LOCAL VIEW –Beech Buds–

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There’s a mist up in the maples;
There’s a hueing of the trees.
Let the farmer plant his staples;
Let the banker seek his ease.
Neither way will truly please.

I’m made hobo by the woodlands.
I’m made cross-eyed by the trees.
Schoolboys don’t have to be good. Man’s
Made rules ban ecstasies,
And his goals are but a tease.

In the treetops there’s no fading
Above glades that know no shading.
Farmers sweat, as bankers promise.

Schoolboy’s are the Doubting Thomas.

Last week we had but a single glory day, with skies as blue as promises, before the dreary and cold weather clamped back down. This is typical of the hills of New Hampshire. During my boyhood among the flatlanders of Massachusetts I came to expect spring to bust out in April, but I’ve learned not to expect it before May, this far north. We live right at the boundary of a sort of change in climate zones. Here is where Indians stopped attempting to grow corn, and became hunters.

Rather than April being a month where spring busts out, it tends to be a torture. Trees aren’t stupid, and they look both ways before crossing over into summer. The maples start to be hazed by their buds in early April, but they only tantalize, for what seems like forever. A sort of mist rides the tips of twigs, golden green over sugar maples and raspberry over swamp maples, and I’ve learned to appreciate the beauty…….about 5% of the time. The rest of the time it seems like way too much foreplay.

This is especially true when April holds long spells of dank weather, which is often the case. Snow can mix in with the rain right into May on the most torturous years. A sort of war goes on between the powers of rebirth and the powers of rot. (If you plant corn, beans or squash too early, that is exactly what their seeds do: rot.)

To really rub it in, last week the children asked me questions, and I had no answers. Rather than seeing this as an opportunity to teach how life never gets old, and is always full of new things, I just felt I was failing to live up to my reputation for being amazingly knowledgeable. Rot even was effecting my brain. For example, a child asked me, “What animal is this from?”

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(Oh the irony! Here it is April, and rather than the fresh and new, I am consulted about an old bone. ) I had to confess I didn’t know. My guess was it was an old pig bone, and then, to hide my ignorance, I pointed out the gnawing marks left by deer mice, and also disseminated a bit about scientists who know their bones.

The next question was about foam coming from the side of a tree.

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 Again I had to confess I had no clue. I had noticed it before, but never had come across an explanation in my reading. So I made a guess. I had wondered, when I saw it before, if it was rising sap fermenting in the tunnel made by some sort of wood-boring beetle. Sounds good, at any rate. But then curiosity killed the cat. I googled “foam on trees”, and discovered it was “slime flux”, and caused by bacteria. So then, on top of admitting I didn’t know, I had to admit my wild guess scientific hypothesis was wrong, which no thinker enjoys doing.

Not the best day. Rather than the fresh and new, I get brought bones and bacteria, and get my fat ego humbled to boot.

In such situations I find it best to retreat from my position as an authority figure, and to just do my job, which is to watch the kids. Call it licking-my-wounds if you will, but it is what I do when it is not the best day.

When I am sulking in this manner I like to turn to old,reliable ways of cheering myself up, for example noticing the beauty of red maple blossoms.

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This is what mists the treetops raspberry.  They are so small few notice them.

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They also make an interesting nibble, though I prefer the golden-green blooms of the sugar maple, but they weren’t out yet. Then I got a craving for beech buds, and sauntered over to a low hanging branch, and noticed something interesting. The buds were especially plump.

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When I unwrapped the fat bud I discovered it was fatter than usual because rather than leaves it held a flower.

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This is likely just another sign of rot. Our beech trees are stressed by a virus from Eurasia. When a tree is stressed, it makes nuts like crazy, attempting to reproduce before it dies. And now our beech trees are going the way of the American elm, chestnut, and butternut. Thank you very much, Internationalists. Our squirrels will starve. But we will have our revenge. An exploding population of American gray squirrels is running roughshod over the landscapes of Eurasia. (And it serves them right.)

As I contemplated this situation in my grumpy manner I absentmindedly nibbled the beech bud,  and was surprised how good it was. The flowers sweeten the flavor. Then I remembered my job. I was suppose to be watching the kids, and they had become suspiciously quiet.

