LOCAL VIEW –THE BALLET OF A BROOK–

It is Friday night, and after the week I’ve been through I’m ready to tell responsibility to go to hell. I figure that is OK, if I have done “responsibility” all week. It is Monday morning that winds you up in trouble, if you tell responsibility to go to hell..

Last week some of my excellent employees were unavailable for work, so I had to step in and cover for them. Considering they had recently covered for me, as I had a kidney removed, I am not about to whine much. But I will whine just a little bit, because being post-operative reminded me of something I’d nearly forgotten: This world doesn’t need me. I can kick back, and everything doesn’t collapse in a heap. I sort of liked kicking back, but last week I abruptly had to stop it.  My first real vacation in fifteen years was over.

Most people seem to need a vacation to recover from a vacation. They have no desire to return to the rat race, because they have fleetingly seen life can be much, much better. The revelation is downright traumatic, which is why they need another vacation. They need to reassess. They need to reevaluate what the hell they are suffering for.

It was different for me, because I was craving to get back to work. When the vacation is enforced, due to an operation, you are itching to get back in the saddle. Then, when you are allowed to again do the most simple things, such as sweep a powder of snow from steps, the joy you feel is all out of proportion to the magnitude of the task. Sweeping of the snow is no earth-shaking deed, yet you feel like singing the Hallelujah Chorus.

Yet I too had no desire to return to the rat race. There is something about calling our labor a “rat race” that demeans life. We are missing the point. We are missing the majesty.

When my wife and I started our Farm-childcare nearly a decade ago we hadn’t read “Last Child In The Woods” by Richard Louv or “Simplicity Parenting” by Kim John Payne. But we knew what they knew. Our society is missing the majesty.

It is bad enough when we turn our own lives into a rat race, but when we turn little children’s lives into rat races it is a bridge too far. It violates the sanctity of of an obvious and simple church called “Childhood.” Yet the most loving people do it.  Childhood is suppose to be a sanctuary, but parents and schoolmarms disturb the peace.

Six hundred toys is not peace; it is hectic. It isn’t loving, nor are ballet lessons after organized sports after classes after classes after classes before yoga sessions about serenity. Yet both parents work two jobs, and send innocents to Farm-childcares like mine from 7:00 AM until 6:00 PM, (most of a child’s waking hours), and suffer all this rat-race toil out of a love for those they abuse.

It is a love that is misguided. I am old, and if I am any sort of guide I need to say, “You should put my Farm-childcare out of business. Do you have any idea how much money you could save if you worked less, drove less, prepared your own food, and raised your own kids?”

My wife is usually the one who deals with our customers. I lack tact. But the fact I stay silent sometimes makes me feel like a Caspar Milquetoast.Boss census

Fortunately my wife is as radical as I am, and agrees children are better off being allowed the freedom to be young. If a child wants to spend time by a brook, rather than listening to the insipid prattling of elders about ballet, they may very well learn more about ballet from a brook, and more about beauty from a brook, and certainly receive more healing from a brook than all the king’s doctors and all the king’s psychologists can ever provide.

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You complain God is silent, but heed you
The sweet music of a burbling brook?
Maybe you buy the video, and do
Your best to cure insomnia, and look
To screens to see blue waters play, and guide
Your children to bleak deserts waterless:
Sessions and sessions, all puffing your pride
When in fact you are deaf, or even less.

I tell you God’s not silent, but you must go
To an actual brook, and do a thing
Called “sit still”, unwax your ears, and then know
What children know. Dare you try listening?
Who made this rat-race, so sure to depress?
The silence of God gives you more, asking less.

LOCAL VIEW —signs and omens—

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There are signs and omens all over the place, if you care for such things. I used to care, but have lost interest over the years, largely because I could see little advantage in glimpsing the future. I never got a glimpse clear enough to tell me what stocks to invest in, I suppose. Rather I’d get a vague sense of whether I was in for tough times or easy times, and there was no way to avoid either. Lastly, when tough times did come, they were never as bad as worry made them out to be beforehand, and actually turned out to be the times I brag the most about surviving, when reminiscing. (When I remember the good times it is often with the wistful sense I blew it, in some manner.)

