Adirondack Angst

[After the shovel and before the car door incident.  Photo is mine.]

Once upon a time not so very long ago, there was a man who lived in a house, with his faithful and patient wife, in the Great Wilderness known as the Adirondack Mountains.  These mountains are located in the far reaches of upstate New York.

This man was sore of back and gray of hair.  He had recently spent five weeks in the high desert of California.  He went there looking for solitude and warmth, but instead he found himself surround by neighbors with strange cars and small barking Chihuahuas.  He also wore fleece nearly every day, until it was time to leave…of course.

The man’s eyes stung from the smoke of distant fires and he went through five and a half boxes of tissues, so frightful were his allergies.

Upon returning to his home in the North Country, there was a January thaw that put his limbs at risk with the ice and constant dripping of masses of snow that had recently befallen the countryside.  Then two days ago, his weather app on his iPhone bespoke of a new storm that promised a foot of snow followed by thumb-numbing cold.

When this man awoke this morning, he put off looking out of the bedroom window for fear of what he would behold.  But, he also had another app on his iPhone that told him how much daylight was left in the day.  He checked the temperature.  It was 4 F.  He saw that 75% of the day had passed.  He decided he should get out of bed and shovel a path to the car and clean the snow from the car and try to start the car.

The first two tasks were accomplished with sweat, frost on his mustache and a lower back that had pleaded with him to stop the punishment.

Now to start the car.  But, alas, he found all four doors frozen shut.  Not to worry, he thought.  I have a can of de-icer in the garage.  He pushed the button and the garage door creaked open.  He found the de-icer and pushed the button to close the door.  It didn’t move.  He tried to spray the little button but nothing but a faint hiss came from the spray hole. He shook the can and determined it was full, but not a molecule of de-icer was to be found.

[The frozen car. Photo is unfortunately mine.]

He returned to the house with the spray can, but he was broken of heart and frustration welled up in his soul like a backed-up toilet.

Why have the gods of the North Country forsaken him?  Why did he feel as alone as a Democrat in Mississippi or a Quaker at a Microsoft convention?

Why didn’t he stay in California and buy more tissue boxes?  What had he done in this life or any other life to deserve such anguish?

He checked the weather app on his iPhone and saw that the forecast predicted a low of -22 F for the overnight hours.

The old man poured a cold beer and sat waiting for the bathtub to fill.  He had added about two cups of blue crystals that promised muscle relaxation.  (It never worked before, but tonight would be different).

But this man had a plan.  He would build a fire in the downstairs stove and he and his wife would have a dinner of hot soup.

All will be well tomorrow, he thought.  After all, tomorrow is another day.

He sipped his beer and considered how existentially alone one is in the Universe.  Or, at least in the North Country.

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Listless In Fort Myers: The Harsh Realities Of Wintering In Paradise

ADplane

I’m sitting on the wooden walkway, on a green metal bench, sipping an iced coffee.  I’m watching a Cessna single-engine plane pull an advertising banner across the slightly blue hazy sky.  The banner is telling us to shop at the Tanger Outlet Mall.  I look around and realize that this is the mall I’m in right now.  Wow!  Is that a coincidence or what?  I’m grateful for this bench, because it’s located in front of the main entrance to the Polo/Ralph Lauren store.  Every time someone enters or leaves, I get a free blast of cold air.

It’s one of the few free things you can enjoy when you’re this close to Sanibel Island.

As I watch the Cessna fade into the humid air, I wonder why I’m spending my valuable time sitting alone at an outlet mall in Florida.  People flock here this time of year (we did) to escape the winters of the north.  How was I to know that we were arriving in the middle of one of the more memorable heat waves in recent years.

“This is very unusual for early November,” everyone says.  “Just wait, it’ll get better.”

