LOCAL VIEW –Singing In The Pain–

One neat thing about the internet is the ability I gain to hear what people in other places are grousing about. For example, some are complaining their winter hasn’t had snowstorms and there will not be a White Christmas in their locale. This strikes me as ludicrous, for two reasons. First, winter will not even start for another two days. Second, here we are reeling from winter’s blows and many around here are already fed up with winter, before it has officially started.

The cold air masses that plunge down from Canada apparently “lift out” and are pulled back north before affecting many to our south, but we seem to always get clipped. Where to our south they get all rain we get some snow mixed in.

One storm I posted about two weeks ago gave us three feet of snow, though areas not far to our north and south got less than six inches. If it wasn’t trouble enough dealing with such depths of white, the following two storms passed to our west and gave us flooding rains, made all the worse by the fact culverts were clogged with snowbanks. A wash-out littered the end of my driveway with cobbles the size of my fist.

After dealing with deep drifts I had to make sure roofs didn’t collapse under sodden snow, and dealt with a flooded cellar. Then it seemed that the departing rain-storms always pulled down just enough cold air to create just enough backlash snow to force me to deal with clearing it; (at times three inches can be as annoying as three feet).

At the risk of sounding like Rodney Dangerfield, I was starting to feel I’d never get a break. Forget about finding time for Christmas shopping. I was finding it hard to find time to even keep the home-fires burning, or to start the campfires out in the pasture at our Childcare that makes sledding in the cold far more enjoyable for the children. It is hard to even start a fire when the firewood is under three feet of snow. Then children don’t want to sled when it is pouring rain. Then the arctic blasts that followed the rain turned the slopes into sheer ice, and supersonic sledding is downright dangerous when it involves three-year-old and four-year-old kids. (Not that the kids aren’t willing.)

To be honest, I’m getting a bit old to be involving myself in such nonsense. I should be staying home and complaining about the aches and pains brought on by low barometric pressure, not be out in the storms making aspirin salesmen happy by attempting to shovel and split wood like a young man, and to go sledding down bumpy slopes like a child. When the kids demand an igloo I moan. Then, when the igloo is half-built, and the rain ruins it, I start sounding like Rodney Dangerfield.

Despite all the pain, I can find myself singing. I can’t claim credit for lifting spirits, for I do some things by rote, in a purely mechanical fashion, about as cheerful as a robot. I depend on children aged three and four to display the spiritual wherewithal. They are the ones who muster the cheer. They never fail me.

For example, when we ran out of campfire wood I lugged my chainsaw out to the pasture. I know most childcare-professionals turn green at the very idea of small children being within a mile of a chainsaw, but I happen to know, from experience, that children delight in being invited along to the felling of a dead cherry tree or pine.

I take all sorts of precautions, keeping children out of harm’s way even should the tree falls the exact opposite direction I aim it to fall, and the children seem to comprehend the gravity of the situation. I don’t even need to gently rebuke the especially young and naive, because a five-year-old does it for me, like a small sergeant.

A hush descends when I shut off the saw and state the tree is about to fall. Then, when I lean against the trunk, and with a rending crack the tree starts to topple, and I shout, “Timber!”, the children jump up and down more than they do for fireworks, and when the trunk thuds to earth you’d think I’d just invented sliced bread. I keep my eyes on them as much as the log as I cut up the trunk, for they tend to edge closer, eager to load the logs on sleds. Then I likely violate child-labor-laws as badly as Tom Sawyer did when getting his Aunt Polly’s fence whitewashed, for children seem to fail to recognize moving hundreds of pounds of wood to a campfire on sleds is work. For them it seems a romp. But I do nothing to make the work be fun. The children do that work as well.

Another thing I do by rote is to show children what the Christmas carol that begins, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” is talking about. Some modern children have no idea what a chestnut, (or even an open fire) is. So I telephone grocery stores until I locate chestnuts, go get several pounds, build a fire and breed a bed of coals, and finally roast some chestnuts. Originally I used a flat rock or bricks, but we’ve gravitated to using the end of a broken shovel.

I never have to lift a finger to make the kids be interested. If anything I use reverse psychology, saying things like “This is grown-up food and you probably won’t like it” and “Chestnuts are too hot for little kids to peel the shells off of”. Even the most doubtful and suspicious will be busily shelling hot nuts, crouching like a squirrel (sans the tail) within an hour. The children supply the eagerness and excitement, as I plod about doing it all by rote.

