Point: “It looks like a winter fairyland outside.”
Counterpoint: “Oh, this sucks.”
So far April has been cold and snowy.
But Mr. Goldfinch’s drab gray feathers continue to give way to his yellow courting plumage.
This afternoon it’s 31 degrees with 17 mph winds, and, yes, there’s a windchill.
But Mr. Goldfinch believes summer is coming–his feathers are more yellow today than yesterday.
Two to four inches of snow are predicted for Sunday night.
With her back to Mr. Goldfinch, Mrs. Goldfinch is waiting until he has all his yellow feathers.
Perhaps she’s not sure about summer’s arrival.
On March 29, I dug Three Guy’s nose out of the icy snow. It took me awhile because I worked like an archaeologist on a dinosaur dig, gently, slowly, never getting too close to the nose with my excavating tool. I’ve never wanted to be an archaeologist because it’s hot, dusty work, at least according to all the pictures and documentaries I’ve seen that depict archaeologists laboring in the field. I don’t even want to take a vacation and sit on a beach, in the sun, in the heat.
In high school, I read a book on zodiac signs. After reading that a Pisces was more likely to be found perusing a book on a park bench rather than at the beach tanning in the sun–which totally described me–I embraced astrology as science and read my horoscope daily.
Next, I read about Cancer, the sign of the boy I’d fell in love with when I was twelve. In high school I wrote his name, surrounded with hearts, all over the inside of my folders. We were supposed to be highly compatible water signs, but our upbringings gave us different views of the world, and neither of us budged. After high school I fell in love with a Scorpion, also a highly compatible match for a Pisces, but that romance failed because he fell in love with every pretty girl he saw. I kicked astrology to the curb.
Scraping ice pellets, layer by layer, away from Tree Guy’s nose, gave me time to think about random stuff, free-floating thoughts cobbled together by tenuous threads. I stopped periodically to check if I could lift the nose from its icy clutch. Nope, nope, nope. I kept scraping because a storm was coming and because small bits from the top of Tree Guy’s nose had already crumbled into the snow.
After I freed the nose, I placed it on my husband’s workbench, so it could dry out. It would need the coat of paint he’d suggested. Later that night the winds carried in rain, which morphed into ice, then converted to snow, enough for some area schools to cancel classes on Wednesday. After work my husband asked if I’d picked up the nose before the storm came. I gave him the update.
I don’t need to check for Tree Guy’s nose anymore—it’s safe. But every night before I go to bed and every morning after I wake up, I’ve been checking my phone for news about Ukraine. I want to read that Putin has called off his war. I imagine him waking up and finding his nose is missing. He’s dashing around the streets, looking for it, eager to repair his visage. I imagine he promises to be a good despot, if only someone will return his nose.
But life isn’t a story. Dictators don’t change or learn their lessons. Because sociopaths brood and lie and plot, then seek vengeance for perceived slights. Winning and power are their only divinities.
And in case you’re wondering, Putin is a Libra and Volodymyr Zelenskyy is an Aquarius, making them highly compatible air signs. But life ignores astrology.
This morning I went outside to retrieve Tree Guy’s schnoz. I tried to pick it up but discovered it was frozen into the icy snow. I shouldn’t have been surprised. When I got out of bed at 6:30 this morning, it was 9° with a 9-mph wind. And if that were a mathematical story problem, the answer would be a windchill of -4°. (Don’t ask how this would change if one train was leaving Grand Central Station at 9:00 a.m., traveling at 60 mph, and another train was leaving Union Station at 10 a.m., traveling at 55 mph. I didn’t care when I was in school, and I still don’t care.)
I didn’t try to muscle the nose out of the snow. Increased force is usually the wrong answer to most problems. I found a stick and scrapped snow away from the sides of the nose. I tried to lift it again, but it wouldn’t budge. The nose appeared to be intact, so I decided against digging underneath it because it might break. Impatience is usually the wrong option for most situations.
I hoped the space I created along the sides of the nose would allow the sun’s warm rays to melt the snow from under it. On Tuesday the temperature is supposed to reach 41°. If the icy snow hasn’t released the nose by that evening, I’ll cover it with a bucket because it’s supposed to snow on Wednesday and Thursday.
Tree Guy doesn’t want his nose to be buried again. At this point in his life, he doesn’t appreciate history repeating itself.
