SLUSH CITY

It is an old, local, gallows-humor to say, when winter becomes especially obnoxious, “Have you surrendered yet?” You hear it at the local market, when someone walks in with a sour expression, having a bad-hair-day. Oddly, the soured expression usually vanishes and a grin flashes. It is as if the one accosted feels strangely recognized, and less alone in their misery. (You figure out the psychology. I’m too tired, having had to deal with so much slush and heavy snow my expression is likely soured, and also I’m having a bad-hair-day.)

Winter has a way of coming up with some new angle, some twist you have never seen before. I suppose that is one thing that keeps the dreariness from being too dreary: One looks about with interest for a new annoyance that was never expected.

This year the wonder is a strange lack of wind which has allowed the snow to build up on the boughs of trees to levels I haven’t seen before. Or, perhaps I once saw it, when I was young and could afford skiing, and rode ski-lifts to the tops of mountains where the rime could really build up on the spruce and fir trees, but they are trees designed to simply bend and curl over and endure the weight.

This is not the case for trees at lower altitudes. Eventually they break, and once you start to hear the cracking, sometimes like the report of a gun, coming from the woods, you start to notice the lights flickering, and perhaps make ready for the power to quit by filling a bathtub with water and lighting a candle.

My last local post described the storm that left our Childcare without power for nineteen hours. It did little to remove the snow from the trees, for the usual blast of northwest winds didn’t follow its passage. Instead the trees looked beautiful, and also dangerous.

Such heavy snow is sticky and great for making igloos, but perhaps such igloo-construction is unwise, for a man of my advanced years. In fact I know it is, for I was barely able to creak out of bed the next day, and headed for the aspirin bottle even before the coffee pot. Ahead of me my schedule foresaw there was heavy slush to clear up from the front walk of the Childcare, and I decided after that I would lean against a tree and watch the kids play. That may not be much of a curriculum: To not be at involved at all, but I could always say the woods were too dangerous to walk in, with burdened limbs crashing down.

But for play the children wanted to sled, and fresh, heavy snow is not good for sledding. The sleds just sink, making a sort of crater on the hillside. One must pack down the snow, but small children are not all that good at packing, it turns out. So I had to show them, slowly and laboriously tramping a wide path up the hill. I attempted to involve them, but their footprints tended to wander off and not stick to the planned route. Apparently it was too boring to pack a straight path.

I consoled myself by remembering my cellphone has a gadget that counts how many steps I take in a day. But it turned out this odometer thought I must be cheating, to take such short steps. All my tromping didn’t count as steps, to my deep disappointment. All I got was more weary than ever, as the kids got some slow sledding over the wet snow, as the long day ended.

There was still plenty of ice glinting in the treetops, as yet another storm approached.

It was another slushy storm. You could tell it was going to be hard to forecast where the rain-snow line would set up. They were forecasting a burst (or “thump”) of six inches of heavy, wet snow, changing to freezing rain and then rain, which didn’t sound good. The lights had been blinking all day, even without any added snow. But there was nothing to do but watch the storm come rolling east through the Ohio Valley on the weather maps.

The question was how soon the coastal development would develop, and how far north the warm air would surge, and how strong the “cold air damming” would be, and whether any sneaky cold air would creep under the warm air from the northeast as the coastal low “bombed.”.

Ordinarily such stuff fascinates me, but I was pretty achy, and the way the lights were flickering messed up my laptop’s ability to stay on the sites I tried to look at, and my weary brains had trouble staying in focus as well. After a easy-to-make dinner of hotdogs and beans I glanced out the window and saw it was snowing to beat the band, and then thought I’d lay down for just a bit to digest greasy hot dogs, but utterly konked out. (Just to show how tired I was, I left a lone beer on the table, with only a single sip of it swallowed).

I awoke at 3:30 AM and thought it might be wise to undress for bed, but then remembered I hadn’t put wood in the fires. Blearily I hobbled about, attempting to avoid clattering and clanging too much, as my wife has been as weary as I, and she was softly snoring. The power had been off, and the digital clocks were blinking on various devises, but we have some clocks that are battery-powered, which is how I knew it was 3:30 AM. The fires had burned down to embers, and it took time to get them going again.

At some point I went out on the porch for a couple logs. The air had a mildness unlike what I expect in January, and a quick glance down the steps showed that roughly three inches of snow (7.62 cm) was swiftly wilting under steady rain. The changeover had come earlier than expected, which I was glad to see. Hopefully the snow would shrink, and flow down the drains without the floods we had in December. I prefer snow melting to shoveling the stuff.

The lights flickered again as I glanced at the radar before heading back to bed. There were no warning signs of cold air and snow sneaking south as a backlash, and instead signs that a “dry slot” would end the rain earlier than expected. (I am located in the orange heavier rain, between Lowell and Keene.)

That “dry slot” did me a favor, for I overslept. I know when I oversleep, because it isn’t pitch dark out. I leapt out of bed, threw on my clothes, and rushed to clean the slush from the walks at the Childcare before the customers arrived. The morning was mild, and I had only to wipe the wet snow from my windshield, without needing to scrape at any frost. Yet there was still ice in the trees, and in fact the morning was sparkling, with the trees shimmering silver.

It is important to drink in that silver shimmering, for all too soon your eyes must drop to what you must shovel.

I did the front walkway, and no customer was inconvenienced, because the fact of the matter was most everyone in town was behind schedule, because the power outages messed up everyone’s clocks. Also the constant surging and blinking of the electricity supply messed up other switches in modern conveniences. I faced a freezer and a water pump that had quit. But fortunately I had five young men arriving at my Childcare and five snow shovels, and, rather than sullenly waiting for the school bus, they made some money shoveling the Childcare’s emergency exits. They trooped onto the school bus richer, as I, only $20.00 poorer, watched the snow slide off my “snow-shedding roof” and undo some of their work. Though they broke a couple shovels, they were a good investment, for they did free up my time, allowing me to get the freezer and pump working again.

(All I did was un-jam the switches; I don’t know how power surges manage to paralyze such devises, but working them once undoes the damage: With the freezer I only needed to turn the dial until it was “off”, and then, with the tender fingers of a safe-cracker, turn the dial in the “on” direction, and the freezer abruptly hummed and worked. The pump involved exposing and physically manipulating a pressure switch, but with the same effect: The pump started humming, and faucets gushed water again.) (Few things are so disconcerting as an empty faucet.)

I had proven I can function to some degree without coffee, but I was not happy about it, yet at this point there appeared, from the shimmering glitter of the sunshine, an angel. It was my wife, with a steaming extra-large coffee she got at the take-out window of a local coffee shop. Abruptly all seemed right in the world.

“Not so fast”, said this winter of slush. As I abandoned my wife to a small crowd of merciless children, driving off to do a quick errand, the coffee fueled a brief euphoria. The sun was shining off the wet road as if I was on a highway to heaven, but just then a tree branch chose to unload about ten pounds of slush and ice, down, down, down, and smack dab in the center of my windshield. I only slightly indented my Jeep’s roof. Why the windshield’s glass wasn’t cracked I cannot say.

This shock brought me back to earth, and reminded of a poem I wrote at age sixteen called “Thaw”, and also of being aged fourteen and a time I threw a snowball which plastered the center of a windshield of a Cadillac, while I was out “raising hay” during a January Thaw with a close friend, and how we got chased a long way through winter woods by a huge, burly man who looked a little like he might work for the Mafia who came exploding out of that Cadillac. In both cases the message seemed to be, “Don’t get too cocky; winter isn’t over yet.”

If I get the time (which seems unlikely) I’ll expand the above paragraph into a post about what life was like for a teenager in the 1960’s. But for now I’ll just be an old man in the 2020’s, and end with a sonnet:

The thaw made snow get heavy. The forest
Lost what was limber, and tall trees lumbered
Like ships wallow when they're sorely distressed
By freezing spray: Boughs burdened, so some bird
Alighting pressed the final, fatal straw
And a crack like a gun's shocked the cowed glades
And a crashing and thudding maimed a flaw
On many a fine tree, so summer's shades 
Will know pockets of light, but summer is far,
Far from my thinking. Winter's just begun
It's onslaught, yet has done so much to mar
My peace of mind that I now want to run
To warm taverns where jovial drinking
Scoffs at the way the slush has me thinking.

A HEAVY CALM

Usually our storms depart with strong winds in their wake, but this one was amazingly windless. Here is a picture of the pine boughs bent down over my woodpile this morning:

That picture points out some trimming I need to do, but my wife and granddaughter put me to shame, for rather than grouchy they go out for a walk to appreciate the beautiful way the world is changed. Where I see the wires they see the trees.

Maybe if I write a sonnet my mood will become less sardonic.

The storm was wondrously calm. Not a flake
Was blown off a twig, but instead they clung
Where they fell, and made all a frosted cake
Of white. It was a soft snow which stung
No cheeks; a warm snow which made for wet roads.
There was no skidding; no irksome whining
As tires spun; but still boughs bent under loads
That became a burden. Who is designing
This gentle start to an ordeal? It's like
A soft quilt is tucked up under the chin
Of  man not ready to die, who'll strike 
The quilt away and shout, with a brave grin,
"Not so fast, Wily Winter! Seducing
Can't hide the storm troopers you're loosing!"

