LOCAL VIEW –Thanksgiving For The Unrecognized–

Recently my wife and I took a weekend off, and basically turned off our cell phones so we would not need to face the people who demand our time, often without gratitude. Why are they not grateful? I suppose it is because people tend to be a bit egotistical, and feel we should feel privileged to even be dealing with them. For example, think of a little child agonizing about not making a grade school team. From their perspective making-the-team is important, and well worth our attention. If you are not careful, knowing about too many of these “important” issues, and arching your eyebrows in a sympathetic manner for each of them, can completely burn you out, so we took a break. Simply taking a weekend away was a sort of spiritual retreat, but there is a problem with such retreats: They must end. You must go back and face your worldly responsibilities.

I am always reluctant to return to humdrum reality, no matter how restful a spiritual retreat may have been. The simple fact of the matter is that a lot that is “worldly” is also petty. Pettiness is not merely in little children who agonize about things that will not matter, in the long run, but also pettiness is in supposedly adult people, like preachers and politicians, and in supposedly adult institutions, like churches and the U.S. government.

If I had my druthers, I druther would write poetry. When I look back to my school days, I see I was more interested in the clouds out the window than the chalk on the blackboard. The interests of schoolmarms were never as interesting to me as the interests of schoolboys.

Look at it this way:  If heaven is the goal of life, why should our focus be on the non-heavenly things called “the worldly”?

The people in the world who I am most thankful to meet are those who have a certain light in their expressions that suggests they are seeing something heavenly. True, in some cases the light is merely due to them thinking they are seeing an end to pain. For example, a poor person may buy a winning lottery ticket, and their face may then shine, because they think their problems are solved. But soon their eyes cease beaming, as they discover filthy lucre is not an end to problems, and often increases them.

The light I like more, in people’s faces, is more lasting, and is not associated so strongly with worldly desires for wealth, sex, power, popularity, and intellectual achievement. Instead it simply recognizes heaven as a reality that exists even if you are poor, sexually frustrated, powerless, ignoble, and suffering intellectual writer’s-block.

There are simply some people who see a higher Truth, and whose moods are not controlled by the worldly circumstances of their lives. Sometimes they are saints like Mother Teresa in the slums of Calcutta, but sometimes they are people who you might think are entrapped by material success, but can be famous and wealthy without seeming to deny heaven exists.

Back in the early and mid Twentieth Century some of these people made decent livings as commercial artists for magazines. They produced the covers. Although it is true that “you can’t judge a book by its cover”, the editors of books and magazines knew a good picture could interest the general public, and sought artists talented in that respect.

One of the greatest was Norman Rockwell. I’ve praised him often. But another great artist, when it comes to sketching heaven, was Maxfield Parish. Norman Rockwell actually idolized Maxfield Parrish, when young.

Maxfield Parish became rich, simply portraying mortal humans during the most heavenly moments of their lives. (From a box of chocolates:)

Maxfield Parish 1 ap25lgrubyrectfrd1

His pictures were so beautiful that, as a commercial artist, he was an incredible success. At a time when a new house cost $2000, he made $100,000 a year. However all the money the public paid him apparently didn’t make him fond of the public. How can I say such a thing? Because, while his earlier pictures show a fondness for humans and their human nature, about the time he reached my age he stopped painting humans, and focused entirely on the beauty of landscapes. After around 1935 he painted landscapes which, in my humble opinion, have an amazing beauty, (surreal without Dali’s distortion), and yet they portray a world devoid of humanity. He painted right up to his death in 1966 at age 95, but did not seem to think humans were beautiful and worthy of being subjects within heavenly landscapes. He seemed to forget the way he saw when he was fifty years younger, in 1906, and painted “The Lantern Bearers” for Collier’s Magazine.

Maxfield Parish 2 800px-Maxfield_Parrish_The_Lantern_Bearers_1908

It should be noted, as an alternative, that Norman Rockwell did not retire from humanity, even though he too was wealthy in his old age. He did seem to become less romantic, and more concerned with social issues of the time, such as school integration (retaining a hint of Romanticism).

Norman Rockwell Intergration The-problem-we-all-live-with-norman-rockwell

Which brings me around to the topic of myself. Which way will I go, as I approach retirement age?

When I was in my early twenties, and first noticed the difference between what Maxfield Parish and Norman Rockwell painted in their old age, I vowed I’d never become fed up with humanity. I would forever be optimistic, and never fail to see the beauty in my fellow man.

Well, I have failed. The first time I failed I was still in my early twenties, and I confess I have failed on multiple occasions since then. I have looked upon you, my fellow man, and seen nothing but rapscallions and self-serving mongrels posing as pure-blooded priests.  I mean, look hard at yourselves. Are you any reason I should feel especially hopeful about the future of humanity?

And do you know what saves you, more often than not? It is the fact I become aware I am looking in a mirror; I am projecting; the reason I am such an expert in bad behavior is because I practice it.

