Saturday, January 31, 2009

Winter walkabout

Well, it's been an interesting week here, just as it has been for a whole passel of other folks around the country.

I drove home from Cincinnati to Frankfort on Wednesday morning in the middle of the blizzard that was cranking up just as I hit the road. Visibility was down to 50 yards in some places, and the secondary roads were pretty ugly. I found myself constantly reviewing all those snow-driving tips that I hadn't exercised in a long time. Made it all the way home without bashing into anything and then got my car stuck in the piled-up snow in front of the house. Yeesh.

I let the dogs out and we took a tour of the house and yard to look things over. I got this photo of one of our bird feeders, which pretty much sums up the state of things here in the Bluegrass
right now -

Yesterday we paid a young stalwart who was looking to raise some cash and build up his muscles to chip out the ice and shovel out the whole mess. Made for quite a pile. He's enlisting in the Marines, substituting snow hauling and tree clearing for his usual weight lifting during the current crisis. He was a Godsend and we wish him well. With his willingness to work and his gung-ho spirit he's just the kind of young man we need in the ranks. Good for him!

After the runways were open and dog transport "K9Krew-1" de-iced (check, check and check, ready for take-off) I got the dogs loaded up and we tooled around town for a bit to give them a breather. I waited until today to take them down to their favorite spot along the river because as things re-froze after the afternoon melt yesterday there was ice all over, and the dog-sled/station-wagon ain't the best in the slick stuff. Home again, tomorrow's another day.

Today we ran errands for awhile, then steered toward the river and our favorite playground. The dogs were fired up, keening and bouncing around as they realized where we were going. As soon as the doors opened they burst out of the car and scrambled all around the place, torn between stopping to sniff all the new "pee-mail" other dogs had left, and just plain running and jumping for joy.

Trailing along behind them, I was really happy for the clothes that I had worn as I got out to where the open spaces were being whipped by the breezes. My darling daughter in France has over the years sent to me several of what are known as "trucker's" or laborer's sweaters, basically a pullover with a zip closure and a turtleneck at the top. It's what all the guys out digging ditches and driving trucks and doing the dirty work in la Belle France wear every day. I love 'em. Worn over a polyester zip-neck fleece, (also from my sweetie, don't know what I'd wear if she didn't keep me in clothes) I was just toasty. The thing that I like about the zip-necks is that I can adjust the level of warmth in an instant, so that once I'm out of the car and walking around and warmed up I can keep from being over-heated by just lowering the zip and opening the turtle neck. With all them zip-thingies worn under a Carhart coat and my feet wrapped in Carhart poly/wool boot socks, I'm a toasty guy.

Of course, whatever I wear has to allow access to the Springfield XD45 on my waist and that dictates certain wardrobe elements as well. If all else fails, there's the M642 S&W in the front pocket, which has a trigger guard just large enough for my finger in those Duluth Trading company thermal gloves which are so handy and CHEAP (Wow, that all sounds like something out of Cosmo, don't it? Be at ease, gentle reader, I'll spare you the details of the underpinnings. Some things you don't want to know).
I try to pay attention to events around me so that I'll have the time that I need to deploy the XD45, but my hand on that Centennial in my pocket as I mosey along is comforting - just in case.

The dogs were having a grand time, with Sunny in particular in her element, very much feeling her Husky ancestry: bouncing around in the crusty snow, challenging Churchill to a scuffle. She raised him from a puppy, so she still favors him over the other boys. Watching her play with him always makes me wish that all of my girl dogs could have had puppies while I had them, so that we could see what kind of mamas they would have been.

(Sigh. Can't get through a day without missing Vanya and Lucie and Sergei, especially when the snow falls. Dammit.)

Once before when I was out in the snow on this open field I noticed strange ribbons of ice floating in the air, glinting in the light as they glided slowly to the ground to land in the snow. I kept watching for them, couldn't figure out where they came from and finally realized that they were melting off the wires from the power transmission lines far overhead. Before I knew where they originated I was mystified to watch them rocking in the wind, slipping back and forth in the air, easing down to the ground like snow-snakes. After the freezing rain we got that blanketed everything the whole of the area is like being in some store selling fantastic sculptures carved from crystal or molded from glass. But the ice covering everything else is a lot less benign than those gossamer slivers off the power lines.

Trees are down everywhere due to the weight of the ice that accumulated, and it's smart to pay attention when walking anywhere near the woods at the edges of our field. Ice breaking up and branches breaking down all make the same cracking sounds, an arrhythmic popping that was a constant background noise as we plodded over the crusty snow. I was watching the dogs and keeping my eyes and ears peeled the whole time, ready to hop if one of those cracks lasted too long and turned into that tearing sound that signals a widow-maker plunging down.

Some people might worry about the world ending in global heat or a fire, but I'm more threatened by the cold. Cold is merciless, a creeping death. It kills more quickly than overheating, and you can't just get under cover from it like you can take shelter from the sun. It soaks into things, draws life out of you, saps your energy, works its way into your core and alternately numbs and scalds your limbs and peripheral pieces as it inhales the heat from you. The worst "end of the world as we know it" scenario of which I can conceive is a world covered over with ice and snow, gradually fading into silence as the freeze immobilizes and crushes life.

So while I enjoyed being out in the snow along the river with the pack, as I stood on the bank and watched the river - running high almost at flood stage, carpeted with logs and debris, pocked with whirlpools popping up and sucking down branches before fading back into the current, all of it flying along in that opaque brown mass -  I was shivering, glad not to be in that heedless flow.

Makes me all the more happy to be back at the shack at the keyboard now, enjoying a coffee and hot chocolate mocha while the dogs splay out on their beds, catching up their nap time. Churchill is lying in front of the gas heater, worshiping the glowing orange plaques at his own private altar, jerking in little twitches while he grunts and dreams his doggie dreams.

Snow and ice and all that glistening beauty are fine for awhile, but give me the snug and the heat and a pack of snoring dogs at the end of the day. Let King Winter have the rest of the world for another night.