Tuesday, January 27, 2015


January 27, 2015
(Note: I don't consider myself a weather(wo)man basher. I know that forecasting is an inexact science. This link (http://thevane.gawker.com/why-nycs-historic-blizzard-didnt-live-up-to-the-hype-1681962448) offers a good explanation of the difficulty in making precise predictions. This sentence stands out howeverMeteorologists and weather outlets need to do a better job communicating all possibilities and not just the worst case scenario. My main complaint here is that the hype fosters the "oh my God!" aspects of our behavior.)

It's not the Blizzard of the Century here in southwestern Massachusetts but snow is falling in a curtain as I type, casting a gauzy veil between my cottage and the house next door. The trees look as though they've been penciled in against the horizon. Only the wee birds at the feeder just outside the window - the gray and white juncoes, the finches with their purple breasts or cranberry head caps or mustard yellow feathers, the black and white chickadees, the brilliant ruby red cardinal, the needle-beaked nuthatch - are clearly defined. A much stronger band of the storm batters the east coast. Already it's dumped snow in some towns that is measured in feet rather than mere inches and the entire island of Nantucket went off grid about 8 a.m. 

Because of predicted snowfall amounts and wind velocity, the entire state of Massachusetts was put under a state of emergency while the storm was still hours away. As it turned out, the storm made a "wobble," and the western third of the state was spared. But not before store shelves were emptied, schools and businesses were closed, and a statewide travel ban was imposed.

Snowstorms here in New England are a common occurrence. When I was growing up, the weatherman on the one TV station we got would warn us of impending snow and remind us to bundle up. Now terms like massive, historic, and unparalleled are bandied about. There are few maybes in the forecast and frightening scenarios accompany many weather reports. What used to be considered common sense precautions are reiterated a thousand times over. I can't recall a snowstorm where my parents panicked and fled to the supermarket to stock up. We often lost power in bad storms, winter and summer, so our flashlights always had charged batteries, we had a good supply of candles and matches, we were never short of bread or milk or toilet paper. If the heat went off we had a fireplace with a ready supply of wood, and there were plenty of extra blankets on the beds. We wore sweaters and two pairs of socks if we were cold. We had a gas stove that we had to light with a match so we were always able to make a hot meal. If we knew a storm was coming, my mother would fill the canning pot with water for washing and several glass milk bottles for drinking. 

For a number of years in the 70s and 80s, I homesteaded in Northern Vermont with my now ex-husband and our four young children. For the first couple of years we had no electricity, running water or indoor plumbing. Winters in northern VT are predictably cold and snowy. With no radio or TV, we relied on our windows, our bones (and sometimes our neighbors), to let us know what the weather was doing. Though there were a number of snowstorms that left over two feet of snow at once and the temperature could plunge to -40, we weren't paralyzed as people seem to be now. School was seldom called off. If the bus driver couldn't navigate the roads, he called the superintendent who called the firehouse and 3 blasts of the siren let us know school was cancelled for the day. Now schools are closed before a single flake falls.

I never thought I'd feel old fashioned, but I do. Perhaps it's common at this age to look back at what one's life was like 50, 30, even 10 years ago and make comparisons. And the weather will always remain relatively unpredictable. What I object to is the rhetoric. That, and the assumption that people don't know how to take care of themselves. All the drama of the weathercasters' language makes me squirm. Something isn't historic until it takes place. Why don't they just warn us that heavy snow is possible, remind us to look out the window before we head out the door, tell us to take common sense precautions and always be ready for an emergency?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

More Birds

I wish the world's problems could be solved as easily as I solved my squirrel problem. I like squirrels. I do. I just don't like to feed them at the expense of the small birds that winter over. Squirrels are perpetually hungry and their appetites are voracious. Fond of seeds and nuts, they consider the food I set out for the birds theirs for the taking. So this week I hied myself over to the local Agway to replenish my seed supply and while I was there I bought two "squirrel proof" feeders. Designed to bear the weight of small songbirds, the cage has a spring loaded feeder tube that drops down to close the open feed ports when anything as heavy as a blue jay or a squirrel climbs aboard. So far, they're working. The squirrels give up after a minute or two of fruitless gnawing and drop back to the ground to eat the little seed spilled there by the birds.

I am not without heart. I spread a tray of peanuts for the squirrels and jays at a distance from the cottage. It's a noisy place. I've seen a jay swoop down and snatch a peanut from the paws of a squirrel, who then chatters loudly, flicking its tail and spewing squirrel curses at the errant bird. I've also seen the silly squirrels bury the nuts in the snow where watchful jays locate them moments later.

Last week I posted a photo of a chickadee being hand fed and though I posted due credit below my own words, some readers thought I'd taken the picture. I wish I was that kind of photographer! The pictures of the feeders here are my own. As you can see, it would take a far more skilled eye (and hand) than mine to photograph myself feeding a bird. I've done that, though, fed a bird in my hand. The chickadees that come to my feeders are quite bold. If I sit on the stoop at feeding time with seed in my palm and I am patient and quiet, one or two of the little creatures will perch on my fingers and look at me with their bright little eyes. I don't have a photo to prove it, though.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Coping With the World Right Now

photo credit: http://www.wunderground.com/wximage/Jayne/1723

While the world elsewhere
is carrying on its drama

I extend my hand
and feed a chickadee

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Not Quite Haiku

This Sunday’s writing prompt was to compose pithy phrases, not necessarily sticking to the 17 syllables of American haiku but with enough rhythm to give the illusion of poetry. It took me a while to loosen up and let go of the form. Writing like this is such fun and very freeing.

Cold winter rain falls.
Birds seek shelter. So do I.
Flowers sleep on, undisturbed.

Darkness is not bleak
when one remembers the moon.
Hang your own sky light.

Early morning birds,
Apples saucing in the pan;
small things delight me.

The tea kettle boils.
Silence shatters on a whistle.
The sun never appears.

Snow makes a dim light
garnered from the night bright stars
laid on the bare ground.

each one winter’s warrior

Yard, roof, sky
wrapped in impenetrable

Tracks in the snow
lead to everywhere.
I cannot follow.

Birds whisper in winter
the songs they sing in spring.

Gray weathered fence
Supports a weary rose.
I bend my own head down.

One shuddering leaf
speaks for all of winter.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

inclement weather

birds flit and dance in the wind
hovering round the feeders
jousting for position at the tray
feasting on seed and suet

cold clamps its hands around us all
holds us out to the buffeting wind
warmth is a clouded memory
light a pale gray shroud

snow is a promise held at bay
until evening; when the sky opens
flakes will tumble down
only to melt in the path of warmer air

that overnight will turn the snow to ice.
on the morrow ice will turn to rain-
on the weather map a ragged patch of
deep blue hovers northward

its fingers reaching, reaching
turning rain back to ice
and ice back to snow.
the weather favors winter just now.