(Oops. Started poetic, but I guess I slipped back to my sardonic side, there at the end.)

The storm was calm because the primary low kicked ahead energy along the “triple point” where it occluded. I call such energies “zippers” because they tend to follow where the cold front catches up to a warm front, “zipping up” part of a storms warm sector into an above-the-ground occlusion. When such “zippers” reach the right conditions they “bomb out”, and swiftly have pressures far lower than the primary low, and in fact the primary low and its occlusion may become a minor, “secondary cold front” in the circulation of a gale, in which case the pines roar and the snow is blown from the boughs. However in the case of the last storm the secondary low was slow to form from the “zipper”, and there was very little pressure difference between the primary and secondary low, so the snow drifted down with little wind. The “zipper” gave us a burst of heavy snow either side of midnight on Friday morning, and then as the remnants of the primary low followed we got another twenty-four hours of light snow, ending after midnight Saturday morning. The first burst gave us roughly five inches, and the lighter snow gave us two more.

In the national map below you can see the weakening primary storm lagging behind over us as the secondary strengthens out to sea. (Also note California is drying out as the big Pacific gales are further north towards Alaska.)

But what interests me is that we got snow and not rain. Some of the computer models were seeing rain, as they don’t handle sneaky cold very well. The models are programed to see the atmosphere in terms of small cubes of air, but sometimes the cold air creeps close to the ground, “under the radar” as it were, and the models don’t see it until it is upon us. That is why I have been noting, for over a week, that the “fisherman’s map” I like to look at seems to always have “heavy freezing spray” to our north.

Now here’s what makes me sardonic. If enough cold air can creep down to give us snow when the anomaly maps show us in a cherry red warm spell, with maps looking like this:

What will happen if the models are correct and the cherry red turns to frigid blue in ten days?

I’ll tell you what will happen. At our Childcare children will make pristine, new-fallen snow looking like this:

Look like this:

And maybe we’ll even be able to complete an igloo before it melts away. That’s our third attempt, starting to rise in the distance in the picture below. (Only the walls; the snow wasn’t sticky enough for a roof, yet.) (This picture does a fairly good job of showing a sort of snow-blindness that occurs when the sun is hidden but the sky is bright, and light snow is falling. One’s ability to see contrast between dark and light fades.)

Next storm due Monday, and perhaps another Wednesday night. Feeling sardonic yet?

CREOSOTE CREATIVITY

After a cold blast between Christmas and New Year’s, January has been gentle. Plenty of thaws and only a couple of light snows. Oddly, this has not made me happy. Instead I’ve become aware how dull midwinter is.

Last year there were too many calamities and disasters to attend to, for me to notice how dull it was. That is one good thing about storms and frozen pipes. However this winter, though it started out like that, became merciful. It seems almost an oxymoron to speak of a “generous January”, for January’s the high tide of starkness, or perhaps low tide of bleakness. No sap stirs.

Perhaps the boredom began because the thaws melted the little snow we had at my Childcare, and wreaked the snowmen, and spoiled the start to an igloo we planned to make ten stories tall, and even erased the fun of tracking animals in the snow. In any case, the tricks we’d devised (to avoid seeing how bleak and stark January is) simply didn’t work anymore, and one couldn’t help but look around and just think, “Yuk.”

Of course this presents me with an immediate challenge. If God is in everything then there must be a poem in every thing. Could I find a sonnet in anything so incredibly drab and dull?

It seems there comes a time every winter
When monotony triumphs. Sing an ode
To the sheer dullness, Oh my soul! In her
Majestic way Nature mines a rich lode
Of gray, so lands and skies slump to the edge
As silver with no shine. The world's pewter.
Brown leaves are ashy, and even the sedge
Has gone gray. Snows fell, but the thaws neuter
The bridal veil, and trails become trackless,
And, even outdoors, cabin-fever's blindness
Sees nothing of interest. Confess,
Oh my soul, that you doubt life holds kindness.
Strangely, when you moan this midwinter mood
You mouth manna which is poetry's food.

There. Did it. To me even a poor poem seems to be at least an effort at enlightenment.

To me making such an effort seems important, as the media and most politicians seem to be working very hard at being unenlightened. I don’t need to go into details about their dishonesty, hypocrisy, and unabashed lust and greed. They are the January of our age, and to witness their monotonous gray one only needs to turn on the news.

For my mental health I often turn off the news, and withdraw to my time machine, and travel back to the time of the true Enlightenment. Then I sit back and watch the Founding Fathers of our nation. They too were up against powers of gray, but rather than beaten down they uplifted.

It’s obvious why the denizens of the Swamp loathe them and want to discredit them, and it’s even sort of funny when Founding Fathers are described as rich, old slave-owners in white wigs. They were basically kids, up against the most powerful tyrant then alive. Jefferson was the “old man”, at age thirty-two, and Madison was only twenty-five, and Monroe was eighteen. If captured they could have been summarily hung or beheaded, for treason. Monroe nearly bled to death from the wounds he received in the Battle of Trenton, after crossing the Delaware with Washington on Christmas morning, 1776. Life was not roses for those men. Jefferson packed up books and important documents and rode away from his house exactly five minutes before the British cavalry arrived, hunting for his traitorous hide.

What impresses me about the Founding Fathers is their ability to be high minded even when up against the low minded. Jefferson and Adams were not brought down to the dirt by the fact King George wanted them dead. Rather they spoke of poetic stuff like “Liberty.”

Jefferson especially seems in some ways like an absent-minded-professor, wandering with his mind in the clouds through an earthquake, hardly aware of what makes others scream. But it wasn’t that he was unaware of the unpleasant details; it was that he thought beyond those details.

Jefferson dreamed up many excellent ideas he was never paid a nickle for, nor did he even dream of charging for such thought. Ought one receive royalties for writing the Declaration of Independence? Jefferson didn’t seem to think so, but was troubled by the fact he was in debt. He was a man of the enlightenment enough to take steps to make his plantation more profitable, perhaps shifting crops from tobacco to wheat or starting a nail-making industry, and he did see profits increase, but then his mind would go wandering off to some other project, such as starting the University of Virginia, which he made little money from, and while his mind was off in other areas he would fail to notice a dramatic downturn in the price of nails which made his nail-making industry less profitable. By the end of his life he was a man who had done a lot of good and had amassed a lot of debt. By his death he was, in modern terms, five million dollars in debt. This makes him very different from Nancy Pelosi, whose net worth is currently 125 million.

Perhaps that is why the so-called “Swamp” seems to hate the Founding Fathers. The Founding Fathers truly served, while a modern politician only serves themself.

Be that as it may, I doubt I’ll get anyone to loan me five million dollars, so there seems little chance I can wind up so deeply in debt, as fun as it might be to do so. (Of course, with the Swamp printing money it doesn’t have, the National Debt has reached a point where I think my household owes a million dollars, so perhaps I will reach a debt of five million, after all.) But I tend to prefer a more pragmatic existence where I pay my bills. And therefore my mind often wanders off to the doings of Ben Franklin. He was very pragmatic, in his own enlightened way.

Not that Franklin didn’t think about high minded things like Liberty, and even fool around with unknown powers such as electricity, but he also pondered about very down-to-earth subjects such as how to heat a home. The “Franklin Stove” is one result of such pragmatism; it was far superior to a colonial fireplace, when it came to delivering the heat of burned wood to the house, rather than seeing it rush up the chimney and be wasted.

However his thinking didn’t stop there, and that is where I start to feel I can join him in his enlightenment. Like me, when he watched his fire burn, his mind went wandering and wondering, just like mine does.

One true conclusion he arrived at was that smoke was actually fire-that-hadn’t-caught. It was a wasted chance to heat the home, escaping up the chimney. He then dreamed up the idea of “afterburners”, or “scrubbers”, 200 years before people worried about smoke polluting the environment. He felt that nothing but steam and perhaps a trace of ash should exit a chimney, and every bit of smoke should be burned within the house, warming the house.

What he then did was to go upstairs and knock a hole in his chimney, stick in a grate, and enclose the hole with a metal door. The next time he had a fire downstairs he scooped up a shovelful of red hot wood coals, took them upstairs, and laid them on the grate. Then he likely shut the door almost all the way, but kept it open just a crack, to see what happened when the smoke passed through the red hot coals. Apparently the smoke did ignite, passing through the coals. The wasted smoke was no longer wasted.

However then, Ben being Ben, his pragmatic side kicked in, and he likely did some sort of “cost analysis”, and decided all the work wasn’t worth it. (If it had been worth it, every chimney in Philadelphia likely would have had a Franklin Gizmo in the flue.) Instead it seems Franklin focused on burning the smoke in the stove even before it started up the chimney.

And that is where Franklin’s thinking, 250 years later, splices into mine. Why? Because I too have had to focus on unburnt smoke going up my stovepipes and chimney. Why? Because such smoke can build up on the inside of a chimney as deposits of creosote, which does two bad things. First, it can block the flue to a degree where the stoves smoke, and second, if the creosote ignites the resultant chimney fire can burn the entire house down.

