LOCAL VIEW –In Awe Of Thaw–(updated)

The first week of January was brutal, blasting, bitter and a blizzard. Often we would only have the children outside for a half hour, for the wind chills were simply too dangerous to allow prolonged exposure. We spent more time dressing and undressing them than we spent outdoors, but it does pass the time, and they do rejoice at having a brief time outside. If they are too cooped up they literally bounce off the walls.

Worst was the wind, which often gusted to gale force.  Simply having the winds calm down made it seem far warmer, and when temperatures rose all the way to 32°F (0°F) the children were eager to hike. So was I. I wanted to see what the winds had done.

In the forest the snow was mixed  with bits of pine needles, as if the needles had become brittle in the cold and broken in the blasts, and there was a drift by each tree trunk, even in the shelter of the trees. The children found the landscape strangely changed, with a place they liked to hide behind a rock completely buried, even as a nearby path was swept down to the level of the dirt. They also found some drifts were packed to a consistency of Styrofoam, and they could walk on them, while other crumbled and they wallowed up to their waists, often requiring rescue. We tended to stick to the trails packed by snowmobiles to play it safe.

The most amazing drift was on the downwind side of the dam at the flood control reservoir. The blasting winds had swept the reservoir largely free of snow, but the downwind side of the dam had a drift that was in places thirty feet deep.

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I was surprised by the cracks forming in the drift, as its sheer bulk pulled it downhill like a glacier.

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I doubted the drift was going to tumble down as a small avalanche, but decided I didn’t want to take the chance. Therefore I warned the kids away from the edge and we only looked at the frozen outlet of the reservoir from afar.

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Instead we hiked down the other, windswept side of the dam.

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The kids were enchanted by the other worldly landscape. More than one paused, looked up at me, and commented in the matter-of-fact manner of the small, “This is really fun.”

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The drifts were crisp and firm, but the underbrush (to left in picture below) would cave in and the kids would find themselves abruptly up to their waists.

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Without the wind, none complained of cold, and the children seemed quite content to loll in the wan sunshine.

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When it was time to go back for lunch there is always one so enchanted they don’t want to leave.

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We only has two days to enjoy such hikes, because the thaw grew stronger, and the snow grew heavy and wet. But this also meant the snow became sticky enough to build forts and snowmen.

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My staff did get a bit carried away with the snowman.

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But the kids appreciated setting a “world record.”

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I couldn’t be as involved as I usually am, as I was dealing with what often seems to come hand in hand with a thaw. Namely the ‘flu. (Though the thaw gets the blame, I think it is the period of close confinement just before the thaw that allows the spread of germs, and after the inoculation it takes a week for the ‘flu to break out. ) In any case you know something is wrong when a lively child abruptly decides to take a nap in the snow.

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I have a sneaky suspicion that, in a few cases, parents can’t afford to miss work, and load up their children in cough syrup before delivering them to us, hoping the kids will make it through the day. The kids were dropping like flies, usually around the time a four hour cough syrup would wear off, though that may just be a coincidence.

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Most parents are pretty good about leaving work to pick their children up. Only a few shut their phones off.

By Friday we only had five of our ordinary twelve all-day children, and I was showing symptoms. Though I wash my hands often, kids vomited on me, and it’s hard to avoid the virus when exposed in that manner. Nor did the ‘flu shot do much good this year, as apparently 70% of the people who got the vaccine still got the ‘flu.

In any case at noon on Friday I took to my bed on my doctor’s orders, and have only left it to limp off, achy and shivering, to feed my goats. My wife is also down, which is highly unusual, as she almost never gets sick.

Therefore I didn’t take pictures of how the snow swiftly vanished under the drumming fingers of a warm rain. There is no snow left in the yard where they made a giant snowman on Thursday.  Maybe I’ll add a picture to this post tomorrow. And a sonnet about rain on the roof.

*******

It was 5°F (-15°C) at dawn so I think we can state THE THAW IS OVER,

As promised, here is a picture of the Childcare playground, so full of sticky snow last Thursday.

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The cold came on so swiftly it froze up the run-off and flooding from the thaw, leading to some tricky situations at intersections. (It is hard to obey the “yield” sign on sheer ice.)

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I would have liked to drive around and look at streams, because I think there may have been some good ice jams, but simply driving a mile to feed my goats at the farm seemed to test my ability. I’m surprised I wasn’t pulled over as a driving drunk. Mostly I stayed in bed, only occasionally venturing down to put wood in the fire or check out maps on my computer. Here is the front surging across us yesterday:

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And here is the arctic high pressure atop of us today, with the front and the thaw’s mild air pushed far out to sea.

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It does not do much good to look backwards in battle or while plowing, and I’m nervous about the future of that Alberta Clipper sliding down to the Great Lakes. I’d better baby myself into shape, because it looks like snow to me. However, just for the record, here are statistics showing the thaw from the weather bureau up in Concord.

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Yesterday’s high of 57°F (14°C) was at midnight, and they’d plummeted by dawn, so it is a bit misleading to call the day +15° of normal. But that is how statistics work, sometimes.

If you don’t like the weather, just wait a while. But if you like it, kiss it good-bye.

No sonnet so far. I googled “Sonnets from a sickbed”, and have been entertained (by works clear back to the 1500’s), rather than have I been the entertainer.

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LOCAL VIEW –Annual Frozen Pipes Post–

Even boxers get to sit down between rounds, and enjoy some rest, and also Sunday is the Day of Rest, and therefore my wife and I decided that after church we’d go out and have someone else cook, and have someone else serve, and have someone else do the dishes. We figured we deserved it, after coming through the grueling blizzard we’ve just been through. Monday might be just around the corner, but we’d pamper ourselves on Sunday afternoon.