I am very reluctant to cross the parking lot, get into my car, and drive back to our RV.  I know when I step off this deck and into the sun, I’ll pay dearly.  Yesterday, I looked at my indoor/outdoor thermometer that I mounted with Velcro on the wall just above my head where I sleep…if I sleep.  It displayed triple digits.  I began to worry about the propane canister that is attached to our L.L. Bean grill.  There was a warning on the label about exposing the little tank to…..degrees.  That part of the label was torn.

Was my cooking propane tank going to explode while I was at the Outlet Mall?

I thought about that for a minute.  There would be a fairly large explosion that would likely affect the trailers nearby–and that wouldn’t be hard because the distance between lots is quite small.  (I can sit in our attached tent structure and watch CNN in the RV next door.)  I pondered the damage of such a fire storm–the cylinder is new and full of propane.  The mushroom cloud alone would attract people in the pool or the Shuffleboard courts.  The fire truck that would arrive would block the narrow street we lived on and the people in the golf carts would have to make an extra block.

I hope our propane doesn’t explode.  I don’t even know if we’re covered by AAA for something like that.

After I dumped the watery iced coffee into a bright green trash can, I drove home.  I switched on our AC and immediately began to worry about how much electricity it would cost to get cool me off for ten minutes.  Mariam was working today–she does everything by phone and computer–so she’s over in the “library” taking advantage of one of the two “hot spots” for the WiFi in our resort.  I tried going to the “library” to do some writing and thinking but I found it very distracting.  Every few minutes someone would come in and borrow a Nora Roberts or John Saul book.  My concentration would be broken.  I’m trying to work on a novel, but a “real” writer needs time alone.  Even amateurs like me need a place to think things through in peace.

RV flower

I guess I’m just listless in Fort Myers.  The humidity would tire anyone out, even perky people like Rachel Ray would begin to stir more slowly than usual.  I feel like a hostage to the weather.  Starbucks?  Too far away?  McDonald’s?  They won’t give me skim milk for my iced coffee unless I buy a half-pint container.  I don’t even have the energy to attend the Grand Opening of the new Walmart just a mile away.

My mind begins to wander as I lay back on our bed.  One possibility, you might suggest, is to go to one of the famous beaches and just sit under the umbrella and read or write while the ocean breeze comforts me.  But, they want $4.00/hour to park at these beaches.  And, besides, I’ve tried this approach but neither of us could get our umbrella into the sand deep enough.  The answer: I had to go to the nearest Publix store (they’re everywhere) and buy an auger so that we can drill a hole deep enough to support our shade-providing umbrella.  We’ll have to wait until our next beach visit to see if that works.

The other issue on my mind is that unlike most other places, we’re paying more for ice than for gas.  That doesn’t make sense to me.  Water isn’t shipped from the Persian Gulf and refined in New Jersey!  Crude oil is.  This is just water.  Ice runs around $2.50/bag (and lasts about a day).  Gas is about $2.09/gallon.  I did some mental math and came up with the fact that if we use a bag of ice a day, the cost will be $75.00/month.  You could rent a small room in a nice home in a tiny town somewhere in Ohio for that kind of money.

I’d like to look forward to our quiet little dinners in our tent attachment, but that presents yet another issue.  We sit at a little table that we bought at an RV store.  It has a surface texture that is very slippery.  When we used our new Corelle plates, and tried to cut a slice of fish, the plate slides around the table-top, nearly knocking over our plastic wine glasses.  I consider putting two adhesive Velcro patches on the table and on the bottom of the plates.  They would stay in place for sure.  But, if we both picked up our plates at the same time, we’d pick up the table as well.  Then the plastic wine glasses would surely fly–as well as the pepper mill and citronella candle–possibly burning a hole in our polyester rug.  Or worse…

I’m still laying back on the bed.  I’m still a little lethargic, a little listless and more than a little discouraged.

The reason I’m so down is that I recently checked my stats on my WordPress blog site.  My readership is falling.  I get three or four “likes” on the site.  I’ve looked at other bloggers and they get forty or fifty “likes” for writing six sentences on the shoes they’ve chosen for next Friday night.