For the past week, the snow has been disappearing fast. So, for the past week, I’ve been looking for Tree Guy’s nose. Each day I look over the side of the deck, hoping that enough snow has melted to reveal his schnoz, but it’s still missing.
He doesn’t look bad without his nose, but he’d like it back. If I don’t find it, I’ve promised to buy him two hanging baskets of flowers, one for each ear. With colorful blooms gracing the sides of his face, no one will notice his nose is gone. It’s amazing what people will overlook if something glitzy captures their eye.
After work, I looked for his nose again. No luck. It was too cold today for snow to melt. The wind whipped at 38 mph—and that was the sustained number. The gusts were over 40 mph. The air temp was 35° and the windchill was 19°. Freezing rain, snow with blizzard-like conditions, power outages, and hazardous travel are predicted over the next couple days. Or what I like to call, Springtime in the Northland. March is fickle with an attitude, and I’ve lived here long enough to know that the springs of northern Wisconsin are not the springs of Milwaukee.
I’m beginning to think Tree Guy’s nose is a goner, but there is still snow around him, so maybe his nose is buried deeper than I thought. The mystery of it all makes me want to reread “The Nose” by Gogol. I keep imagining Kovalyov’s and Tree Guy’s noses calling an Uber and gallivanting around the city. The frigid air will make the noses run; hopefully, they have hankies.
Cabin fever has set in.
February has been cold. Yesterday was no exception. But when I asked my five- and three-year-old grandsons, Evan and Charlie, if they wanted to go outside, they were enthusiastic. It was snowing lightly, painting the already thick layer of snow with a fresh coat. The outside world looked enchanted—the kind of magic I remember from my childhood.
The temperature was in the low 20s, the winds about 11 m.p.h., and the windchill about 10°. The weather app on my phone doesn’t use the term windchill—the app and many weather channels now refer to windchill as “feels like.” Good for them, but I use the term windchill, and even the chill part of that sounds like a cover-up. Wind-polar-frozen-vortex-shatter-your-skin gets closer to the truth. “Feels like” is too nice. Think about it: That fabric “feels like” silk. The warm sun “feels like” gold. She “feels like” singing rainbows. “Feels like” is also used to soften a blow: She “feels like” crying—when what she really wants to do is throw a howling tantrum. (Just so you know, I’m not against all change. Unlike some people, I had no problem accepting Pluto being downgraded from a planet to a dwarf planet.)
After I bundled up my grandsons, I offered each one a scarf. Charlie wanted a one. He always does. Evan never wants one to start with, but sometimes, like yesterday, he changes his mind after being outside for a bit. I wish I would’ve taken a picture of them. Bundled up children are cuter than kittens curled up in a wicker basket. Plus, I could’ve shown off the scarves that I’d knitted. I don’t know how to knit anything else.
After sledding down the side hill for a while, Evan opened the back door and asked, “Nana, can we take the picnic table off the deck and put it on the big pile of snow?” It’s a small plastic table designed for preschoolers.
I said yes, but I didn’t ask why. It was a reasonable request, much more reasonable than last week when Charlie asked if he and Evan could go outside and play with the squirt guns. When I told him no, he didn’t think “It’s too cold outside” was a good explanation, and he wanted to debate the issue.
After my grandsons had been outside for an hour, nature flipped the switch on its wind machine from low to high. That’s how it happens—a flipped switch. You can stand outside and experience the exact moment the wind kicks up from fluttering to roaring. The sustained winds were 28 m.p.h. with gusts of 38 m.p.h. The temperature dropped to the low teens. The WINDCHILL dropped to 8° below. I love my weather app—so much detail. Remember when you called the phone company, and all you got were the time and temperature?
The weather details convinced me it was time to get my grandkids inside to avoid hypothermia or being hit by a falling branch from one of the trees in the backyard. Neither one of them wanted to come in, so I sweetened the deal by offering hot chocolate. Of course, it worked.
When they were taking off their outerwear, Evan stared at Charlie’s face and asked, “Are my cheeks as red as Charlie’s?” He was concerned.
I smiled and said, “Yes, your cheeks are as sweet and rosy as Charlie’s.”
Evan grinned. Something his nana described as sweet and rosy couldn’t be bad.
Outside the wind had the final word as it wailed, its breath bending tree branches back and forth to their breaking points.
[Bloganuary wants to know. It’s the WordPress blog prompt for January 25, 2022.]