The one time signs are helpful is when you are very discouraged, and in need of an encouraging word. Our fellow man sometimes can be pathetic, when it comes to encouraging us. Even the people trying to be kind will  propose some ridiculous diet or regime of exercise or ask you to contort yourself into yoga poses, when all you really need is a kindly glance. In such situations helpful friends can be downright depressing, and it is then that some sign, some bluebird landing on a nearby branch and singing, can be like a rope to a drowning swimmer.

Of course, if I became dependent on such signs I’d never get going in the morning. I have enough trouble getting started as it is, and if I needed a good omen before I proceeded I’d likely never get out of bed.

There was actually a time when I was young that I did demand life made sense, before I’d proceed, and I wound up very nearly paralyzed. I was deeply involved in the study of psychology, and at the slightest sign my behavior wasn’t adult I’d stop everything and analyse my every twitch. It was a good way to avoid getting a real job, and also acquainted me with the wonders of the subconscious, however in the end I had to get a real job even if life didn’t make sense.

At one point, before I got a real job, I was studying my dreams from every angle I could think of, and had a wonderful revelation. When you study dreams you, in a sense, make every action and every object within the dream be a symbol, and thus a sign. For example, if there is a road in the dream, it may symbolize “being-walked-upon”, (and you might even burst into tears when you have the insight that you feel trodden upon). The problem is that, before you get the first dream figured out, you tend to get tired and go to sleep and have another one. Studying all the symbols can get to be exhausting, and there is definitely no time left to look for a real job.

I had managed to arrange my life, as a young poet, in a way that allowed me to study dreams for days on end. Now I cringe, thinking of all the wasted time, but some good did come out of all the study. For one thing, I don’t waste time so much. I also suppose I understand the subconscious to some degree. However the revelation I wish to describe came after I had an overdose of dream-study, and decided I needed some fresh air, and went for a walk.

Because I’d been spending so much time analyzing objects in dreams, I was in the habit, and found myself analyzing the real objects in the real world as if they were symbols in a dream. I wasn’t trying to do it. In fact I was trying to stop. Yet I couldn’t. There wasn’t a leaf that fell that didn’t have some symbolic meaning. Maybe I didn’t know what the meaning was, but the meaning was there, as loud as thunder. I had wanted life to make sense, but now there was too much meaning, in every twig, in every birdsong, in every face in every passing car. It was a glorious and wonderful revelation, but I felt over my head and wanted it to stop. When it wouldn’t I went and bought a six pack of beer and got ossified, not to get high but rather to come back to earth. Then, when I awoke the next morning with a headache, I wondered why I had run away from the revelation. It was largely gone, though enough lingered to reassure me that life does make sense.

Due to that one event, forty years ago, I don’t scoff at people who gaze at stars, seeking astrological sense, or at teas leaves, or at the lines in palms, or at the entrails of goats. God really is in everything, even in the most dark, deplorable, and dismal situations. That is how the poet Wilford Owen was able to write, from the hideous trenches during World War One, “I too have seen God in mud.”

While I don’t scoff at those who seek to read things, I don’t have the time to follow them. Knowing the future doesn’t matter as much as how you behave when it gets here. The only time I adjust my behavior due to someone seeing the future is when I hear a storm may come, in a weather forecast, (and even then the forecast is often wrong. Also, these days, it is often absurdly sensationalized).

Rather than attempting to figure the Creator out, and know what He is up to, I tend to rest assured He knows what He is doing, even if I don’t particularly like it. This seems to open my eyes to beauty I’d otherwise miss. I don’t particularly like cleaning up after a snowstorm, but that doesn’t mean I can’t lean on my shovel and admire the view.

In this manner I’m able to admire the recent eclipse of the full moon, and the current conjunction of Venus, Jupiter and Mars in the morning sky, without getting all worked up and worried about  what it all means. I can watch the leaves change and fall without getting all worked up about the onset of winter, (though I don’t forget to stack the wood).