When I turned I saw I was a teacher, after all. I saw a line of quiet children strung out behind me like ducklings, or perhaps like small monkeys behind a daddy gorilla. They were all nibbling beech buds.

I figured that, if I’m stuck with the job, I’d better do it right, so I taught them, “You don’t want to eat too many of those things, or it will make your tongue feel all hairy.”

(Yet another little-known-fact from my vast store of wisdom.)

[Photo credits for “old bone” and “foaming tree” pictures go to Marlowe Gautreau.]

LOCAL VIEW –Refrigerated Blooms–

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Winter weary, wanting spring to slow down,
I don’t half mind refrigerated blooms,
As if some florist had snuck into town
And wanted no wilting by rain-wet tombs,
No fading of flowers by flag stoned graves.

Who am I kidding? The spring never stays
And there is no cold that completely saves
Yellow daffodils under sky’s many grays.

How can I hope when my hopes always wilt?
The glass is half full, but the half-glass’s spilt.
Rust never sleeps as dream-towers are built.
I stand before God; my achievement is guilt.

God alone lasts; it grows clearer and clearer
As wilting looks back at me from my mirror.

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LOCAL VIEW –Snow Goes–

VIEW ON FRIDAY

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VIEW TUESDAY MORNING 

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We’ve had one of those spells of summer that sneak backwards into spring, just as some winter can creep forward, and make April a crazy month which makes us all behave like bipolar fools. It was 77° on Monday and 83° on Tuesday. (25° and 28° Celsius).

The initial result was two-fold. First it created mud, and can you see the second result in this picture?

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What you should notice is a total lack of fighting.  A fit of springtime-ambitiousness so overwhelmed the boys they became too busy to brawl.  I was amazed, especially as it lasted two solid hours.

After the children went home I took a walk out to the flood-control reservoir with my wife, granddaughter and dog to watch the sunset. There was not a breath of wind, and I expected the water to be like a mirror. It seemed a perfect time to think about peace and serenity, but wouldn’t you know it? Three pairs of Canada geese were scoping out a pond which likely is only big enough for two pairs, and they were constantly chasing each other, honking like a rush hour, taking off and landing or running atop the water, and the surface was never like a mirror, even when they took a break between battles.

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As if to highlight the lack of peace, a beaver surfaced, saw my dog, and Ker-whack! It slapped its flat tail on the water, (which is their alarm-call for other beavers).

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Don’t ask me to make sense of spring. Boys will work like beavers and be peaceful, as vegetarian geese and beavers are anything but. Sometimes it is wiser to just sit back and be a witness.

You raise my eyes from chain-gang shackles
To castles in clouds, but then I descend
And my chains remain. A witch’s cackles
Reminds me my dreaming wakes in the end.

You melt snows with the wild hope of spring
And again I am dreaming, planting seeds,
But again I descend with molted wing
Like Icarus, as my garden grows weeds.

Again You come, and hope ends one more night
But this time I’m not going to pursue
Some distant dream, for I’ve now seen the light
And understand that it’s coming from You.

Why should you seek a far distant star
When the light is shining right where you are?

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LOCAL VIEW –Bogged–(With Postscript)

Sometimes I think forecasts are invented to keep us from despairing. Day follows day with slush, mud and driving rain, and there is this carrot dangled in front of the jackass, to keep it trudging on. Not that the warm, sunny weather ever actually materializes.

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It seems that even if the sun should shine, there is such a residue of slush and mud and glop it will take forever to dry.

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And when a sand driveway, which had been firm for forty years, mysteriously turns into quicksand that swallows your car, even your free time abruptly wears chains.

OK, Mr. Optimist, let’s see you talk your way out of this:

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As I rush through the rain from car to door
I pause to feel the icy needles pelt
And am glad I don’t work in rain any more.

When young I rejoiced and, hot-blooded, felt
Like dancing in the wet. You can forget
Such antics now. I slam shut the front door
And yearn for May.
                                           But it seems I am met
By delay. Treasure’s on hold. Tomorrow
Never comes. Heaven’s not this side of death.

Or do I forget what I knew? Sweet sorrow
Brimmed youth, but beauty took away my breath.

