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.]

 

Two Men On A Rock

And I need to be there when the world gets too heavy and the shadows cross my mind.

Like brave mountaineers, we were never bothered much by time.

—Gordon Lightfoot.

 

[The author, left (in blue) and climbing partner, Greg Stella on the trail of Big Slide Mountain. circa 1972.]

Once upon a time, two young men set out from Johns Brook Lodge in the heart of the High Peaks region of the Adirondack Mountains. Their goal was to climb Big Slide. These two men were vigorous and healthy. The fire of youth burned in their veins. They climbed together for many years…in the rain, the sleet, the fog and the snow. In the summer they sweated and in the winter they huddled beside a log-fed blaze and sipped hot chocolate, hot enough to scald their tongues.

On this particular day, nearly half-way to the summit of Big Slide, they shook off their packs and sat on a rock for a cool drink and a rest. A few moments passed and another climbing party came panting up the trail.

“Excuse me,” said one of the resting men. “Would you mind taking our picture?”

The stranger obliged and handed the camera back to the man who wore a blue parka.

The small group moved on. The two young men rested for a few minutes and continued their climb.

Forty-seven years later, these two men and their wives were enjoying a few days together at a lakeside cottage owned by the blue-jacketed man and his wife.

“Hey,” he said. “I have a website and if I remember correctly, there is a picture of you and I when we were climbing Big Slide. It’s in one of my slide-shows. Would you like a copy?”

Soon it was all over. The slide-show was seen and the picture was saved. Much to the amusement of those present, an attempt was made to reproduce the postures of the two young men resting on a rock.

The two men stared at the original photo…and remembered.

 

[The author, left (in white socks) and one-time climbing partner, Greg Stella. November 5, 2019.]

 

[Note: The sound track to the slide-show was Bob Dylan’s Forever Young.]

Both photos are mine.

My website: http://www.patrickjegan.com

Now I Know What It Was Like

[Three candles and a laptop. Photo is mine.]

Don’t get me wrong…I love history. But I don’t necessarily need to live in history. I have no desire to travel to someplace in North Carolina to ditch my reading glasses, my jeans and my iPhone to reenact a minor battle in the Civil War. I have a great interest in the Civil War, and I think it’s a national shame that these precious and hallowed battle fields are being lost to development. But I don’t really need to dress up in a Union uniform and fire blanks at some bloke who is probably a lawyer in real life and and living with four children and a wife in Richmond who doesn’t really like wearing muslin.

That’s all very interesting, isn’t it? But that’s not the purpose of this post. No, my story is a bit different.

I’m writing this by candle light. Don’t ask why I have WiFi and hardly any electricity. I wish I could answer. But this may help:

Last night, Franklin Co. NY, (where I live) had a heavy rainstorm followed by a wind storm that was simply Shakespearean. The heaven’s howled and the trees swayed ominously, with a disconcerting roar. (And I mean roar). I’ve rarely head such sounds of fury. It kept me up from 4:30 am until late morning. I fell asleep simply out of exhaustion.

We had been trying to make decisions. We had no idea then this problem would be fixed, so should we just tough it out with six more fleece blankets on our bed? Should we light a fire in our fire-stove in the down-stairs room and sit until it was 85 degrees? We have a new tent…should we try winter camping in our front yard? We decided against that because of the number of blown-down trees. Should we plug our cell phones and go for an eleven hour drive, for the warmth and for the charged iPhones? Maybe Quebec City?

Upon waking and getting out of a warm bed into a chilly room, I counted eight trees that were blown down during the night. Not one fell on our car.

I also woke up to a power outage that started about 6:45 am. Here I am at nearly 10:00 pm sitting in a brown-out.

Writing this by three candles, I feel like Nathanial Hawthorn, or Washington Irving. They didn’t have electricity. But they weren’t writing blogs either. They were writing great American literature. By dim lights.

Isn’t that is what I’m doing?

Sort of?…..

[Our coffee table at black-out time. Photo is mine.]

[P.S. The full power just came on at 10:01 pm.]

When Sand Turns Cold: Between The Seasons

[The Lake Colby Beach in Saranac Lake, NY. Photo is mine.]