That isn’t any reason for hope. Rather it diminishes my faith in myself even as I lose faith in the world. What on earth is there left to have faith in? Am I not a complete pessimist? I, the very same man who once vowed to become an eternal optimist! Which brings me to the 1922 Maxfield Parrish cover for “Life” magazine:

Maxfield Parrish Rouge Indeed ori_268_2121346856_1137844_He_is_a_Rogue_Life_Cover

There was a contest to name the picture on the “Life” cover, and the winner was, “He is a rogue indeed who robs life of its ends, fostering doubt.” (Get it? “Life” becomes “If”.)

As a young man first learning this history I wondered if Maxfield Parish had such a trick in mind, as he painted the picture, or whether it was an accident, or perhaps subconscious. In any case, the winning title stuck with me, and any time I find myself becoming excessively pessimistic I think of the rogue in the picture above.

For the fact of the matter is that, even when we botch perfection, and all those we know botch perfection as well, there is a third Thing that you can have faith in, neither our self nor other humans.  Call “It” what you will, “It” saves us from plunging to complete ruin. Without “It” there would be no reason to call foul behavior “inhumane”, because in many cases foul behavior is very human. Whatever “It” is, “It” redeems us.

And how do we recognize “It”? We see “It” in what we call “heavenly”. “It” is in humor that allows us to laugh at our mistakes rather than curse. “It” is in the joy that lets us walk singing in the rain.

Gene Kelly, and Maxfield Parish, and Norman Rockwell, made very nice amounts of money simply hinting at the heavenly. However the people who have really been a great blessing in my life, and at times even have been life-savers, never charge the price of admission. They simply had, and have, joy in their hearts, and made me, and make me, smile on the gloomiest day.

More than money, more than sex, more than power, more than acclaim, more than inspiration, I value the smiles such people begrudge from my grouchy old face. For all the other things come and go, but remembered jests still make me smile even after fifty years. Those jesters, even if long lost,  are joys to remember, and be Thankful for, on Thanksgiving.

In the End of Ends a simple smile will crush the mighty, and defeat death itself.

Owen wrote, “I, too, have seen God in mud”
About the gruesome trenches, when men died
Like flies, (’cause two men, who shared royal blood,
King and Kaiser, saw war as sport, and tried
Out their new toys: Sputtering machine guns
And poison gasses).
                                         How could Wilford Owen
Write such guff? When Chlorine greened the sun’s
Rays and men writhed like sprayed wasps, men
He’d laughed with moments before, how could he
See God?
                    I suppose it was because God
Is everywhere. There is nowhere to flee
In life where Life isn’t. Beneath the sod
We do not know, until we go, but here
We delve no dark mines devoid of men’s cheer.

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LOCAL VIEW —The Forthright of July—

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978),

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), “The Gossips,” 1948. Painting for “The Saturday Evening Post” cover, March 6, 1948. Oil on canvas. Private collection. ©SEPS: Curtis Publishing, Indianapolis, IN

I haven’t posted many “Local Views” recently, because they are suppose to have the charm of a Norman Rockwell painting, which can take the everyday and reveal something exalted. Such an aim may be brimming with idealism, but it isn’t always realistic. Norman Rockwell himself, in a typically self-depreciating mood, dismissed his paintings as “Pictures of how we wish life was.”

In actual fact God is in everyone and everything, and there is absolutely nothing that is not exalted, seen in the correct Light. My failure to see this beauty lies in my human inability and blindness. God’s beauty is right in front of me, as plain as the nose on my face. But I ask myself this: Have I ever really seen the nose on my face? (And I’m not talking about some second-hand photo or mirror image.)

Because I can’t see something as plain as the nose on my face, I ignore it and instead speak of “being realistic”. I miss the beauty and poetry all around me, even in those nearest and dearest to me, and I call this ignorance “sensible.”

What I admired about Norman Rockwell was that he really never attacked the status quo of “sensible” behavior. Rather he simply showed that status quo in such a way that a feeling was prompted that was not sensible: Pragmatism crumbled, and one laughed and felt affection for neighbors, despite their bad behavior.

Nothing in my recent life was making me feel that way, initially. Now I can laugh, but it took me a while to get the joke. And, during the time it takes me to get the joke, I find it is usually wisest to be quiet. (Not always, but usually).

The joke this time involved the simple fact I’m not as strong as I used to be, and need to downsize the vegetable garden. However last April people got enthusiastic, and there was a lot of talk about assistance. So, rather than putting in a smaller garden, I put in a big one. Then, when it came time for the assistance to manifest, guess what happened?

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The failure of assistance to materialize doesn’t occur all at once, like Lucy snatching away the football. Rather it happens by slow stages and degrees, for the road to a weedy garden is paved with good intentions. As it happens I work harder and harder, trying to make up for the failure of man-hours to manifest, but eventually I have to face the fact I just can’t do it alone. This year I couldn’t even keep up with the watering, during the early-spring drought, and couldn’t keep up with the planting schedule. And when the rains came and the weeds exploded, as they always do, I sadly gazed out over a garden that had gone the wrong sort of green.