The glory of what I call “Sugar Autumn” is ending, as we move into the less brilliant but still  beautiful foliage of “Oak Autumn”. In parts of the woods without oaks, it is starting to be “Under-story Autumn,” where the tall maples have lost their leaves, but the young ones beneath are just starting to change.

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It seems that the Creator set up the ecosystem around here in a way that gives the young trees a little time to enjoy the sun free from the shade of their elders. The sapling maples  pop their leaves out a week before the taller ones in the spring, and lose their leaves a week after the taller ones in the fall. I’m sure a scientist can explain the reasons for this happening, but it doesn’t take anything away from the fact it is a wonderful design, and does allow the young time to grow, or at least subsist, until the old decide enough is enough and politely remove themselves from the sky by becoming increasingly rotten and the home of woodpeckers, or perhaps becoming firewood.

That is the sort of thing I contemplate, as I gaze upon Creation, and it seems wiser to me to appreciate beauty in this manner than to become worried, and in a sense to get in a fight with Creation. Too many people spend their entire lives avoiding what may never happen, and isn’t all that bad when it does happen. The reasons people give for the lessening of their lives are many, but it still remain a lessening. Some of the best advice I ever got may be the crudest, “Get over it.” For there are many ways to look at the moon.

And then the moon went on, westward through trees
Now bare of leaves, with a glance back towards me
Inviting. How could I follow? What frees
My feet to walk where the moon walks? What plea
Would it hear? All I could do was stand and yearn.

Once in a dream I walked those pearled highways
But for fool’s reasons felt I should return:
My mundane friends frowned on what disobeys.

Now like a grounded dodo I stand sad
As all wear armor and only in dreams
Does one walk nude in public. This world’s mad
And burdened by leaden get-rich-quick schemes.

But the moon’s not burdened. Midst the mad glow
Of cities it beckons those in its shadow.

LOCAL VIEW —Change in Plans—

The first map shows the snow the GFS computer model was saying we’d get the day before yesterday, and the second map shows they have changed their minds for Southern New Hampshire. We have gone from being in a sort of hole, in terms of snowfall, to getting six inches.

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This is typical of the virtual world of virtual weather. You can’t truly trust the forecasts you get, or use them to make plans. At best you can get a lot of “mights” and “coulds”, but you had best remain on guard. After all, it is winter, and this is New Hampshire, and storms can brew up out of the blue. “Prepare for the worst as you hope for the best.”

I like the way Joseph D’Aleo and Joe Bastardi operate at their Weatherbell site, for they point out the times you ought to be wary, without the pretense of being specific and pretending they can state when a storm will hit, down to the minute. Or, when they do venture out onto the thin ice of such specific forecasts, they make it clear there is a probability of missing out on certain details. After all, a shift of fifty miles in the track of a storm can be the difference between a foot of powder snow and no precipitation at all, or a foot of powder snow and rain. At times hitting such a forecast from several days away is the equivalent of threading a needle from across a room using long chopsticks. (It can be done, but is a huge challenge, especially when you get only one chance.)

I didn’t trust the mess coming out of Texas two days ago, just because I’m a winter-wary Yankee, and it turns out my grumpy and suspicious attitude is more correct than a billion dollar computer, as I awake this morning to a “winter storm watch.”  Even that has a sort of disclaimer, “The storm track is still somewhat uncertain. A track further northwest would bring heavy snow further inland. A track further southeast would bring less snow.” Ummm…I could have told you that two days ago.

The one thing they left out was, “Warmer air could change the snow to rain.”  That is actually something I’m wary of, as the pattern this winter has been for dustings of snow from the northern branch Alberta Clippers, and rains from the southern branch storms that cut west of us.

Below are the maps from two days ago (top) and the maps from this morning (bottom). (Click to enlarge.) You can see the first radar map showing the last clipper’s snow ducking south of us, as the southern feature moves southeast to the Mississippi delta from Texas and brings all sorts of Juicy moisture up from the Gulf of Mexico, seen in the second radar map.