This is an odd time of the year. The autumn colors are past peak (yes, there are a few places where the reds are blinding and the yellows can bring tears to your eyes)…but the peak foliage in its intensity is essentially gone until next October, or late September (depending on the summer rains).

It’s a sad time. The public beaches have hauled in the lifeguard chairs and the floating docks. No mothers wander about looking for toddlers, no cheerleader is working on her tan line. No quarterback is working on a Malibu bronze complexion. That’s all okay…it’ll all fade in three weeks time (unless they still use a bottle tan mixture like they did in the ’60’s.)

Still hikers take to the trails since most of the bugs are gone.  The kayaks are being put up in boathouses for the long winter. Year-rounders are stacking wood for the stoves in their cabins.

The skiers are busy waxing and sharping their edges at the local ski shops.

Sam Adams has come out with the Octoberfest brew.

Local micro-breweries are putting up the taps of the newest Pumpkin flavored IPA.

But the beaches are gone.  Sure one can go and wrap up in fleece and try to read a book…but’s its changed.

I have a distinct memory of jumping out of our family car in the parking lot of Golden Beach…sometime in the early 1950’s. We had a campsite, but none of my brothers wanted to put off the swimming. My feet, the tender feet of a child burned as I ran toward the water. I couldn’t make it. I ran back and jumped in the waiting arms of my father. He carried me, tenderly across the burning sands and gently put me down in the cool waters of Raquette Lake.

Summer is gone again. The first snowflakes are a few weeks away.

And, then the WINTER sets in. Sometimes until mid-May. I grew up in downstate NY, near the Finger Lakes. We had four distinct seasons. Up here in the North Country it’s more likely three seasons.

I live on Ibuprofen because of my back pain.

So, we are off to Portugal in mid-December for 2 1/2 months of warmth. It’s not Florida, but it’s cheaper.

I wonder what things will be like in five or seven years.

Will it matter?

Good-bye Rosie

[Rosie. Photo is mine.]

My mother passed away in her sleep on a quiet Easter Sunday morning in 1992. A sad event indeed. Just days before on Holy Thursday, she sat in the living room of our home and told the priest that she was tired and was prepared. She was ready. She also told him she wanted to depart this life on Easter. She got her wish. This event put into motion a series of events, a journey of sorts, in my life, that of my wife, Mariam and Cracklin Rosie.

A day later my wife and I drove to Tioga Gardens Nursery to pick out a spray of flowers for the funeral home viewing. The nursery was owned, I believe, by my high school classmate, Ed Kuhlman. He commiserated his sorrow at my mother’s passing and took an order for a floral display.

“Wait;” he said as we were leaving. “I have a gift for you, Pat.”

He disappeared into the depths of the greenhouse and emerged a few minutes later with a small potted plant.

“Here, this is from me. No charge. It’s a Begonia and I’ve named it Cracklin Rosie. I love Neil Diamond. Take care of her and she will bring back memories of you mom.”

[For all my botanists readers: Begonia x corellina hybrid. The plant scientist who created the hybrid named it after the Neil Diamond song. For years I thought it was Ed Kuhlman’s favorite song.]

We took the plant and departed.  After the funeral and all the necessary things that had to be done, we headed back to New York City. I was a teacher and my wife was a nursing administrator at a major city hospital. We had to go forward to our lives. We put Cracklin Rosie in a nice place in our one bedroom apartment.

The years passed.  We grew older and Rosie (we dropped the Cracklin part) grew up and out. Then up and out some more until she became as prominent a part of our home as a sofa or a library.

In 2000, we bought a lake side house in Rainbow Lake, NY. We rented it out on a weekly basis for several years. It helped to pay the mortgage. Then in 2005, I retired from teaching. Over thirty years of pushing chalk was now to become a memory.

In 2011, we let ourselves be bought out and left the City for our home in the Adirondack Mountains of northern New York State.

We brought Rosie with us. By now, she was the size of a china closet. Every time we travelled abroad we had to find someone to watch over her. It was like having a pet; but one that never crawled on to your lap or wagged a tail. In our dining room, she became a presence…a conversation starter…a center of attention. It was like having the skeleton of the Elephant Man watching you eat your pasta primavera.

