually dropped such archaic traditions. (Perhaps it only follows that their divorce manifested soon afterwards.) In any case, the reason-for-the-season was never talked about, and I was therefore learning in the dark. (Come to think of it, I learned about sex the same way. Back then some things were simply not discussed.)

It is really amazing what an ignoramus I was, but one thing about being fourteen was that I didn’t want to admit I didn’t know, and pretended I did know. Often this involved keeping my mouth shut and trying to learn by listening. Not that I always learned much by listening.

Besides my Jewish friend Skeeter I had a Catholic friend nicknamed Baffles. Like Skeeter Baffles was a good student, but he was so good I could never hope to lead him astray in the manner I led Skeeter astray. He wouldn’t go out walking under streetlights after dark with me. He was more moral than I was, and I think I was jealous, and with the weird logic of youth this made me want to make him jealous back.

What I liked to do was horrify Baffles by telling him, each morning at the bus stop, what I’d been up to the night before.  He largely scorned my tales as fabrications (and some were). After all, Baffles had known me since first grade, and could recall me arising for show-and-tell and speaking of the Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton I vividly described finding in the woods behind my house. But he began to doubt less, once Skeeter could vouch for me. I think he didn’t keep my bragging to himself, and people in my neighborhood began to be more careful about drawing their shades, once they knew a couple of Peeping Toms were on the loose, for some of our scientific research did border upon voyeurism. However there were no sex-education classes in school back then, and how else was a fatherless boy to learn? In like manner, how was a boy who never attended Sunday School to learn about God?

One time I told Baffles I’d sneaked into the Catholic Church with my big sister, and we had drunk holy water from a porcelain sink by the entrance. With eyes like saucers Baffles told me I was not only damned, but just plain gross.  Another time Skeeter told Baffles Jesus was a Jew, and there was a terrific argument at the bus stop.

This sort of discussion didn’t seem to be getting me very far forward, in terms of my religious education. At one point I decided to sit down to study the Bible myself. I lasted around five chapters into Genesis, and was defeated by the first “begats”. Yet I did notice some change in mood, when I made the attempt. I liked the highfalutin language, the “thee” and “thou” of King James. Although to me Genesis didn’t make as much intellectual sense as dinosaurs did,  I sensed some change in the atmosphere. I also noticed it when I crept into the church to ring the bell in the pitch dark before dawn. I decided perhaps it was just a superstitious fear, such as the creepy feeling I got when walking by a graveyard after dark, but as a young scientist I parked the observation with the data I labeled “coincidence”.

As soon as you start talking about a “change in mood” and “atmosphere” you are in fact broaching the boundaries of science and entering the landscapes of art, but I hadn’t yet discovered poetry. Instead, when my heart felt unscientific stuff, I tended to express myself by lying. I’d brag about something I hadn’t actually done, and then feel ashamed about my dishonesty. It can be rough, being fourteen, especially when the only prayer you have heard was sung by a rock group called the “Animals.”

I didn’t get much understanding, even from Skeeter. I think that, if I had felt understood, my life would have been different. In the half century since I’ve noticed that after I’ve had a good talk with someone I have less of an urge to write. It is when no one listens that the yearning for fellowship undergoes metamorphosis, and a mere garrulity becomes poetry. In my case the process went through an intermediate stage of fabrications.

I suppose this occurs because, when your heart aches but you lack the ability to find the words, you enter the landscape of the subconscious.  When you have awareness but lack words you are in an ambiguous state, wherein you have awareness yet lack awareness. You have the awareness of a mood but not the awareness of the words, and the mind produces a dream, rich with symbols, which is factually untrue. When one states, “My love is like a red, red rose”, it is a baldfaced lie.

For some reason I don’t understand I was uncomfortable with lying. I didn’t go to church, so there was no religious reason not to lie; perhaps it simply wasn’t scientific to be inaccurate. In the years since I’ve met others who live lives full of lies, and they never seem the slightest bit troubled, but my lies disturbed me. I lied, and didn’t understand why I did what I did.

One time I was midst a self-created anguish over some girl I never had the courage to talk to. I’d gone to a high-school dance and never dared even speak with her, let alone ask her to dance, which begs the question, “Why did you go to dances?” (Good question. I dreaded them beforehand, was miserable during them, and felt humiliated afterwards.) Rather than going home after the dance I went on a long walk in the night, feeling the adolescent ache of one who wants to communicate but hasn’t a clue where to begin. I wanted to be noticed, and invented a story I wanted to impress people with. In my story I was set upon by hoodlums “from the next town” and fought a brave battle, but was knocked down and lay unconscious in the snow. To make my tale seem more true I put a tiny scratch on my face with a rock. Then I went and lay in the snow under the bedroom window of the girl in question, imagining I’d be discovered at dawn and….and then what? Comforted? I think that was my original scheme, but after laying in the snow ten minutes I began to question my own wisdom. After fifteen minutes I scientifically concluded snow is not a good bed-sheet to spend a night upon. I got up and walked home, (leaving an odd angel in the snow), and as I walked I muttered to myself about what a liar I was. (The word used back then was “phony”).

The next time I trudged with Skeeter he heard a lot of talk on my part about how I wasn’t going to be a phony any more. This likely made him wonder. He knew I was a liar, but also that sometimes I did what he didn’t dare, such as ring the church bells at four AM. He didn’t know which things I was saying were complete balderdash, and which were true. He likely should have bluntly inquired, “What were you doing that was phony?” He didn’t, which I appreciated, because that allowed me to be mysterious and keep him guessing.

