My Way Home

This morning, about an hour after dawn (6:45 am locally), I was lying in bed, propped up by my three pillows, checking on the responses from my last blog. Beside me, Mariam dozed, probably dreaming of new mask designs. More than likely, she was exhausted from walking me around the living room to help alleviate cramps and the horrid agony of restless leg syndrome, both of which I suffer from. We stopped when the cramps began to ease. I took advantage to rest and get several small carrots. An hour ago the snowplow came by, making noise that reminded me of a Delta airliner landing without the wheels down. Beyond that, all was quiet like the deep woods after a snowfall, which would be just about every night for the last month and a half.

Falling to sleep last night was problematic. I had written an outline for my next novel a week ago. The outline took me hours to get my thoughts and plans into the computer. We printed it out so I could use it as a guide to continue working. I needed to flesh out the story line, enhance the drama and tension and make the narrative clearer. The print out came to 23 pages. Fair enough I thought, that’s a great start. So I took the pages back to the computer and began to add, subtract and fill in gaps. I wrote for about a week. With satisfaction we printed it out. The number of pages came to 23!

What happened? Where was all that writing?

I guess that anger and agitation led to the cramps.

But, I digress.

There I was, thinking odd thoughts when a movement caught my eye. I put down my iPhone and listened. Again there a movement. This time I noted that it was coming from outside…

I quietly slipped off my side of the bed and crept to the window which was only a foot or two from Mariam’s soft breathing. I edged myself close enough to the glass I could almost see my own breath’s fog. I saw nothing at first except a small mountain of snow. But, there, right before my eyes was where the sound came from. It was a drop. A drop of water from one of hundreds of icicles. It was a small sign of melting. Soon there would be more I hoped.

As soon as Mariam was awake and sipping her coffee, I excitedly told her about the drop of water and what it could mean for us. She looked at me like I was speaking about something crazy, like a cloned black-footed ferret.

“Have some camomile,” she said. “You’ve had a hard night.”

I told her I was going to drive to the post office and get our catalogues.

“Take the recycles out to the bins,” she said as she made a successful move on Words with Friends. As I walked across the front deck I took care to not cause a mini avalanche. I walked with pride to the garage, nudged the door open and reached in to push the button to open the large front door. I closed it immediately and covered my ears. The noise from the automatic door opener is loud and screechy enough to make ones ears bleed. I emptied a can of WD-40 on the track, but it only made the door louder. Perhaps I had picked up a can of WD-39 instead.

As I walked back from the garage, with the door noise still vibrating in my middle ear, I paused and looked at the canyon-like path the led to our front door. I looked down at where the ‘salt’ had melted some ice. That was enough to settle a long-standing disagreement between Mariam and myself as to what our deck was made of. As usual, she won. It was wood.

I noted the deck shovel, the plastic sled that we move our groceries from the car.

I also noted the metal sunburst house decoration. That, in a way, helped me find my way home.

[Note from author: All photos are mine, but more importantly, if anyone out there has a method to relieve restless leg syndrome, please email me at: pegan7@roadrunner.com]

Dealing With It?

I’ve been through a lot of situations in my life thus far. I fell into a glacial crevasse, got lost in Alaska, got lost in the Adirondacks, capsized a canoe in the Susquehanna River and visited a grave on Cemetery Hill at midnight.

But I could deal with it.

I spent nearly a week in a hotel room in New York City (see previous blog), pacing the well-worn rug, waiting for results of an MRI. The results were good. Barring accidents, I’d live. But boredom set in and I lost the desire to read. I play Words With Friends until well past my usual bed time while trying to think of what names to give my two hernias. On or about midnight I would take my sleep medications but the strong diuretic from the afternoon was still on board. This meant hourly trips to the bathroom.

But I could deal with it.

Back home we spent money on a suet feeder that was double caged “to deter squirrels”. Within a day, one red squirrel figured out a way to enter the feeder…this animal is eating well and doing a great job at keeping out the wrens, chickadees and finches. There was a moment when I thought of finding something in my shop and attacking the feeder like a piñata.

[The squirrel-proof suet feeder.]

My shop door is next to a certain red snowblower. It’s been used twice. I never knew how difficult those blowers can be until I tried to use it. My back pain told me that this is something for younger men or women to do. I was disappointed but I listened to my back. I’ll find some neighbor kid to handle all that. The only problem is that there are no kids, teenagers or otherwise on our block.