Sadly, an era is about to close for us. My son, Brian and his fiancee, Kirstin are coming for a visit over Columbus Day weekend. They have agreed to take Rosie back to Queens and become her new owners.

I’m sitting here as I type this and staring at her in her floppy green glory. She has witnessed dinner parties, made way for a Christmas tree or two, watched us having a candle-lit dinner, an argument, a deep philosophical discussion and all the events of life that come with a happily married couple who live in the North Country.

Knowing how this plant/human relationship will eventually end, we gave cuttings to many of our friends. There are baby Rosies in many homes. And, when Mariam and I visit Brian and Kristin, we’ll meet up with Rosie and talk about old times.

She has felt us brush by her as we haul luggage out to the car or back into the living room from our travels. She sensed us. She welcomed us. I think she’ll miss us.

I’ll miss her just like I’d miss an old friend.

Just like I miss my mother.

 

 

The No-Name Motel

[The motel with no name]

Most of the time I can erect a fence to contain the images and imaginations from escaping my brain.  Sometimes a little white picket fence with pink daisies in purple pots are enough to hold back the most innocent and decent imagery that my mind can create.  Then, there are times when a more sturdy wooden enclosure is necessary.  My thoughts have gotten a little darker and far-fetched.  At the end of the line, I need to put up a stockade of lichen-covered stone, dusty bricks or cement blocks…topped by razor wire.  These keep in the real demons; the ideas, thoughts, dreams, musings and nightmares that one finds along a dark path in the dark woods, deep ravines and foggy patches in misty churchyards.  These fences hold my odd thoughts where they belong…in my brain.  It works.

Most of the time.

I’m on Route 11, the main highway that crosses the North Country.  I’ve been on this road many times heading either west or east out of Malone.  This isn’t the first time I’ve spotted the old motel.  I pull over.  The weeds in the old lawn are chest high.  The welcome sign is getting loose around the hinges and bolts.  I don’t know how long this place will exist.  Perhaps the next time I drive this way, the whole structure may be replaced by a Tractor Supply, a Bowling Alley or a Car Wash.

To me, that would be a shame.  It’s obvious it will never again function as a motel…and that is why it attracts and charms me.  Here, in what may have been the driveway, I sit in my Honda and survey the old buildings.

The style of the buildings could be 1960’s, but I’m going to place it in the mid-1950’s.  It suits my narrative style better.

Then I close my eyes.  I can see the phantoms that once stayed here.  I can imagine their stories.  I can feel their history.  It’s happy and sad, tragic and fortunate.  The lives that passed through these rooms, pass through me now.

I see the shadows move about.

The traveling salesman, with his valise full of brushes and combs, slips into Room 2.  Once inside, he hangs his seersucker jacket on the door hook, kicks off his worn wing-tipped shoes and stretches out on the lumpy bed.  He unscrews the bottle of bourbon and takes a long pull.  He doesn’t want to go home.

A blushing teenage couple from Watertown just bluffed their way intro Room 9.  He has a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon that is slowly getting warm.  He uses his church key to open two.  They sit awkwardly on the sofa before moving to the bed.  In exactly ten months, she’ll give birth to a baby boy who will grow up to own his own auto repair shop outside of Burlington, VT.  His parents will each die in separate car accidents in 1974.

A cheap thug who just robbed a liquor store in Plattsburgh takes Room 5.  His girl has a bruise on her cheek, her arm and her thigh.  They will stay one night and then drive non-stop to Chicago. There she will leave him for a chiropractor.

A family is on their way into the heart of the Adirondacks.  They have driven south from Quebec City and will spend the next two weeks swimming at Golden Beach on Raquette Lake.  One child  will become an astronomer and the other will become a teacher.  Room 10 is their final night under a roof.  Tomorrow night the tent comes out.

A troubled couple from Binghamton will argue well into the night about in-law problems.  The wife will turn up the radio when Billie Holiday comes on.  Maybe the volume will drown out the threats from Room 14.