Paddleboarding makes me feel strong.
I took my first lesson last summer. The instructor mentioned an absurd number of calories that a person burns while standing upright on a paddleboard, maintaining balance. I don’t remember the number—numbers are my kryptonite. Plus, I don’t care about calorie-burning numbers like I did when I was young (and foolish).
The instructor explained all our muscles were working together and continuously to keep us upright on our boards while moving us over the water. That’s what impressed me—my muscles working to keep me balanced, upright, strong. As I age and watch older family members age, I realize balance is my friend, falling is my foe.
Standing on the board, paddling around Barker’s Island on Lake Superior makes me feel strong—Popeye strong. Sometimes when I circle Barker’s Island, I have to sit on my board for half the trip because the wind produces choppy waters on either the outside or the inside of the island.
When I have to sit, I use my paddle and board like a kayak and propel myself through the water. The choppier the waves, the faster I paddle, finding a rhythm that sends me speeding through the bumpy water. (Speeding might be hyperbole, but I feel strong—Bionic Woman strong.) The waves and I battle. They want to turn my board sideways or move it backwards. I grip the paddle, cut the blade into the water and pull, over and over. I am strong and resolute—Ziva David, kick-butt determined.
I skim across the water and watch the sky, water, trees, plants, birds and otters, while I fortify my future ability to stand upright, walk sure footed, and retain balance. I’m She-Hulk strong.
And all the strong-ness and grace as I skim across Lake Superior, floods my mind with strength and calmness, and hopefully, some wisdom.
When I take my grandkids for a walk, they stroll and run along the city sidewalks, and with a child’s imagination, they turn each walk into an adventure. On an outing last October, they each picked a small bouquet of dandelions, Indian paintbrushes, and tiny yellow flowers from lawns overdue for a trim.
After we returned home, I put each child’s bouquet in its own bud vase and placed them around my kitchen. My five-year-old grandson had a prolific bouquet, so his vase stood on the kitchen table. By the next afternoon, the dandelions and Indian paintbrushes boarded themselves up like roadside stands at the end of the season, and the tiny yellow flowers discarded their petals like ticket stubs after a rock concert. I tossed the bouquets.
A couple of days later my sister sent me a large yellow, orange, and red autumn-themed bouquet of flowers, a mix of daisies, a rose, and a sunflower. I placed it on the kitchen table.
Two days later my grandkids returned to visit. My five-year-old grandson walked by the large bouquet on my kitchen table, paused, then said, “I guess my flowers really grew.”
I gave him the facts—his flowers had died and were thrown in the garbage; these flowers were from my sister. He moved on and played with blocks on the living room floor.
Later I told my sister about his belief that his flowers had grown into the bouquet she’d sent. She hoped I hadn’t told him the truth, but I had. I’d been the Grinch before his heart grew, Scrooge before the Christmas ghosts visited, Joe Friday with the cold, hard facts.
Instead of entering my grandson’s world where it was possible for a handful of tiny flowers to grow into a substantial bouquet of large flowers, I used words like died and garbage. I’d become the eight-year-old neighbor boy who told me and my sister when we were five and four years old that there was no Santa Claus. I can still see him standing at the side of his house telling us Santa wasn’t real. My sister and I argued with him, but he clung to his story. We tried to believe after that, but we couldn’t—not even when our mother assured us the boy was wrong and Santa was real.
But if I’d gone along with Evan’s belief that his flowers had grown, he would’ve bragged to his older siblings, who would’ve set him straight.
He would’ve come back and asked, “Nana, did my flowers really grow big?”
If I’d said, “Yes, they did,” he would’ve doubted me, weighing what I said against what his siblings said, just like my sister and I weighed what my mother said about Santa against what the boy next door said.
If I’d said, “No, they didn’t,” he would’ve asked, “Then why did you say they did?”
But I still felt bad—I’d squelched a magical moment for him and replaced it with reality.
But the five-year-old wasn’t done. A couple of weeks later, he asked me, “Nana, did my flowers at least get big before they died and you threw them away?”
With the Grinch, Scrooge, and Joe Friday as my wingmen, I explained, “The type of flowers you picked don’t get any bigger than when you picked them. But they’re beautiful flowers and an important part of nature even if they’re small.”
However, if he ever asks me if Santa is real, I’m going to lie through my teeth and say, “Yes, he is.”