However even the most idyllic setting can be wrecked by bad weather. Yesterday evening I had a splendid fire going out in the pasture, but noted that the sunset, usually ten minutes after four this far north, abruptly darkened. The wind swirled, and sparks flew from the fire, and then we were hit by an arctic snow squall. Such squalls immediately plaster small faces with wet flakes, and in a gusty wind even the warmest snowsuit can’t counter a freezing face.

I didn’t even wait for the wailing to begin. We immediately abandoned the fire and headed through the swirling, heavy snow for the “warming room” back at the stables, which was a bit like herding cats. The wailing was in full chorus by the time we arrived. Temperatures were crashing as yet again we got “clipped” by the coldest air so far this season, and again temperatures dove towards zero ( -17 Celsius.) By the stable’s infrared lamps the wailing soon ceased.

This morning’s bright sunshine did little to warm things, as the north wind roared in the pines.

Today I thought I might get my Christmas shopping started, but a member of my staff suffered a misfortune and I had to cover for them. Rather than being spiritual and feeling pity for them, I was Rodney Dangerfield and felt sorry for myself. (It is hard dealing with a bunch of small children bouncing off the walls when you can’t do the logical thing, which is to throw them outside.) (I’d rather “delegate”, and watch my staff deal with such chaos.)

Actually, children want to go out despite the cold, especially when the low, December sun is white in a vivid blue sky, and looks inviting through a window. Rather than quarreling I tend to dress them up in their snow suits and allow them out to learn for themselves that their fingers and toes are swiftly bitten by an invisible creature. I keep an eye on their cheeks, watching for the healthy pinkness to tinge to purple, which is a sign the white patches of frostbite may soon follow. I also teach lessons that northern people should know, such as staying out of the wind, or staying close to the sunny side of a barn, which happens to be right by the warming room at the stables. I want to be by that room for I know that, despite all the clamoring to go outside, and all the work of putting on snowsuits and boots and hats and mittens, in as few as five minutes the exact same children will be clamoring to go back in. I prefer that they go into a room where I don’t have to take their snowsuits off. Some settle in the warming room and play with toys or color with cold crayons, but other go in and out, in and out, all morning long. By lunch I’m exhausted, and glad to hand the children off to an arriving member of the staff who will usher them indoors to lunch and settle them for “quiet time”.

But what about poor old Rodney Dangerfield? What about me? Who will usher me or settle me? No one, because I’m a grown man. I’m macho. But machismo didn’t make me all that happy today. I felt the pain but didn’t feel like singing.

It was too late for shopping, (as I also had an afternoon shift), but I had other tasks to catch up on. The woodpile on the porch was getting low, and I needed to cut some short logs from the long lengths of wood up on the back hill behind the house. It shouldn’t be so hard, now that recent rains had reduced the three feet of snow to six inches. I hoisted my chainsaw and headed off stoutly in that direction, and heard the pines roar, and then was hit by a blast of wind that made me wince and cringe away. Instantaneously I decided the saw was too dull. Rather than cut wood I should sharpen the saw. When I touched the blade the fabric of my gloves froze to the steel. I decided I should do the sharpening inside by the hot wood stove.

I think it was at this point my mood changed. Perhaps I don’t always need three-year-olds and four-year-olds to supply the spiritual wherewithal. Perhaps I can rouse something called “a sense of humor”, and muster enough poetry for a sonnet about sharpening a saw.

I know my wife don’t like machines within
Her tidy, warm house, but Wife wasn’t home.
The cold would freeze chainsaw’s steel to skin
And so I brought the chainsaw in, but own
Brains bright enough not to place Saw on polish
Of Wife’s Table. Instead I bent Old Back
And creaked down to the floor, a smallish
Rat-tailed-file in hand, and by Stove began Attack
On Dullness, tooth by tooth. Hearing grinding
My old dog came over to see what bone
I gnawed, down on her level. Then, finding
None, she licked my face. So, now I own
That simplicity’s not all that boring,
Stuck inside with arctic winds roaring.

LOCAL VIEW –Mining Wood–

In case you young folk want to know where firewood comes from, it comes from “wood mines”.

Wood Mine 1 IMG_0108

My rat-hunting dog begs to differ. She claims they are called “woof mines”.

Wood Mine 2 IMG_0111

The deep snows make everyday deeds, like getting an armload of wood, difficult. The deep snow-cover also seems to confuse the computer-model used to figure out our forecasts.  Temperatures are significantly lower than forecast. The low last night was forecast to be 10F (-12 Celsius) but instead it is getting down towards zero in the dark before dawn. But check out the forecast. Nearly fifty degrees warmer and raining by tomorrow!?