Not that problems don’t intrude even on our Sundays. The latest attempt to repair our washing machine didn’t work, and we had a huge pile of laundry to do at a Laundromat before we went out to eat. However the machines did big loads in only 22 minutes, and, (because my wife decided we might as well wash all sorts of stuff I didn’t think needed washing, while we were at it,) we walked in with 12 loads, used four huge washers, inserted 76 quarters, soap, and then walked out to sit in the car for 22 minutes. The sun was settling down on a winter horizon and we had stuff to talk about. 22 minutes later we hustled hampers of wet laundry back to the car (because our drier still works at home, and our cellar can use the heat,) and headed off to the restaurant. The sunset was a beautiful gold, and I couldn’t help but notice that it was later; before Christmas it was dark at 4:30 but now it is golden and pink.

Among the many things we talked about in our usual, efficient, and scatter-brained way was this Sunday’s sermon at church, which was about “The Rapture”. Although the word “rapture” is not used in the Bible, there are numerous, somewhat-upsetting references to a time that could happen any day, when believers would be swept up to heaven and non-believers left behind to endure seven highly unattractive years on earth.  (This concept inspired the movie, “Left Behind”.)

Back when Jesus’s disciples were still alive the idea Jesus could return “any day” kept people on their toes, but after 2000 years people are perhaps jaded. If you tell them the Rapture might occur in five minutes, people tend to roll their eyes and say, “Right. I’ve heard that one before.” People are not as impressed by the prophesy as they once were. Today’s sermon simply asked, “But what if it happened? Where would you be? Swept up, or left behind?”

Even though I am a “believer”, and have faith in things people say I’m nuts to have faith in, I confess I’m often far from perfect. I do have a temper. I usually apologize afterwards, but not everyone forgives me. And this got me to thinking about the timing of the Rapture.

If the Rapture occurred when I was repenting, and apologetic, and asking for forgiveness, and accepting the abuse of those who are in no mood to forgive me, then I might pass for saintly, and be swept up. But what if the Rapture occurred right when I was at my worst? What if it occurred at the moment I was pounding my fist on a table and telling someone to stuff an unmentionable thing up an unmentionable orifice?  It seems highly unlikely such a person (me) would be permitted to be swept up, and far more likely that person (me) would be left behind.

I was bringing this up in a humorous way, and perhaps a bit too flippantly, for it stirred up my wife, and she waxed eloquent on how the foibles of those who are believers are different from the foibles of those who don’t believe. Her excellent points are too complicated to repeat at this time. I am just bringing this up because some think that people at laundromats are a bunch of low life retards.  We’re not. We are actually highly intellectual and altruistic thinkers. Perhaps it is those who do laundry at home who are the retards.

But this discussion, about who the retards are, is definitely getting too profound for my humble post. This is often the case when you broach spiritual mysteries. What I meant to say was a more simple thing, namely: I decided that maybe I would try harder than usual to keep my temper in check, just in case the Rapture was imminent.

Actually it was easy to keep my temper in check. Even though it still was very cold, you could feel the mercy of a thaw was in the wings. And even if you were not sensitive to the shift of the wind to the southwest, you could always check your cell phone, and find reasons to rejoice.

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Hallelujah! Cellphones are a wonderful invention. Even if long-term forecasts are a government trick to keep us from despairing during cold winters, it is a trick that works.

This morning it was -13°F (-25°) here, but Wednesday it might be +45°F (+7°C). It will feel like April, after what we’ve undergone. And it does tend to fill me with a benevolence when the outlook is so hopeful. It would be good if the Rapture occurred at such a moment, for I am beaming with generosity.

To further the beaming, I ordered a martini, and sat at the best seat in the restaurant, (because the dinner rush hadn’t started at 4:30), and gazed at the final beams of sunshine slipping from the topmost needles of the white pine across a frozen waterfall.

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There is nothing like looking at hardship through a rear view mirror.  A flat tire isn’t funny when you are jacking the car up in the cold, but when the tire is changed and you are on the road again, you can laugh, and get the joke. And seeing the frozen waterfall was like seeing evidence of the incredible cold we’d been through in the past tense, for the present tense was a warm restaurant, a charming waitress, and a steaming dish of delectable food placed before me. And just then a text came through on my cell phone.

Cell phones are a horrible invention.

To cut the texting short, the situation was this: My pregnant daughter is living briefly above my Childcare as her young husband makes the money for an apartment they have their eyes on in Boston. He’d made a big wad of dough as a Uber driver during blizzard condition in Boston, but only had snatched bits of sleep on a friend’s couch, and now had come home for a hot shower and a sleep in his wife’s arms….but the shower didn’t work. Cross examination discovered the sink and toilets didn’t work, neither upstairs nor downstairs at the the childcare. Pipes had frozen at the source, which was a different building, an old abandoned farm house across the driveway.

Blame the sermon in church, or blame the martini, but I had not the slightest urge to slam the table and rave, “Can’t I even have a single meal in peace?” Or…well…I’ll admit I did say to my wife something along the lines of, “I thought when she married her problems became his, and weren’t mine any more.” But that was more of a quip than a serious statement. There was no way an exhausted young man could figure out the irregularities of a a farm that slowly sprawled over a hundred years, with pipes and wires added in a unplanned manner. I was the only available expert.

I refused to hurry. I could have rushed to the farm in twenty minutes but instead texted, “Be there in an hour.” (Didn’t get a “happy face” reply.)  Then I enjoyed my meal, (though I did talk a little more about peculiar plumbing than I might have). I kept my sense of peace, because the Rapture might happen at any moment, and it it wouldn’t look good if I was cursing and gobbling food and gulping the final third of a martini and putting my jacket on upside down. Instead I was as smooth as silk.

Come to think of it, it was bizarre. I should have lost my temper, but didn’t. We drove home, unloaded laundry, and then I sauntered upstairs to change out of my Sunday outfit into work clothes. I came downstairs, gathered a few tools and some rags, and my wife handed me a big thermos of boiling water. I drove to the farm, located an extension cord and a heater with a blower, talked briefly with my daughter and her husband, and then waded through the drifts to the dark, old farmhouse, and decended into its creepy cellar.

