Saturday, February 21, 2015

More Spring, Please

Well! Winter finally arrived. Oh, it’s been cold enough, gray enough, even a modicum of snow to remind us that we live higher (above sea level) than most and farther north than a lot of folks, but it hasn’t really been a well-focused or intensive reminder. Until today.

In the last week the temperature has bounced between 8 below and 28 above, and several days of below 20 degrees even in bright sunlight. And wind! Enough to tell your skin you were at ten below zero. And skin is easily persuaded, I can tell you.

Yesterday was cold, about 17 degrees, but calm later in the afternoon. Warm enough to spend a couple of hours with the chain saw, wood splitter and my good neighbor who dropped by to help. Aside from cold hands, it wasn’t bad. I was reasonably warm in my winter garb of lined shirts and jeans and the adult version of a snowsuit. Most of the warmth that garment creates is getting in and out of it!

About midnight, when I went out to check the furnace before bed last night, it was a brisk 11 degrees, but calm. The black sky was penetrated by the millions of stars that we see on a clear, cold winter nigh. Warmed by the blaze in the firebox, I took my time walking back to the house. Buddy had a good roll in the snow and Teddy and Louie devoted themselves to licking the ice on the little pond near the door. Cold and clear.

And now it’s winter. Snow, light and dry, falling so fast that my footprints out to the furnace about ten O’clock were filled by the time I turned around and walked back to the house. Even Buddy (who goes where I go, when I go) was ready to come back inside. The forecast is for more of the same until late tonight, temperatures above ten but not by much, and then gradually shifting to sleet and freezing rain. Tomorrow, however, will be better: Some sun and about 36 is the call, so maybe we’ll just let it melt.

At least we aren’t in Boston.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Season’s Light

One of the ways we mark the seasons here in the country is by the angle and color of the light. It is a reminder of change and renewal.

Today the light is coming from a noticeably higher angle. There is more moisture in it than in the cold days of deep winter, and that, too, changes the quality of the light. Spring isn’t here yet, not even a little bit, but the changing light is a promise.

Our house is long and narrow. The long face is toward the south, which accounts for the changing angle of light inside. Every room receives the sun from the southern sky. At this time of year it reaches across the rooms, touching the far walls briefly in the traverse from east to west; another reminder of change, of time moving on.

It isn’t only the day sky that tells us the seasons. When I go out after dark and look up at the black sky, I mark the place of the moon, of stars, of constellations like Orion in the sky directly above me or a little to the east. Before bed, when I make one more check on the fire in the outdoor furnace, I also make one more check on the stars and moon. By then all has shifted, more to the west, and I know the world is in its place, that we are in ours, and morning will come.

Living as we do, where we see more sky and sun and stars than do people who live in light-distracting cities, we are in a closer relationship with the heavens, with the earth, with trees and animals small and large. We understand how we are connected to all of those signs of the living planet.

When we step out in the first hour of light, the dogs and I step into the living space of animals small and large, of birds living in trees and in ground nests, and we greet the new day with them. If there has been snow (and there has been – briefly), I can follow the tracks of rabbits and deer and bear that live in the shadows surrounding the house.

Any morning I can see where the deer have bedded down for the night, what game trails they have followed on the leaf-covered ridges and undergrowth bordering our fields. The dogs pick up the scent and markings of our wild neighbors and often dash off in search of playmates.

There is still winter ahead. Still firewood to work up, perhaps even snow to remove. The weather, though, is cooperating by freezing at night and rising to the 40s and 50s in the daytime, making our local maple syrup producers happy. In a month we will welcome the thousands of visitors who come here to sample the “sugaring off,” and our local foods and crafts.

So the light shifts, the earth turns, the seasons arrive and depart on schedule (nature’s, not ours) and another year is given us.

It is the light that leads us on.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Country Road

Living on a country road brings with it some unusual benefits.

First of all, outlanders are often afraid to expose their expensive vehicles (trucks included) to the dust and mud and ricocheting rocks that their knobby tires kick up. If you live on the road, you appreciate the lack of traffic.

Another benefit is that when the mud turns to ice it still has a rough surface. No need to get out and put the chains on. And if you have four-wheel drive, you can probably avoid using it unless you need to demonstrate something to your passengers. A friend says four-wheel drive just gets you twice as stuck, twice as fast.

Living on a country road keeps the city folk from building their MacMansions where you have to look at them. Try as they will, they will not get the county or state to commit to paving anytime in the future (near or distant).

We know these things because we live on a road that is often sloppy and slushy, full of pot holes and skimpy side ditches. When the mood is upon them the road maintenance folk will come out and move the stones and dirt around, and even add a bit more, to fill the scooped-out places that appear between rains and snows and droughts. For a few days the road is evenly uneven, if you know what I mean. Then gradually the scoured holes reassert themselves and we are back to the dodge’em game. Extra points for maneuvering the road without dropping a wheel in a pot hole. If you ever drove a sports car in a gymkhana you know the drill.

Where we live there are four seasons: Mud, Snow, Fly and Dust. Some days we have them all at once. All too often the sun shines on alternate days, intermixed with enough rain to turn the dust to mud, and/or enough snow to turn the mud to ice. Sometimes that happens between leaving and returning on the same day.

Still, you can’t beat a dirt road for getting away from it all. They are often empty of traffic except for a tractor pulling a combine or planter or hay rake that is wider than the roadway.

One of the first questions in the city driver’s mind is: “What do you do if you meet someone coming the other way?” Experience teaches that both parties stop. The one that can pull off or back up does, the pass is executed (generally with a smile and a wave), and travel resumes.

If you are following rather than meeting, you simply close all windows and vents and follow slowly until the fella up ahead pulls over and waves you by, or turns in at his gate and you have a clear road ahead. That’s life in the country, on country roads.

There is one other advantage to living on a dirt road. It comes most often at the end of winter, when the snows have gone, the mud had hardened, the county has maybe sprayed a dust retardant, and you decide, when you get to town, that this is the day you can stop at the car wash.

When you get out of the car the next time and turn to lock it (another thing you never do if you live on a dirt road), you stop, step back, look at paint colors and gleaming chrome that you haven’t seen in months. You realize the old bucket isn’t so old after all, that maybe it will do another trip around the odometer. You’ve just spent ten bucks and gotten a new car in exchange.

Living on a dirt road has its compensations.