This might seem a good reason to heat with electricity, but the problem is that such electric heating is prohibitively expensive. Propane was affordable when Donald Trump was president, but Fraudulent Biden’s anti-fossil-fuel agenda has made propane prohibitively expensive as well. Therefore I have resorted to wood, which we have an abundance of in my area, although heating with wood involves a lot of work, which is why people gave it up for fossil fuels.

Besides lugging the wood from the woodpile to the stoves, which I tell myself keeps me in shape, (cursing softly under my breath), one must also care for the flues, which is downright dangerous for an old codger like me. However a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do, even if elderly. Anyway, I have to live up to my grandfather, who cracked a vertebrae falling out of an apple tree he was pruning at age 86. (My grandmother was so mad she sold his ladder before he got home from the hospital.)

Therefore, due to Fraudulent Biden, I’ve been doddering about up on ladders and atop the peak of the roof, with chimney sweep brushes and heavy sections of stove pipe, making sure my flues are safe. I never even once fell and cracked a vertebrae, so I guess you could say I got away with it, this year. So far we have saved quite a bit of money, by burning wood. FJB

However this has gotten me interested in the creosote I collect when I clean the flues. I say collect, because I do not throw it away, which I suppose more normal people would do. Instead I find myself remembering Benjamin Franklin, and see the creosote as unburnt smoke, which should have been burned and should have heated the home. Could it not be used as fuel?

Besides reminding me of Benjamin Franklin, the creosote I collected also reminded me of a Mark-Twain-like humorist who wrote very popular cartoons for newspapers until just before I was born. Named E G Webster, on Thursdays he often wrote cartoons which seemed to apply to my interest in creosote.

Now my wife and I tend to vary, in terms of what we think is important, but we agree a warm stove is a nice thing to have in cold weather. However the ashes it produces, plus the spiders, centipedes and pill bugs that come in with the wood, do not fit my wife’s idea of a cozy hearth. In fact, back when propane was affordable, I thought she’d be glad to be done with the wood stoves altogether. To my surprise she didn’t like warm floor registers as much as warm stoves, so we didn’t quit wood altogether. But she does like the area around the stove kept clean, while I tend to turn it into a Ben Franklin laboratory. Not that I have any test tubes, but I do have ongoing experiments.

One experiment involves avoiding creosote building up in the stove pipe or chimney, (so I don’t have to dodder about on the peak of a roof at my advanced age). To achieve this aim it is best to have a blazing fire. However Nature conspires against this aim, by driving rain or snow into sheltered woodpiles, whereupon even dry wood behaves like a sponge, and becomes sodden stuff difficult to light, and very liable to just sit and smolder, producing lots of smoke but little heat or fire, and clogging your chimney with its smoke.

My way of avoiding a smoldering fire, and achieving a hot fire, largely involves bringing the firewood inside and heaping it high by the stove, so that it dries out before it goes into the stove. But I don’t always keep up with this task, and sometimes must bring in wet, snow-covered wood from the porch, and put it right into the fire, in which case the fire needs some help. The help tends to be stashes of various sorts of kindling which produce a brief blaze beneath the wet logs, which I hope gets the sodden wood to quit smoldering and start blazing. Birch bark is best, (but if you have used up every scrap of kindling you have, corn chips are a good, greasy emergency-substitute).

I take this job seriously, and have been at it for over thirty years, so you’d think I’d have it down and there would never be problems, but often my wife thinks other things are more important than stacking wood by a wood stove, or collections of twigs and birch bark or splinters of firewood. For example, a wedding, or funeral, or sick mother with two sick children. Or countless other things. In any case with attention diverted both fires dwindle down to embers, and the heat in the house drops down dangerously close to 49 degrees, whereupon the propane heat kicks on and we must pay through the nose. For another example, we come home late and just want to go to bed, and I throw wood on the fires but don’t shut down the draft enough, and by morning the fire has only a few coals left.

I have managed to keep the fires going , because I like to be able to tell people, “We’ve only had one fire this winter. We lit it in October.”

However there have been times when the wood is wet and the embers are few and I have only a little birch bark, when the fires definitely haven’t leapt to life, but have smoldered. It was when faced with such situations that I began to play around with creosote as kindling.

I had it in pails and paper sacks, and basically divided into two sorts. The first was from the stove pipe above hotter fires, and was thin flakes of gray.

And the second was much blacker, and from a stove closed down much as weather warmed in the spring, from fires that smoldered a lot:

As I began experimenting I was somewhat surprised my wife didn’t criticize all the bags of black and brown crud around her hearth, but actually demonstrated a keen interest, by asking the exact question I was asking: “Won’t that stuff just evaporate, go up to the chimney, condense, and block it all over again?” I could only answer, “I intend to find out.”

I then found out creosote is pretty wonderful stuff. For one thing, it burns without producing ashes. I guess it is like candle wax. The grey stuff hardly burned, and simply turned to red coals that shrank until they vanished, but seemed to put out more heat than wood coals did. However the blacker stuff was amazing. Likely because it was created by cooler fires, is seemed to possess more “volatiles”, and blazed like crazy for a while before becoming red coals that shrank to nothing without producing ash.

The trick seemed to be to gather together a little bed of wood coals, and then just put a crumb of the black creosote on top. It would melt, start to bubble, and then leap into flame, and then you could add more crumbs. The fire you then created had uncanny ability to dry sodden wood and turn a smoldering fire into a blazing one. I surmise creosote burns hotter than wood does, perhaps even nearing the heat of a coal fire. If I put a big chunk in, the size of the one in the picture above, the fire became wonderfully hot wonderfully fast. This is important to me, first thing in the morning, because then my primary interest is in sipping coffee, and not fussing with fires.

A problem then arose. The fires I was creating were so wonderfully hot I would never again clot a chimney so badly, and would never again create such wonderful creosote. I should treasure my limited supply. Therefore I kept my black creosote in a special bucket, and had the inferior grey stuff in a bag, among other collections of different grades of inferior sorts of kindling and bark. The area around the stove grew a bit cluttered, but I was defeating the drabness of January with the enlightenment of Ben Franklin, whereupon H.T. Webster struck again:

My wife swept in and tidied up. All my various samples of creosote got dumped into single bucket, and all the carefully sorted types of kindling got shoved into the woodpile with the drying firewood.

Two thoughts crossed my mind.

The first was, “Benjamin Franklin never had to deal with this crap!”

The second was, “The place does look better.”

And January is not so dull after all.

CHILDHOOD SAHMADHI

As I go about the business of running my Childcare it is not at all uncommon to see a small child “zone out” and enter a sort of strange mental state which tends to be dismissed as abnormal, (if not actively discouraged).

In a sense any dismissal or discouragement of such child-like spaciness by an adult is humorous, for the very people discouraging the child’s odd behavior will, once they are “off work” and “free”, be seen attempting to resurrect similar odd behavior, midst the sterility of their own drab lives. If they don’t do yoga, or take drugs, or cut loose on a dance floor, they will secretly sob in the dark of a theater, (where sobbing is permissible). It seems a sly hypocrisy, or even schizophrenia, wherein one is Dr. Jekyll on the job, but becomes Mr. Hyde once one punches out.

While I recognize children do need guidelines, and that “a river without guiding banks is a swamp”, I try to be respectful of the fact children “zone out.” I try to avoid the attitude that sees children as “partially” developed, or “partially” anything. They are 100% human, and to treat them as anything less lessens them.

Anyway, as we grow, we mortals do a good enough job lessening ourselves without any help from “grown-ups”. It seems diminishing is necessary and a part of growing. This sad fact seems to have some basis in “brain science”, (which is still in its infancy and should be taken with a grain of salt).

“Brain science” suggests that at around age six the brain is overwhelmed by the sheer number of memories it has collected, and (like a person cleaning up a messy desk), the brain apparently throws a lot of stuff out. This can be seen by some sort of modern gadget that “sees” the synapses in a brain; there are more and more up to around age six, and then there is a sort of simplification, and there are fewer by age seven. Perhaps only the important synapses (whatever they are) are retained, but a side effect of throwing so many away is an amnesia often seen in the young, and often witnessed by “Childcare Providers”: A child can be your best buddy at age five, then leave for a couple years, and when you meet them again at age seven it is as if you are barely remembered; the child is seeing you from what seems like fifty years away.

However, for some reason this normal and natural amnesia failed to completely take place in my brain. My brain was defective. However, before you feel too sorry for me, understand that, as is the case with most handicaps, the defect was also a gift. I can remember stuff you are supposed to forget.

I think this defect is often seen in people who stray from developing ordinarily, becoming the somewhat impractical thing called “an artist”. The resultant quandary is wonderfully expressed in “The Logical Song” by the group “Supertramp”.

I don’t wish to now become entangled in the ordinary debate between the practical ants and the impractical grasshoppers, for I have been both in my time and know both are worthy of respect. There are two types of starvation, and the two sides supply two sorts of nourishment. Man cannot live on bread alone, but neither can man live on music alone. It’s best if the ants work in harmony with the grasshoppers, as I stated in a sonnet 43 years ago.