What a switch in scenes! Fifty-five minutes earlier I’d been in the lap of luxury with a lovely wife looking out at a gorgeous view with scrumptious food before me, and now I was in a dingy cave festooned with spiderwebs. You would have thought the martini would have worn off, but, instead of cursing, I laughed. The irony of the scenery-switch would be too absurd for a novel, but life is better than a book.

I couldn’t locate the problem, but kept my good mood, humming hymns like an old man pottering in a sunny garden, as I brushed aside dirty spiderwebs and checked the usual suspects: The fuse box, the pressure tank, the pressure switch, and even a cellar faucet, which gushed water. Where could a pipe freeze? Couldn’t be the main line. I had a heat lamp baking where the pipes went into the field-stone wall to cross over to the childcare. It couldn’t be there. But then I noticed a loop of pipe sidetracking into a water softener system, just outside of the reach of the heat lamp. Could that be it? Probably not. Surely the heat would travel along that short length of pipe. But, just to cover all bases, I wrapped those pipes in rags and poured boiling-hot water from the thermos onto the rags. Then I looked around and began thinking of getting more chords and setting up more heat lamps and heaters, but just then my phone advised me of an incoming text.

Sometimes cellphones are wonderful things. The text was from my daughter, across the yard:

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Best was the simple fact no frozen pipe was broken.

Then I got the pleasure of sauntering over to my daughter and her husband and seeing their great delight over something we take for granted: Running water. And also there was the delight of a young man who has been craving a long, hot, relaxing shower, and now gets to take one.

But what about me? Wasn’t I craving a long, hot, relaxing meal? Why am I always the one being interrupted?

I didn’t actually think that. I just put it down because I thought of it now. At the time I was all smiles, and enjoying being a hero. I also was enjoying the strange sensation of having not lost my temper, even once. Too bad the Rapture didn’t happen while I was being so saintly, although I suppose, with my luck, if it was going to happen at any given time it would have happened just when I ordered the martini.

In any case we survived a cold wave, and the traditional episode of frozen pipes. Next comes the January thaw, for the map shows the arctic got too greedy and has overreached its limits. There is a bit of a front southwest of Jamaica, showing how far south the blast reached. Down there I suppose they may find the cool breeze delightful. What we will find delightful is the western side of the high, bringing north mildness we haven’t seen in weeks.

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LOCAL VIEW –Shuddering–

And still the winds are roaring this black dawn
When stars stab cold knives and the sift of snow
Hisses by my door, and before the roar’s gone
The next blast rattles the sash. The window
Looks out darkly. I see I should have done
So many things back when weather was warm
But now it is too late. I can blame no one
And can do nothing but endure this storm
Shuddering. Hope is too far away to grasp
And the east dawns no sun, but a cold moon
Instead leers skullish on bent hills. I would clasp
Your warm love and warble the sweetest tune
If only Your smile hove into sight.
It’s in darkest dark I remember the Light.

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Iced dawn spills over the shuddering east
And reveals a white world that has drifted.
The pre-storm chores I shirked are now least
on my list. Priorities have shifted
In a world white as an unwritten page.

Who will write the first words with a trail
Of blue footprints? The house is like a cage.
I’ll bolt and walk a signature as winds wail.
I will pace a poem, although drifts erase
My tracks like shifting sand. My words are like
A small child’s sand castle by the stern face
Of unthinking surf, yet still I will hike
Across a hillside, and my tracks will spell
The magic only poetry can tell.

What a cruel day! Not a true sub-zero day like they have out in the plains, but close enough, with a high of 7°F and winds that wouldn’t have the decency to knock it off.

Added to my Saturday chores of taking the recyclables to the recyclable center (where none of the equipment worked in the cold) and going to the bank, (bad hair days), were added things to do outside in an unkind wind, such as rake the big drifts from a roof before the drifts gained weight with rain and collapsed structures. And get my bulky, broken snowblower up into the back of a pick-up truck to be taken off and repaired. Or face a path I’ve had to shovel three times by hand already, drifted in.

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But when I step back I see that same wind scoured the driveway free of snow.

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All things considered, my neighbor across the street likely had grounds for a lawsuit. Fourteen inches of snow buried my fences to the bottom rail, but the cruel gales stripped all that snow to the ground-level crust of a pre-Christmas snow,  and deposited it all in his drive.

Simply to be out of doors was an ordeal, and surreal. All the faces you met were pained and wincing, and I had the odd sense I was in the dog house, as everyone looked mad at me. Had I done something Friday night I couldn’t remember? No, because I’m not that young anymore. I had no hangover when I awoke, only when I stepped outside.

The buffeting was like the blows of a boxing match. A man who fought Mohammed Ali stated no jab hurt, but after a while you noticed his jabs made you feel a bit dizzy. And Mohammed Ali himself stated that the fifteenth round of a fight was like functioning in a dream and in a circus.  You’ve been knocked for a loop but refuse to go down for the count. Somehow you keep tottering about, still battling.

This probably explains why this post begins with two sonnets. The jabbing wind had punched me into a mental state which some get called “poets” for being in, while others wind up in institutions.

Even as I emphasis how bad it was, it wasn’t near the worst. New England has seen such blasts twenty degrees colder. So I have no real reason to complain, especially as the winds finally died down a bit in the afternoon. At long last the Blizzard was fading away towards Baffin Bay and Labrador.

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The map shows the massive arctic high bringing modified polar air all the way down to Jamaica and Costa Rica. But here it was not modified. Here we got the real deal.

After experiencing “the real deal”, few find New England as attractive as Norman Rockwell made it look.  There will be an upsurge in homes for sale in this area next spring. Quaint has its limits, and the pathways of art are not for all. Where Norman Rockwell produced paintings and I produce sonnets, many turn their backs and skedaddle. Can’t say I really blame them.