I think in April people go mad. That’s why we have April Fool’s Day, so you can get it out of your system, but people never do. Instead it manifests as mad ambition, and in terms of a vegetable garden, people become enchanted by a picture Norman Rockwell never painted, (that I know of). It is a picture of people all working happily together under the hot summer sun, in a tidy garden without a weed, and baskets of bounty being canned and frozen by smiling folk who just love the job.

It is what the old timers called a “bee”, but what people forget is that a bee took a job that basically sucked, and made it be fun. Few women really liked to sew, and if they had to do it alone they likely would be cursing quietly beneath their breath, but when it became a “sewing bee” it was far more fun.  In like manner picking the meat from crabs was a tedious job that sucked, but I saw women up in Maine turn it into a crab-picking-bee, and it truly was a time of laughter and a joyous social event. However the thing of it was that these jobs were jobs that had to be done. Nowadays no one really needs to sew, so why bother? In the old days the farm garden kept you from starving, so you had better darn well make sure it was weeded. Now it is just a sort of appendage to your yard, and perhaps a way to get fresher food, but definitely not a matter of life and death.

I personally enjoy the exercise, because it does produce something that is far better than the stuff you get at a supermarket, and anyway, going to a gym always seemed a waste of time and money to me. A garden produces food, but a gym only produces vanity, and a salve for the fear of getting fat, unattractive and dying of a heart attack. A gym is all about the ego, but a garden is about other things, and you can forget yourself there.

I could go on at length on this topic, but I’ve already gone there and done that: https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2013/07/20/contemplating-crabgrass/

Now I am contemplating the fact that people may have a dream of working in the hot sun like a happy, healthy peasant, but when push comes to shove, no one (except, apparently, me), actually wants to be a peasant. In fact when I think of Norman Rockwell’s paintings they seem to be more about playing hooky.

Norman Rockwell Fishing had4680 I do take the children at our Farm-childcare fishing, but it is nothing like the Norman Rockwell view of fishing.Norman Rockwell fishing 2 il_fullxfull.221025553 When I take seven small boys fishing I basically spend hours untangling lines and trying to teach them to untangle their own lines, and baiting hooks and trying to teach them to bait their own hooks, and trying to keep hooks from flesh and especially eyeballs, and if we catch a fish it is a wonder. (A boy did catch a five pound bass last week, but that miracle deserves a post of its own.) The boys are aged three to seven, and I’ve learned a whole new definition regarding “the patience of a fisherman.” I explain things as elementary as the fact you cannot catch a fish unless you keep your hook in the water, and find my joys in the fact boys are boys. For example, it used to make me mad when, right after I said splashing would scare the fish, a boy made a splash. Now I simply ask, “Didn’t I say throwing rocks would scare the fish?” Then I watch, and await the inevitable answer. “It wasn’t a rock. It was a boulder.”

When I get back from these adventures I’m completely exhausted, (and usually carrying all the poles), (which are all hopelessly tangled), and the last thing I want to see is that the garden is crying out for care. The beans can barely be seen, and wave their topmost leaves like drowning swimmers. “Help us! Help us!”

What I really need is a patron who will donate a vast sum so I can hire a weeder. Fat chance of that happening around here. People around here won’t even donate much for widows and orphans, (let alone for poets who seem to goof off for a living), and yet these same impoverished people seem to have all sorts of extra money to have go up in smoke, when July fourth rolls around.

I suppose I should be understanding. When young I used to go through considerable risk to buy illegal fireworks in a back alley of Boston’s tiny Chinatown, but my views have changed since then. Physical fireworks are lame, compared to poetry. Heck, even LSD now seems like a slum, compared to really being high. However others, who have not a nickle to spare for charity, will pay two hundred for beer and a thousand for fireworks.

However I have little patience with people who haven’t grown up while I have. When I was young the daylight on July fourth never seemed to end, as I agonized waiting for fireworks. Now, after fishing with seven boys, and feeding goats, pigs, chickens and a rabbit, and even doing a small amount of desultory weeding, all I want on the evening of July 4 is a shower and my pillow. However before I turned in I did warn my middle son, who is younger and more energetic and had four college buddies dropping by, that he should not set off fireworks anywhere near our goats, because our goats are not patriotic.

Just as my head was nestling down into my pillow the cellphone call came from somewhere in the woods, from my son. The neighbor had set off a shell measuring several megatons that barely cleared the treetops.  The goats had totally freaked out, and behaved like cartoon characters who leave a hole of their size and shape, running through a wall, only the goats ran through a fence.

I caught up to my son halfway to Greenville,  and he told me he’d managed to herd the goats half the way back when the neighbor set of an even bigger display. He hadn’t yet caught up to the goats a second time, but we figured they must have veered away from Greenville, because an even bigger and more raucous display was going off in that direction, and they now likely were heading for the town of Temple.