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 3.39.36 PM

Soon, I’ll have to turn off the AC ($!) and when I do the temperature will start to climb in nanoseconds.  I guess I’ll go out and sit inside our tent.  I’d like to put an ice pack on my head to keep cool, but ice is too expensive.  And, besides, it would slip off my hair when it begins to melt–which would be immediately.

Maybe if I used Velcro on the ice pack…

LawnStuff

 

 

 

The Impossibly Long Life of a Snowflake

CedarSnow

It’s a simple act of nature.  A billion snowflakes drifting slowly earthward…sometimes rising, sometimes blown sideways…but always downward.  If they each made a sound like a bird, someone stepping out onto a frozen porch in the North Country of the Adirondacks would be deafened.  But each flake makes a sound only it can hear.

It all seems so simple…but it isn’t…not at all.

If a snowflake had a mind, it would have long minutes to think about where and how it would end its existence as a crystal.

Two Hydrogen atoms bond with an Oxygen atom.  That’s a water molecule.  You can do a great deal with one of these.  Boil it, freeze it, drink it, hydrate your body or pee it out.  It’s still H2O.  Nothing’s changed.

With the aid of the sun, the water molecule becomes agitated.  It evaporates and, defying gravity, ends up in the troposphere.  They find each other and cling to one another, like lovers often will.  A raindrop is formed.

It remains in the sky for an indeterminate length of time, but everything changes up there.  Nothing of the water that we see stays the same.  Sunsets come and go.  Sometimes there is a red sky in the morning.  The castles of cumulus clouds may take the shape of trees, mythical beasts, camels, people or…castles.  But, if you blink, it’s morphed into something else.  A cloud that looked to you like a rear molar can look like 3-masted schooner in 2.6 seconds.

But, something many people don’t realize is that every raindrop (and snowflake) has a nucleus.  Not like a living cell’s nucleus…but a microscopic kernel of something…maybe dust, maybe a Silver Oxide crystal, whatever.  The water molecule must have something to cling to…just like people.

If you catch a snowflake on your wrist and take it indoors, it will melt.  You would need a microscope to see whatever the condensation nuclei is.  And then you may have a hard time seeing it.  But, every falling raindrop has this tiny bit of something at its center.

Last night, over the North Country of the Adirondacks, trillions of these flakes fell.  Descending through the blackness that only a winter sky and a New Moon can provide.  In this world, there is no free choice (at least that we can discern), so the flakes can alight on anything.

If the snowflake falls directly onto the ground…its trip is over…for now.  When the melting of springtime comes its liquid water again and then its time to wait in a lake or pond.  Its waiting for the sun to start the process once again.

Nothing changes and everything changes.

In my front yard, some flakes have made me a fortunate man.  My visual world is made more beautiful by the flakes spending a day or two on a cedar branch or, finding just that one tiny surface to hold it in place, along with several million other flakes to make winter patterns that are so commonplace yet so sublimely awesome.

Funny how a stray twig or errant branch that would hit me in the face can become the bearer and framer of such an amazing art of nature.

Today, I stood knee-deep in the snow of what passes for our ‘lawn’.  I stepped close to a cedar branch.  I leaned forward to try to count the uncountable crystal flakes.  I got to ten and remembered that no two flakes could ever be exactly the same.  I didn’t want to count any twice so I backed away just as my breath began to melt tiny flecks of white.

It’s going to be -10 F tonight so the snow will be on the branches in the morning.  But soon a breeze will clear off the tiny cedar needles.  The sun will melt those that remained.

Everything will change.  But next week, it will all start over again.

Right now, as I write this, a water crystal is forming.  It’s just waiting for the Great Goddess of Nature to wave her hair or whisper a breeze that allows the cycle over my head to continue.

BranchesSnow

OnEveryBranch

SnowOnOurRoad

[Along our road with a forecast of -11 F]

 

Ice Cold Beer

FrozenLakeColby

I got lost once on my way to buying a beer at a lonely bar.  There’s a good story coming so don’t blink, look away or try to multi-task…or you’ll miss it.