The problem with strict honesty was that it stifled the urge to speak the unspeakable. The first tender shoots of poetry were stomped upon, as the hyperbole involved wasn’t absolutely true. Also there was no poetic mush involved in the idea of manhood back then. Rather than “coming out of the closet” about any tender feelings, one was suppose to be tough. I felt deep shame about crying at movies, and would spend time after a movie sitting in the dark, composing myself and drying my eyes, rather than revealing to anyone I had blubbered. It did occur to me that I might be being dishonest, denying my emotions in that manner, but when I became determined to be honest my determination made a fist. Pictures of me at the time show an unfriendly face, which I thought was manly. Mush wasn’t anything remotely desirable; and rather than “get in touch with” emotion I tended to feel it was wiser to “get over it.”

This denial wasn’t working very well, and was in some ways like a scab over a volcano, which was one reason I blew off steam pacing through the night with Skeeter. As we discussed how phony some people were and how unjust life seemed, Christmas approached, and puzzled me. Certain things made no sense in a world where toughness was seen as a virtue. One thing was that people who were greedy and selfish 51 weeks a year suddenly were giving. Not that small children weren’t greedy, but older folk (and at age 14 I was becoming one of them) became demented with generosity. What was that all about?

Another thing was the attempt on the part of families who were dysfunctional 51 weeks a year to be functional. This was especially painful to me because I never wanted my parents to separate, and now there was a lot of awkwardness and pain surrounding the holidays, wherein we came together without actually coming together. In my case we walked down to visit with my Dad at the Unitarian minister’s house. It was the first time I’d had anything to do with that minister.

The idea of nice things like generosity and togetherness are difficult  to accept for people going through a divorce, even when custody, child support, and property are not contested.  In my parent’s case every thing you can think of was contested. Even their individual sanity was contested. It was not a situation conducive to Christmas spirit, and in fact was tantamount to scientific proof Christmas was humbug, a farce, and phony. I had every reason to sneer and be a cynic, but at the same time I felt I was suppose to be tough; I was suppose to walk around smiling as if nothing was wrong.

And then there were all the lights. I had always liked the lights, and as a small boy used to stand close to them and gaze until mesmerized. The bulbs were bigger back then, and I especially liked the green ones. In a way difficult to describe it was as if I was peering into a crystal ball, and saw entire landscapes, but they were made of moods, like Beethoven’s music. But I was young and naive then. Now I was older, and peered at the darkness.

Even in the darkness I couldn’t escape the carols. They were everywhere, and all sung about stuff that made no sense. After all, as a Unitarian, Jesus was seen as a liberal politician, not all that different from Gandhi or Martin Luther King or Robert Kennedy. Jesus had been assassinated like Gandhi, while King and Kennedy were still alive and making speeches, and there was no big fuss made for the Birthdays of Gandhi or King or Kennedy. Why such a fuss for Jesus?

Last but not least was that I had, parked in my file of scientific “coincidences”, data which suggested that unlikely mood-events could occur on Christmas. One had occurred just the year before:

One of my most miserable pre-Christmases occurred in my boyhood, back in 1966.  My parents had separated, but divorce was rare back then, and very difficult even when both parties wanted it.  My father didn’t want it, but had vanished from the household and was fighting to save his marriage from afar, as my mother fought for freedom.  My mother felt I ought be protected from the details of their dispute, but I found it a sort of hell to have my father vanish, and have no explanation given.

This silence concerning the truth had been going on for a year and a half, and had made me a crazy boy,  and now I was thirteen and just starting to also go crazy with hormones. The misery I felt peaked during holidays, because holidays reminded me of better days, back when I was part of a happy, functioning family. During the dark days of December 1966 I found myself in a sort of private war.  It was invisible to others, but very real to me.

We had gone from being very rich to abrupt poverty, (by the standards of a wealthy suburb,) and I had no money, but had decided I would fight back and give presents even though I was broke.  I struggled to make hand-made presents for people, though my carpentry skills were undeveloped and I had no father to instruct me.  My fingers were bleeding and bandaged from my blunders.

One project had me on the verge of tears and rage.  I was endeavoring to make a pair of tiny hearts, as earrings for my mother, out of red cedar wood, but such wood splits very easily, and over and over, just when a small heart was nearly done, it would split in two and I’d have to start over. I only finished on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and trudged off to a gift shop a mile away to buy the metal fasteners that would turn the wood hearts to earrings.

For several days we’d been in a mild flow from the south, and the snowless landscape was grey under a dull sky.  Life seemed very unfair to me.  Other boys seven hundred miles to the west had a white Christmas, as a modest low swung north to the Great Lakes, but we were on the warm side and the weathermen on all three major Boston channels had said there was no chance of a white Christmas for Boston.  The snowlessness  seemed like insult heaped onto injury to me, and while I didn’t exactly give God a tongue lashing, I was extremely pessimistic about my good deeds ever gaining me any sort of reward.

However my irascible temper lashed out against the darkness by giving gifts, which must have won me a point or two upstairs, because all of a sudden nice things started to happened to me.

When I walked into the gift shop and timidly asked for fasteners, my pout and bandaged fingers must have touched the lady who ran the shop, because she took me under her wing and proceeded to not only sell me two fasteners, but to take me to the back of her shop, (where she repaired jewelry and watches,) and showed me how to glue the fasteners to the wooden hearts, and then got me a tiny box with a cotton square on the bottom to hold my earrings, and even wrapped them for me. I walked out of there in a much better mood, with the bells on the door jingling behind me, and then stopped in my tracks.  Big, fat snowflakes were lazily drifting down from the grey sky.

As I walked home through the snow it seemed absolutely everyone was smiling. The snow was lazy and seemed harmless, but then it grew more steady and swirled, and when I arrived home my poor mother was going through one of her attacks of worry, as my older brothers had gone Christmas shopping in her car. Fortunately I only had to be a thirteen year old male soothing a 42 year old woman for a short while, before my brothers appeared through the snow with her car unscathed, and all was well.