I wondered about a lot of things, as the mad full moon rose orange midst the fireworks flashes of the night.  I wondered over the fact that only twenty years ago I would have been walking in woods, but now was in a transplanted Waltham, a hundred new houses.  I wondered over the odds of my being arrested for wandering through people’s backyards yelling, “Here Goats!  Here Goats!” I wondered why people moved to the country when they lacked the courtesy to avoid terrifying livestock. I wondered if this was God’s way of declaring my independence from goats, from farming, and of freeing my time for poetry. I wondered if the local bear would relish a good goat dinner.

I gave up when the fireworks were quieting only a little, at 10:30, (when they legally are suppose to stop). I recalled I was “deacon-on-duty” at church, in the morning, and it would not be proper to show up red-eyed and incoherent. Also the goats had headed into a swamp full of thirsty mosquitoes, and I have only so much blood. Enough was enough, and I went back to bed.

I was back at the barn in the twilight of dawn, yawning but dutifully ready to hunt down the goats, but the goats beat me back, and were waiting for me. They were not cut very much from their wild, panicky run through darkness, but very hungry, and as the day progressed they seemed to get sore and to limp a little, though not as much as I did.

When I got back from tending to the goats, still before sunrise and church, my wife showed me a couple Facebook exchanges she thought might interest me. The first involved people who had moved to the country to have horses, who were irate about how the fireworks had freaked out their horses, and who were rebutted by many, many Facebook pundits who said if they didn’t like freedom and fireworks they should move back to the city, and take their snobby horses with them.  The second exchange involved a photo of a black bear walking by the entrance to our church, close to the sign that says “All are welcome.”  I said we should add, “except bears”.

I find it odd that, even as people destroy the country by wanting to move out into it, they live such an indoorsy lives, tweeting and facebooking, that the wildlife is moving back into the suburbs. Even down near Boston deer, moose, coyote, beaver, ermine, fisher-cats, wildcat and black bear, (practically extinct in my boyhood), are now chowing down at backyard bird-feeders.

At my farm-daycare I am constantly asked by audacious children questions that point to a fantastic disconnect between man and nature. The children ask, wrinkling their noses, “Why do you get your carrots from the dirty dirt?”

Even more fantastic is the fact the parents are not much wiser. Where I was raised by the woods, they were raised by TV sets. Where my parents told me to get out and not to bug them until dinner time, their parents plunked them in front of a TV and told them not to bug them until dinner time. (Perhaps I am resorting to hyperbole, but there is a huge difference between generations.)

Now I have become an anachronism, an old Yankee who really doesn’t fit in. Strangely, despite my being a misfit, we have a long waiting list at our Farm-childcare. I suppose we are what the TV calls “green”, and are therefore desirable, though I am a conservationist and heartily despise all that environmentalists claim is “green” and “natural”.

It is difficult to describe the difference between a conservationist and an environmentalist, but I think Norman Rockwell could paint a picture of what conservationists represent. But try to imagine, if you can, a Saturday Evening Post cover portraying what environmentalists represent, in a manner that would make you smile and glad to be a member of the human race.

I doubt you can.  At best you would have a Pravda characterization of humanity, a propaganda poster, white-teethed and bronze-skinned Kens and Barbies marching on to the dictator’s utopia. Compare such unreal faces to the Rockwell faces in this post, and tell me which are closer to nature.

Considering my society is playing hooky from so much that is natural, and veering towards such unnatural madness, I hope I can be forgiven if, by the time Monday rolled around, I said the heck with weeding, and decided to play a little hooky myself. (Well, actually,  I couldn’t totally give up on the weeding, but rather than getting down on my knees and doing a good job, I just ran the rototiller up and down between the rows a little), and then…

Going to the beach on a hot July
Mid-morning with the stain of brass heat draped
On every bough and street, and in my eye
Even shadows hazed gold, nothing escaped
The heat…but I am. Like a boy
Playing hooky, the consequences fade
In the face of surging, giggling joy.

While it may be true we’ll sleep in beds unmade,
Face stern principles, grip hungover foreheads,
That’s all far away. Now we’re on our way
To the beach, and like flowering dawn sheds
The dark dreads of night, joy drives gloom away.

We’re all going to die, but boys playing hooky
Have light in their eye, and life’s their cookie.

THE LOCAL VIEW —The coldest warm-up—(updated)

The forecast low last night was 10° (-12° Celsius), so when it was down to 1.9° (-17 Celsius) at 9:00, it was fairly obvious the forecast was a “bust.”  However then temperatures began to slowly rise, as just about the coldest “warm sector” I’ve ever seen appeared on the weather map. By morning it was up to 7° (-14° Celsius), which means the forecast was still a “bust”, but perhaps a little more understandable.

As I hustled about stirring the embers of the wood fires and getting them going I could hear the furnace running non-stop, which meant the inside of the house was down below 57°. I blamed the coal fire, which never really caught, and was only producing a small, feeble, red glow from beneath a pile of unburnt coal. The ashes beneath were blocking the flow of air, so I carefully poked a few holes to the dim glow and hoped it caught, and then dashed out the door.