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What puzzled me a little was the failure of the clipper to pull any of the very cold air to our north south, as it passed. As it approached we had a day of streaky-gray skies, with here and there a band of blue sky, and temperatures rising from 16.5° to 29.5° (-8.6° to -1.4° Celsius). The clipper couldn’t seem to get its act together, and decide whether or not to develop a secondary on the coast, (something I’m always wary of,) and passed over us as an indecisive confusion in the late evening. Temperatures fell back to 19.4° during a night that was overcast, but as it cleared yesterday morning there was no blast of arctic air in its wake.  Instead it was a delightfully windless day, with bright sun.  The slightest dust of snow had fallen overnight, so that gray surface of the trampled frozen-slush in the Childcare playground looked lightly salted.

I’ve never understood why, as the days start to lengthen, it is far more obvious in terms of the sunsets. The sunsets are already a half hour later, while the sunrises are only five minutes earlier. Yesterday I had the feeling, perhaps illusionary, that the sun was a hair higher, and kinder.

Of course, the pessimism of old Yankees is pounded into my skull, so I always remember the rhyme,

When the days begin to lengthen
Then the cold begins to strengthen.

There is actually wisdom in those old words, for the summer-warmed waters that protected us from arctic blasts in October and November have been chilled, and in the case of Hudson Bay have frozen over. In the case of Lake Erie the water was so chilled that nearly the entire lake froze over during the last arctic blast

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It is for this reason that, though days start getting longer on December 21, the average lowest temperature isn’t reached until around January 19.  Then, because temperatures are so low, lakes tend to go right on freezing and snow cover can go on expanding even as temperatures (on average) first begin to creep back up. Lastly, because ice-cover and snow-cover go on expanding, conditions improve for the attacks of the most murderous cold right into February. It wasn’t until February fifteenth that the old timers would mutter (sometimes right in the middle of a cold wave or snowstorm), “Winter’s back is broken.”

I can recall sub-zero (-17° Celsius) cold waves into March, and roughly a decade ago we even had an arctic attack in early April, with fresh snow cover and temperatures in the single digits.

However there was something about yesterday that tempted one to, if not lower their guard, to at least pause and close their eyes and look towards the sun. It actually got just above freezing briefly, reaching 33.2° (-0.6 Celsius), and there was little wind.   I like the feel of the faint January warmth in the sun on my face, and the orange view seen by shut eyelids.

 I actually think this is a therapeutic thing to do, especially after hearing of psychologists who charge big bucks to treat people with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) by having them look at light bulbs. The old timers called SAD “winter blues” or “cabin fever” ( or “going shacky whacky”), and stated the cure was to get off your butt and go outside, which is a lot cheaper than a psychologist. To find a south-facing wall out of the wind, and simply to bask a bit, facing the sun, is not only cheaper than looking at a shrink’s light-bulb, it is far more pleasant.

I tested it out with the kids at the Childcare, and they agreed. We all went to the south-facing wall of the barn, and looked up to the sun, basked in the warmth, and listened to the birds with our eyes shut. Finches and Chickadees were peeping nearby, and a crow was cawing far off, and the raucous cries of a couple of blue jays came belting across the pasture. It felt better than a light bulb,  and sounded better than a psychologist, too.

Not that I had all that much time for such experiments. My wary and pessimistic side had me squeezing in some time to visit a country garage to purchase some cheap snow tires for my 20-year-old truck, and have them installed. (Usually I don’t bother, as I know how to drive on snow and don’t have all that far to drive to work.)

A country garage is the closest thing left to an old blacksmith shop. People tend to hang around such places, and the conversation tends to be frank, forthright and funny. (There was even an old law, dating from the time of the Vikings, [I think], that one could not be held to anything they said at a smithy, for the ringing of the hammer on hot iron had a hypnotic effect.)

I’m not exactly sure how I managed to be so stupid, but I stood about blabbing too long, and abruptly realized I had to go pick up the children at the kindergarten, and had no vehicle to do so with.

My plan had been to drop off the truck and go for a leisurely walk through the forest to my house, and use my youngest son’s car, (which we are storing for him), to drive to the Childcare, where I’d pick up my wife’s van to go get the six kids. Instead I took off down the road walking like those ladies who walk way too fast, in an attempt to keep their figures slim.