We headed off on foot to Christmas Carols outside a church a half mile away, and for some reason, perhaps due to the snow, rather than the usual thirty people showing up, a hundred-twenty-five showed up to sing in the increasingly heavy snow.  Just as we finished there was a flash of lightning, and long, deep, horizon-to-horizon roll of thunder.

As I turned to walk home, with the thunder still rolling,  a thirteen-year-girl who I secretly adored but whom I had no chance of dating, (as I was not only thirteen, and broke, but also a half-foot shorter than she was,) glanced my way with her face awed by the thunder, and when she saw me watching her,  she smiled an abrupt smile at me that just about knocked me flat on my back in the snow.  And at that point I decided miracles actually could happen, and life might not be so bad, after all.

There was more lightning, and we had around seven inches of snow before it tapered off at midnight. The weathermen were embarrassed, but did give the freak event a name. It was dubbed “The Donner and Blitzen Storm.”  Likely it was a “vort max” that “phased” with a “frontal low,” but, as it wasn’t a huge blizzard and set no records, record books don’t mention it much.  However guys and gals over sixty, who lived between Portland Maine and Philadelphia back in 1966, all seem to remember it.  It was a Christmas miracle,  private and personal, but given to many.

Having this sort of unscientific data in my memory-banks didn’t help me make sense of things. After all, I could dismiss it as “only a mood”. It had occurred back when I was only a kid, a whole year earlier. I’d grown a lot since then; a whole half foot. I was suppose to be beyond such silly, sissy stuff.

Yet as I stomped down streets with Skeeter, our shadows shrinking and lengthening and shrinking again in the pools of streetlight-yellow, on a December night of chilled fog, we muttered about our moods, using a scientific instrument fourteen year old boys own called a moodylator,  (also called a “heart”, by the unscientific). And abruptly I smacked my fist into my palm and said that this year would be different; this year I was going to get to the bottom of a mystery; this year I was going to figure out, for once and for all, what all the fuss about Christmas Spirit was about.

Skeeter then had the unusual experience of being a Jew hearing a Unitarian wonder about what Christmas was all about. As we walked through the foggy night he told me a little he knew about Jesus I didn’t know. (It tells you something about Unitarians, when a Jew knows more about Jesus than they do.) Somehow what he spoke was utterly dissatisfying. I can’t recall what the factoids actually were, but they struck me as being mere trivia, and my moodylator was going berserk, sensing something different.

As Skeeter and I trudged on through the cold fog I began to repetitively mutter, with increasing exasperation, “I just want to know.”  I got louder and louder, until Skeeter got a little alarmed and told me to shut up. I then lost it, and bellowed, “I just want to know!” and then turned away from the street and dashed off into the darkness, down the slope of a snow-covered field. The cold fog rose like a wall of black before me, and behind me I could hear Skeeter’s voice crying, more and more faintly, “Come back! Come back!”

Now it is fifty years later. Sometimes, as I write tales about me and Skeeter and Baffles, I wish I could hop in a time machine and go back to that time and appear in my own story, a sixty-four year old man giving a fourteen year old a bit of advice.

I can’t do that. Only God can be the Creator, appearing in the story He has written. And actually that is the unlikely event that the Christmas Story describes. It is a wonderful tale, even if you don’t believe it is possible, and it amazes me that so many are growing up today and do not know the tale. For some reason some feel telling the tale is politically incorrect, and that Christmas should be celebrated without mentioning what it celebrates.

And what is that? Well, the world was becoming dark, and into the dark there came a Great Light. That is enough to begin with. If you happen to know a fourteen year old who spends a lot of time walking and scowling, do me a favor, and just take the time to tell him the Christmas Story.

https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/12/12/christmas-light-in-darkness/

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LOCAL VIEW —ROUGH SLEDDING—

Some Rough Sledding IMG_1607

I didn’t much want to be a drag over Christmas, nor be one of those tiresome old men (and women) who bore your eyeballs out by talking tediously about the slow decay of their bodies, as if they were play-by-play announcers at a sporting event called “Increasing Decrepitude”.. So I kept my bad health to myself, which is pretty darn melodramatic. It’s a bit like that old Crosby, Stills and Nash song, “Almost Cut My Hair.”

I almost cut my hair
‘Twas just the other day
It was gettin’ kinda long
I could-a said, it was in my way
But I didn’t and I wonder why
I want to let my freak flag fly
And I feel like I owe it to someone

Must be because I had the flu for Christmas
And I’m not feelin’ up to par
It increases my paranoia
Like lookin’ at my mirror and seein’ a lit up police car
But I’m not givin’ in an inch to fear
I promised myself this year
I feel like I owe it to someone

When I finally get myself together
Get down in some sunny southern weather
Find a place inside to laugh
Separate the wheat from the chaff
‘Cause I feel like I owe it to someone.

And to be honest, I’ve always been pretty good at melodrama. For years I was sure every cold was lung cancer, (likely due to some internalized guilt I felt over the huge enjoyment I got from cigarettes). At age seventeen I was sure I was going to die at age seventeen like the poet John Chatterton. At age 26 I was going to die at 26 like Keats. Then I was going to die at 29 like Shelley, and then at 36 like Byron, and then at 39 like Dylan Thomas. However by then it was starting to get a bit old. One can only flop around like a dying fish for so long before people stop taking you seriously.

This is not to say I myself wasn’t still serious. Life is never quite so beautiful as it is when it is tenuous, and slipping away through your fingers. And anyone who knows anything about all the crud I’ve been through over the years has to admit it is a miracle I’m still alive.  However, for the most part I’ve quit the melodrama of flopping about like a fish. For one thing, I’m too old to die young. Where’s the glamour of dying at 62?