But I can deal with it.

For the three hour trip from Albany (we break the trip in half) I sat or rather squirmed in our Honda Fit. Took my pills after Albany and went to bed around midnight. Then came the urge to urinate. I made several unsuccessful attempts. Nothing. Something was wrong. On each attempt, the pain increased. I cried out in pain. Mariam came to help. Suddenly, at 4:15 am, I passed a bladder stone the size of a Buick. Then came the peaceful sleep.

But I can deal with it.

What I can’t deal with is another curse thrown my way. Insomnia. Couple that with restless leg syndrome and you have a combination of pure pain. Insomnia. What should I think about to bring on sleep. Everywhere in my mind was a place I didn’t want to go. My boyhood? My schooldays? My so-called fond memories of my so-called adventures just reminded me of how terrified I was at the time. I have to face the fact that I’m afraid of the dark.

I can’t deal with that.

While fighting off insomnia, I close my eyes and try to envision this:

But this is what I see:

When all is said and done, I want spring to come early and surprise me. This I can deal with.

[All photos are mine with the exception of the green mossy one. Source: Pinterest]

A Winter’s Drive

[Source: Google Search]

The elderly couple had the kind neighbor woman to help in loading their car. It was late morning and the temperature bounced around the zero level. When they first pulled the car down the drive, it was -0 F. Then it climbed to +0 F. What a difference.

Their car was a Honda Fit, dazzling blue on a dazzling day, but now it was white with dried road salt, reflecting the overcast black and white world of snow and more snow. Every time the elderly man brushed against the car, a part of his down coat or new L.L.Bean cargo pants would turn white. The last bag went in and the couple drove off. Their destination was Albany, about 150 miles away when you consider driving through Saranac Lake and Lake Placid. Time was the last concern on their minds. It was just one of several drives to New York City for doctors. This time it was important, no, essential that they were at Mount Sinai on Monday afternoon for tests.

He had a Starbucks thermos of cold brew so the first real stop was the High Peaks Visitors Center at the beginning of the 100 mile stretch to Albany.

“I’ll drop you close to the door”, the wife said. Near the curb was a crunch and a scrape. The man got out, checked the car (everything seemed well) and went inside to relieve himself.

Twenty miles further south, the wife asked if he heard anything coming from the right rear tire. She pulled over at the shuttered gate of the old Schroon Lake rest stop. He got out and to add to his mountain of other worries saw that the tire was flat. That’s when he smelled the burnt rubber.

Out came the AAA roadside assistance card. A call was made. The wife was put on hold and the call was cut off.

The elderly man looked around. Only a few cars and a semi or two roared passed (probably from Canada). All else…nothing.

They were very luck to have the flat in a zone that had cell phone service. Some stretches along I-87 were dead zones. Being a worrisome sort, the man began to imagine the worst case scenarios. Just then he felt the need to urinate (he’s on a diuretic). The minutes passed in silence. The couple discussed the situation. The man suggested calling AAA back when the wife said:

“Call 911.”

The man checked the south bound lane. Empty. Just as he was approaching the snow bank to empty his bladder, he saw the State Police cruiser about a mile away and the lights were flashing, The trooper had located us. The old man stood next to the once-blue Honda as the couple explained the situation. He knew there was a spare (a donut) in a pit under 300 pounds of luggage. He realized he hadn’t changed a tire since the late 1970’s. Despite the pain of two hernias, the trooper talked the man into the proper jack position and began to change the tire. The man had to ask for help in getting the spare up and out of the car.

“This is one of those baby spares, right?” he asked the officer.

“Yes.”

“The kind you’re not supposed to drive very far?”

“Yup.”

“So how far is recommended?”

“About fifty miles.”

“How far is it to Albany?”

“Ninety miles, but you’ll be okay if you don’t speed. Keep it at 65 mph.”

The trooper drove off. The old man felt like he had just earned a Merit Badge. Should they head to the Honda dealer in Albany or find a tire store? Minutes passed in silence. Honda closed at five. Firestone at six. So many decisions. They went to the Firestone store, they had the tire we needed and they checked to make sure the rim wasn’t damaged, then we had it aligned. While listening to power tools and phone calls, the old fellow realized he hadn’t urniated. That was ninety miles ago. He wandered off to the mens room. After he was done he settled back in the waiting room to watch a few more minutes of Saving Private Ryan. Watching it rain heavily on Tom Hanks, he realized he hadn’t taken his medicine for the day. You know, the box of pills which contained a serious diuretic. He swallowed his dosage and awaited the first urges in his bladder.