About a third of a mile down the road I cut into the woods, heading down the driveway of a man who likely doesn’t know that his drive is actually part of the original road that crossed this town before it was a town. I think it still is a public way, but I always feel a bit like I am trespassing. Usually he isn’t home, but it was just my luck that he was just leaving, as I came striding down his drive in a absurdly purposeful manner. I gave him a friendly wave, and to my delight, and with a degree of astonishment, I saw him smile and wave back, as he passed.

I have worked long and hard to establish a reputation for being a cantankerous anachronism, but this is the first sign I have seen that I have succeeded, and am the proud owner of the image of being a sort of weirdo, but a harmless one.

About halfway down the drive towards the fellow’s garage the true lost highway veers off to the left, shown by parallel stone walls heading off through the woods. The fact the highway was major is shown by the fact the walls are further apart than most country roads, but the surface between the walls shows little sign of being flattened. It is also now full of trees, though there is a winding path used by snowmobiles, dirt bikes and four-wheelers along it. Some fool had been along it, in a dirt bike, judging from the tracks in the shallow snow, as had deer. However I was in too much of a hurry to tread softly and peer through trunks for the local wildlife. The inch of snow was an incredibly crunchy and starchy crust, and I made such a racket striding along I likely attracted deer and foxes who came to see, from a safe distance, what on earth was making such an ungodly crunching.

After fording a small brook on a single plank that some kind person had lugged into the wood, I strode over a final rise and began descending towards town, and there things became interesting. Any downhill dent tends to be used, by the laws of gravity, as a way to remove rainfall, and after thunderstorms this ancient highway becomes a brief brook, an intermittent stream that exists so rarely it doesn’t make any maps. However, during the winter, after the ground freezes and water can no longer sink into the sponging soil, the brief brook comes to life during winter rains, and then, because winter rains are often followed by a cold front and plunging temperatures, this brief brook freezes before it can make it down to town. In other words, it forms a sheet of glare ice on part of the ancient road.

Usually I can walk beside this ice, however, because we have had a fair number of winter rains this year, the brief brook was surprisingly wide. I went from walking like a woman on a diet to walking like a Monty Python spastic, thrashing about but amazingly keeping my balance. At times, when the ice grew steep, I had to speed up and run to keep my balance, and aimed for the next patch of crunchy snow where there was traction enough to slow down. By the time I broke out of the trees in my back yard I had actually broken a sweat, which is difficult to do at my age, as your sweat-glands don’t function the way they did when you were young (and needed to shower and use deodorant twice a day.)

I was last in the line of cars, but not late to the kindergarten, to pick up the children. I had a somewhat smug feeling, and was proud my cardiovascular system hadn’t seized up on me, and may have even muttered, “I still got it”, to myself. (I am careful to keep such news to myself, for if my wife ever finds out she’ll expect more work from me.)

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But that was yesterday, and yesterday’s gone. Today I am understanding why dieting women do all those voluptuous stretching exercises before and after walking in their silly manner, and why they walk on a regular basis, and not one time at age 39 and then again at age 61. Quite a number of my muscles are telling me they haven’t been exercised so strenuously in a long, long time, and are objecting in a manner that has made me walk, today, in manner funnier than any dieting woman.

When I got home from work I thought about stocking up my porch with firewood in a manner appropriate for just-before-a-storm, and decided, “the heck with it”.  The snow isn’t suppose to get heavy until mid-morning. I’ll do it in the morning.

However the “Winter Storm Watch” is now a “Winter Weather Advisory,” and we could get 3-6 inches. I can’t say I much like the slug of moisture shown in the maps. (Click to enlarge.)

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The only good thing is that there is no arctic high parked just north of the storm. It won’t be “blocked”, and ought to move in and move out swiftly.

I feel this is just the beginning, a sort of “warning shot”, and am glad I bothered get snow tires for my truck.

It was down to 11.5° (-11.7 Celsius) as I hobbled about this morning, got up to 29.1° (-1.6° Celsius) as I hobbled about at noon, and has settled back to 19.9° (-6.7° Celsius) as it starts to cloud over this Friday night, and I thankfully remain seated.