*******

SUNDAY MORNING 7:00 AM -12°F (-24 °C) 30.31 and at last the wind has ceased.

 

 

LOCAL VIEW –The Rapids Freeze–

The way to defeat “cabin fever” and to avoid going “shack whacky” is to grit your teeth and go out into the cold, so I decided to practice what I preach and went out to take some pictures of the Souhegan River freezing up, (with the Patriot’s game on my car radio), yesterday. It was well worth the discomfort of getting out of the comfort of my car, from time to time, to take some pictures.

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The Souhegan is basically a brook as it comes north from its headwaters down in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, but it quickly gathers other brooks, and back in the day (when water power was the only power) it fueled a number of small mills in my town.  It was enough, back then, to make my out-of-the-way backwater a center of industry, even though it was up in the hills, as people went where the power was. Later, when railways were invented, my town chose to prevent the railway from expanding because it was thought the railway would “attract the wrong people”, and that was the death knell to many of the local industries, and the town faded to its current backwater status. However one mill survives at “High Bridge”, having transitioned from an age when fabric was for clothing, to making fabric for body armor and dirigibles and even spacecraft landing on Mars.

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And just downstream is where I began freezing my fingers, taking pictures of the freezing stream.

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A few miles downstream lies Greenville, where the mills prospered more, for they did allow the railway in, (though it no longer goes that far.)

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North of there the river is a favorite place for white water kayaking in the spring,

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It was amazing how much of the water was iced over, but I couldn’t stop as the snowbanks and traffic made pulling over too dangerous. Further on, just past the Temple-Wilton line, the river passes beneath an abandoned bridge, (I think built by New Deal workers in the Great Depression).

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On the west side of Wilton another stream tumbles down from Temple Mountain to join the flow.Brook 21 FullSizeRender

The water gurgles and mutters and gargles from holes in the fast-forming ice

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And the old railway still reaches this far.

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Driftwood is frozen in place where water tumbles over the first dam.

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The second Wilton dam’s pond is solid ice

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And I simply had to crunch along the road, despite biting winds and blaring traffic, to see beneath the dam.

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Check out the outlet pipe. (And the graffiti beyond it).

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I wonder what the old water mills did, when it got this cold? (And where do the teenagers now go?)

Then on to Milford, as the river turns east.

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And more hidden artwork from warmer days.

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And onward to the Merrimack River and then southwards to the sea.

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The cold can not stop it. Ice cannot clamp
The water’s yearning for the distant sea
In its vice. Like a happy old tramp
Offered a steady job, it will flee
All restraint but that of its double banks
And the steady tugging of gravity.
So do not cold-shoulder with icy glance
The inevitable progress of the free.
Do not think you can keep children ever young
Or prevent the innocent from finding Truth,
For though arctic winters have come and stung,
Forever fluid is the river called “Youth”,
And though your white may clench from bank to bank
Underground gurgles will sing and will thank.

It pays to practice what you preach, and to walk the walk besides talking the talk. Although I may have appeared a foolish old man, out taking pictures with a cell-phone in a wind that could freeze the bleep off a bleep, heedless of the whizzing vehicles flying past with incredulous onlookers, (or sort of heedless), I had no symptoms of cabin fever as I headed home. In fact I noticed that, once you have spent time trying to find the perfect angle for a picture, and the right views to capture an idea, your eyes seem to become stuck in the habit, and even when you are not taking pictures any more the whole world looks strangely photogenic, and you see beauty you usually overlook.

Last but not least, you never know what you will find, if you just get out and look. I was seeking river ice. Who would dream I would find graffiti?

LOCAL VIEW –Boston Bozo’s Bitter Backlash–With Monday Conclusion–

It looks like we are in for some real winter. This morning the thermometer read -3º F (-19ºC) on the sunny side of the house, and the wind in my face just plain hurt. Only my sense of humor calls this weather “a bit brisk”. It is dangerous.

Not that you can’t adapt to it, and take proper precautions, but amazingly few dress correctly. They attempt to dash from heated cars to heated buildings without spoiling their fashionable demeanor with all the woolen stuff that can make a slender woman look like she weighs 200 pounds, and messes up her hair, and makes metrosexual males look like the Pillsbury dough-boy with very skinny ankles. So, instead, they attempt to make it from their parked car to the door dressed like it is April, and practically perish in the wind. Bozos!

Fashionable demeanor? They wind up looking like crippled cats with their tails ablaze, as they painfully limp in super-fast-motion through powder snow above their shoe tops, with wind whistling through skimpy clothing. (It’s called “a lazy wind”, because it can’t be bothered go around you, and short-cuts right through you.)  Bad hair day? If the wind and static electricity doesn’t frizzle, the simple fact heating bone dry air seventy degrees creates indoors humidity around 5% can make the the most starched hairdo look like a mad scientist’s. This sort of cold takes dignity and grinds it under a cruel heel.

I suppose this idiotic behavior proves the Global Warming Alarmists were quite correct when they prophesied, “In the future people will not know what winter is like.” They were not false prophets. They just failed to mention they were not talking about the weather, but rather about the dumbing-down of the public to a point they don’t even know how to dress correctly when it is bitterly cold.

Forgive me if my tone is sardonic. You need to understand I have been taking a drubbing for over ten years, for simply stating the obvious, which is that Global Warming is not a crisis, but a weather cycle that lasts around sixty years, superimposed over a solar cycle that seems to last around 200 years. I have been called things that you wouldn’t believe for being a Skeptic, and have even been told I should be locked up. This does tend to make a man bitter. So does a wind chill of -25ºF.

I looked in the mirror when I came indoors this morning, and looked as bitter as the central character in this Boston Globe cartoon dated 1917.