The poor ant works while the grasshoppers fiddle.
The ant looks up to the sky with trust.
The ant can't see God stands in the middle.
The ant is shocked by the first locust.
The locusts swarm and the fields are stripped.
The ant's outraged, and it seeks its peers.
Army ants march in tight ranks, grim lipped.
Soon the last locust disappears.
Thus there's no fiddling. Thus there's no grain.
Thus we have nothingness. Thus we're insane.
Thus all our efforts breed flourishing pain.
Thus does humanity go down the drain.
Pray for ecology; then there's a chance
That grasshoppers will get along with the ants.

As I attend to small children at my Childcare I of course refer back to things I remember from my own childhood, which I suppose I ought not remember, but do.

Much is made problematic by people who cannot remember, but who call themselves religious authorities. They who cannot remember say I cannot remember. Why? Because my memories involve the idea of Life before birth, which is in some cases is more hotly debated than the subject of Life after death.

The people who cannot remember seem to feel we came from a place called “Limbo”. I don’t care what you call it, it was not the blank sheet some want to see it as. Children are born far too complex. It is part of what makes them 100% human from conception. Having held newborn identical twin infants in my arms, I can tell you even they don’t start out the same. Just as their fingerprints vary, they possess identities as unique as, or perhaps more unique than, snowflakes.

I also have the strong sense that these souls are coming from a beautiful place which has cleansed them and sent them into life with a beautiful purpose. What is that purpose? To escape eternal death.

Now here is where I really get into trouble. What is eternal death? Eternal death is the concept of reincarnation, where you are born over and over only to die over and over.

I attempt to avoid the topic of reincarnation, for it doesn’t really matter if you only live a single lifetime, or whether your “life” involves as many as 800 million bodies and 800 million deaths, (in a sense outliving even planets) as some Eastern Religions suggest. In either case the issue boils down to the same thing: Death is something we want to avoid. And little children are filled with the hope they are going to avoid it.

This hope is an extraordinarily beautiful and also illogical thing, in a world where death casts its shadow over even our most glorious reasons for rejoicing. Even if we should become king or queen of the entire world, in the end we die. It’s the ultimate bummer. Yet children are born with the insane belief that Life can triumph.

Of course, such naive hope will crash headlong into the inanities our world deems important. For example, does it really matter all that much if your daughter makes the starting lineup of the girls’ basketball team? However, a local father recently threw such a tantrum, (for what he thought was love of his daughter), it embarrassed everyone involved, including his daughter. In like manner, we do not need to look far to see many other cases of worldly stuff becoming overly important in our own eyes. Later we wonder how we could have worshipped such false gods. For a classic example, sometimes there once was a person we felt we would die without, if we failed to win their attentions, and yet they spurned us, and twenty years later that same person was bloated, and nasty, and we found ourselves thanking God we got spurned.

In such a classic case we live long enough to be glad we didn’t get what we wanted, but in other cases we want other things right up to our dying day, and then? And then we perhaps get the wages we’ve earned for chasing stuff of this world, and those wages are death. After death. After death. 800 million times. (According to some, but I cannot count that high.)

That being said, there would also be 800 million births, and each and every birth would be brimming with the possibility that this time would see a result other than death. This time would be different. This time, rather than the result being death, the result would be Life.

How could such hope be resurrected after so much failure? I can’t say, because I can’t remember. But I do notice I go to bed every night weary and wake up refreshed. I don’t ask too many questions about how that happens. And, if that is possible, it seems also possible that a person could die disappointed that a lifetime’s struggle resulted in dreary death, and yet be reborn full of insane hope.

In any case. I think you can see why such free thinking would get me in trouble with orthodox Christians, whom I very much admire and respect. Therefore, I ordinarily button my lip. After all, it doesn’t matter if your past goes back to Limbo or back 800 million lifetimes. What matters is the NOW. (A bit too Zen for some Christians, but clearly stated in their scriptures.) If we want to escape death and flee to Life, we have to understand the past has no hold on us. We are separated as far as the East is from the West from all the bunkum that drags us to yet another death, by the mercy of a Good Shepherd who treats us as a lost lamb (even if we are a lone wolf or loan shark) and Who is the only route to Life.

Of course, I am careful to confess none of this to customers of my Childcare. (Even if I wanted to, my wife would likely veto my big mouth.) Instead, I talk about fresh air and sunshine, and about our Childcare not allowing video games, and so on and so forth. But, likely because I’m now retiring from the business, I will tell the Truth. And the truth is I treat small children as if they are 100% human, and even as if they might be my grandparents, or my friends who died in Vietnam, or who knows who. Not that I know, but I also know I don’t know.

Such theory tends to be a gray area, and I don’t like gray, and flee theory to what I actually experienced, which my defective memory failed to forget. One memory in particular has been returning so persistently I think I should share it.

Back in 1955 my family moved into a wonderful, three-story house, basically a small mansion, built on a hill at the edge of a farm. The farmer’s grandfather had sold the land at a good price, and likely made more money during the mansion’s construction, and perhaps even more money building the beautiful stone walls surrounding the property, but despite profits there was some neighborhood sense that the house’s new, wealthy inhabitants were aliens, and a sort of enemy of the farming community, and farming traditions, and farming beliefs. Considering the house was built around 1869, there had been plenty of time to resolve such differences, but the former inhabitants failed. Therefore, we moved into a preconceived role of being bigwig snobs in “the house on the hill”, though my Dad was definitely down-to-earth and even demanded his children never go to private schools. How did we become aware we were seen as the enemy? It was because the small children of the “indigenous” people did not welcome us with a welcome wagon.

Back in those times the mail was actually driven up your driveway to your house and put through a slot in your front door, but we received messages through the mail-slot without stamps, which were rude. They said things such as, “You guys are finks.” Not that I had a clue what a “fink” was, but I did know my elder brothers bristled, and promptly headed off to put replies in the other children’s mail slots.

I wasn’t yet three when we moved in, and what this feuding meant is that from the get-go I accepted, as part and parcel of my reality, the idea we were the good guys, and “they” (whoever “they” were) were the bad guys. I did not know them, hadn’t met them, but in my childish way I just accepted the world as it was presented to me.

Yet at the same time I wandered about in what I can only describe as a sort of bliss. It was much like the part of the Supertramp song where the singer sings of the birds “playfully watching me.” When I grew older and sought to get back to such bliss, I called it a “Samhadi”. But when small I did no Yoga to “get there.” I smoked no weed to “get high”. I just occasionally got clobbered.

The time I wish to share with you involves the fact I tended to wander as a child, causing much concern when it was discovered I was missing, (and causing no concern if I got back before anyone noticed I was gone). Part of the concern occurred because on warm summer days I would wander off without a stitch of clothing on. I was so young I had no idea what the fuss was about. I was just curious and wanted to see things.

A good day to wander off was a Sunday, for back then enough Puritan tradition remained to pretty much close everything down on “The Day Of Rest”. Not that people felt compelled to go to church anymore, but nearly every place of business was closed. I think the only person who worked was the man who delivered the enormous Sunday papers. (The store that sold them wasn’t open until noon, but a bundle of papers sat in its front doorway, and so trusting were those times that people who needed a paper just grabbed one and left the price, (two thin dimes of silver), sitting on the paper beneath. By the time the store opened quite a trove of dimes sat on the papers, but I never heard of anyone taking any, besides myself, and my parents made me put them back.) (Another story for another day.)

On this particular Sunday I left my family sprawled out lazily regarding various section of the paper, wandering out into late April’s glorious sunshine. It was that magical time in early spring when the trees are still leafless but all budding out, so the bare branches seem in a haze of soft hues of raspberry and gold and indeed every color but summer green. It creates a light-filled ceiling that makes no shade. I wandered in a sort of enchantment, and rather than turning towards the quiet town and trafficless streets, I headed the opposite way.

I passed through the yard of the carriage house that was built for the original owners of my home. It had two bedrooms and a bathroom for a groom and stable-hand, and several garages on two levels, with rickety old carriages in the lower level, and an empty hayloft and a mostly empty room for saddles and harnesses, and a phone line to the other house. My parents were considering buying it for $2000.00 but felt the price was too high.

Just beyond that was a sandy lane with houses along the far side. Better than tenements, the houses were a little crowded together for the country. Each had perhaps half an acre of land. They had been built by the original farmer, who rented them to relatives. As I looked down the lane it abruptly struck me that I had wandered into the territory of the enemy. I’m not sure what I expected; perhaps dark stone structures with windows blazing florid reds beneath grinning gargoyles. Instead, I saw a row of very nice houses basking in spring sunshine, daffodils bobbing in a pleasant breeze on their lawns. In the far distance first one, and then another church bell began ringing. And that was when the Samhadi struck.

It was simply a sense of overwhelming wellbeing. Within such a feeling-no-pain mood I could not see anyone as a foe. It was utterly impossible. As I looked down the lane I simply saw we were neighbors, of the same community, united by a brotherhood strangely stronger than steel. But the feeling wasn’t cold like steel; it was cozy and warm and fuzzy and yet not trivial. It was the awareness that at its core humanity is indivisible, and all divisiveness is created by silliness. Competitiveness is a game. People choose sides and hide their cards from each other, but if push comes to shove, they can put down their cards, quit the game, and work together in unity. To think otherwise is ignorance. This may not be seen by the ignorant, but that is because they are ignorant, and unenlightened by the enchanting clarity of Truth.