December 24, 2021, 9:00 p.m.
All the light was behind me. A Christmas wreath strung with white lights and pinecones hung from the peak of the garage. Amber warmth from incandescent lights glowed through the living room windows.
In front of me darkness swallowed my poodles because their black and brown fur coats worked like camouflage against the snowless ground. I strained to keep an eye on each of them, and wished they were white poodles. Then I wondered if white poodles would disappear against snow-covered ground.
Loud yips came from over the distant hill. It sounded like dozens of puppies. But I knew it wasn’t. I thought about a kennel of huskies clamoring for food. But I knew there were no mushers in the neighborhood. I thought about the starving wolves in White Fang that stalk two mushers and their sled dogs, picking them off until only one man survives. But I knew that wolves need more territory than my mother’s neighborhood, even with its scattered woods and fields, could provide. Besides, wolves howl, bark, and growl. They don’t yip like a bunch of puppies.
The yips rose and fell in volume but didn’t stop. They didn’t come closer, but they didn’t retreat. I called my dogs and we went inside.
I told my mom about the yipping.
“Those are coyotes,” she said. “We have a lot of them this year.”
My mother lives on a golf course in a rural setting. I wondered if the coyotes used the cart path to move between the areas of woods and fields while hunting. Coyotes are exceedingly carnivorous. Besides wildlife they sometimes eat cats and dogs. My domesticated, spoiled, wimpy canines would be an easy meal for coyotes. But coyotes are wary of humans and avoid us. Which is good because I’m domesticated, spoiled, and wimpy.
December 23, 2021, 8:00 p.m.
I wanted a white Christmas, and a couple of hours after dinner, I got my wish. It snowed. I walked my dogs, partly to work out the kinks from our nine-and-a-half-hour drive to Petoskey but mostly because it was snowing. My poodles sniffed the brown grass along the road while falling snow, lit by an occasional streetlight, dusted the wooly curls on their heads, backs, and tails.
I always want a white Christmas. Fresh snow opens a gate in my memory, and I wander into the backyard of my childhood. I remember snowmen, snow forts, snowball fights, snow angels, and sledding. I remember catching snowflakes on my tongue and staring at six-pointed and six-sided flakes that landed on my clothes. Amazed by the intricate designs of something so tiny, I admired each flake because I knew its design would never be repeated. A snowflake might have a doppelgänger, but never a clone. On Smithsonian’s STEMvisions Blog, Alex Stempien writes, “. . . scientists estimate that there are up to 10158 snowflake possibilities. (That’s 1070 times more designs than there are atoms in the universe!).” I wonder how much paper it would take to write out those numbers.
After the first snowfall of winter, my siblings and I scampered into the closet under the stairs and resurrected snow pants, hats, mittens, and scarves from cardboard boxes. If the temperatures dropped and the wind nipped, we wore knitted ski masks with three holes, one for the mouth and two for the eyes, the kind bank robbers wore in the movies. We played for hours in the snow until we were soaked from the outside by snow and from the inside by perspiration. If wicking winter clothing was available in the 1960s, we didn’t own any.
I felt sorry for adults because they didn’t get to play in the snow. I promised myself I would never be that old, but it happened anyway. When my children played in the snow, I remembered that promise. When my grandchildren play in the snow, I think about that promise, but I’m not melancholy or envious. Watching children in the snow rekindles happy memories of my childhood. These days my idea of fun in the snow involves shoveling, walking, and snowshoeing.
After my dogs and I finished our walk, I brushed snow off their heads, backs, and tails. I stomped my boots on the brick walkway and brushed snow off my hat and coat. Happy and invigorated, we entered the back hallway. I called to my mother and thanked her for arranging the snowfall. She answered, “You’re welcome.”
December 24, 2021, Christmas Eve Day
By morning three to four inches of snow blanketed the ground. In my head Bing Crosby sang “White Christmas” and stage doors slid open, revealing snow, snow, snow, snow. Crosby and Rosemary Clooney then Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen embraced and kissed.
My husband and I went into town to shop. The temperatures rose above forty degrees. By noon, about half the snow had melted. By late afternoon when I walked the dogs, most of the snow was gone. The brown landscape had reemerged. There would be no Hollywood magic—no white Christmas. The next snowfall would arrive two days after Christmas morning. But in my heart, I carried the snowfall from the day before Christmas Eve.