My sister sent me the cartoon, after it was printed in the current Boston Globe. This actually surprised me. The Globe is infamous for printing only the news that supports the concept of CO2-caused Global Warming, and for utterly ignoring the evidence of the past, which tends to suggest “the only new thing in the world is the history you haven’t studied.” For them to allow even a suggestion we have seen the current weather in the past is highly unusual. They actually have deleted such suggestions from their various websites, in the past.

I wonder. Can the times, they be a-changing?

I wonder. Under a former president, (who I will not honor by naming), vast amounts of money our government does not have was printed, and handed out to any who would further the idea Global Warming was real. Science was degraded, reduced to absurdity. But now President Trump is horrifying people by turning off that faucet of funding. The Globe has written with great zeal how propaganda science cannot survive without billions of dollars being spent. Yet even the Globe must understand that, without funding, certain news is less profitable to be associated with. Not that they will ever admit such news was “very fake news”. But perhaps, slowly but surely, and by small increments, they are changing their “slant” and “spin” to a degree where they can allow evidence from the past to ink their pages.

I wonder. Is it too late? The dumbing-down of the public has been going on at least since Hansen testified before congress in 1986, if not longer. An entire generation of school-children has been brought up to blithely believe Global Warming is a fact. But the current blast of cold isn’t ancient history. It isn’t happening in 1917. It does no good for me to point out the real facts, the real history, the real temperature records from before Hansen wasted such unbelievable amounts of tax-payer money “adjusting” the actual temperatures recorded by actual people. The past doesn’t matter. What matters is the killing blasts coming south. Are we prepared to handle them?

One funny thing is that the only happy people in the above cartoon from 1917 are the plumbers. I met such a plumber yesterday, just inside the front door of my church, down on his knees. He wasn’t praying. He was attempting to thaw the pipes of a radiator. I asked him if he was busy, and he replied “Not yet.” He went on to say our heat was set too low, as are other households, and he expected that, as the arctic outbreak grew worse, he’d be working non-stop.

Sad. People turn down the heat to save money. But plumbers are not cheap.

My main hope is a “pattern flip”.  Old-timers call this a “January Thaw.” Our winter temperatures tend to bottom-out around January 19, but if you scrutinize the local temperature-graph one sees the bottoming-out isn’t a smooth curve. It is a bit like a roller coaster at the bottom of the yearly curve. Despite the fact 125-years of records tends to average-out yearly spikes, there is slight evidence (more obvious at some sites than others) of a slight January Thaw around January 11 and a greater one around January 22. However there is a lot of variability. Some years the thaws are brief and slight. A true “pattern flip” sees a cruel winter give way to a delightfully prolonged thaw. But…there is the worst case scenario to remember, when the thaw is skipped, and the winter just goes on and on and on until you are ready to scream.

I am old enough to remember the winters of the late 1970’s. (1976-1977 started earlier than this one, and went without a lasting thaw until late February). (1978-1979 started late, but amazed even the lobster-men of Maine by breaking some of their weather-rules, and freezing up harbors later than they had ever seen.) At that time the media exclaimed about Global Cooling and A New Ice Age.

I hope we don’t see that. I’m hoping for a “pattern flip”. That will give us enough cold to wake metrosexuals up, like a shot-across-the-bow, without really hurting them.

As it is, it looks bad for two to three weeks. An amazing reservoir of cold air was nudged south from the Arctic Sea and is now heading our way. A second reservoir of very cold air was bumped from Eastern Siberia up over the Pole, and via “cross-polar-flow” will likely follow the first arctic outbreak. After that? Hopefully the pattern will flip, and winds will stream up from the southwest.

For those of you who like maps, here is our current map:

The front down in the Gulf of Mexico and crossing Florida was the first arctic blast, which I suppose some will now call a “polar” front. The “arctic” front, holding a reinforcing shot of colder air, extends from south of us to a low over the Great Lakes called an “Alberta Clipper.” Waxing poetic, (all meteorologists are secretly poets), Joe Bastardi explained, “The emperor of the north likes to lay down a white carpet to announce his arrival, and that is what the clipper shall do.”

I won’t mind a clipper, for that tends to be the sort of snow you can broom away.

What I am more nervous about is the gap between the coming arctic out break and the following one. East coast blizzards can occur in such gaps. (Next Thursday).

We are actually fortunate because the worst cold is coming south to the west of the Great Lakes, and then turning east. It must cross the Great Lakes before getting to us, and those waters are still in the process of freezing. Until they freeze, they warm all air passing over, (and this causes enormous “lake-effect” snows to our west). By the time the cold gets to us it is only -6ºF rather than -30ºF.

If you are interested, here is our local forecast: (Temperatures in Fahrenheit). (Notice warming and snow next Thursday, followed by arctic blast. Storm?)

This will be rough, in terms of heating bills. The poor will get poorer. Some elderly will die in cold houses, and some homeless will freeze on the streets. Those who got rich promoting solar power will not care,  although those who thought they could retire to Florida may face face frost and snow, even there.

In terms of running my Childcare, we will venture out on hikes, but they will be short ones. If it is windless we will build a bright fire and let children play on the farm-pond’s thick ice. But even a slight wind can be very cruel, and I am not such a zealot about the outdoors that I risk frostbite. Legos are an acceptable alternative. Here is the work done by a boy aged four, today:

 It just goes to show you cold can’t stop the children.

(I’ll update this post with end-of-month statistics of what our temperatures actually were. They tend to be lower than forecast.)

Friday Update

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Clouded up before dawn and the temperature rose to -3° F, from a local low of -9°F (-23°C) around three AM. The sun was a brief glow to the east before settling to a light gray smear in the southern sky during the short, gray day. The temperature peaked at around 6°F, (-14°C) with the lightest dust of snow sifting in a light wind. I took a couple of boys out to whack a puck around the pond in the afternoon, not bothering with skates, for by the time they had them on my hands would have been frozen, and they’d want them off. We lasted 20 minutes.