It is here, the beauty squinted eyes miss.
Come open these old, tired eyes with your kiss.

*********

POSTSCRIPT

The sun eventually did come out, and so did the car:

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It took nearly four hours. I managed to keep myself interested because I was curious about what caused the driveway to become like what men out on clam-flats in Maine called a “honey pot”, which was a soupy quicksand of clay covered by a rubbery skin of harder, sun-baked clay.

What it was was a spring. As I shoveled I freed it, and water came right up to the surface. After attempting to bail and then work, bail and then work, I hit upon building a diversion channel. In some ways it was sort of fun to make rivers in the mud like a small boy, which shows you that it may be possible to make misery be merriment.

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LOCAL VIEW –Sky In Mud–

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Rain and slush and mud. It could be days before we see the sun. It’s time to gird loins and grit teeth and remember in a month it will be May. Also remember poets who had grimmer mud to face, and still saw beauty. I may reread the World War One poet Wilford Owen’s “Apoligia Pro Promate Meo,” that begins, “I, too, saw God through mud…”

https://allpoetry.com/Apologia-Pro-Poemate-Meo

Some people are like a snatch of blue sky on a gray day.

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In my time I have seen many wrenches
Tossed into the artworks which I might have made,
But I, too, have seen God in the trenches
And laughed about Yorick while wielding a spade.

Happiness can’t abide preconditions.
You think you need money, but wealthy men
Groan as their mansions become perditions.
Happiness just won’t obey “if” and “then”.

In the valley of shadow white light will appear
Though doubters seek to creep close and destroy.
If Beethoven demanded that he could hear
We would not now have his sweet song of Joy.

In thickets of thorns, still seek a rosebud
And you too will see the sky in the mud.

LOCAL VIEW –Another Boston Snowstorm? Or April Fools? (Updated Saturday Night)

It is difficult to describe how tantalizing spring can be, this far north. It can be a terrible tease. This year the flirt provoked us with an amazingly kind end to February, with even the ponds melting. I was thinking of fishing with the children at our Childcare on the first of March.

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Yet at the end of March things had gone backwards.

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If you zoom in on the picture you can see it was not merely humans who were fooled.

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This is a particularly stupid sub-species of Canada Goose, which we have accidentally bred in our area by having water hazards at our golf courses. They are around two pounds heavier than the natural sort, that migrates up to Canada and down to Chesapeake Bay. This sub-species can’t be bothered to migrate far, and upsets people terribly by dying in droves when winters are particularly harsh, when they hang around warm outflows of power plants or sewage treatment plants, rather than flying south to look for open water. Then certain people feel compassion and feed them, while other people, who want them dead, watch and are irate.

Why should anyone want such beautiful geese dead? Well, they eat grass, lots and lots and lots of grass, (they have to eat a lot because grass has less protein than grain or fish), and this means they also produce lots and lots and lots of slimy green droppings. Golfers don’t like this, and people with lawns by the water don’t like it either. But it is illegal to blast them, out of season, and also they are stronger than they look; they can break your arm by beating their wings if you grab one.

In any case, this particular pair arrived on February 28, and cannot understand why the ice has been growing rather than shrinking. Are not the days getting longer, and the sun getting higher and stronger? (I’d show them my weather maps, but they might break my arm.)

I hear the crazy crying of flying geese
And look up through flocking flakes of snow,
And part of me yearns for the yearly release
From the shackles of cold, yet I know
All too well how the Northern Trickster flirts
Worse than the worst girl I knew back in school.

You want to plant seeds so badly it hurts
But if you attempt it you’ll look like a fool
So you wait, and you wait, and wait some more
Until you feel you are losing your mind.

The crazy geese cry in the sky and soar
As bitter flakes sting my weeping eyes blind.
Will Savior Spring ever cut cruel shackles loose
Or will I just wind up an old, silly goose?

One thing I try to remind myself is that I was born here, and am accustomed to the torment. I once worked as a landscaper for a very warmhearted old lady who was born in Virginia, and it drove her half mad not to plant flowers in March. One April, (1989), we had a spell of hot days at the start of the month, and I had to practically tie her down to keep her from planting tomatoes. I think she was on the verge of firing me, when the weather reverted to a bone-chilling rain that had some snow mixed in, followed by clearing and a sharp frost that would have killed tomatoes. I figure if that lady could take that spring,  I can take this one.