Though I privately view each dawn as a bit of a surprise, (as I don’t expect to still be here), and though privately I may view each new liver-spot on the back of my hand as melanoma, publicly I now deem it best to avoid anything that looks like complaining. I have no business complaining, as I can still wield a maul and spit wood at age sixty-two, as my pals get their knees replaced. However I did complain to my doctor. (I think, in some ways, that may be what doctors are for.)

Over the past six months I felt like my get-up-and-go got up and went. I might have shrugged that off as aging, but also I seemed to lose a quarter pound every week, despite eating well. It triggered my old habit of assuming I had lung cancer, especially as I seemed to catch every cold the kids had at our Farm-childcare, whereas for years I’d seemed totally immune despite being slimed constantly by their runny noses. When the most recent cold led to congestion in my lungs I decided to pester my doctor. Imagination isn’t always a poet’s friend, and it is good sometimes to get the smack-down of, “You are perfectly healthy. Stop being such a fool and worrying so much!”

Unfortunately he didn’t say I was perfectly healthy this time. I had chest X-rays, and they showed a “shadow.” So he scheduled a Cat-scan, which gave me a week or so to worry, before the Cat Scan was analyzed and my lungs looked OK. Then I was on cloud nine, but later my doctor called me back, because way down at the bottom of the Cat Scan he’d noticed a bulge on my left kidney. There was a second Cat Scan, and then a biopsy of my kidney, and cancer was discovered. Part, or all, of the kidney has to come out. Merry Christmas.

Oh well. I figured it was a sort of Christmas miracle that the cancer was discovered, when I had absolutely no complaints about my kidneys, and wasn’t looking in that direction in the slightest. Still, it was hard to bite my tongue and muster the proper cheer for Christmas.

I didn’t even tell my wife, at first, but there’s no fooling her, as she tends to read me like a book and can see phony cheerfulness in me even when I have myself fooled. And also I am part of a bunch of old coots at my church, and we pray together and are honest about our heartaches. And one of those fellows turned around and prayed with his family, and his son happens to know one of my sons, so that son soon knew, and before you could shake a stick everyone knew. A small town is proof that the only secrets that stay secret are those that are known by one person alone.

It wasn’t so bad. Some people did get awkward, and some did behave as if cancer is contagious, but I’m old and expect no better from my fellow mortals. What I didn’t expect was people I hardly know, and didn’t think of as prayerful people, to come up to me and tell me they would be praying for me. I am not always the most courteous of people, and can be a bit brutal with the Truth, and if I expect any sort of prayers it might be the prayer that I get hit by a truck. It was really touching to receive unexpected expressions of caring.

For the most part I just went on dealing with details, which will be a bit harder as I am not suppose to do any heavy lifting for five weeks after the operation. This will involve some serious adjustments to the routine of the Farm-childcare, not only because a farm involves grunt-work, but small children like to be hoisted, and like to take flying leaps and land on your stomach without warning, when you are reading a story on the couch.  I’ll likely have to hire people and take a hit to my profits, right when I need to come up with six-grand (as that is the “deductible” in my insurance.)  An operation doesn’t mean you do less, it seems.

It would be nice if insurance companies would go out of there way to make things easier for the client, but apparently they need to make all sorts of extra work to justify their existence. When my father first started work as a surgeon in 1946 he had a single secretary, and many country doctors wrote out their own bills. Much of the increase in medical costs has nothing to do with medicine, and everything to do with parasitic lawyers, and countless layers of bureaucratic confetti. Rather than cathedrals, our cities tallest towers are built to the false god of insurance, which I tend to grumble only ensures we are more miserable than necessary.

Of course I had to go through my own gauntlet, which all too many are quite familiar with. Here is part of an email I sent to friends:

The surgery was all set to go on January 5 when Obamacare stepped in, and I had to deal with a series of insurance-company-voices on the telephone that would have made me angry, but the bureaucrats sounded so much like characters on “Saturday Night Live” that my sense of humor kicked in. Basically they were telling me that due to clause 20446B (or something) of my policy I couldn’t use Catholic Medical Center, where my surgeon does 95% of his operations, and instead I had to wait until he could do the exact same operation at a different hospital, which might not be until February. I stressed this might not be a good idea, as the cancer could spread farther during that time. I was assured it was a good idea as it would keep rates lower, (and so forth).
 
The discussion was made all the more difficult by the fact I never could get the same person on the phone twice, and had to go over everything from the start again and again. But this did allow me to make my story better and better. Maybe I even started exaggerating a bit, which I assume the Lord will forgive me for, given the circumstances. I didn’t say it was a fact that the cancer would spread, but implied that if the surgery wasn’t done on January 5 it might cost the insurance company a heck of a lot more. The mention of money did seem to impress them, and I got sent to other people, who sent me to other people, (with long intervals spent listening to bad music on “hold”,) until I finally talked to someone who did mention there was such a thing as a “waiver”, which might allow me to use Catholic Medical Center. All I needed was fifteen forms filled out by my Family Doctor’s office, and for Doc himself to find time in his busy schedule to personally call them and grovel a bit.
 
At this point they were wearing me down, and I was deciding maybe it was God’s Will to put things off until February, but I did mention the situation when I was up at Doc’s office, and this is where a “God-sighting” occurred. At Doc’s office H—- (who he has had to hire to deal with insurance and nothing but insurance) was none too pleased to hear I had learned about the “waiver”, for she had been on the phone herself, but hadn’t been able to get anyone at the insurance company to release this secret information. Now she abruptly had a full head of steam, and went charging into the Obamacare bureaucracy like an NFL fullback.
 