It is interesting how much the forecast for next Thursday has changed.

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That is a shift twelve degrees downwards in 14 hours, and demonstrates the long-term reliability of models.

Here is the evening map. They did not bother draw in any fronts for the weak impulse that passed over and now is south of Nova Scotia. I call such subtle features “ghost fronts” because they persist although invisible. Don’t be surprised to see it reappear north of Nova Scotia tomorrow.  It is a piece of energy tippling along what theoretically is the warm front of the Alberta Clipper bogged down and occluded over the Great Lakes. (The “warm” water of the lakes is creating rising air, causing that stalled feature to persist, rather than fade away.)

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SATURDAY MORNING UPDATE

5:30 AM: Down to -7°F last night, but now up to -4°F as high clouds stream in from the west. Check morning map:

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Sure enough, the “ghost front” feature has reappeared north of Nova Scotia. I call these lows “zippers”. They ripple along a warm front when the main low has occluded, and are more obvious in Europe, when a big Atlantic gale stalls and occludes. Our occluded low is a weakling Alberta Clipper malingering over the Great Lake’s updrafts. A new Alberta Clipper is sliding east to its southwest, bringing us high clouds. The snow will likely stay south of us. Behind it is nasty cold. I wouldn’t like to be at the Patriot’s game this Sunday.

Sometimes these surges of cold from the north bring about an equal-but-opposite surge from the south, but the warmth is still milling about in the Gulf of Mexico, and as of now shows no sign of charging north as a storm.

The equal-and-opposite reaction that you can safely predict with a high degree of certainty is the reaction of Alarmists to the bitter cold:

Record Breaking Winter Cold? Don’t Worry, the Climate Explainers Have it Covered

Hansen, who formerly predicted that Manhattan would be awash under rising seas by now, is now predicting the warming he predicted will be hidden by brief mini-ice ages.

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These fellows seem to just make things up as they go. However, judging from the over-500 largely-sarcastic comments to the WUWT post, people are not buying it any more.

Boston Bozo 7 mckee-cartoon-warmer-colder-winters9:00 AM — Up to 3°F (-16°C) under gray skies. Heat Wave!

The forecast for next Thursday has switched back to snow, with a high of 21°F and low of -6°F. The model my phone is hooked up with (GFS?) must be struggling with a storm it sees going out to sea one run, and coming up the coast the next.

Why Worry? That’s not happening until sometime next year. Today I just need to deal with the gray.

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SUNDAY UPDATE

I thought we might get through a night with temperatures above zero when I awoke at three last night and temperatures were holding at 1°F, but by dawn we had dipped to -3°F, and we have now been below zero five straight nights. Last winter I think we only managed three nights the entire (kind) winter.

Yesterday (Friday) we managed to inch up into double digits, 11°F, but today we only managed 8°F. The occlusion that lay back over the great lakes was swung south by the flow from the north, becoming a ghost cold-front with a ghost-low and even a ghost warm-sector on it. (Not much of a warm-sector, but we’ll take any slight warming we can get, at this point.) One interesting thing about the ghost low is that it in part seems to be a Pacific impulse. If you look back to the start of the post you’ll notice a low crashing into the Pacific northwest. It then undergoes what I call “morphistication” as it transits the heights of the Rocky Mountains. One part of it attempts to reorganize east of the mountains, but higher up in the atmosphere some sort of reflection proceeds merrily across the continent as if the Rocky Mountains didn’t exist. As the Alberta Clipper moves off the coast (after giving us a quarter inch of dusty snow) the ghost low approaches Lake Superior last night:

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By this morning the ghost-cold-front (dashed orange line) is settling south to the east, but lifted slightly to the west as the ghost-low moves south of the Great Lakes. (The arctic front is way down to the Gulf of Mexico, and the lower part of the Pacific storm is still entangled in the western mountains.)

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By mid morning someone bothered put a small “L” on the map for the ghost-low.

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This evening the ghost is passing south of us, with little more than high clouds effecting us (this time; another time it might lead to surprises.) The old Alberta Clippers are brewing up towards Labrador, and a sneaky front is wheeling around over its top. Sometimes blobs of Atlantic air get injected into the arctic flow and we get odd, un-forecast flurries coming down from the north. However I think nervous eyes are more likely looking down at the lows rippling along the arctic front in the Gulf of Mexico, or at the lows malingering out in the Rocky Mountains. Me? I’n just hunkering down to endure the next arctic blast, which was held up slightly by the ghost impulse, but now has a free pass to come south.

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A quick glance at my cell phone sees the snow is back for next Thursday, for the moment. I suppose the low out by the Rocky Mountains will combine with some Gulf moisture and try to come north, but be shunted out to sea, but not far enough to allow us to escape the northern, snowy edge. And as it bombs-out in the Atlantic the winds behind it will make us even colder than we already are. Two days with zero (-17°C) for a high temperature! (Let’s hope the models are wrong.)

Boston Bozo 10 FullSizeRender This current blast of cold has our local rivers, which are rushing streams people like to kayak on to test themselves, more frozen than we usually see in the very depth of a cold winter, and we’ve barely begun.

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Happy New Year!

MONDAY CONCLUSION

Down to -10°F last night (-23°C), which is the coldest we’ve seen so far. I celebrated a Greenland New Year’s last night (IE I went to bed at nine.) Therefore I could arise early and see the late dawn’s light the frosty windows.

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I promised I’d include some statistics, so here is the Concord, NH weather data. Concord is north of us, up the Merrimac River,  and because its is down in a valley it can be warmer than us on bright sunny days, and colder than us on still, cold nights, but usually it’s temperatures are close to what ours are.

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It’s interesting to look back to December 6, when temperatures touched 53°F (12°C) and December was averaging +4.3 of normal, and the ponds were barely skimmed with ice. Now the month concludes -4.6 of normal, and the ice on ponds is a foot thick. What the heck happened?