Despite the cold breezes the sun is so high that, when it has been out, it has made steady inroads on the nearly two feet of dense snow we got two weeks ago, and again patches of leaves and stone are peeking through on south-facing slopes. It is interesting how some kids gravitate to those places even on gray days.

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Today the bright spring sun in blue skies made further inroads on the snow-pack, and I noticed daffodils poking up in the south-facing garden.

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Yet the forecast is for them to be covered by a foot of snow and sleet by Saturday morning. It seemed impossible. The sun is as high as it is in early September, when most of the leaves are still green. Out of the wind it was warm on my face, and some of the kids got a touch of a sunburn, but then, in the afternoon, abruptly only the sky to the east was blue.

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I figure I might as well document the event with updates, like I did the last storm. I still have the hope it may all change to rain. The evening radar only showed snow way up by the Great Lakes.

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While the weather map shows the storm to the west has a core of summer heat, complete with thunderstorms and tornadoes, it is running up against a Canadian high pressure to our north, which has been pumped up and nudged south by a gale out in the Atlantic (right margin of map) which actually sucked what looked like a tropical storm into its guts. Therefore it will be a battle between winds coming down from Labrador and winds coming up from the Gulf of Mexico.

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Today began with a frosty low of 26°, rose to 45° before the clouds moved in, and has now slumped back to freezing. (It is murder on weathermen to forecast whether precipitation will be rain or snow if temperatures are right at freezing.)  The barometer has crept up to 30.02, but is fairly steady.  See you in the morning.

UPDATE:  6:55 A.M. MARCH 31

Just before sunrise at 6:30 the entire landscape turned a shade of shocking pink, and then faded to an orange glow to the east.

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The first, fat flakes began slowly falling at 6:45.

UPDATE: 10:08 AM 

Temperature 30° Barometer 30.01

All the work the sun has done to bare the ground is being undone by a steady fall of light sneet (halfway between sleet and snow.)

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MORNING MAP AND RADAR  (Notice how as soon as the rain moved into New England, it turns to snow.) (Out west Denver’s getting snow as well.)

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UPDATE:  2:25 PM

Temperature 32° Barometer 29,95  Moderate snow. Light northeast wind. Around an inch and a half of snow in the pasture, but the sun is so powerful it melts the roads even through the clouds. They are merely wet, with some slush under trees. As soon as the sun goes down the roads will worsen. (Rain made it up the coast to South Boston for a bit, but it looks like they’ve gone back to sleet now).

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Joe D’Aleo has some interesting graphs on his blog at Weatherbell, produced by Dr. Ryan Maue. They show the change in temperature in the atmosphere for the next few days. Ground level is to the bottom and the future is to the right.  What is shows is warmer air moving in aloft tonight. What is interesting is that it is above freezing in Worcester, an hour south of here, which will likely bring freezing rain or ice pellets…

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…yet an hour north of here in Concord the warm occlusion is below freezing as it passes over, which should keep the snow as snow.

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As I am half-way between, what I do is flip a coin.

UPDATE: 8:00 P.M.

Temperature 28°, Barometer 29.88.  Changing to sleet. Roughly four inches.

It’s been the typical sort of chaotic day storms generate, with all sorts of extra little chores to do to be ready in case the storm shuts things down. (I have a superstition that a storm never shuts things down unless you forget to do these chores.)

The truck had a dead battery so I used the 1997 Volvo to haul a load of wood for the porch, in case the woodpile gets totally buried.

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And got the snowblower all gassed up and its electric starter plugged in for the clean-up tomorrow morning.

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And rushed around getting things done before the slush got too deep on the roads.

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As the snow got deeper trucks began to bog down in the snow.

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So we had to fight back against the sky.

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But the enemy sent in reinforcements

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So the wiser old women retreated indoors to play Bingo in the stables.

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Meanwhile the goats complained it was too muddy in their hideout under the barn.

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So they bashed a new entrance to the stables in the rear, and trashed the place

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And then implored me not to turn them into goat burgers.

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Nothing to be concerned about here, folks. Just your typical day on a hardscrabble farm.