Soon the stressed-out and exhausted elderly couple were in their hotel room.

They had all day sunday to get to New York for the old guys monday afternoon tests. Except for the final challenge. The parking lot closed at four.

They turned on the giant hotel TV and watched an NCIS rerun. Then, thinking all was well with the world, the elderly man checked his weather app on his iPhone. Monday was to be the height of a major weather warning. The accumulation was expected to be 23″.

The old man put a bottle of leg cramp lotion at his bedside and looked forward to a night of pain, as exhausted as he was. The diuretic kicked in.

He was not disappointed.

Winter

Old Nan: Oh my sweet summer child, what do you know about fear? Fear is for winter, when the snows fall one hundred feet deep. Fear is for the long night, when the sun hides for years and children are born and live and die, all in darkness. That is the time for fear, my little lord, when the white walkers move through the woods. Thousands of years ago there came a night that lasted a generation. Kings froze to death in their castles, same as the shepherds in their huts. And women smothered their babies rather than see them starve, and wept and felt the tears freeze on their cheeks. So is this the sort of story you like?

—Old Nan referring to the Adirondacks

—Game of Thrones [George R. R. Martin]

Recipes For Disaster

It’s long been known that shoveling snow can kill people. Consider the picture below:

[Recipe for disaster.]

When I was a little boy, I’d see an elder (usually a man) struggling with the foot or two of snow on his sidewalk.

I figured the guy had to be really old…in his sixties at least. That was old. It didn’t occur to me to lend a helping hand. “He’s a goner, I thought.”

Then I saw an article in HuffPost by A. Marc Gillinov, MD. He states that the culprit is cardiovascular disease. It seems that cold weather increases ones blood clotting.

He also mentioned back and neck pain. I have both. He claims he hasn’t picked up a shovel since his last back operation. That word from a doctor is good enough for me.

I thought I had it all figured out. I had a brand new (red) snowblower safely sitting in a secure spot under our screened in porch. First I had to determine which language was the correct one from the Manual. Does it really snow that much in Mexico or Spain?

Back to Dr. Gillinov again. He states that fifteen minutes of shoveling by someone who is at low risk for cardiovascular issues, can actually be a benefit from the exercise of shoveling. Fifteen minutes a day will give one a full and adequate workout.

[Nice, but not the Big One]

Coming from a doctor, that was all I needed.

I had a plan. There was a protected space beneath our covered screened in porch. This would be the snowblowers home during raw, dark and frozen winter months.

Next was to figure out how to how to fill the gas tank (have you seen the new design of gas cans?) Then finding the right place for the key (which was big and red, like a Lego.)

Plug the thing in to give it a charge and you’re good to go. I had the whole plan worked out in detail so off I went. I hit the beam holding the porch first. The green tarp, I later realized, was under one of the wheels so I dragged the green cover across the back yard, overturning the wheel barrow in the process.

Once free of all obstructions (No. 1 in the manual), I had to teach myself how to make a left turn. It’s not as easy as the grey haired guy on TV makes it look.

The first left turn had me heading toward the small group of cedar trees. Time to figure out the right turn. When finished, the path looked like a children’s snow tag trail.

At first, I planned to turn the thing around on the front deck. I’s a good thing I thought twice about it. If I had tried such a movement, most of our dining room and all of the deck railing would be scrap wood.

So, meanwhile the gentlemen in their forties are wasting their time standing in a line, ignoring the fall warmth in front of Lowe’s discussing the advantages of my red over their blue model that costs hundreds of extra dollars.

Stick to the red and inexpensive model.

And, definitely learn how to make a left turn.

{Bloggers Note: I wrote this last night. I wake up this morning and find my world has changed. This is how much snow fell while I slept the night away. That’s life in the North Country. Finally The Big One.}

[Photo credit: Mariam Voutsis.]

The Big One: Part 3

I’ve been dwelling and raving about The Big One for several days now. It finally arrived. The only problem is that we only were hit with an inch and a half.

The Big One still has left my red snowblower untouched and shiny.

The Big One fell on the area of my hometown. The real ground zero seems to have been Binghamton. This city is located about five hours away from us.