An insurance salesman from Buffalo will quickly enter Room 7.  He knows this motel well.  Room 7 is hidden from the office.  Following him through the door is his secretary, Helen.  He promised her many things during the long drive.  Anything, he thinks, as long as she gives me a night of pleasure that he can’t find at home with his lawful wife.

Two young men in their twenties passing themselves off as brothers on their way to visit family in Lake George walk boldly into Room 11.  Here they can be themselves and love each other like they have wished for the past three years.

Yes, the lawn is chest-high with Timothy grass, Ragweed and Queen Anne’s Lace.  Butterflies and black flies flit from flower to flower.  No more cars will be stopping here, ever.  The motel once had a name, but even the sign is gone.  A little VACANCY sign is visible.  Those who passed through this office, slept on creaky mattresses and used the stained toilet are long gone.  Some of the stories had happy endings while others ended with a broken heart or a bleeding nose.  These travelers have moved on.  Many are still alive, most are buried in some local cemetery or a burying ground a thousand miles away.  A few who laughed, drank, sinned and prayed in these rooms are possibly being sedated by an RN in a nursing home…somewhere.

I go back to my car after taking a few photos and I notice something that may seem ironic.

The empty motel with no name is directly across the road from a hospice.

Another flood of imaginings come rushing from my brain.

[All the lonely people.  All the empty rooms.]

 

 

A Sad Good-bye

[“Old Paint”. Now a part of history…ready for its final ride]

The white Casier truck backed down our driveway.  It was 10:30 on a muggy morning.  Before ten minutes had passed, we had brand new chairs in our living room.  The old L. L. Bean pair of overstuffed sofa-like seats were showing signs of aging.  Mariam’s was still in fair shape so a few hours later, a man came in a smaller truck and took hers away later in the day.

Casier (the chair merchant in Saranac Lake) agreed to take mine.

It was over quickly.

Before I had a chance to pull out my red bandana and wipe the stray tear from my cheek.

Before I had a quiet moment with my supportive friend to whisper a few last good-byes and reminisce about the past.

I felt like my Old Yeller was being taken out behind the barn by Fess Parker.  Life doesn’t get any harder.  Where do old chairs go when they have finished their duty to your weary body?  I’d really rather not know.  I can’t imagine my heartbreak if I drive out to the Franklin County Transfer Station one pleasant Saturday and see my chair upside-down next to two Barka Loungers, a wicker love seat and a chartreuse sectional.

We bought the chairs in 2000, when we acquired our Adirondack home.  In 2011, we moved to the North Country for real.  So many hours have been spent in those pale green chairs watching important historical events unfold before our eyes.  Several World Series (but don’t ask which ones or who won…I’ve no memory of those things).  A few Super Bowls (but we tend to avoid being here in mid-winter, so don’t ask which ones we saw).  The second inauguration of Obama.  The election of 2016 (again, don’t ask!).

It would be great to say we saw the moon landing, but that was thirty years earlier.  I would love to describe our interest at witnessing the Escape From Dannemora, but we were in France at the time.

We did sit through many sad and old films on TCM.  A few classic episodes of Hoaders, an intense season of the Bachelorette and two even more intense seasons of 90 Day Fiancee.

Mariam and I were glued to the TV to watch the rise and fall of Walter White in Breaking Bad.  And, most proudly, we didn’t run to our sets to check the connections when the black-out occurred at the end of The Sopranos.

All the while, our L. L. Bean chairs sat cheerfully beneath us.  My chair took the most wear, however.  Because of my dicey back, I can not sit normally.  I have to tuck one leg (the left) under the knee of the right.  That puts my socked foot against the arm rest…eventually exposing the fiber filling.  The tangle of my legs look like a yet un-named Yogi position.

All good things must come to an end…and our lives with our chairs are no exception.  So, now we have two new chairs in their place.  It’s sad, though, like a bad divorce.  Something new and fresh is taking the place of the old and worn out.

The time flew by so fast that I never had time to give my chair a name.  I’ve thought it over and decided to call it “Old Paint” after my trusty horse I had when I rode the West Texas range…back in the day.

But, I digress (and besides, that’s another blog).

[The new chair (it reclines)]