EVENING MAPS AND RADAR

The maps show high pressure remaining stubborn over Maine, forcing the storm to redevelop on the coast of Virginia.

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The radar shows the rain-snow line making no progress to the north, though sleet does seem to be mixing in more outside my front door.

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9:30 PM  29.86  27°

SATURDAY MORNING UPDATE

6:00 AM Temperature 29° Barometer 29.68  Light snow; dust-like flakes — Windy

Dark purple daybreak. I’m glad it is a Saturday, and I don’t have to open the Childcare.

Looks like rain (likely drizzle) has crept up the coast to Boston…

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…as the storm stalls, or only crawls. Looks like a dark day, for April.

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10:00 Temperature 32° Barometer no longer falling 29.72.  Snow picking up again.

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12:00 NOON  –Temperature 32°

EVENING UPDATE

Groan. What a royal pain cleaning up that snow was. It was something like glue mixed with cement, and the augers of my snowblower kept winding up like this:

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It was five inches of wet snow atop two inches of drenched sleet, and packed to something close to ice with little effort, so where the plows passed by on the street a wall was raised that the snowblower quailed at, like a hamster trying to gnaw through granite. I was overjoyed to see my eldest son drive up with his big plow to clear the entrances for me. But some places he cannot go. For example the snow slides off the new barn’s snow-shedder roof…

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…And packs this stuff a plastic snow shovel can’t dent….

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…and makes we want to wait for a warm spell to just melt the stuff.  Unfortunately this door faces north, and won’t melt quickly, so I’ll have to use my pick ax tomorrow.

(This is why people charmed by New England move back south, after a couple of winters.)

Anyway, here’s an “after” picture, to compare with a “before” picture above.

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The barometer is in no hurry to rise, at 29.84, with the temperature at 30° at 10:00 P.M. After 36 hours the snow finally faded away towards sunset, and Radar shows it moving away northeast.

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The map shows the storm didn’t get as big as some do. So there’s something to be thankful for.

The forecast is for temperatures in the high 80’s by the end of the week. April Fools!

Actually that was 1989. Look at the first week:

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I can dream, can’t I? (The reality is we have another storm coming Tuesday, hopefully rain, but with temperatures too close to freezing for comfort.) (Rain will keep me indoors and encourage me to do my taxes.) Currently the next storm is down in Texas.

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LOCAL VIEW –Northern March Madness–

We hear rumors from the south
Of warm winds in Georgia pines
But we keep our skeptic chins
Down in our scarves,
For we’re hardened by the north
And the way that winter whines
As with Jolly Roger grins
His saber carves.

Our spirit starves
As their rhododendrons bloom.
As they frolic in the sun
We trudge the gloom.
As they rhapsodize and gush
We wade the slush.
Don’t speak to me
Of springtime glee.

Where down south ball players practice
Way up north we just do taxes
With our smiles like battle axes.
Where they sunbathe, our hard fact is
We have plum run out of gladness
And know differing March madness.

If you look at the map below you can see how the warm surge of springtime rushing up the east coast of the USA runs into a sort of wall, and fails to make it into New England. I can’t tell you how typical, and how annoying, this is. Notice the innocuous, little low just south of Nova Scotia, supplying just enough kick-back to keep cold ocean air flowing in from the east.

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What this means is that instead of warm winds from the south, and balmy temperatures that make even crabby people smile, we get temperatures just above or just below freezing. (On the occasions when we do get a southerly blast it is probable it will be swiftly followed by a front and icy northern winds.)

About the only good thing is the fog, which tends to “eat” the snow. I wrote about why it happens in an old post which has been surprisingly popular over the years, especially in March.

https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2013/02/02/why-fog-hates-the-snow/

The exception to this rule is when temperatures hover right at freezing, like they have here the past few days. Then the snow doesn’t seem to melt fast; rather it just turns to slush. The world seems particularly unappealing, and I see no children in the playground when I pick up kindergartners.

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The scenery, as I drive, isn’t at all that inspiring,

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And our own Childcare playground holds little attraction, as it is basically reduced to slush.

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To top it off, my muscles all ache due to the low pressure, and I have a cold, and I could go on and on about all my reasons to feel very different from a gamboling lamb in green, spring pastures.