One thing that happened is that the winds turned north and stubbornly stayed from the north. Our “warm-ups” involve moderated Chinook air that had crossed an entire continent, and winds just north of west. We haven’t had all that much snow, but it sits and refuses to melt. The last five days of the month have averaged over 20 degrees below normal. That will dent your wallet, when you pay for heat.

Snow is still in the cards for next Thursday, (bitter cold powder, not the sticky stuff children like), followed by another arctic blast, and the long range is now hinting at another storm at the start of next week, followed by another arctic blast.

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The map shows the remarkable magnitude of this arctic blast, with the cold front nearly across the Gulf of Mexico to the Yucatan.  (Also rising air over the “warm” Great Lakes continuing to fuel a weak low all their own.)

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It looks to me like the cold will not hurry to relent. Up at the Pole the flow continues from Siberia to Canada, refueling the source of cold air. However over at the Weatherbell site Thomas E Downs, V posted a very cool analysis of the bitter winter of 1917-1918, (week free trial available). The cold may have caused people back then to stay indoors in close contact, and contributed to the spread and mutation of the so-called “Spanish ‘Flu”, as troops were mobilized and sent overseas. The  pandemic reduced the world population by roughly 5%. Not the nicest winter, or spring. (My Grandfather nearly died of the ‘flu in France.) But one thing Thomas Downs points out is though the cold remained brutal right through January, the pattern-flip in February must have felt like heaven to people in the northeast USA. (Last 10 days of January to right; Mid-February to left.)

 

It also is likely that those who do best in harsh winters are those who avoid skulking indoors, and instead embrace the discomfort, and go out to take pictures, to show to their grandchildren. I’m glad people took pictures in 1918.

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I’m going to post some pictures of our frozen streams and rivers. Stay tuned.

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/

LOCAL VIEW –Empire’s Refuse–

If you are going to rule an empire you had better be prepared to orphan your children. You are simply going to be too busy at work, too busy traveling, too busy burning the midnight oil. For others is the quaint life of a villager, the wholesome connections of family and community, this thing called “roots”. You are different. You are “going places”, and that snips your roots.

This phenomenon is well known by those who have parents who had careers in the military. Friendships were brief, due to constant transfers.  Even if the parent “got out” of the military after “only” twenty years, there was a sort of scar that came along with the pension. However this is the status quo; one does not join the military without knowing sacrifice is involved. True, some only are aware of physical scars from the battlefield, and are naive about the scars of homelessness, at first, but soon they get the advice of those who have had to endure the homelessness longer, and accept the loss as a price they pay for the security of a pension.

In like manner those who sign up to work for a business corporation accept lives where “promotion” often means a new home in a new city. People accept the fact sacrifice is involved to “get ahead”. It goes with the territory. However sometimes a small voice asks them, “Are your own children worth sacrificing?” Sometimes the small voice is not their conscience, but the child itself.

I have noticed this often, reading the biographies of people who dared to be great. In the lives of famous leaders and Hollywood stars and billionaires is the sad refuse of disgruntled offspring. Churchill had a daughter who committed suicide. To be great and a hero is not without a price that can cut to the core of your heart.

Personally, if I have a shred of greatness, it is because I have chosen the opposite. Likely it is because my father was a great surgeon, and was busy at the hospital, and I missed him terribly. Therefore, when faced with a choice of making big money by ditching my family to work in Kuwait, or making peanuts by working in my quaint village, I chose to stay home.  I chose “the wholesome connections of family and community, this thing called ‘roots’ “.

I think it was the right choice, but it had a humorous outcome. I now run a Childcare that promotes the values of an old-fashioned farm, where both the mother and father worked at home. But my customers are young couples who have no “roots”. Believe it or not, some young mothers don’t even entertain the possibility of a mother staying at home with their children. When my wife asks a young mother, weeping about leaving her child with strangers (even though we are nice strangers), “Did you ever consider staying home?” the young mothers look astounded. They never even considered it.

The humor lies in the fact we sometimes try to talk our customers out of buying our services. We ask them to simply add up the costs of Childcare, a second car, insurance for that car, gasoline for that car, clothes for a job, and compare that cost to the money made. Is the working wife worth the sacrifice involved?

Often, even though financial loss is involved, it is “worth it” in terms of the mental health of the mother. To  stay at home would involve being ditched all day by her husband, who would have all the rewards of the workplace society, and then to have him come home wanting to sag in an armchair and stay home, when she has been in solitary confinement with a rugrat all day, and simply wants escape. Such living is not conducive to a happy marriage.

In any case, the result is that I get small children plunked in my arms, as the mother beats a hasty retreat. And one thing then becomes quite clear. The little child resents the change. I can coo and soothe all I want, the little one basically tells me to go get stuffed. Their eyes regard me with all the affection of a spitting cat.

In some ways it hurts my feelings. After all, I’m not a bad guy. I am adept at cheering up such miserable children. Eventually they are seduced by my sheer kindness into accepting me as a sort of foster parent. On somewhat embarrassing occasions they refer to me as “Dad”, or, on a few even more embarrassing occasions, “Mom.” Then the Mom or Dad show signs of jealousy, when they arrive to pick up their child after sacrificing more than eight hours away, and see the little one walking hand in hand with me, and giving me a big hug before departing. And this makes me feel guilty. What is worst is that many children save up some particular despair for their Dad, or especially their Mom, and after eight hours happy and healthy, dump a complete melt-down onto their parent, rather than acting glad to see them.

Obviously the situation is unnatural, and is due to people sacrificing their children for something they see as “greatness”. Oddly, it is not famous leaders and Hollywood stars involved, but ordinary folk. How far our world has fallen!