Such a concept may seem a bit heady for a child aged three, but that is because it did not occur in the wordy form the above paragraph took. In fact, it was wordless, as all vision tends to be. But what it meant was that I could not see the children down the lane as foes. Or, I could eventually do it to a certain degree when they taunted me, but my heart was not in it. That was the power the vision had on me; I was strangely detached, as a child.

Then my question is, why was I so blessed? And my guess is that everyone is so blessed, but most forget the blessing, because they become so engrossed in the work of life. Then, later in life, some event may trigger the memory. Perhaps they fall in love. But sadly, they then fall out of love, and earn what being out of love earns you, maybe 800 million times.

Yet, when I see the bright-faced dreaminess of a child, full of wonder, I think to myself this may be their 800 millionth life, and this time they may get it right.

I was walking down the road, and talking 
In my secret way to Almighty God,
Just grumping about banal things balking
My wishes, when it struck me that it's odd
I'm not turned to a cinder. Who am I
To act like I'm the Creator's sidekick?
Have I any idea, when I sigh,
Who I'm sighing to? I'm dust He could flick
Aside. Should I not be prostrate in awe
Like Daniel? It's amazing to me
The Shepherd knows each lone lamb, and foresaw
Every bleat. There's nothing He can't see,
Yet He has no desire to scare or bully us
But leads us to Love that is most fully us.

MIDWINTER IMPATIENCE

With the holidays over, a certain dissatisfaction and restlessness seems to possess people. They can’t abide dullness, but days get dull. They must get back to work, must go back to school, must resume the ordinary, as if life became a gigantic Monday.

Actually, Monday should be a day we look forward to, as it should be the start of all the amazing things we shall see and accomplish. Sadly, too often it instead is a return to the banal, and some part of the human spirit rebels at this.

I first became aware of this post-Christmas quandary when very young. Christmas and New Year’s were over, my Dad went back to work, my older siblings went back to school, and my Mom went back to smoking her cigarettes, paying bills and doing other “desk work”, and to her Agatha Christi. I became very bored. So, I asked her, “Mom, does January mean Spring will be soon?”

She seemed amused. “Oh no,” she assured me, “Spring won’t be for a long time yet.” After a pause she followed with, “Did you think it was soon?” I nodded, which brought a look of pity, and also more amusement, into her young face. Then she simply slowly shook her head, whereupon I slunk away. The situation seemed deeply unsatisfactory to me.

As well it should have. Life is not worth living without the prospect of Spring, which is also known as Hope.

What seems to make life dull is when the Hope is delayed. What makes Monday so dull is that it is so far from Friday, which holds the Hope. The Hope is that you get a break from doing what you dislike, but on Monday such relief is farthest away. Unless…

Unless you do what you like on Monday. To some people this is an anathema, like having a beer for breakfast. But maybe they should try having a beer for breakfast every now and again. It certainly changes one’s attitude about Mondays.

However, there is no getting around the fact that sooner or later one must delay Hope, and do some mundane task, such as clear all the beer bottles from their breakfast table.

This recently became strikingly apparent to me because every ‘flu has a thing called its “duration”, which is the time it takes the virus to run its course in an ordinary mortal body. It varies from person to person and from year to year. As a thirteen-year-old boy I got clobbered by a ‘flu that laid me out for two weeks, but it’s been a while since we’ve seen a ‘flu as nasty as the Hong Kong ‘Flu. (For most people the China-virus was merely a bunch of chickens running around clucking that the sky was falling; IE: No big deal.) People have grown used to the comfortable concept that the ‘flu means they will be sick two or three or at most four days, and then bounce back onto their feet.

However, a nurse at a nearby “urgent care” facility is of the opinion that, for many, the current ‘flu has a duration of 14 days. She must constantly meet with parents who are deeply worried that their children are still sick after 7 days, and she must over and over tell them they may have as many as 7 days more days to go.

In other words, Hope is deferred. The Parent has dealt with the sick child Monday through Friday, but Friday is just another Monday, awaiting a further Friday.

You’d be surprised how badly some parents handle such reality.

Today a rather large father informed us that his child should stay inside because being outside made his child sick. We informed him that our Childcare is based on the premise that fresh air is good for children, and we lacked the extra staff to keep his single child inside. If he objected, he’d have to pick up his child. He promptly did so, explaining that fresh air might have been good when we were young, but now fresh air was bad, because of “Chem Trails”. Then he pointed up at a jet’s silver contrail creasing the blue sky above. That was his reason for his child taking “so long” to recover. As I said before, he was rather large, so I was not about to tell him he was an idiot, for his child was taking a perfectly ordinary amount of time to recover from this particular ‘flu.

It does not help matters that the greedy alliance between pharmaceutical companies, politicians, media and on-line-servers have made such a mockery of the Hippocratic Oath, (and such a great deal of money), promoting an untested and perhaps hazardous vaccine which does not work. Nor does it help that alternative cures were mocked by the media, banned by governments, and so heavily censored by YouTube, Facebook and Twitter that it prevented their effectiveness from ever being calmly discussed. The discussions did occur, but behind the scenes, and less than calmly.

This has created a growing group of parents who distrust all medicine, including the tried and true. When their children get sick, they fear using old fashioned remedies (tested in some cases by over a century of usage) which might lower the child’s fever, or reduce congestion, or make it easier for the child to cough up phlegm. This increases the child’s discomfort, and also increases the chances of secondary infections such as pneumonia, (in which case the parent likely distrusts antibiotics). By denying themselves the relief of tried-and-true medicines, the 14-day-duration of the current ‘flu becomes all the more miserable.

Fortunately, we are seemingly starting to finally see the end of this particular ‘flu. But it has been like a long and prolonged Monday. Nor can I claim to have been above it all. When I failed to bound back after only two days, I decided I had “aged” due to ‘flu. (And also due to the common cold and the latest version of the China-virus, which proceeded ‘flu in my case. I survived the onslaught, but I’d run out of excuses for dogging it. It must be old age catching up to me.)

I actually still had the ‘flu, but told anyon who’d listen to my complaining that the reason I walked so slowly, and huffed and puffed so much, was because I had “aged greatly”. But then, after 14 days, I noticed I wasn’t so “aged'” anymore, at the same time I noted first one, and then another, four-year-old boy at my Childcare was walking slowly and huffing and puffing like an old man, even after their parents felt they were “better”.

What the experience drove home to me was how impatient people are, including myself. We want to be better now. Right now. To wait until Friday seems a terrible suffering. To wait 14 days? Far too much to bear! And to wait 120 days until Spring arrives? Forget it. We want something right now. Right now.

What people then usually get, around here, is a blizzard. That provides a wonderful distraction from all the moaning and groaning. Simply surviving the debacle distracts people from how bored they were. It is hard to be bored when you need to shovel a half hour simply to find your car.

It is interesting how radiant people become, as they battle. At the local market eyes sparkle, as they gossip of all the adventure which they experienced getting to the market to buy milk. (Sometimes they chatter so much they forget to buy the milk.)

Somehow life is not a gigantic Monday anymore.

However, the blessing of such a blizzard hasn’t occurred yet, which seems to me a blessing in and of itself. First, we needed to get through the blessing of the ‘flu, which was a sort of calamity like a blizzard, albeit within a different dimension.

It might have been interesting to see how local folk would have reacted to both the ‘flu and a blizzard. Certainly it would not be a dull Monday.

However, the powers that control weather apparently felt people deserved a break, and storms which might have “bombed” on top of us waited until just past New England before “bombing out”.

Indeed, we just ducked the bullet yet again. Here is an Atlantic Map, made for people who have to sail the North Atlantic, and it shows the feeble low which passed over New England with nearly calm winds blowing up to a storm with hurricane force winds, just far enough away to allow the ignorant to be blissfully unaware how lucky they are.

However rather than counting our blessings and realizing how lucky we are, we mortals too often mope about how dull things are. Or at least I do. There is a part of me that still yearns for the botheration of a blizzard. I’m old enough to know better, so often I check myself, and do count peace as a blessing, but I still recognize a part of me that yearns to make trouble, and looks at the above map and wants to sail out to check out that storm.

And this always reminds me of an old man I met up in Maine in the 1970’s who did sail out into the storms of the North Atlantic. I’ve likely told this tale before, but I’ll end this post by telling it again.

He’d grown up in the Great Depression, when the little local shipyards grew shabby due to lack of ship-building, and some were basically shut down. When there was a job, the job was done slowly and carefully and was a job well done, because there was no rush, for there was no other job to do after the current job was done. But then everything changed in a hurry. Suddenly every boatyard had something that hadn’t been heard of in years, a “backlog”.

What had happened was that Hitler had decided to starve England into submission by torpedoing all the ships that supplied England. Although the United States was not officially at war with Germany, we supported England, and began to try to build ships as fast as Germany could sink them. Germany was so good at sinking ships it was a struggle to keep up with them, but it was not merely a strain on America’s economy; it also strained Germany’s to the limit. It was war before it was declared.