By the times the older kids got off the school-bus yesterday afternoon I was working on my third degree of sainthood, and then all the boys seemed to be in especially rebellious moods. Only two wanted to go on the scheduled hike, and the rest shoved their hands in their pockets and slouched with sharp shoulders.  They needed only cigarettes dangling from their lips to look like a bunch of bookies. (To be honest, they looked like I felt, which I suppose demonstrates I was only outwardly a saint, and inwardly was a bookie.) I decided to just let them slouch, if that was their desire, and took two for a short hike, and then, as I returned, a slushy snowball whizzed dangerously close to my head.

In the manner of a true saint I patiently explained how snowball fights were against rule #291B,  and then turned to attend to a smaller child, when, Ker-POW!   A slushball hit me squarely in the forehead.

I thought about remaining a saint, and decided against it. Instead I told the boys they had better run, because rule #291B has a sub-clause, 15P, which allows staff to pelt little kids with slushballs, if the staff has a just cause, and getting hit on the forehead is a just cause.

Mind you, I confess there is a schoolmarm who sits invisibly  on my shoulder and advises against rioting. Also I did look over that shoulder to make sure my wife wasn’t watching. Lastly, I am well aware that there is no such thing as an orderly snowball fight, and that any attempts to moderate the fray will be about as successful as they are in professional hockey; sooner or later the fun escalates to a full-fledged fight. In the end I ignored all that stuff, and just did my best to paste youngsters with snowballs in the snoot.

Did they enjoy it? Man Oh man, did they ever! There were only two episodes of tears, (which isn’t half bad, looking back over the years), and in both cases the boys didn’t retire to the sanctuary of the “little kids” (who were watched by the staff further up the hill), but rather soon rejoined the chaos with their tears forgotten.

The odds were twelve to one against me, (after three girls joined the battle because it looked like such fun), and I confess to being mortally wounded on a number of occasions. However I have taken good care of my throwing arm this winter, (after destroying it a couple years back), and I was surprised how much of my old skill returned, once I was properly warmed up. I remembered some of the old tricks, such as lobbing a first snowball in a high arc, and then, while they are still looking up at it waiting for it to come down, throwing a second low-ball in a straight line. (The trick is to have both snowballs arrive at the same moment.)

I remembered the technique of ricocheting a snowball off a tree-trunk, or breaking a snowball into shrapnel in the branches above a target, or the strategy of pretending to ignore someone, and then throwing when they are not looking, or simply looking left and throwing right. I needed all my tricks, outnumbered as I was, with stealthy children creeping up from all sides. When they did nail me, I let loose howls of agony, which they greatly appreciated. When I charged them in feigned retaliatory rage, they fled screaming in sheer delight.

When parents came the kids didn’t want to leave, but eventually it was over. Oddly, I was sweaty but energized. I’d felt old and tired before we began, but felt thirty years younger afterwards. Something that had been withering up in me was cut loose and ran free.

I had a strange sense I had seen this before, many times, and if fact in some ways had seen it every March.

I recalled a half century ago throwing a snowball at a young doctor who was walking home from the market with milk, and how surprised I was that it turned out he had an excellent arm, and could make and throw snowballs at a rate of what seemed like two per second.

I remembered my Dad telling me of an April when the students at MIT were going crazy under the pressure of cramming for exams before Easter break, when there was a late, heavy fall of sticky snow.  Being engineers, they decided to build a wall, and a good place for the wall seemed like across Memorial Drive. (In 1938 there was a far greater lull in the traffic between the morning and evening rush-hour).

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Of course such a fine structure needed to be defended, and when the police arrived they were pelted with snowballs. The police of that time didn’t resort to teargas, and instead replied with snowballs, and apparently were better at battling than the students, who were slowly driven back to their dorms, throwing their final snowballs from upstairs windows. There were no arrests, and afterwards everyone felt wonderfully refreshed.

It is March Madness, and gives the schoolmarm perched on my shoulder something to ponder.

Not all that seems war-like is evil.
Burst free from the landscapes of gray.
Go wild with Dame Springtime and she will
Paint scarlets like dawn breaking day.