In the old days it was the men who wore the shining armor and were the heroes, saving the maidens in distress, but times change, and in a hopeless bureaucracy perhaps it is the women who are the heroes, and save distressed old geezers like me. My Oh my! How the fur did fly! It would take too long to go into all the funny details, but in the end H—–, and a woman named D—– at the surgeon’s office, took on all the Saturday-night-live-voices at the insurance company and basically left them in an exhausted heap. I was filled with gratitude, because we had run out of time, and everything had to be done in four hours to still have a chance to do the surgery on January 5, and there was no way I could make all the phone-calls myself. It was simply a case of a rescue coming right out of the blue, when I never expected it, and I thank God for working through H—– and D—–, (and have thanked both of them profusely).

(In case you are wondering, a “God-sighting” is when, in a loveless world where most people seem out to make life more difficult, you run across an unexpected example of love and kindness and generosity or (sometimes) sheer good luck that makes what you expect to be difficult far easier.)

In any case, this is just my long-winded way of explaining why I won’t be posting much for a while. If all goes well I may be going nuts in a couple weeks, suffering cabin fever and itching to do stuff like shovel snow (that I used to complain about) but all I will be able to do is go for walks, and post too many posts. So let’s hope all goes well.

(south of) ARCTIC SEA ICE –Turkish Delight–

One of the more surreal bits of history is the start of World War One, which we now can see, with 20-20 hindsight, was a complete disaster for Europe, especially the Victorian royalty. At the start,  the English and German thrones held two grandsons of Queen Victoria, and the Czar of Russia was married to a granddaughter.  The entire slaughter could have been avoided if the family had been a bit more functional, and had put their foot down on the lesser powers who were starting the war up. However the English royal family referred to the Kaiser of Germany as “that dreadful cousin Willy”, and when push came to shove they seemed to think of war as a sporting event. In September 1914 the public was assured, “It will be over by Christmas”. The first troops marched off on prancing horses in absolutely gorgeous uniforms with feathers and shining helmets, as if they were off to a jousting tournament in medieval times, and not on their way to meet machine guns.

By Christmas many were waking up to the realities of modern warfare, but the leaders, who sent others to die charging machine guns, still seemed to hold the idea that the dying troops were like football players put on “injured reserve”, a sad aspect of a jolly good sport. They decided to hold a Christmas Truce, when they could meet with their fellow officers on the opposing side, toast the holiday with fine bandy, and exchange helmets.

Christmas Truce 1914, as seen by the Illustrated London News. However the troops refused to be left out, and they too fraternized with the enemy, breaking ranks to drink, sing Christmas Carols, and play soccer with their sworn foe.

Armistice Day football match at Dale Barracks between german soldiers and Royal Welsh fusiliers to remember the famous Christmas Day truce between germany and Britain PCH

Armistice Day football match at Dale Barracks between German soldiers and Royal Welsh fusiliers to remember the famous Christmas Day truce between Germany and Britain PCH

You can hardly blame the troops. After all, they had been promised the war would be over by Christmas, and it was Christmas. What’s more, they proved the war could be over, if only the leaders would behave sanely. However the leaders did not. They banned Christmas truces for the rest of the war, by which time the royalty of Germany, Russia, the Austrio-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire had lost their power, and Britain was greatly weakened. In the view of the English poet Wilfred Owen it was as if Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son, and then, when God offered a ram, caught by its horns in a thicket, to be used instead of Isaac (or Ishmael if you’re Muslim), Abraham had refused the substitution, and insisted on killing his son.

PARABLE OF THE OLD MAN AND THE YOUNG

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
and builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

                                                       Wilfred Owen

Wilfred Owen was machine-gunned dead a week before the war ended. His mother got the news even as all the church-bells were ringing, rejoicing that the “War To End All Wars”  was at long last over.

So now here we are, 101 years later, and are we any wiser for all the horror we have seen? Sadly, I think not, for we seem on the verge of a new slaughter between the Islamic and the non-Islamic. The royalty on either side may be different, and may not focus so much on their lineage, but they are as brainless.

It seems proof that money cannot buy happiness. Who has had more money than the Arab states, with their oil revenue, but do they use this surplus to make happiness, or to brew hate and war?  And, when you look at the West, has money led to reason, or to greater greed? When you look at Hollywood, has money and fame led to goodness?

The good people, in my humble opinion, continue to be the troops in No Man’s Land, which in modern terms are the slums, and the factories, and fast food restaurants, and rural wastes, and any place the helpless abide. They yearn for leaders, but the leaders are fools. They yearn for guidance, but the guides are lost. They yearn for teachers, but the teachers only parrot nonsense. Who is there that will help them?

Basically, they have to count on themselves. If you want to see kindness and not hate, or generosity and not greed, or purity and not lust and gluttony, you are more liable to see it among the poor, for, while they have the same bad qualities all humans own, they have no where else to turn but to each other, for goodness.

This is a disgrace to all others who claim to represent goodness. Why don’t the poor trust them? Because the poor have seen all Temples, Churches, Mosques, Parliaments, Thrones, and Madison Avenue Agencies be too caught up in their greedy battles for power, wealth, and acclaim (and even mere self-gratification) to be free of the all-pervading perversions that make them liars, and liars can’t represent Truth. The poor can’t turn to them.

Truth doesn’t die, though people ignore it. It whistles in the bitter winter winds the poor endure, as the rich close coal power plants for falsified reasons. It smiles with the sunshine of unexpected thaws. Perhaps this is why so many talk so much about the weather. The weather, at least, is not a liar. It is what it is.

Autumn is ending with kindness for the eastern USA and much of Europe, as mild winds have surged from west to east. It is a Christmas miracle for many poor people, to have heating bills be so low.  Of course, Global Warming fanatics manage to make misery of good news, by suggesting it would be far better if the poor were cold, but the Truth ignores them, and temperatures over most of Europe are far above normal, (as is shown in the anomaly map Dr. Ryan Maue makes possible from GFS data at the Weatherbell site).