All of this was exciting to a young man who had grown up in a small, sleepy Maine port whose little shipyard had been close to dormant. Suddenly ships of all sorts were being built as fast as possible. Quality was not as important as quantity, and many of the boats were not state-of-the-art ships built for a Navy wanting superiority in a fight, but were tubs, with a top speed of 13 knots, built to overwhelm the German’s capacity to sink ships.

Indeed, it must have been bad for German morale when publicity stunts were pulled off to show how swiftly a boat could progress from laying the keel to launching. The record was four days, for a Liberty Ship. It is fairly obvious such information would ordinarily be top-secret, and it was only released to depress the heck out of the Germans, especially the Germans who risked their lives to sink a Liberty Ship. It was like knocking a fellow’s teeth out and seeing him grow a new set even before the end of the round.

Being part of such a ship-building effort was exciting for a while, to a high school teenager on the coast of Maine, but soon it started to seem too much like work. He desired action. He wanted to head out in the tubs, and see all the excitement. So he joined the Merchant Marines and got his wish. Off he went in a wallowing tub into the storms of the North Atlantic.

All too soon he was sick of excitement. But first he was mostly sick. The tub he was on wallowed terribly from side to side, with the deck steeply pitched one way and then the other, so that he was never sure if the ship would completely capsize to the left or to the right. It never did actually capsize, but he was so seasick he wished it would, to end his misery.

Even after he got his sea-legs and the horrific nausea faded there was an ever-present sense of danger. Wolf packs of German submarines attacked and sent convoys into organized chaos, with tubs scattering left and right as destroyers raced like sharks and depth charges thudded, as night skies glowed orange from the burning oil of ships that were sunk.

Sometimes ships sunk without any reason the men knew; later it turned out they were poorly designed, and a metal fatigue set in when the waters grew especially cold. Steel sheets on the ships sides simply split; the ocean gushed in; and the ship was gone.

Lastly there was the awareness that your life didn’t really matter much; the convoy’s progress came first, and if you were swept overboard there would be no turning back to look for you. This was an unnerving thought on a ship that wallowed so badly that waves often came crashing onto the decks during storms. And our hero’s ship was so badly designed that there was no way to travel below decks from the bow to the bridge; one had to cross a section of open deck. (If there was a companionway it was likely packed with crates, for such ships were notoriously overloaded in the urgency of those times.)

And so there came a storm when our teenager was ordered to go do some vital tasks in the bow despite hurricane force winds and waves stampeding over the decks. He managed the trip to the bow by clinging for his dear life to a railing when waves crashed over him. He was not so lucky on his trip back from the bow, because the railing he was clinging to broke off the ship.

Plunged into the freezing sea, his instinct was to swim upwards for air, but, when he broke the surface, he knew his life was over. The side of the ship loomed high over his head and was sliding away. A confused jumble of thought filled his shocked brain, including the thought that he was foolish to ever want “to see action”, but, apparently, he did stop cursing long enough to cry out for help, well aware the only one who could hear him in the screaming wind was God.

Then the ship, which had wallowed far to one side, wallowed to the other side, and the youth very quickly was not looking up at a deck high above his head, but was looking down at the deck from a wave crashing down on the deck. He hit the deck so hard his arm was broken, but he landed right in front of the doorway to the bridge. He scrambled up, yanked the door open, swung inside, and slammed the door shut behind him. Then he turned to face crewmates who apparently found his facial expression amusing.

In any case, the teenager learned dullness is not all bad. He no longer wanted to escape his sleepy town, and even felt a nostalgia concerning how dull it was at home. And eventually he was lucky enough to live through the war, return to the little town, and live there raising a family. Then he eventually met me. He likely recognized a restlessness in me, which was why he told me the story.

But now I am older than that man was, when he told me the story, and I’m still restless. Not that I much want to budge from my armchair by the fire, but, in my armchair, I like to read of those who were restless and found trouble to get into. And maybe, just a little bit, I still want to get into a little trouble myself. Why? Because hidden in the hunt for trouble is a search for a sort of Springtime. And, as I said back at the start, “Life is not worth living without the prospect of Spring, which is also known as Hope. “

When the long, white road of winter's laid out
Before me like a carpet weaved from bleakness
And the sharp sun digs blue shadows, my stout
Heart grieves and my knees know their weakness
And it seems wise to just swerve to the side
And dive in a drift and to gladly die.

Why endure? Is it not my stubborn pride
Lashing me on? Why persist with this? Why?

But it is then I hear faint echoes from
Valleys I can't see, and hearing compels
Curiosity, and though cold and numb
I go on searching for those distant bells
Of a caravan ready to depart
To a Holy Land we've seen through our heart.


WAITING FOR THE OTHER BOMB TO DROP

There was the usual sensationalism about a big storm off the California coast, replete with the usual fabulous inaccuracies. Yes, it was a big storm, and all such storms are wondrous in their way, but there is no need to go completely off the deep end. “Reporting” has become synonymous with “a-tither”. It seems reporters fear they won’t get any attention if they report an “ordinary” majestic storm, and therefore need to bulge their blood vessels as they speak, and hop up and down. Unfortunately, when they behave in this way to excess, it has the effect of “the little boy who cried wolf”. People get jaded and stop paying attention even when reporters paint themselves red and do back-flips. It is a pity, for the majesty of a majestic storm ought to be appreciated.

The impressive image above is actually as the “bomb” has already started to weaken. It had been as low as 950 mb and in the above image it has already weakened to 961 mb. Also it was not going to charge ashore, but rather drift north, weakening further.

What was interesting to me was not the storm’s magnitude, but the fact it formed so far south. Such “bombs” are actually common further north, but few pay attention to them when they are far from centers of population. In the Pacific they tend to be categorized as “Aleutian” lows, and in the Atlantic as “Labrador” or “Icelandic” lows, and they are amazingly intense storms few notice but ships at sea and odd people like me. For example, here is a massive storm up north off Alaska in the Aleutians barely a week ago:

That is a 956 mb low, but did you see any headlines? Or how about this 954 mb Atlantic monster, currently rolling straight towards England with Hurricane force winds:

If the American media saw such a storm coming right at them they’d get blue in the face, but British phlegm apparently isn’t entirely extinct, or perhaps being fifteen degrees latitude north of California makes them more used to monster North Atlantic Storms. This one will likely curve north just as the one in California did, lashing the Outer Hebrides (which always get lashed.) Also one thing I have noticed about these brutes is that they tend to reach a climax out to sea, and usually weaken rapidly as they approach shore, and civilized areas. If they did not do so it is likely the civilized areas would not be civilized, for civil people would have decided to bail, and go civilize more congenial environments. In fact, at certain times in human history (for example during the Little Ice Age), a lot of people did decide to bail out, and migrate elsewhere, and one reason is that these monster storms did not stay off shore, and rampaged where they were not wanted.

The current storm off California is actually well behaved, and staying off shore, and when last I looked had weakened to 976 mb. However it did swing copious rains into California, which messed me up. Why? Because a certain “indicator” I was using to figure out my own weather, in the northeast of the United States, was “drought in California.” That “indicator” received a bullet between the eyes, because the drought is over and now they are fretting about floods.

O well. If you dabble with meteorology and are even remotely honest, you expect surprises. Only complete buffoons are “sure” about what the weather will be, and anyone who claims climatology is “settled science” is a bald-faced liar. The subject has so many variables that even variables have variables, and models run on billion dollar computers have to leave some variables out, or else their creators would have to build trillion dollar computers.

I’m not so rich, nor likely to become rich writing paragraphs like the above one. Such truth gets one shadow banned, if not censored. But I don’t dabble for the money. Even as a bum sleeping in my car I still scanned the clouds, and was thirsty for hints about the future.

With my “drought in California” indicator all shot full of holes, I have to turn to other “indicators”, and one is that the California “bomb” appeared so far south of the Aleutian islands. This indicates a huge shot of frigid Siberian air was sucked south and is chilling the Pacific Ocean. Not that the North Pacific is below normal, but the “warm blob” sea surface temperature anomaly in the North Pacific is no longer a cherry red, and in places is yellow, which is an anomaly close to normal:

Also, when the Pole is robbed of arctic air, plumes of milder air are sucked north to replace the departed air, and such plumes reach northward from both the Atlantic and Pacific side, currently.

While Alarmists tend to delight at “warm” invasions of the arctic, they fail to notice how swiftly the warmth in the above map is lost to outer space. (I guarantee you there will be little sign of the two plumes by next week’s map.) They also fail to notice the extreme cold is bumped off the Pole and displaced south to East Siberia and the Canadian Archipelago, where it is in a position to attack China and the United States. Lastly, they fail to calculate, in their “albedo” equations, snow falling far to the south of where it usually falls, where the sun is far stronger. “Albedo” doesn’t matter much north of the Arctic Circle, for the sun has set for the winter, but it does matter in more southern latitudes.