Outside I could see the twilight was nearly windless, but the smoke from chimney was drifting ever so slowly away to the north.  So the map was right. We were in a warm sector.

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As I pulled into the farm to open the Childcare I could see the nearly full waning moon sinking to the west. It seemed midst an odd, ominous, grey haze, that looked more like low scud than high clouds, though the rising sun soon showed it was actually high clouds. I noted the look of the sky in the back of my mind, where it now sits with the looks of thousands of other skies.

I decided I was being subjective to call it “ominous.” After all, we were in a warm sector, and a tiny little storm, (perhaps an updraft caused by the Great Lakes),  was passing to our north. The air was calm, and some the arriving children were giving their parents the typical hard time about having to bundle up.

After dropping six tykes off at kindergarten I stopped in at home to have a quick glance at the latest map.

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I didn’t like how the isobars showed northeast winds behind the mini-storm moving up the Saint Lawrence Seaway. If they pushed the front south of us the air behind the cold front wouldn’t be moderated by the Great Lakes, but would come straight from the frozen north.

I checked the Great Lakes using my usual radar, but it showed nothing. Sometimes that radar doesn’t pick up the low stuff, so I checked my Wearherbell radar, and it showed a wall of snow moving due south off Lake Ontario. (I’m not sure why that radar is more sensitive; it just is.) (Unfortunately I haven’t learned to steal pictures from its screen yet, but will advertise the cool Weatherbell site just the same.)

Seeing the radar echos of snow head south gave me the sense we wouldn’t be getting any lake-warmed air, but rather would get the “Montreal Express.” Therefore I should hustle to take advantage of the “warmth” while it lasted. When I checked the thermometer I saw it had made it up to 11° (-12° Celsius.)

I didn’t hustle much. I was paying the price for some lovely insomnia, and withdrawing into the world of weather maps when smarter people are sleeping. Now I was kicking myself for being so stupid. Like the old song goes, “You’ve had your way; now you must pay.”

It seemed to me that, if I’m going to practice escapism, I really ought retreat to the year 1971 and work on my novel. (I’m about done a “teaser”, which I may publish on this blog.) However the fun of escapism lies in the sense of escape from responsibility, and it would be too much like responsibility to work on my novel, so I wander off into the world of weather.

Actually, when I think deeply about it, if I was born to be a writer, then one of the most wonderful sidetracks of escapism was to get married, a quarter century ago. As soon as you get married you get hit by a whole bunch of marital responsibilities. Little did people know I was actually being irresponsible, as a writer. It’s been my secret wickedness, to look like a model citizen, coaching little league and so on, but actually practicing escapism to my heart’s content.

However now I’m getting old, and one of these days, hopefully not too soon, I’m going to meet the Maker who made me. My understanding is that He sees through all our ways of fooling others and ourselves. I’m a bit nervous He’ll ask to see my novel, like long-ago Algebra teachers asked to see my math homework.  I doubt he’ll fall for the excuses that used to fool, or at least entertain, my long-ago teachers. Therefore I’d best get to work.

I only worked a little, and then took a midday, after-lunch nap, and when I awoke the wind was picking up, and my new thermometer told me temperature had peaked at 16.7° (-8.5 Celsius), and was starting down. Cumulus was rolling in from the northwest, surprisingly purple for clouds that were relatively shallow. I’d gotten a fire going out in the pasture at the Childcare, but as the wind picked up it swirled and occasionally roared like a blast furnace, streaming sparks downwind. As the wind swirled about no one dared stand too close, so it didn’t warm people as much as yesterday’s. Flurries of streaking snow filled the air, which swiftly became bitter. It had dropped to 8° by the early sunset and dipped below zero at around 8:00, and is now -4.7° at 9:30. (-20° Celsius).

I’d say our “warm spell” is over.

Usually each day has at least one scene that stands out in my memory as particularly beautiful and poetic, or at least as possessing the charm of a Normal Rockwell painting. I was thinking today it would be during the milder morning, however instead it was during the afternoon.

Yesterday, when it was colder but calmer, most of the kids ignored the fire and made their own heat with their winter play. They sledded, before two small girls noticed they could scrape the snow off a flooded part of the pasture and find very smooth ice beneath.  At first they played in a private world of their own, but other children became intrigued and came over to see what they were up to. Despite their strenuous objections others began cleaning the snow away from their own sections of pasture, and then someone discovered that by turning a chair upside down a sort of snowplow could be pushed about. This created quarrels about who got the chair, which I solved by finding other chairs.  At first there were a number of small areas connected by a system of roads, but this expanded into a single long oval of smooth ice, and the children invented a new game of running and then flopping and sliding on their stomachs, as darkness fell. Most completely ignored my warm fire.

Today they went right back to their new fad, ignoring the sleds altogether, and for the most part ignoring the bitter wind and swirling snow. Then, just as the front was passing and the weather grew most snowy and brisk, they noticed my middle son over by the rooster cage, opening the door.

