Friday, February 26, 2010


Right after supper while doing the dishes, we both saw the one lamp on by the sink make its tell~tale flicker, and within a minute all the power was gone.

If you only visited us in the summer when the gardens are full and the flower beds fuzzy, you'd never believe your eyes of winter hereabouts.

The woods surround and they bend and creak and bust up and otherwise expand with a deep wet sticking fast snow. One neighbor has already escaped to a warmer climate for a week. In fact, it's about our only neighbor. Stand outside in the dark, look around and know the hollow.

The river muffled under snow. The pathways we shoveled before dark are full of snow again. The Mother's in control.

I take up a book to read and I'll read it all before midnight, cover to cover, by two kerosene lamps. Almost anything to read is comforting in this darkness with small lamps burning. The author is having his first child all the while with two women lovers in his life. Decisions decisions. Suicide is in his family or fatal addictions, and all of this gets batted around. It isn't Chekhov or even Philip Roth, and it reads more like the actor Mark Ruffalo is playing the writer.

The writer does have allegiance to the down-trodden, and I'm attracted to his writing for this; and when his daughter is born and he has a photograph with her in his arms, he is "smiling so broadly that he barely recognizes himself." I'm sure many fathers recognize this, I know I do.

In kerosene lamplight I forgive everything. When the power returns I always hear it burble first in the refrigerator motor, and when the lights are back on, I put the ordinary book down. And yet it is powerfully ordinary. Another new life has changed for the better an old life. I'll read past midnight.


I put on that photograph above of the cherub in the snow path just past midnight Tuesday when I set the book down, and then the power went out for what seemed like forever. Flat out. No burble in any fridge, no warning sign, just crash out. Like a big tree went boom. We got four hours sleep and then snowshovels weren't out of our hands for the next three days. A real STINKER of a snowfall, too — last count, during the three days now becoming four: over two feet of snow. Maybe 30 inches. Did I say snow? Cement is more like it, the true wet stuff. The first morning we were out shoveling the-stupidest-idea-you-ever-had-Bob earthen driveway of 200 feet, white pines and birches around us were snapping and cracking under the weight of the snow. We already saw we lost our favorite small crab apple tree, far older than we are, by the studio door. I built that studio by the tree's shade. Piled my lumber under the tree, where we ate our lunches. Get over it Mr. Romantic. Head down, shovel.

At last count we've watched one plow worker go down the road now three times with three different tractors, nothing is cutting it moving this stuff with a machine. Even the town road plow, when it finally gets down to this river valley (the last served road in town), looks beaten in this stuff. We jumped onto the first 16 inches of snow at the crack of dawn and working with a shovel and no plow in this snowfall is like a woman watching her grandchild in the park, you really watch. A half hour is all the difference in the world between shoveling snow or shoveling mortar out of a wheelbarrow and paying for it dearly. All the roofs I'll have to clear can't be helped. At least the roofs I put on after age 50 are steel and at a 45-50 % angle, purposely so. I watch those roofs clear on their own with a certain pride.

Then there's the one roof on the back of the house I built after age 50, but still a romantic, and I just had to have the eyebrow windows in the low end walls which raised the angle on the roof and gave me this winter nightmare. Pretty in the summer. The thing I swear at the most in the winter. A football field of steel just waiting for me. I still climb up on it like a monkey and sometimes need a full day to clear off properly...because you see, there is another main house roof above it that Einstein also reroofed in steel. But with a steep enough pitch thinking that pitch muster might help push the lower snow field off. And sometimes it does. After over two feet of snow came a steady day of rain and the gods were on our side — it let slip most of that bad roof headache of snow. It would come in stages. One stage was well after dark. We heard one whoosh, the kitten and me. I went out the back door where most of the snow landed (Einstein again), and the kitten followed with me and we had a look. I looked at the happy but deadly wet snow pile, the kitten looked at me.

We've worked 18 hour days the last three days by doing it in shifts — two hours hard work w/shovels or chain saw, then one hour siesta. Siesta meaning melt snow on the woodstove since the power is out and there's no running water, or lights, or small bathroom. Just trim the kerosene wicks and fill the lamps, don't even change out of the pants wet to waist until noontime. Dry those by the fire to change back into at 4 when you go out for the next two hours of work before dark. At dark, read. By woodfire light, by candlelight, by kerosene, and when finally blind, by large flashlight. Read and try to relax even though it's snowing heavily again, or is that rain? If you hear a whoosh off the back roof , it must be rain.

By the next morning I'm roof raking the old duck shed and the smaller woodshed. The big woodshed is clear with its steel. Since the house is 1790 and built like a barn, I roof rake up to the main cross beam running the width of the house eight feet up from the edge of the lower roof line. Now the heavy roof of snow is safe. It's probably safe anyway but I'm in work habit. Come inside for that work siesta and read another tanka by Bill Knott (that he kindly sent to me c/o his Lulu packs), read aloud a poem by Sandburg painting on a high-rise in Chicago ("People Who Must"), eat a pretzel, drink from the jug of water, kiss your co-worker to both stay happy. Always kiss your co-worker.

Nothing is working but the shovels and the kerosene lamps. No one's around to help. Mail isn't delivered. Newspaper's a no-show. E-mails are a million miles away. Snow is the news, deep & serious. Large tree branches are down everywhere, mother nature's war zone. When the phone miraculously wants to work we call someone somewhere and it could be India who tells us 3000 are w/o power. In ten hours that number is down to 35. By dark it's down to seven and I have a sneaky feeling those seven are homes within one to two miles of us. As the rain increases with that snow load in the trees, by morning the number of homes lost to no power is back up to the thousands.

We go through three work gloves a day. Dry them in cycles under the woodstove.

I'll tell you now that by tomorrow and we're in a momentary lull, the chattering goldfinches will be back in their sudden appearance/disappearance act.

But for now take the chain saw w/ snow to the waist and cut out trees, branches and brush snowblown down and ruined. Watch the candles melt down between dark and midnight. Nothing's going to change for awhile. We've already moved all the food perishables outdoors in sacks or into snowbanks as temporary refrigeration. Seven red squirrels found the food, seven squirrels were shot. It's the law of the jungle. I thought we already had an agreement they feed off the birdfeeders and we all subsist? Winter after winter. When we brought outdoors what we eat and they went for that, well...

This is the late winter snow report. What's ahead? Six weeks of mud. Stay where you are.

photos © susan & bob arnold