However the “indicator” I currently am falling back on has nothing to do with maps. It is a she. It is (or was) a chain-smoking cook and cleaning lady my parents employed back when we were rich, back before our troubles came. She was from Prince Edwards Island, and was more familiar with the wild nature of Labrador Lows than southern people, and would regale me with tales of how the winds would drift snow right over the tops of houses. On two occasions, when I was bewailing how snowless the Massachusetts winter was, she drew deeply on her cigarette, shook her head, and midst a cloud of exhaled smoke stated the warmth was likely a sign we were about to get buried. On both occasions she was proved correct. The years were 1967 and 1969, and the first saw, as I recall, a storm called “The Hundred Hour Snow”, and the second saw a duo of February storms build snows over three feet deep, in the suburbs of Boston; I recall it because in 1969 both storms were called once-every-hundred-year storms, and I didn’t know you could have two once-every-hundred-year storms in a single month. I also recall it taking a long time for a teenaged pal and myself to extract ourselves from a deep drift where we were wedged up to our armpits, after we dared each other to jump into it from a third story. Lastly, both events were preceded by remarkable warm spells. (I recall sunbathing in January, with my shirt off.)

How can this happen? I suppose the jet stream becomes “loopy”, and can bring first warm air far to the north, and then bring cold air far to the south.

I also have learned about something called, “telleconnection.” What this idea suggests is that a downward dent in the jet stream relaxes north only to rebound south again, at a more eastward longitude.

Hmm. A unusually southward storm off California might be followed by a unusually southward storm to the east. And that would include me. And then? Then that “trof” would relax north and rebound as a big storm in Europe. Possible?

I confess such powers baffle me. On one hand they seem to work like the squishy toys kids have at my Childcare, where, when you press in at one area they bulges out at another, but at other times they behave like waves, which can do bizarre things when crests match up with crests, and troughs with troughs, and then a crest cancels a trough when they match up. I’ve seen situations where the wake of a boat comes in, bounces off a pier, and heads back out, and, as the incoming cross the outgoing, the water alternates from being completely flat to peaks three feet tall to flat again in mere half seconds.

So I tend to just observe without claiming to understand.

In the meantime we are enjoying a remarkable thaw. The crushing two feet of heavy, wet snow we got before Christmas, and near-record bone-chilling blasts we got right after, have relented. Near-record cold has been followed by near-record warmth, and the snow-cover vanished. Now the cold is starting to seep back from the north, but where California gets howling winds we experience wafting airs, or calm. Where the storm off California has “weakened” to 976 mb, the storm departing the east coast has “strengthened” to a pathetic 1006 mb.

According to certain theories involving “teleconnetions”, the map will be reversed, somehow. There may even be a Labrador Low way down south near New York City, like the blizzard of 1888, stunning the city people with four feet of snow. It makes me wonder. How can such power appear from such a weak-looking map?

I can’t explain how it happens. But it does happen. Power is not a thing mortals understand as much as they flatter themselves that they do. People are as hard to predict as the weather, and a study of history is full of dramatic rises and equally dramatic falls, with the one constant being that the people who think they can predict who will hold power and where power will shift get fooled.

I’ve been grousing a lot lately because aging has effected my personal supply of power. Or I thought it was aging, as I huffed and puffed just walking through deep snow. It seemed a triple whammy of china-virus, common-cold and ‘flu had aged me, for once I was over the trio I was much weaker. Then at my Childcare I noticed first one, and then another, four-year-old boy walking like an old man, after they were supposedly “over” the ‘flu. Lastly, a parent who took their child to an “urgent care” facility (because her child wasn’t improving) was told by the nurse there that the current ‘flu, “often persists for fourteen days.” Only then did I do some counting on my fingers and realize I was only at day fourteen. No wonder I felt so powerless!

Of course, when you run a business the buck stops with you, and when everyone calls in sick you have to show up. As boss you have the power, but at times you wish you didn’t.

Today was suppose to be my day off, but a state inspector (talk about power) showed up and told us we had to lay off a splendid, young worker, as certain paperwork was incomplete. At age seventeen you don’t have to get a “background check”, but at age eighteen you do. Apparently we abruptly had a “possible sexual predator” on our staff, which is a serious offense in the world of bureaucrats. I withheld my views, (but it seemed to me a person was guilty until proven innocent.) In any case, abruptly I had to work a nine hour shift.

My personal supply of power was low, for I’d worked hard the day before and was planning to recharge my batteries with rest. Now I abruptly was in charge of a small mob of three to five-year-old children.

The feeble low pressure in the above map was suppose to give us rain showers, but just enough cold air seeped south to turn the raindrops to fat, lazy snowflakes, the world outside turned white, and soon a fall of sticky wet snow had built past an inch in depth, and as I brought the kids outside into the playground they all wanted me to build them a castle.

Fat chance. I was so tired I was barely able to reach down and scoop up snow. But I did crouch down and show them how to start rolling a snowball. Somewhat to my surprise, they all began rolling snowballs. Perhaps it was because the snow was perfect, but it seemed silly to even attempt rolling snowballs, for the snow was so thin. Undaunted, they denuded the playground of snow in their zeal, rolling numerous snowballs.

Mind you, I was too old and tired to supply the power. The power was supplied by children who average four years old.

I think they could have completed their castle, but nature failed to supply them with enough snow.

After two hours of non-stop work, they ran out of gas. Drenched and exhausted, they were ready to go in for lunch. They were also ready for naps, which I appreciated.

As they slept in their innocence I found myself contemplating the strange mystery of power. If I was younger and stronger I would have rolled the balls for them. If I was richer I might have paid a staff to roll the balls for them. But they did it without pay, and with very little prompting. They displayed power beyond the control of the so-called powerful, and they are only four years old.

Power arises from unexpected places.

I'd bail out, but I own no parachute.
I can't face the music, when I can't play.
Life has some nerve! How dare it refute
My theory that it can't wind up this way.

Leave it to saints to be lunch for the lions.
I'll take a happy ending, for starters.
I want to see bad guys clamped into irons.
I don't want good guys to end up the martyrs.

Don't get me wrong. I know well the story
How from our disgrace a poor soul is lifted
And, shedding all shame, rises in glory
Praising the Lord, but I'd rather be gifted
By seeing the glory this side of my tomb
As on charging white horse God destroys all this gloom.

NEW YEAR’S IRRESOLUTION

My little town has been enduring a triple whammy since Thanksgiving. It consists of whatever the latest variant of the China-virus is called, plus the common cold, plus this year’s ‘flu, (which this year’s ‘flu-shot seemingly failed to make people immune to.) Along with a double whammy of a heavy snowstorm followed by a heavy rainstorm and floods, it created a Grinch which tried but failed to keep Christmas from coming. Christmas came.

I was so exhausted I didn’t much feel like going out on Christmas eve. I just wanted to just sit by the fire and remember. Yet I was very glad I allowed myself to get dragged out to a candlelight concert on Christmas Eve. It wiped the grumpy look right off my face. Music has a magic greater even than a warm fire’s.

This is not to say we do not have our limits. My wife is a gifted giver, especially around Christmas, and it was like pulling teeth to get her to admit she had the ‘flu and belonged in bed. Actually I didn’t persuade her. Her own body did. Nausea makes it difficult to be a good hostess.

We had lots of grandchildren visiting and every bedroom filled, and then the kids began keeling over like dominoes. However dominoes don’t bounce back, and the kids seemed to recover in roughly twelve to eighteen hours, so we tended to only have one wailing as the other five (all six of the smaller ones are under five-years-old) joyously bounced off the walls. Also fortunate was that there were always several adults hale enough to take the little crew outdoors, and enough snow left to sled upon. Some were from places where it hasn’t snowed yet, and I had a sense “Grampa’s House” will someday have a mythical quality in their memory’s, simply because the hills of New Hampshire had snow.

In any case, the Grinch couldn’t stop Christmas from coming. It came. And then, it went. This always brings down silence like thunder. My house is never so quiet as it is just after the kids leave.

And then? Well, in my opinion then it is then time to sit by the fire and soak up some well deserved rest. Nibble an eraser, get dreamy, and write a sonnet. However in my wife’s opinion it is time to face the New Year, and make some resolutions. This does tend to result in some disagreement. My plan to be lazy poetic doesn’t always go over well, but this year, somewhat to my surprise, my wife saw some sense in it.

I suppose it is helpful when a certain element of absurdity is added in, and the very ones, whom one would ordinarily gladly give to, ask for a little too much, at exactly the wrong time: The drama-queen daughter wants her dishes washed because her children are sick and she hasn’t recovered, when you yourself have just managed an entire holiday household at far less than fifty percent; or an elderly mother with poor eyesight calls up at nine at night all a-tither because she can’t find her wallet (which is under a newspaper on her table) and she wants all her credit cards cancelled; or the employees you hire to help you all call in sick and all need help, just after receiving their Christmas bonus. One wants to get grumpy and say, “Wait a cotton picking minute here! If we’re the ones helping, shouldn’t we be the ones getting paid?”

Or at least I think that way, because I can be a Scrooge even around Christmas. However, it doesn’t even seem to occur to my wife to think that way. She could be in the middle of a shower, and if her cellphone jingles with a text asking (or hinting) for help, she seems likely to rush off with soap in her eyes. I can’t really be angry at her for being such a saint, but sometimes I confess I’d like to shoot her cellphone. Instead I tend to point out the absurdity, and laugh.

And this year she sat by the fire with me and laughed. Enough’s enough. After excessive go-go-go there comes a time to stop. One needs to resolve to be irresolute.