This is the railing of my back deck a few minutes ago:

[Source: my photo.]

[Source: Josephchampaign]

But this is what The Big One really looks like.

The Big One: Part 2

This is a ice crystal pattern

[Source: Mine]

Somewhere, in the wild world of the Troposphere, it all begins. That’s where The Big One originates. There’s water involved, cold temperatures, wind and a waiting winter, already mostly frozen.

Everyone in the North Country is awaiting the arrival of the first significant snowfall, To us, it’s The Big One. I have my brand new red snowblower all ready to move large amounts of the white stuff.

Instead, we got slammed with a thumb-numbing cold. It was at least -6 degrees Fahrenheit when the sun came through the woods early this morning. Now, I’ve seen it much worse ( -6 F would actually seen mild).

But, it is what it is. I felt frozen as I went about my morning.

Every adult knows that no two snowflakes are the same. No wonder about that when you consider the types of snowflakes that eventually form snow.

[Source: Wikipedia.]

[Source: Mine.]

Instead of test driving my new red snowblower, I’m on my knees on the front deck with a hand lens.

Looking for signs of The Big One.

The Two Garbage Bins: A Winter’s Tale

[Iceberg Landscape. Photo source: Google search.]

In the U.K. they call it “Bin Day”. That’s when you put your rubbish and recycles out at curbside. I think that is a very cute way of putting things, but then the English are so cute anyway. On March 22, they will celebrate “Mothering Day” instead of “Mother’s Day”. The Brits have a quaint and charming (cute) way of putting names to things. In the USA, if a new mother is having difficulty nursing a newborn, we call in a “Lactation Specialist”. In England, the worried new-mother would summon a “Breast Expert”. (A fair percentage of men I know would qualify for that title).

It’s all very interesting, but all this has nothing to do with the following post (except the word bin.)

My wife and I live in the North Country. It’s not easy residing in an environment that pays little attention to the calendar. A few days ago the Northern Hemisphere celebrated the Vernal Equinox…the first day of spring. We celebrated a sub-zero nighttime low and a coming forecast of six or more inches of snow. Not many of my old friends from high school have to use a child’s plastic sled to bring our groceries from the car to our front door. Most of them are worried about which iron to use to make par in places like Hendersonville, North Carolina or Boca Raton.

But I digress.

The garbage pickup, here in the North Country, is handled by Casella, Inc. They provide you with two bins, one for garbage and the other for recycling. All we have to do is drag the bins to the roadside every two weeks (for us, this means the bins are put out on a Thursday night for a Friday morning pickup.) Very convenient. But we have been out of the country so we suspended service. So, now it’s time to get things rolling again.

[The garage in question. Photo is mine.]

However, here in the North Country, simple things sometimes aren’t so simple. You see, our garage has a leak, like a toilet has a leak. In the winter, this leak leads to a sheen of ice that is smoother than the rink at Rockefeller Center. Don’t think I haven’t thought about backing my car out, hooking up my iPad with Spotify and skating a pair of figure eights to Waiting For The Robert E. Lee with my wife. (The problem is that we don’t own ice skates.) The ugly reality is that to get from the back door to the bins, you have to have the skill and dexterity of Sonja Henie or Tanya Harding. So, by partly skating and partly clutching my car door handle I manage to get to the bins to prepare them for the move to the roadside.

Oh, how wrong I was. The bins were frozen in several inches of ice. I nearly threw my back out when the usual body slam to dislodge them (this happened several winters ago) did not work. The recycling big was already 75% filled. I opened the lid and peered inside. Where did all those wine bottles come from?

A little history. Ice is a powerful force. Look what happened to the Endurance, Shackleton’s ship when it got stuck in the ice off Antarctica. The ship was crushed and sank, stranding the entire crew. Could this be happening in my garage?

[Shackleton’s huskies watch as the Endurance sinks. Photo source: Google search.]

I thought about tying a rope on the handle of the recycling bin and securing it to the front towing hook of my Honda Fit and hitting Reverse and slamming the gas peddle. But the vision of my front axle being ripped off changed my strategy. Finally, after several days, I managed to free the garbage bin. Only yesterday did I succeed in breaking the icy grip that held the recycling bin. It took brutal strength and violence (and a few cups of that blue ice melting stuff you get when you enter a drug store) to finish the job. These are necessary skills one needs in the North Country.

[The bins in question. Photo is mine.]