Wood Mine 3 IMG_0113

What a mess it could be! Everything will turn to slush and then freeze solid. Great start to winter. But if the snowbanks by the roads freeze solid it will be more difficult to skid off the roads. They become like bobsled runs.

 

THE LIMPING SUN

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It has always fascinated me how much warmer it is on the autumnal side of the Winter Solstice, and how much colder it is after the Solstice. I tend to look at the sun and say, “The sun is as low now as it is in X.”  I do this especially in the spring, when it seems the snow will never melt, but the sun is getting higher and more powerful.

After a quarter century of putting up with this sort of muttering, my wife now rolls her eyes, and occasionally asks me why I can’t enjoy the present without comparing it to something else.

However I can’t seem to help myself. Today I’ll look out across the nut-colored landscape of Oak Autumn, check my almanac, and say something like, “Today is ten and a half hours long, the same as it is on February 13, when the world would be white and all the ponds frozen.”  My wife might then ask me if I have so much free time I can check almanacs, and I will hurry off, because if I leak out that I have free time she might ask for help with some task. Even after a quarter century I haven’t taught that woman how to loaf, though I’m still working on it.

The dwindling sunshine hits home around Halloween. I think it spooks northern people and makes them a little crazy, which is why we have the strange holiday “Halloween” now. (The opposite craziness, in the Spring, is “April Fools Day”.)  In pagan times, in Ireland, people thought the spirits of the dead began to walk abroad in the early evenings, and hid indoors with an offering placed outside their front doors to placate the dead. If they did have to go out into the dusk they would disguise their identity by wearing a mask. St. Patrick apparently felt this was nonsense, and to show that Christians were not afraid he sent little children out in the dark to eat the offerings at other people’s porches. (I’m not exactly sure how the little children came to wear masks.)

Though New England gets much colder than Ireland, we are further south and our days don’t get as short, but it still is distressing how swiftly the sun gets wan and weak in October. The days are nearly an hour and a half shorter at the end of the month than they were at the start. The fiery brilliance of the sugar maple’s flaming foliage has given way to the muted browns of the oaks,  and the green cornstalks have turned brown and rustle crisply in the windy fields. The summer birds have all gone and the dawns are more silent, and alien birds from the north are passing through.

The drenching nor’easter we got at the end of last week is remembered, as the fallen leaves are still wet below the surface of their drifts and piles, despite dry northwest winds as the storm slowly moved off. The low, limping sun simply has lost its power to dry things.  I remember, from back in the days when I made a bundle of money by raking up other people’s leaves, that a fall rain made the job far heavier and harder. Leaves took a long time to dry, before the first snow, whereas they dried swiftly after the last snow melted, because the sun is so much higher, and the days are three hours longer, in April.

Even as a strong young man this might have given me a reason to loaf, but with five kids I needed the money, and therefore raked leaves in the fall. Now I do have a reason to loaf, for I don’t get paid a cent for raking my own leaves, however my wife seems to think leaves look bad. I think they look lovely, and in any case, they’ll soon be hidden by snow.  (I don’t much care about the grass being killed beneath the leaves, for my dog has done a pretty good job of killing it already.)  However females seem to judge the character of a man by the color of his lawn, so I’ll likely get started raking the lawn, any day now….unless we get an early snow. There is always hope.

The problem with an early snow involves our pigs. I don’t have winter quarters for them, and snow and cold means that a lot that goes into feeding them goes into keeping their body heat hot. After all, they are pink things running about stark naked. Therefore I’d best get them to market. I’d do it, but I have to rake leaves. However I have trouble raking leaves when I’m so worried about those poor pigs. (“There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza…”)

The above map shows the last storm leaving, but a new storm coming. We were suppose to get a nice, mild spell, according to the forecasts based on computer models, but once again Joe Bastardi and Joseph D’Aleo said otherwise on their blogs at Weatherbell, and once again they have beat the world’s biggest computers with mere brains. Brains may not be able to beat computers at chess, but brains do much better than computers playing the game of chaos, which is what weather and humanity amount to.

The computers now show the low crossing the Great Lakes will dig in and deepen, as it arrives at the Atlantic. What is left of Hurricane Ana, a mere impulse barely able to dent the isobars as it penetrates high pressure crossing the Rockies, will dive southeast and add energy to the east coast trough, and another nor’easter will form this Saturday. It may suck enough cold air down behind it to create some snow.

Sigh. I was planning to avoid telling my wife about this forecast, but the blasted, tweeting, newfangled Facebook alerted her. Now I’ll have to both rake leaves and get pigs to the market. It’s either that, or go out and purchase a good Halloween mask.

Bears have it better. They hibernate.