20151215 gfs_t2m_anom_eur_1

This warm surge may be followed by a second even stronger surge, and perhaps a third, which is a kindly truth for Europe, at the very start of their winter, although the end of winter may be very different. However a weather pattern that is kindly for the poor of one area may not be so kindly for other areas, and in this case you should look to the bottom right of the above map, where temperatures are below normal in Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Now, before you get too caught up in the oncoming war between the Islamic and non-Islamic, and snicker “it serves them right”, I should mention cool weather is a cause for celebration in some of those lands. The poor, who cannot afford air conditioning, don’t need it.

However Turkey is too far north, and as the milder air rams east it is like a plow that shoves some Siberian cold north to the Pole, but other Siberian air south, where it is part of a backwash or counter-current that brings amazing snows to Turkey. The poor there can’t be too happy, as hundred of villages are cut off.

http://iceagenow.info/2015/12/17452/#more-17452

Now, when an area is hit and buried by snow, people tend to slip and fall down in the snow. We can chuckle about the situation because, just as the warm sun falls on rich and poor alike, the snow can make a young, strong, healthy and relatively wealthy guy lose his dignity. However suppose the person slipping and falling is a poor and elderly woman. It is not so funny, then. And who will stop to help her? The young, strong, healthy and relatively wealthy guy with lots of dignity? Or a scrawny, little Red Riding Hood?

 

This is not an example of Christmas Spirit, as Turkey is a Muslim nation, and they don’t celebrate Christmas,  but I like to think Jesus would smile at the above pictures. In like manner, I like to think that Mohammad would smile at how I behave, though I do not live in a Muslim nation.

For it is not the prophets who are to blame for hate between peoples. Nor is it the poor.

The ones who bear the blame are obvious. They need not be named. They rule with greed, hate and lust, and attempt to inflame such irrational reasoning in the people they lead. However perhaps the poor are reaching a point where they will simply feel enough is enough, and be sick of it.

CHRISTMAS LIGHT IN DARKNESS

Longfellow MTE5NDg0MDU1MDQ0NTg5MDcx

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow saw his share of darkness during his time on earth, as we all do, and had to fight the battles we all fight to light candles in the darkness. Especially sad was the loss of his first wife, while he was touring Europe with her, when they were still in the blush of first love. He recovered from that to find a second love, and for a time enjoyed a happy marriage with six children, five of whom survived, before tragedy again struck him.

His wife was sealing up a letter with sealing wax, as was usual in 1861, when her dress caught fire, and despite her husband’s desperate efforts she was so badly burned she died the next day.

That was such a blow that Longfellow had not the heart to write any more poetry. A great darkness decended upon his life, made worse by the onset of the civil war. Then into that darkness came news that his eldest son, seventeen-years-old, had run off to join the army.Longfellow son pic

The son, Charles Appleton Longfellow,  was severely wounded in the battle of New Hope Church (irony), with a bullet passing so close to his spine paralysis seemed likely. Longfellow hurried south to see his son, who clung to life despite all the problems with infection in those days before antibiotics, and Longfellow brought the teenager north to try to nurse him back to life.

Perhaps it was having to fight for a son’s life that revived the old man’s poetic powers, but, while facing the darkness of December and a Christmas made black by the ugliness of war, Longfellow produced this poem:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

The defiance of despair in the face of cruel fate, which manifests in this poem, is one of the most beautiful qualities of the human spirit, and in my humble opinion is proof there is something good in mankind, despite our amazing capacity to make misery when we could make peace.

(The son did survive and walk again, though he did not recover enough to rejoin the army, which he wanted to do.)

This is my favorite version of Longfellow’s poem put to music:

 

LOCAL VIEW —Christmas Homesickness—

December has been snowless so far, and I’m rather enjoying it. Last year we’d already had enough snow to shovel, and I was numbering the storms. Even though a warm wave was in the long range, and it turned out we had a green Christmas (with bluebirds and robins in the yard as the yearly Christmas miracle), it also seemed down in my bones that we were in for a test, and spring would be a long time coming, and I was right.

This year has been kinder, (though I feel the end of the winter may have a lot of snow). I actually am rotor-tilling the spring garden, and we’ve gotten some late house painting done. Considering I work a lot more slowly than I used to, I like having extra days to be ready for the time the snow clamps down and life becomes more limited.

I don’t relish storms the way I once did.
Perhaps this simply goes with aging.
I’m in the driver’s seat, don’t want to skid,
And have burdens enough without raging
Winds and whirling snows. When you’re young the blows
Fall on others, streets are cleaned by magic,
Hot water comes from the shower and flows
Over you, and you need not get tragic
About how you must cut wood to heat it,
Nor even think much about food on the table.
So the ease gets boring, and to defeat it
Youth makes problems, challenges it’s able
To feel vain about conquering, until years
Teach that life’s best without brewing such fears.

One thing I deal with every day, because I run a Childcare, is the problems modern parents have doing something as normal and natural as to have children and raise them. To me family seems more like a “given”, than a “problem”. To call family a problem is like calling the ground we walk upon a problem. Family is simply there, and it is amazing to me the degree some are able to make it not be there.

Often both parents work, and their child is dropped off at Childcare at 7:00 AM and then not picked up until 5:30 PM. To me it seems so much time is spent working to pay for a house that hardly any time is left to make it a home.

The kids seem to get especially homesick during the dark days of December. Perhaps the homesickness happens because the all-pervading, ever-present Christmas music is so suggestively sentimental about home, with songs like “I’ll be home for Christmas”, but I also think it is during the dark days that a warm hearth, and keeping home fires burning, becomes especially meaningful. During the long days of summer the outdoors is welcoming, but during the early dusk of December a warm place by a fire, (hopefully with cookies and cocoa), becomes a solace to the human spirit, especially if you are a little child, in a big and sometimes frightening world.