This brings me back to when Britain had a great empire. Believe it or not, it was in my own lifetime, and I got to see a hint of its glory. One aspect of its glory involved what they called a “Public School” (and the USA calls a “Private School”.) Busy parents, often far away in “the colonies” (India or Singapore, Africa or the Caribbean) had their children brought up by surrogates, just the same way I bring up other people’s children as a surrogate. The children tended to be older, but the teachers  faced the same wrath I face.

In my own case the situation arose when I was a senior in highschool, at the young age of sixteen,  and my stepfather, who taught at Harvard, was well aware of the influence Timothy Leary and LSD was having on local youth. He was worried about what a burned-out hippy I was heading towards becoming, and (I think) decided I might be better off away from college, than I’d be going to college. He suggested a “post-graduate” year might be helpful to me, as I was so young. He asked me, showing me this picture, “Would you like to spend a post-graduate year at this school in Scotland?”

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I likely spoke some hip gibberish like, “Far out! Dynamite and out of sight! That place looks groovy, man.” I also likely breathed a big sigh of relief, because I found the entire business of “applying to college” was “a hassle, man. A real bummer.”

I had no idea what I was in for. The school had no interest in “spontaneous improvisation” or in “being mellow”.  They believed in this horrid thing called “discipline”.

The above photograph is from the summer, when the days were twenty hours long,  In December the days were around six hours long . I could not hitchhike home, because the Atlantic Ocean was in the way. There was no place to buy drugs, and I went through a withdrawal without even knowing why I was acting so weird.

The experience likely saved my life. I’d like to write about it, but one thing always stops me. It is this: In order to write about what I went through I’d have to describe a terrible ingratitude.  I, and many of the other boys, saw the teachers (who I hated to call “masters”, though they demanded it), as the “bad guys”. In actual fact they saved my life, but in order to accurately describe how they did so would involve portraying them in an unflattering manner. They were the “conservatives”, and we boys were the “counter-culture”.

I had a friend at that school who (oddly, it seemed to me), was far more appreciative of the clammy castle we found ourselves plunked into. He was from a military family, and was far more used to being transferred hither and yon, in a state of perpetual homelessness. The castle was just one more place, and he appreciated how unique it was, compared to other places.

I was quite different. I knew what “the wholesome connections of family and community, this thing called ‘roots’ ” was, and was angry at my parents for ruining it with divorce, and especially angry at my stepfather for uprooting me and plunking me in a remote castle in the far northeast of Scotland, tricking me by never explaining the discipline such a school involved. It was like I thought I was going on a picnic and discovered I’d joined the Marines.  A lot of the other boys at the school were equally indignant about being uprooted, and equally irreverent towards authority figures. Therefore I cannot tell the tale of Dunrobin School, in Thurso, Scotland, without sounding ungrateful towards the very men who saved my life.

The tale simply has to involve all the ways we boys found to break the rules, and the scorn we had towards the rules. Meanwhile these same rules turned me from a burned out speed-freak of seventeen, weighing 148 pounds, to a hale youth of eighteen weighing 182 pounds. I went from a know-it-all who knew little and thought “Shakespeare is for sissies and snobs” to a youth with a thirst for great writing who passed his English “A-level” in only two terms, and passed his Economics “A-level” as well. It is incredible how much they improved the raw youth they were given, but I didn’t have a clue they were doing what they were doing, and saw them as “oppressive”.

Now, as an old man looking back, I feel ashamed. Perhaps it is because I now know, through running my Childcare, how utterly exhausting it can be to be soundly cursed by youth for treating them well. Recently, when the fire department visited our Childcare to educate little ones about how to behave if ever faced with the reality of a fire, one little chap found the subject utterly horrifying, and wailed on and on, and utterly exhausted me. Someone took a picture that is a little embarrassing, for it shows me understanding that caring for the young isn’t all peaches and cream, and can exhaust you.

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Though the teachers at Dunrobin were younger than I now am, I think at times I must have exhausted them as much. It’s especially embarrassing because I was not two years old. I was seventeen, and should have known better. I didn’t. I treated them like crap, just as the two year old treated me like crap, without the respect I deserve. (Perhaps, as they say, “What goes around comes around.”) Also I could outrun my teachers. A two year old can’t outrun me. I could occasionally even out-think teachers. (So can a two year old.)

This is not to say the indignation of the two year old is not justified. Why is he being exposed to the brutal reality of burning homes, when he could be at home with his mother in a house where the fire stayed in its proper place, on the hearth?

In like manner, my indignation, as a seventeen year old, likely had its justifications. However grim reality steps in, and places parents into circumstances where the best they can do is hand their own flesh and blood off to complete strangers. My stepfather actually made a wise choice, handing me off to Dunrobin. It saved my life, (though I will confess I have never been so close to committing suicide).  (I’ll tell that tale in chapter ten.)

In any case, among the boys at Dunrobin, few appreciated how lucky they were. If I am to tell the tale truthfully I must be honest about the resentment. There is a very beautiful irreverence the boys had towards limitations placed upon their freedom, and the ways they found around discipline are hilarious and brimming with joy. In a sense they restore your faith in the ability of joy to overcome a Gestapo.

However to call the very teachers who saved my life a “Gestapo” is the height of ingratitude.

That is why it is so difficult to write the story of Dunrobin. It has been something I planned to do for years, but I keep putting it off.

I suppose, as a lover of freedom, it is hard to admit freedom isn’t free,  discipline is necessary, a river without banks goes nowhere and becomes a swamp. But perhaps I’ve thought long and hard enough about the subject to be able to describe both the joyous student’s disrespect for discipline, and the less joyous insistence upon discipline, on the part of the teachers.

I just want it clear how good discipline was for me, though I loathed it. I want the few remaining teachers left alive to know I still love freedom, but am grateful for their discipline.

Hopefully this post will be continued, with tales from my youth. I will end this “introduction” with the simple fact Dunrobin looked a lot different from the picture my stepfather had shown me, when I saw it first hand, as I walked down to the front door, from the train station, back in September, 1970.

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