Last winter the beastly bird stayed out all winter, but by spring he was croaking more than crowing, and his comb looked a little worse for wear, so we decided to move him into the barn this year. Then we put it off, as the bird is mean and I’m the only one who can handle him. I grab his neck and squeeze, and he becomes compliant. (I also am the only human he backs away from. He attacks everyone else.)

I went when I saw my son was having some difficulty getting the bird to leave its pen and enter a small cage. The rooster didn’t see me sneaking up, and I was able to nab its neck and flop it into the cage, but my son didn’t close the door swiftly enough, and the bird flappingly fluttered right out and back into the pen, (which is difficult to enter as it has a low, chickenwire roof to deter hungry foxes and owls at night.)

Now now the rooster was more on guard, and wary, and I had to creep around the sides of the pen poking with a long, dead, sunflower stalk. All the children became excited, and crowded around the pen helpfully shrieking and waving their arms, attempting to get the rooster near the door again, but he was too smart.  He ran everywhere but near the door, hiding where he could, under his small house and a few rooster toys, and always regarding me with deep suspicion and mistrust. After a while he got tired, and then exhausted, and then my son did a surprising thing. He crawled into the pen and gathered the rooster to his chest in a most tender way. Even more surprisingly, the rooster didn’t rake him with its spurs, but instead became meek and humble, and accepted the cuddling embrace. I shook my head in disbelief as my son popped the big, docile bird into the cage and closed the door.

They put the cage on a freight-sled I use for firewood, and headed towards the barn, as I headed back to tend the fire. It was then I got my scene-for-the-day, for it seemed every child was waltzing along beside the sled. They had a new fad: Bringing the rooster to the barn, and it made them all completely happy for five minutes, dancing beside the baffled bird as the snow swirled in the gloaming.

After that it was getting dark, and so cold we all headed inside.

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(Click these maps to enlarge, or open to a new tab, to get a larger and clearer view.)

10:00 PM. -5.6° (-21° Celsius).  Wind still roaring in the pines, but a little less. Jupiter brilliant beside the moon in a cloudless sky. You can bet I have the coal fire burning better tonight, and it’s cozy here where I write, but only 60° in the next room, despite two other wood fires burning in other stoves. 250-year-old houses need snow on their roofs and drifts about their sides to be really warm in a winter wind, and we have neither, until perhaps next week.

UPDATE — 6:30 AM

The temperature is a balmy -12.5° (-25 Celsius) to start the day. I checked all the taps, and thought no pipes had frozen, until I went to flush the toilet a second time. That’s a new one. A vole likely dug a new hole by the cellar wall. I’ll have to hit that pipe with a hair drier, after the Childcare is opened up.

Even Boston made it below zero, at -1°.

I noticed it is relatively milder west of the Great Lakes. It was -10° on the east side of Lake Ontario at the Watertown shore, but +10° in Toronto on the northwest coast of the same lake. Backwards of the way it usually is.

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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.

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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.

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(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.

 

 

LOCAL VIEW —THE LITTLE CHILL—

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Yesterday was another lovely day of unseasonable warmth, until around three in the afternoon, when a cold front charged through with just enough of a mist to make burning leaves unwise.  I probably could have gotten a fire going and burned leaves, but repaired the windows in the stable the goats have wrecked instead.  If you try to burn leaves when they are damp they tend to smolder and make A.) amazing amounts of smoke B.) the neighbors complain.

I have to be careful about annoying neighbors. Times have changed, since the days when  our farm was one of only eight houses on a mile of road, back in the 1960’s. Now there are fifty, and the dead end road was made into a through street, and the farm is starting to feel like an island of country in suburbia.

I tend to ask gruff questions, such as, “What did you move to the country for, if you don’t like cows?” My wife is far more diplomatic, and often gives me a certain glance, when she thinks I am going to ask one of my questions.  It is just as effective as putting her finger up to her lips. In such cases I have to come here to my blog to grouse, if I want to grouse.

At times it seems to me that people who move to the country don’t actually like the country. Instead they are running away from the mess they made in their past. Of course, as they are part of the past problems, they bring their problems with them, including a rather glaring inability to get along with neighbors.

Why do they come complaining?
It seems they might as well
Turn their suburbs into heaven
And not farmlands into hell.

In the country people do get to know their neighbors. In fact country folk often strike some newcomers as downright nosy. My wife always would bring a new neighbor a pie or fresh baked loaf of bread, as a way of welcoming them, and I recall one young woman (who later became a great friend) initially wouldn’t even come to her door when my wife “came snooping around.”

I suppose getting to know neighbors was originally important because survival could be at stake. Despite the fact people were amazingly self-reliant a century ago, people also might have accidents out in the fields, or a household might come down with the ‘flu, and then it was good to have your routine known by every person in town.