Being lost can mean many things to many people.

You can say: “I’m lost” in the middle of calculus class.  Or, you can say: “I’m lost” when you’ve missed the proper exit on I-95 when your destination is Atlantic City.  In a confessional, you can wipe away your tears and whisper “I’m lost” to the priest.  It’s very fair to say “I’m lost” when you get to page 378 of “Infinite Jest.”  Trust me, no one will blame you.  It’s quite easy to say “I’m lost” when you make a few missteps in a dark forest, and it’s nearly midnight.  When the girl of your dreams tells you that she’s found another lover, you have every right to say “I’m lost.”

When you wake up one morning and remember that your life partner has been dead for a year and five months, you can be slam-dunked with the “I’m lost” feeling.

Yes, there are many ways to get lost, be lost, stay lost or just lose your moral compass and find yourself…well, lost.

Admittedly, it’s a little harder to get lost these days than it was twenty years ago.  Part with a few hundred dollars and you’re hard pressed to make an excuse for getting lost.  With satellites, EZ passes, security monitors and personal Facebook data, few people in our part of the world can really get physically lost anymore.  Your location is known by tens of thousands of people.

But, if it ever happens…your entire sense of the world can change in three seconds.  It can be extremely disconcerting to your spatial orientation to be in a situation where the only direction you are sure of is down…because all you can see are the boots on your feet.

I was lost once.  It was back in the pre-technological age of 1977 when a $3.95 plastic compass was all you needed to tell where north was.  I didn’t even have that.

The memory of that afternoon will never leave me.  I can still close my eyes and feel the tangible world around me being lost amid the swirls of a snowfall so dense and intense that anything two feet in front of me was a blast of wind-driven snow.

In the summer of 1976, I went to Alaska to assist in geological mapping on the Juneau Icefield.  That season I had some difficulty keeping up with the others on cross-country skis while wearing a full backpack.  I was scheduled to return in 1978.  I knew my skills on the snow needed improvement so I did what had to be done.  I taught myself how to downhill ski.  It was the winter of 1977 and one Saturday I decided to drive to Elk Mountain in the Poconos, rent the skis, poles and bindings and then learn to ski.  I was an underpaid teacher at the time so I felt that if that 8-year old boy over there could do it, so could I.  So I bought a lift ticket to the top of Elk with this thought in mind:

“When I get off the lift at the top, I’ll have to get down.”  That was my rational.  Some people call it an accident waiting to happen, but I called it a cheap way to learn how to ski.

I became a fair skier and can say, honestly, that I never took a bad fall and never broke any part of my body that I would need on Monday morning.

My next task was to become a competent nordic skier.  That was not as easy as it sounds.  In those years, the only people who cross-country skied were Swedes, Norwegians and a few Finnish with a dozen Laplanders thrown in.  I was Irish.  I knew my wool and my ale, but I did not know the proper way to be good at this sport.  At the time, I lived in a remote farm-house.  There were plenty of fields to practice but there was the problem of barbed-wire and stone walls that surrounded the pastures and open spaces.  I tried a few golf courses, but the snowmobilers quickly took those spaces for themselves.