You can't step on the gas when the pedal
Is already floored. Sometimes a "can-do"
Attitude's absurd. One wins no medal
For collapsing exhausted. Yes, it's true
That God wants us to smile and put aside
All greediness, and to cheerfully give,
But we must also put aside our pride
And confess we're mortal. Mortals cannot live 
Without water. We face limits. God can
Raise the dead, but we mortals shouldn't brag
We can do such things, for that's the will of man
And not God's will. If we try it, we'll sag.
It's best to sit silent, for then you may hear
The Will that makes weariness disappear.

CHRISTMAS GIFT FOR THE GIFTED

You are gifted, and though all the long year
You give, and need no ribbons nor bows,
So, when Christmas comes, should you feel a fear
You are in any way lacking? God knows
Who the true givers are, but exploiters
Want to make you feel guilty if you don't buy
Their trinkets. Just as bad salt grows goiters
They smog up the clean, sweet, holiday sky
Until stars aren't seen, but you're just such a star.
When winter stunts daylight, and darkness looms, 
Some people glimmer. They catch from afar
The Light Who long ago defeated cruel gloom's
Attempt to slaughter all innocents. Light shifted
The minds of men from theft, to being gifted.

FIRE’S FRIENDSHIP

Withdrawal and escapism isn’t always a bad thing. I’ve noticed quite a number of people mentioning, recently, that the network news seems bad for their mental health. Though ordinarily they are people who like to stay up-to-date on current affairs, they simply find the news too aggravating.

One person stated that nowadays the news seems carefully crafted to offend. For example, a recent prisoner-exchange with Russia involved an offensive (to patriots) celebrity who had been convicted of possessing illegal drugs being rescued, as a decorated marine was left behind. News such as this seems designed to infuriate. (One bitter person suggested that the only good that could come from such an exchange was that perhaps many more celebrities would be kidnapped and incarcerated in foreign jails, held hostage forever, because we’ve nothing left to exchange.) In any case, rather than walking about infuriated, some people simply have cut back on their consumption of news. They state their health has greatly improved.

My personal escape is to go back in time. I was reading that even Winston Churchill was forced to do this, even on the cusp of World War Two. He didn’t actually want to escape, but he had to earn a living, and therefore he had to crank out a history book he was contracted to write. He’d already received (and spent) the advance he negotiated. Even as Hitler marched into Poland Churchill had to write about Joan of Arc in 1430. He stated it took a supreme act of concentration to rip his mind from politics and do his writing. It is far easier for me.

My recent escapism has involved reading about Henry the Navigator during that same time period, because I love reading how the Portuguese sailors learned to stop hugging the coasts, and became men who could spend days and even weeks out of sight of land. The records of where those sailors went were very well kept, and the libraries in Lisbon were some of the world’s greatest. Apparently several contained over 20,000 books by the 1700’s, but all was reduced to ashes by a terrible earthquake in 1755. The earthquake occurred on All Saints Day, when it was a tradition to have lit candles in houses, and this caused so many house fires to break out that the inferno turned into a terrible firestorm. For that reason much that the Portuguese sailors did vanished from the world of verifiable history, fading into the mists of wonderful lore.

As I sat by my wood stove, contemplating things that occurred hundreds of years ago, so far from reality I was like a sailor out of sight of land, I heard an ominous siren in the distance, starting at the fire station and slowly crossing the unseen horizon. I wryly thought to myself someone else’s wood stove wasn’t as well behaved as mine, and had gotten out of hand. Our local fire department tends to see a cluster of chimney fires every autumn, when the weather first gets cold, because people neglected to get their chimney’s swept over the summer.

I did better than that. I replaced my entire stovepipe. The old pipe was a top-of-the-line, double-layered, insulated pipe, but thirty-five years had beaten the bleep out of it. Falling branches in a terrible ice-storm dented it, and at the dents corrosion had set in, and also, despite sweeping, a gradual growth of creosote harder than coal, (which a sweep’s bristles couldn’t budge), were clotting it like a fat man’s arteries. It had to go.

Wincing slightly I paid $1500.00 for the sections of new pipe, and then, huffing and puffing more than slightly, I clambered up my ladder and replaced the entire thing. Now the stove has a wonderful draught. When the stove is open full-bore it practically sucks in the furniture, and the stove glows wonderful warmth.

Despite all precautions there’s inherent dangers in burning wood, and insurance agents can get downright nasty about wood-stoves, referring to books of carefully calculated “risk”. They tire me. “Risk” is all over the place, and even if you bundle everything in bubble-wrap, a Lisbon-Earthquake-of-1755 is liable to befall you. Then, if falling walls don’t crush you, and the huge tsunami doesn’t drown you, and the firestorm doesn’t cook you, and the lack of oxygen near the fire doesn’t asphyxiate you, the crazed populace is liable to blame the entire event on you, and burn you as a witch. Risk is always around us, and sometimes the obsession on “risk” makes me wish insurance agents would all trip on little children’s runaway marbles and….. and…. have a sense of humor.

In actual fact I think the real reason people moved away from wood fires is all the work involved, not the danger. There is the hauling the wood in, and the hauling the ashes away, and the sweeping up afterwards. All this effort is avoided with gas heat. Of course, gas causes incredible explosions, which is why oil heat was originally advertised as being “safest.” But, of course, now people get all bent out of shape about fossil fuels, and say oil heat causes the oceans to rise, icecaps to melt, and songbirds to sing out of tune. They insist that, to be safe, we all need to freeze. To be safe fuel prices need to soar through the roof. The ironic mantra I now hear a lot is, “Heating or Eating; you can’t have both.”

With the focus on fretting so much, I can see why people turn off the news. We have a need to sometimes sail out of sight of land. If you are not told over and over and over again how dreadful and awful and terrible fire is, maybe then you can see it as a friend.

I'm up when all is hushed to feed the fires
But don't go back to bed. Something about
The quiet quells my sluggish, yawned desires.
I sip coffee and help the fire not go out.
Or, to confess, I'm playing with my old friend
And memory looks back sixty-five long years
To when I got scolded. It doesn't end:
This long relationship with what dries tears
And has warmed me when I had no lover.
It puts up with a poking scientist
And allows my balked mind to discover
Unknown avenues. My warmed cheek is kissed. 
In deserts, by oceans, through hot spells and snows
I feed and am fed and companionship grows.

MEETING BLUSTER WITH BLUSTER

Today we had another taste of winter: Blasting winds that dropped the windchill temperatures ten degrees below what the thermometer actually said. A few lone snowflakes whipped sideways, basically lake-effect snows blown all the way from Buffalo.

I can’t confess to feeling all that fond of such weather any more. Once I associated the growing cold with snow, and with the chance school might be cancelled, but now I run a private school and don’t want it cancelled because taxpayers don’t pay for my sloth.

In fact, if you read back ten years through this blog, you will understand snow doesn’t get me off the hook; it makes me work harder to keep my place open. This does tend to diminish any romantic feelings I might have had towards cold and snow. White Christmas? Be damned.

Add to this the fact my body does not withstand the cold as well as it once did, and one might understand why I am becoming a curmudgeon, regarding the cold. Where I once threw snowballs without mittens, my hands bright crimson, now my hands turn a sorry shade of blue when temperatures are barely cool. I’d rather sit by the fire than go out in the cold, when I can get away with it.

Unfortunately I can’t get away with it. Staff shortages have nipped-in-the-bud all my attempts to delegate work to others, and a nasty attack of bursitis even slowed my active wife, so rather than receiving compassion I must be, at the very least, not a curmudgeon.

At 6:45 AM, when even the sun has the brains not to rise in December, I have to open my Childcare and greet people at 7:00 not with gruffness, but in a cheery manner. Call me a hypocrite if you will, but I do it.

Though I am dishonestly cheerful with others, God hears my true grumpiness as I head off into the twilight of dawn in a howling wind that just about dents your eyeballs, to work. I mutter stuff about how He is a God of miracles, and it would be sort of nice if a relative I never heard of died and left me a place in Florida.

Yet this morning all my griping got to me. God didn’t tell me to shut up. I just got a little tired of all my own whining. Rather than parking as close to the Childcare as possible, and ducking from the relatively warm and windless car into the chilled Childcare to turn up the heat full blast and stand beside the blower, I parked up the hill.

My excuse was that, when the sun got around to rising, it would hit up there first, and melt the frost from my windshield. I’d driven to work peeking through a little hole I’d scraped in my hurry. But something beyond that excuse was involved, for rather than hurry from the hill down to the Childcare, cowed by the blustering wind, I just stood by my car, in the orange twilight and blustering wind, and took the spectacle in, with my jaw thrust out.

If the wind was going to bluster, I could bluster right back.

No longer hot-blooded, I shake my head
Over what a great wuss I have become,
And decide to defy my sense of dread;
To quit my cringing as if long life's sum
Of added years amounts to a mere flinch, 
And instead to spring up from where I quail;
For even quail do not sit, not moving an inch
As the spaniel nears. They burst out and flail
The startled dawn and fearlessly face
The shotgun's blast. So too will I pause 
My flinch from cozy home to warmed workplace
And stand unbowed despite the north wind's claws.
In pumpkin predawn cold my puffing breath
Becomes dragon vapors, flaming at death.