As a writer I’ve never welcomed interruptions, and have been a private person who tended to keep to himself, only putting my opinions onto a page, and then thinking long and hard before making my ideas public, and sometimes wrinkling the page up and throwing it into the fire (or, in  modern times, hitting the “delete” key.) I figured my problems were my business. However shortly after I got married I had to have an operation just when my wife was clobbered with morning sickness due to pregnancy. (For her it was afternoon sickness and evening sickness, as well.) It was not an easy time for me, as three beautiful kids came along with the beautiful woman I married. I had no idea I was living in some sort of Norman Rockwell painting. What happened next astonished me.

For a solid week, right at lunch time and again at dinner time, fussy church-ladies I didn’t even know would arrive at the door with lunch and dinner, for a family of five.  (I didn’t complain one bit if it often was macaroni and cheese.)  For a toughened artist like myself, who had spent long periods sleeping in his car, in rough places where people are immediately suspicious of you if you look down-on-your-luck, the experience of kindness was unexpected, and completely charming. Like the Grinch, my heart grew three sizes that day.

After that I didn’t mind so much that country folk seem snoopy, and seem to gossip a lot about your behavior, especially your flaws. We tend to hide our flaws, but in the country people seek them out.  What I discovered is that they don’t reject you for your flaws. Rather it becomes part of a sort of resume.  About me they might say, “Caleb’s goats are bleating. He’s late feeding the poor things. Likely he’s writing one of those horrible poems.” As disrespectful as such comments might seem, I understand a sort of fondness is involved, and that, if the goats kept bleating, they’d check up to make sure I was OK.

In the country you have a name and a face, and are a character in not merely your own tale, but in a whole slew of other novels, called “other people’s lives.” It isn’t like that in urban and suburban places, where people don’t even know their neighbors. There you feel faceless, as if you only exist in your own autobiography.

The difference was brought home to me recently by an interaction between two men, one who is a friend of thirty years, and the other who is a relatively new neighbor.

The first describes himself as “a big, dumb Swede,” but I have never thought of him as dumb, and have always chuckled at his outgoing and bombastic humor. We are an odd duo when together, for he is every bit as outgoing as I am not. He asks the questions I’d never ask and says the things I’d never say.  He gets to know people I don’t get to know, and most everyone lights up, when they see him. Their faces light up even when they disagree with his politics, because they know he knows them, and remembers them, and listens to what they say to a degree where he can joke about it.  However there is no getting around the fact he can come across as a bit loud, at times. It goes with the territory. Along with jovial cheer comes some bombast, but people put up with that flaw because he is also generous to a flaw.

An example of his bombast is the fact that in his golf bag there once was an air-horn. He played golf at charity events, and if a person was taking golf too seriously for a charity event, out would come that air horn, to be used just when the person was putting. Sometimes the putt would be shot into the woods, after the air-horn blared.

If I ever tried that I’d likely wind up with a putter bent over my skull, but when he does it everyone laughs. They expect it from him.

He’s also loud when he drives past my house, always tooting his horn.  I never mind, even when taking a Sunday nap. I just roll over and smile, knowing my old friend is out and about, fighting his never-ending battle against the forces of grouchiness with his indomitable cheer.

However my new neighbor didn’t understand. He has lived in the city, and was a landlord for a while, and if anything can sour a man’s attitude toward neighbors it is tenants. He didn’t feel the slightest bit of fondness towards a fellow cheerfully tooting each day, as he drove by.  Slowly the horn became increasingly annoying. Finally he couldn’t stand it any more, and found out where my old friend lived (not from me.)  He went and expressed his opinion.

Because my old friend is such a goodhearted guy, he stopped tooting. Now I see the car swing by, and the silence of the sighing tires seems deathly.  What is it that has died?

If men got wiser
As they got older
They’d grow more kind
As hearts grew bolder,
They’d lose the chip
Upon their shoulder
But fronts push by
And days get colder.

GONZALO GONE

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The upper map shows Hurricane Gonzalo heading northeast, after clouting Bermuda, towards the middle of the right margin. (If you click these maps you can get a less fuzzy version.)

The second map shows that, in the process of a day, Gonzalo sped right off the upper right corner of the map. That is fine with me. We had a meteorological set-up this year that made me nervous, but we escaped without a hurricane hitting New England.

When I was younger I actually wanted to be hit, as it would have been exciting, and also would have supplied me and my chainsaw with a lot of work, and lots of free firewood.  (Hurricane Bob actually kept my family warm one winter, back when I tended to become broke around Christmas,  because I saw my landscaping work dry up after the last leaves were raked.)

Now I’m older and would rather see the leaves stay on the trees as long as possible. The worst hurricanes around here hit when the leaves are green, and trees tip over like sailboats with too much sail aloft. Later hurricanes strip all the colored leaves off the trees in a matter of hours.  If a hurricane hits now we have few leaves left, and our trees can withstand a blast when their branches are bare, just as a sailboat can avoid capsizing when “running before a gale on poles.”