Our next scheduled pick-up is April 3. Mostly likely the ground will still be frozen and it will be fairly easy to move the bins to the roadside. It not, I’ll have to drag them through the mud. In which case, I’m quite worried about the recycling bin. It’s very heavy.

I wonder where all those wine bottles came from.

[NOTE: This post was written while in self isolation. Good luck and be smart.]

 

 

Snow

The woods are pleasant, dark, and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

–Robert Frost

 

[Our tiny forest. Our front yard. Photo is mine.]

I can think of nothing in nature more calming, soothing and tranquil than standing in a forest while snowflakes nearly the size of marbles drift slowly downward through the trees.

I’ve sat by gurgling brooks. I’ve felt the winds of the prairie whistle in my ears. With a mug of Oolong tea laced with local honey at my side, I’ve sat and listened to the rain fall, sometimes heavy and in waves…sometimes only a dribble. These are all transcendent. And you need only one good sense, hearing.

Snow, on the other hand is silent. You can’t hear a flake settle on a pine needle. A rainfall doesn’t lend itself to a visual experience, unless you count thunder and lightening. A snowstorm, in its aftermath, can leave you breathless…the absolute whiteness of it all.  Well, not all. A mere three weeks can separate the dazzling colors of late autumn to a black and white world where only a hint of dull green marks the presence of coniferous trees and a cluster of brown Aspen leaves that have not yet fallen from the mother tree.

But snow is a superb example of what could be a blessing to one but can be a curse to another. Yes, I appreciate the quiet solitude that snowstorms bring, but I can also see darkness that lies beneath the ten inches of the white fluffy stuff.

It wasn’t always like this for me. I skated when I was young. Tobogganed every hill around Owego, NY and skied Whiteface Mountain. I spent five summers living on glaciers of the Juneau Icefield in Alaska. I knew ice. I knew snow.

Then I aged. Snowshoeing became difficult. X-Country skiing became problematic and downhill alpine skiing presented its own set of dangers to my body.

Blame it on my Lumbar region (L4 & L5) for my falling out of love for the winter season.

[Me shoveling. You can’t see my L4 & L5, but I can feel them. Photo credit: Mariam Voutsis.]

SIDEBAR A few facts about snow.

It is a myth, often repeated, that the Inuit (Eskimos) have dozens of words describing snow. There is no way to determine the real facts here because of the multitudes of Northern Native People. Different country…different way of viewing snow. There are however, researchers who study snow and keep track of these sort of things. The latest list contains 121 different types of snowflakes.

Is it true that no two snowflakes can be the same? This is mostly true, but recently scientists have found ways to practically duplicate a snowflake pattern.

Most snowflakes that we are familiar with are hexagons. There are thirty-five common types in all. Here is a short list:

  • Stellaar Dendrites (pictured below)
  • Columns & Needles
  • Capped Columns
  • Fern-like Stellar Dendrites
  • Diamond Dust Crystals
  • Triangular Crystals
  • Twelve-branched Snowflakes.

[A Stellar Dendrite flake. Very common. Photo source: Google search.]

There is even a Field Guide to Snowflakes available. I tried to examine snowflakes one afternoon a few winters ago. I wore a dark jacket and held my geologic hand lens in my frozen fingers. A flake landed on my dark sleeve. But when I put the hand lens to my right eye and leaned forward to examine the flake, my warm breath melted it, leaving me to examine a small drop of water. This is something I could do in my kitchen. I learned nothing. I’ll learn the technique, someday, perhaps.

So, I believe it can be stated that there is a snowflake for every taste. It would be an understatement to say that snow is the engine that runs empires, so to speak. What would winter TV every four years be like if it weren’t for the Winter Olympics. Hallmark Movies? Who would know about Tanya Harding? (I’m including ice as a sub-set of snow). How could we live without the likes of Lindsey Vonn? If you’re old enough your heart stopped for a few moments when Franz Klammer won the men’s downhill in 1976. And of course, who can’t forget the aerial flights of Shawn White?

[Alpine skiing. Awesome. Photo credit: Google search]

I celebrate winter. I love snow. But, these days it’s a visual thing. I must leave you now to contemplate my winter landscape.  I’ve sat long enough. I need another heat patch placed on my L4 & L5 region. I will make another mug of Oolong tea and add a tad of honey.

[Winter on our road. Photo is mine.]

[All of the factual information about snow came from several Google searches.]