Parents sometimes seem to spend even less time at home around Christmas, as they work overtime to afford presents, and then go to malls to shop for the presents, seemingly quite unaware that small children can have just as much fun with a cardboard box as what comes in the box, and have a deep craving for the parents themselves.

What the kids seem to need most is the interactions. But parents get fooled. A kid who has been happy for hours may throw a fit as soon as the parent arrives to pick them up. It is as if the child has been saving all sorts of grievances up, and dumps on the parent the moment they appear. The parent is fooled because all they hear are demands for chocolate and dolls and bikes and computer games and what-have-you, but that is not what is really important to the kid. What is important is the interaction. What is important is the parent. Parents need to be told this, because they too often tend to feel their child only cares about stuff, and not them.

I get to see what the parents don’t, which is that sometimes a child is homesick and sulking, and is asking over and over, “When is Mom coming?” or “Is it soon that Dad will be here?”

During these dark days I often build a bright and cheery fire in the pasture, as much as for the light as for the warmth, but today the final kids were not all that cheered by its flames.

Boy by Fire IMG_1511

What I heard from the kids was basically, “I want to go home,” over and over. To a certain degree I could distract them with gathering wood, and making an especially big fire, and stirring the coals and making showers of sparks rise into the purpling sky like fireworks. But, as I thought, watching the kids, I got to thinking about how “I want to go home” is such a powerful part of Christmas, even when one gets old like me.

She was dying but didn’t really know it
And as I visited her the past seemed
More present than the present. She’d show it
By how she saw me as one dimly dreamed
About, while her childhood home’s least detail
Was vivid. It made me think about how
We launch from the nest, yet strangely fail
To ever leave it. Her old, care-worn brow
Had ever fretted over slung arrows
Of worry, and yet now mere memory
Soothed and smoothed it. I wonder what narrows
Our lives, and what it is that sets us free?
For the farther we wander and restlessly roam
The more we are yearning to find a way home.

Of course, I don’t subject small children to my sonnets. (I’d likely get arrested for child abuse.) Instead I decided that, if I couldn’t beat them, I’d join them, and I started to sing songs about wanting to go home. There are a lot of them.

They liked “Sloop John B”, though you would think children couldn’t relate to sailors getting thrown into jail for being too rowdy in Nassau. However kids always surprise me with their ability to regurgitate adult music that you might think was miles over their heads. (I knew one small girl who, at age four, had what was seemingly a photographic memory, when it came to country music she heard on her father’s radio, and, in a sweet, piping voice, would sing about picking up babes at a bar.)

Abruptly a memory came back to me of the first Christmas after my own parents split up, and of how at age eleven I memorized a song miles above my head, that was a hit on the radio at that time, and could belt it out at the top of my lungs. The kids liked it as much as “Sloop John B”.

LOCAL VIEW —Christmas Bluebirds—

We are experiencing a truly kindly spell of late December weather, if you are an old coot like me, and have grown less fond of cold with time.

Not that I can’t remember being young and hot, and walking with a girl I was trying not to fall in love with, (and failing), and being warm through and through, though it was so cold the snow on the road squeaked as we walked over it. Also I can remember being desperate for snow, for I was running a lunch-counter at a cross-country ski area. However those are memories, and the reality is the present, and the Christmas present was mildness for an old coot, this year

What was really remarkable was a finger of warmth that reached the tops of the hills where I lived, but not the valleys. Indeed it was 43° atop Mount Washington, at 6000 feet, and only 40° at sea-level at the coast at Portsmouth. It was 39° in the Merrimack River Valley at Manchester 40 miles to our east, and 38° close to the Connecticut River in Keene 40 miles to our west, while here temperatures spiked up to near 60°. (57° in Jaffrey, 7 miles to our west.)

You can dimly see the finger of warmth in this temperature map, poking up into south-central New Hampshire (and also all the way north to Burlington, Vermont):

Xmas rtma_tmp2m_neus__1_(2)

On Christmas morning the sun came out and the breeze felt like April’s. Because we had the stoves going before the warmth came north, it was actually hot in the old house. I stepped out onto the porch and instantly remembered a Christmas back in my youth (1965?) when it was so mild I was running around outside flying a new toy helicopter barefoot.  I dedcided to stay outside to enjoy the mildness, figuring it wouldn’t last, as a front had come through to bring us our sunshine and clearing.

Temperatures did drop a little, but not much, and I could do my chores without gloves or a jacket.  My middle son was out with bird-watching gear, and announced by cell phone that a small gang of bluebirds, and a male and female cardinal, were by the house. I hurried, but didn’t see them, yet could hear them off in the distance, which seemed very evocative and symbolic of something just beyond my ken. (My son’s pictures:)

IMG_1085

IMG_1087

There was something so summery about bluebirds and cardinals being about on Christmas morning that I decided it must be my Christmas miracle this year, and a auspicious sign.

Then I sat back to wait for the cold to return, as it surely must. A warm wave in the winter is like the water drawing down on a beach; you know the water draws back further for the bigger waves. However though the cold has rushed down to chill western cities like Denver, it is taking its time coming east: (The first map shows our Christmas storm passing well north, with us on the southern mild side, and the second map shows two days later, with the east still spared the arctic air plunging into the west.) (Click to enlarge.)

20141225 satsfc

20141227 satsfc

The radar map shows snow along the battle lines between the cold west and the warm east:

20141227rad_nat_640x480

This battle line could brew up some big storms, as it works its way east, before the cold air eventually engulfs the entire USA. However for the moment we get a pause, a time of peace. The wind has died and the winter sun shines. Bluebirds are about. Obviously it is time for a sonnet.

I awoke to how wonderfully fashioned
Is a winter day, though the low sun is weak.
 