But, not all was lost.  I lived a few miles from a lake.  They are flat and most of the time have thick ice layers.  With the exception of a few people who, for reasons I could never understand, would drill holes in the ice and stand or sit for hours in temperatures of 4 F to catch a fish, I had the lake to myself.  Luckily, there weren’t too many of these types around.

~~~

It was a Sunday afternoon in January and I felt like having a beer.  Now, most normal people would drive a car to the bar and go inside to sit and drink.

I decided to ski across the lake and have a beer after I stuck my skis in a snow mound beside the front door.

I parked the car directly across the lake from the bar in question.  About a mile and a half separated me and my car from the beer I was hoping for.  I took my gear down to the lake’s edge, snapped on my skis and took off with the distant bar in full sight.

Then it happened.

The western sky quickly turned dark, like the clouds had been waiting for me to get about halfway across the ice.

The actual skiing was great.  Smooth wind packed snow with an occasional patch of black ice.  It was on the open and totally slick ice that I had nothing to edge into so my skis began behaving like skates.  I was doing figure 8’s.  I even did a figure 3 but I had no idea how that happened.  I decided to take off the skis and walk across the large glassy ice floes.

The clouds were moving closer and getting darker.

The snow squall began without warning and became so intense that I lost all reference points, except, as mentioned above, my boots.  I didn’t have goggles but I had black horn-rim glasses.  These quickly became covered with an inch of sleet-like snow.  I couldn’t see…and even if I could, there was nothing to see.  I turned around twice which succeeded in only disorienting me totally.

I was lost in a snowstorm on a lake in the wilds of northeastern Pennsylvania.

I didn’t know what to do, so I just sat down and laid the skis across my knees.

This is how they’ll find me in three weeks when the storm lets up, I thought.  Or, maybe the spring melt would come and I would sink to the bottom, baffling SCUBA divers for years to come.  I might even become a legend as a result.  Or at least a folk song that the country & western band would play at the very bar where I was attempting to get my beer.

The squall ended as quickly as it began.  I could see the lights of the bar (it was dark now).  I continued on my way.

As I expected to do, I stuck my skis and poles into a snow bank by the front door, went in and ordered a beer.  I even had two.

But I asked for a ride back across the lake to my car.

Skiing and drinking can be a lethal combination.

SkisCrevassAK

[Yes, this is me straddling a crevasse. It was taken in Alaska, not Pennsylvania. I just thought you’d find it interesting.]

Cooks of the North (A True Story of Survival)

If you’re traveling in the north country fair

where the winds hit heavy on the borderline…

–Bob Dylan “Girl From The North Country”

 

We who chose to live here in the North Country are a hardy breed.  You can see signs of this all around you.  The cows have thicker hides, the trees have thicker bark and the lakes sometimes gets real hard…hard enough to walk on.  Some extra hardy types actually put little wooden huts or tents on the lakes and fish through the two-foot layer of ice.  And, they do this starting in late September.  I have seen, with my own eyes, odd vehicles that don’t have wheels to move through the snow.  They have treads of some kind and the engines make a whistling noise and the air turns blue.  The people who ride around in them wear lots of clothes and all those layers are covered with a heavy one-piece suit.  They even have helmets.  It looks like a sub-Arctic Area 51.

They claim its fun.

Sometimes it’s so cold that if a guy were to go tee-tee in the woods, the tee-tee will freeze before it hits the ground.  Actually, that’s not true.  There is no ground…there is about three feet of snow and ice beneath your frozen feet.  And this happens no matter much you paid L.L. Bean for those fleece-lined, thinsulated, wool and felt-lined boots.

So, if you’re thinking of moving to the North Country, be advised that no matter what size home you buy, you will need to pay a guy named Bear to build an extra room just to hold your winter clothing, skis, snowshoes, mucklucks, and fleece gloves.  Don’t worry about the extra room in the summer…there really isn’t one.  There is a window of about 16 days where it’s not snowing or raining…and that is sometime in August (that would be the 14th to the 29th, to be exact).

You’re asking yourself as you read this: “Hey, just how hardy is this guy who is pushing 70 years of age?”

Two mornings ago, I woke up and it was 41 F in the bedroom.  Ok, it’s December, that sounds about right, right?  But this is my bedroom!  Even with the fleece blankets on me, I was chilled.  (I don’t own an electric blanket because I may want to have another child someday.)