Oddly, often our worst winds occur in non-hurricane nor’easters, which have winds “of hurricane force.”  Our hurricanes, on the other hand, have often weakened and no longer have winds “of hurricane force.”  It makes me think we should coin the phrase, “winds of nor’easter force.”  If you have sailed the North Atlantic, you understand it holds gales that make hurricanes look small, though such gales shriek in places where few live, and get little press.

Nor’easters only get press on this side of the Atlantic when they fail to zip out to sea. Most do, but occasionally a “blocking pattern” causes to them to “stall” just off Cape Cod, or, even more rarely, even further south.  Hurricane Sandy was actually still a warm-core hurricane as it moved ashore, but to verify its own forecast the Hurricane Center “downgraded” Sandy to a nor’easter. Sandy demonstrated how much respect a nor’easter deserves, though there have been worse. A nor’easter in February 1978 gave Cape Cod winds over 100 mph.

I’m getting too old for such nonsense.  I’m in the autumn of my life, and perhaps, just as leaves turn yellow, I’m getting a little yellow myself.

We did have an early frost on September 19, which, as our last frost of the Spring was on May 29, gave us the shortest frost-free period of summer I can remember. However, because I’m old and had other things to do, I failed to weed my garden in late August, and the weeds protected my plants. The weeds got frosted, as my pepper plants beneath were spared.  Since then we have had a second summer, and I actually picked some fine peppers today, on October 18, a month after our first frost.

This is actually a bad omen. I predict a terrible winter, as kindly autumns often hint at cruelty to come.

I make this prediction because I figure I might cause winter to be mild, by predicting bitter cold. It is sheer superstition, sort of like thinking you can make it rain by washing your car.  However the meteorological set-up exists, just as the set-up existed for New England hurricanes, last June.  I can’t recall if I actually predicted hurricanes last June, but if I did, I hexed them all out to sea, according to my superstition. In the same manner I am attempting to hex an awful winter, which seems all too likely to me, clear across the planet into China.

Then I will get to enjoy a kinder and gentler time.  I have really enjoyed the mildness that followed me across that USA when I was on my trip, moving from weather map to weather map.

When I got home I was confronted with a horrible amount of work for a man my age, as an attempt to avoid work backfired. Rather than cutting wood I ordered $900.00 worth, but because I wasn’t home to oversee, 3 of the 4 cords were dumped where my wife parks her car. I had to move three chord (4 feet by 4 feet by 8 feet makes a chord) by loading the  back of my pick up, driving it 100 feet, and unloading it where it should have been unloaded.  Fortunately my son helped, but it also helped that the weather was mild, which kept my old muscles loose. It was actually 67 degrees at dawn last week, which is thirty degrees above normal.

Also I got to be outside and just look around and enjoy the foliage. People come from all over the world to see New Hampshire’s foliage in the fall. I always try to look picturesque, like a character in a Norman Rockwell painting, when an un-tinted bubble-bus of gawking Asians comes lurching down a country that was never intended to hold huge vehicles, and I always think that, if Norman Rockwell was still alive, he would paint a picture capturing the beautiful humor of how I look at them, and they look at me.

It is truly beautiful to live here, even if I am old and it is a sort of end. I am grateful for a final fall when the leaves are slow to drift down, even if it is but a respite before a terrible winter. Life has quite enough hardship as it is, and we should not feel guilty when a quieter and more lovely time ambles by.

When I was walking through the gorgeous landscape, across the rustling carpet of gold and crimson leaves, vivid against the sunlit grass, I entered a sunlit grove of trees where the forest floor was striped with the long shadows of autumn. Besides the long stripes made by shadows there were also long, straight stripes of moss, with a small pile of stones at the southern end of each stripe, with the moss vivid in the sunshine which now invaded a glade that had been shaded and moist all summer long.

I paused to wonder at these odd stripes of green moss, flat against the brown forest floor.  Briefly I wondered what on earth could have made them. Then the Sherlock Holmes in my skull abruptly understood they were toppled trees, with a root-ball of dirt and stone at their ends, that had lain on the ground and grown mossy, and final rotted away to flatness, with only the moss remaining, and only a flat pile of stones to show where the root ball once was. Because the trees that grew up among these fallen trees were now roughly 60 years old, I judged the prior grove was flattened in 1954. Hurricane Carol must have flattened all those trees, back when I was only one year old.

I looked around and tried to envision how the scene must have looked, when Carol roared through and flattened the forest in thirty minutes.  What a mess! All the trees down, south to north, with jumbles of dirt made by root-balls, and the scent of torn, green leaves a stink in the hot sunshine.

When I was young I bewailed the fact we never seemed to get hurricanes in New England any more. Now I understand that, midst the hardship of my life, in some ways I’ve been blessed by luck.   People who came before me knew no such luck, and had to display a fortitude I know little about, after Carol.

Today I took some time to be thankful for the luck I’ve lived through, and also to pray that, should this coming winter ask me to display some fortitude, I can match the fortitude of those who came before.