Faintly flavored, as when tea is rationed
And one sips a thin cup, one should not speak
Or one may miss the taste.   The breathless air
Is hushed; the sole birdsong is over a near
Hilltop, and is the scratchy cry of a rare
Christmas bluebird: Very faint; very clear.
 
I tell my noisy brain to be quiet.
I’m tired of its racket, and how it squints
At silence like bats in sunshine.
 
                                                    “Try it,”
Speaks the silence. “See My fingerprints
On every bough; with each breath you draw
See it takes no thought to wander in My awe.”

LOCAL VIEW —DAYS OF LONG SHADOWS—

I spent a Saturday doing my usual Saturday chores, which include a trip to the bank and a trip to dump, which we now call the “recycling center.”  I hate recycling, because there is always some sort of slime I get on my hands as I sort stuff. I can get very haughty, in a Rodney Dangerfield sort of way, about how inconsiderate my household is when they throw stuff away.

Today some rotten potatoes somehow wound up in the recyclable paper, and someone threw out a glass bottle of Thai peanut sauce that wasn’t empty, and I got it up to my elbows, as I sorted the glass to green, brown and clear bins. However worst were my granddaughter’s diapers. Someone just chucked a bag into the back of my pick-up truck, and the bag split, and the diapers spilled out and froze to the bed of the truck in a way that required a pry-bar to remove.  It was a chance for me to be spiritual and humble, and I totally failed.

It actually was a beautiful morning, but there is always some shadow that can spoil the beauty, if you allow it to. I knew I should focus on the brighter side of life, but sometimes I just get grumpy, and feel put upon, and then it seems best to remember Rodney Dangerfield, and to make a sort of exaggeration out of my mood, and reduce it to absurdity.

What I really wanted to do was be lazy, and write poems and study weather maps, but today was the day we get and decorate the Christmas tree, and that meant I had to start a second fire in a second stove, because I seem to be the only one who knows how to lay a fire correctly. (I might have turned up the heat, but I’m in the dog-house for forgetting to order propane, and we have to be careful before the truck comes on Monday, or we will run out.)

Nearly running out of Propane gives me something else to grouse about. Having four full-grown children at home, and a baby granddaughter, means long, long showers, and all sorts of cooking in the kitchen, and an excuse to turn up the heat (the baby), and the propane tank which was 60% full sank to 10% full with amazing speed.  I don’t even know why I checked it, this morning, but when I did my eyebrows shot past my receding hairline. I knew I’d be in really big trouble if we ran out on Christmas day. So, rather than sitting back and writing a poem, I had to track down the propane people on a Saturday when no one is available. Then I discovered they’d charge $200.00 simply to show up. I decided we could wait until Monday, but that meant I had to get the wood fires going.

It is ironic that the kids wanted to go out in the woods and get a tree. They sure didn’t have that attitude when they were small. I’d try to make the event be like something you might see in a Norman Rockwell painting, but they always wondered why we didn’t just buy one like other people did. (Usually I was basically broke, after buying gifts.) I’d tell them they would remember the event fondly, but they assured me they would require therapy to recover from the scars. Bears used to be woken from hibernation and poke their heads from caves in wonder, as the kids passed in a chorus of complaints, trudging through the trees.

I remember one time it started snowing, and snowed an amazing three inches in around an hour, and my youngest was a baby wailing in a back pack, as my three-year-old somehow lost both a boot and a sock and hopped about on one foot, and just then a loud helicopter slowly passed over, and could be dimly seen up through the falling snow, and my oldest daughter, (who was thirteen and thought “family-stuff is dumb” and answered “whatever” to anything you said,) looked up and cried out, “We’re saved!  We’re saved!”

The next year I bought a tree.

But now they want to go out in the woods? They want an absurd tree, like the ones I used to get?  They speak fondly of the tree that was narrow at the bottom, and expanded like an inverted pyramid until it was wide by the ceiling? They are sentimental about the time I wove a white pine, hemlock, and spruce together to make a facsimile of a balsam fir?

Bah humbug.

All I wanted to do was study weather maps and the radar, and try to figure out why the promising mass of moisture to our south didn’t bloom into a nor’easter, but instead slid harmlessly out to sea.

20141219 rad_nat_640x480 20141219B rad_nat_640x480_12

The interesting thing is that we did get a hint of the nor’easter that never happened. Where you see the thin blue bit of snow over northern Virginia in the second radar view above there was a plume of moisture from the southeast, and even far to the north in New Hampshire our sunny day suddenly saw purple scud come rolling up from the southeast, and it went from a day of bright sun and long shadows to a day softened by gray, with no shadows at all.

Not that I’d have time to write a poem about it. I had to get fires going, and then it would be rude to just sit at my computer, and not join the family to decorate the ridiculous tree my kids dragged in from the woods. I was just glad there was no nor’easter, and no shoveling to do.

20141219 satsfc

20141220 satsfc

(In the second map above you can see a mass of clouds pushing past Cape Cod. That is the nor’easter-that-failed-to-be.)

I have to confess that, even though I was feeling a bit tired, and bloated from the trays of snacks and goodies that was served instead of a wholesome dinner, there was something nice about trimming the tree.

Nor can I say I didn’t write a sonnet, after the house got quiet.

The shortest days grow the longest shadows.
My pest leaps along beside me at noon
Copying but not helping. It elbows
My concentration like some thuggish goon
Blotting darkness across a bright, clear day
Otherwise made wine-like by soft blue skies
And windless air and feathered, flitting play
Of small winter birds with thin, piping cries.
 
Go away, shadow. Who invited you to come?
You turn sunshine harsh, and make me glad
Low purple rolls in from the sea to numb
And turn the winter landscape gray and sad.
 
He never answers. I cross the gray lawn
And look beside me, and see he’s gone.