We discover that something is wrong with the oil burner.  Not only am I hardy, but I’m smart.  It only took me about an hour to realize that the lack of heat was due to something being wrong with our oil burner.

Being hardy means being far-sighted.  Several years ago we had a wood-burner stove installed in our family room downstairs.  So, I lit a fire.  Isn’t it good?  As sure as flapjacks are good…the room downstairs got warm.  And it got even warmer until the little thermometer (digital/Radio Shack) said 88 F.  Now, I tend to be chilly a lot in these later years of my life, but 88 was a bit much.  Especially when I had no idea where any clothing not made of fleece or wool happened to be stored.

So, I watched the fire from the other side of the room.  I used my birding spotter scope to check on when a new log needed to be added.

By now it was near the dinner hour.  For some reason I didn’t feel like my pre-dinner dish of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia.  But it was my turn to cook.

So, I went up stairs to the kitchen and planned dinner.  Something quick and easy.  I decided on a stir-fry.  I like to have a nice glass of Chardonnay while I cook, so I took the bottle out of the fridge and put it on the counter so it would cool down a little.  I prepared the carrots, mushrooms, peppers and rice.  I mixed the soy sauce and put aside 1/4 cup of peanuts and scallions for the garnish.

I knew that stir-frying can sometimes be splattery, I put on my special North Country L.L. Bean endorsed red apron from Macy’s.  It was lined with fleece.

I then put the silverware and plates in the microwave to add a touch of warmth, and cooked.

It turned out to be a great meal.

But, we only have TV upstairs so we bundled up in fleece and wool while we ate and watched Episode 6 of Season 3 of Game of Thrones.

I felt a chill watching all the violence and sex.  They kept saying that “winter is coming…the white walkers are coming…it’ll be a long winter.”

I can relate.

MeInApron

[I’m really not that overweight, it’s the blanket I was wearing under the apron.]

MyDinner

[The meal just before it frosted over.]

 

I Am Ice

I was one of the uncountable snow flakes that fell that day.  Time was the same, it snowed, it rained, drizzle fell, fog burned off and the sunshine broke through the clouds.  Before I fell to earth I had my last glimpse of the sun.  Then all darkened with clouds and more snow.
The sun became a memory.
Miles away, the First Peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast were emerging from a dark past and beginning to see wood, gold, bark, ivory and sea shells as forms of art.  Ancient mythic images, older than time began to take on a form…meaningful to the soul of these people.
I was a single snow flake with a crystal form all my own.  There was never another like me, then or even now.  I did not feel loneliness; within minutes, I was covered with others that were similar to me but never entirely the same as me.  Deeper I sank. More snow fell on me. Deeper and deeper I was buried in my white tomb.
I long ceased to see the sun, sky, clouds and moon.  The wind ceased it’s motion for me.  It was all darkness and stillness; total aloneness among zillions like me.  Far above me, lone hunters slushed the snows.  An occasional mountain climber.  Once, and I could feel his soul, a lonely man with a troubled mind, went over me looking for his place to find his God.  He went to a nearby mountain and, crouched against the rain and wind, waited for his God to come and take him back home.
I was slowly losing the sense of what I was.  I was losing my “snowness” and ever so gradually becoming less of a tiny flake and more of a crystal.  The process was slow.  I united with others like me and we morphed into true glacial ice.
All this was not totally quiet.  There were distant moans and shrieks as the glacial ice began to move, layer over layer, downward…toward any depth that the terrain allowed.
After many, many years, I, now a part of a vast collection of other crystals, began to see the light above me.  The youthful summer snows were melting away and we, now the grand old parts of the glacier were visible.  I could now hear and feel the piercing of the crampons of glacial researchers as they made their way over my surface.  Nearby, an errant solo mountaineer made a slight misstep and slid into a giant crack in my surface.  He cried out.  He died quickly.  But I can still hear the echoes of his pain throughout the expanse of ice.
One day, a teenage researcher chopped me free from the bed I lived on.  With the point of his ice axe he isolated my as a single crystal.  He took me between his fingers and held me up to the sun.  I saw the sun again.  It was as I remembered it.  I proudly reflected and refracted the spectrum and allowed the rays to spread like starlight.  He turned me over in his hands several times before tossing me away.
Very soon I will melt away and join the icy flow down glacier to the sea.  I’ll be gone for a very long time, probably.
But I’ll be back.

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