Yesterday I participated in the Winter Bald Eagle Survey. My route was the Winooski River, from Waterbury to Lake Champlain. While I did not see any eagles, I got to see the river in its winter splendor. It was cold. The day started at 3 below zero and got all the way up to 6 degrees. Here is the Winooski River as I saw it yesterday.
First it rained–a winter rain, cold. Then it got warm, and kept raining. By yesterday afternoon the temperature rose to 61 degrees. And that rain. The snow disappeared. By the time I got home from work the snow was gone. The fields were flooded. My headlights reflected on the flooded fields.
In the night, sleet ticked against the windows. The wind grew and the sleet pecked the windows. By morning, snow was falling, the wind tossing it around. Snow eddied in front of the garage and on the porch. Drifts stacked in front of the row of pines. With temperatures in the teens, the wind chill was below zero. We went for a walk anyway.
My wife and I bundled up–down jackets, snow pants, mittens. We trudged through the snow, literally. The drifted snow, mixed with sleet, was heavy on the road. The plow had not yet come by. Ever walk in wet sand on a beach? It felt like that, except without the bare feet and warmth. Nevertheless, we persisted.
After a while thick flakes started to fall. We watched them drop into the river. Fields all around were flooded. The river ran high. Really high. Yesterday it had come up over the road. Yellow ice crunched under the snow. Circles of snow-covered ice clung to the base of trees, a few inches up. Farther up the road, our boots found slush.
The walk back was colder. We walked into the wind. Back at home I drank coffee, ate the blueberry muffins I had made earlier. I read. I stayed inside. The two of us walked the driveway later to get the mail. Snow still blew sideways. The temperature dropped to single digits.
I had planned to do the Winter Bald Eagle Survey again today, but driving was just not a good idea. I will rise early and do that tomorrow. Hopefully I can access points along the Winooski River, where my portion of the survey takes place. It was be a cold morning. I’ll need to bring coffee. And at least one of those muffins.
This morning I was eager to check the outside temperature. Yesterday was cold. And windy. The high for the day at our house was 0 degrees. With the wind it felt much colder. Once it got dark the temperature dropped further. So I wanted to know just how cold it had gotten. Right before sunrise, typically the coldest part of the day, our thermometer read -20. Haven’t seen that in a while.
Walking to the mailbox yesterday was a frigid experience. I was mostly warm enough but the small parts of my face that were exposed got nibbled by the icy wind. I wore glasses, which I don’t usually wear in such cold temperatures, but it was just a walk to the mailbox, a tenth of a mile. The wind made my eyes tear. The tears froze. The tears fogged my glasses. The fog on my glasses froze. It was a bit of a visual shutdown. My wife, who had made that long trek with me, chuckled at me, shouting “systems failing!” Funny woman, she.
The squirrels this morning, at one point four of them chasing each other to get the prime seat on the hanging bird feeder, were covered in frost. They looked like little snowballs. That frost started to melt once the sun rose, but they kept eating. Sunrise brought birds back as well–Tree Sparrows and Juncos and Blue Jays and Chickadees and more all gathered around the feeders. Breakfast party.
I had planned to ski around our field yesterday. It snowed lightly all day, adding to the snow we already had. But after that walk to the mailbox I said forget it. It was bitter. The temperature should rise more today. Now, not quite 9:00 in the morning, we are still waiting to hit 0, but it is Sunday. I’ve got some hours yet.
In the meantime I will pay some monthly bills, read a book, join the breakfast party from the other side of the window. I made muffins yesterday and we should probably finish those off today. I need to do my part. Once the sun does some work I will think about enjoying this fine sunny day out in the cold. With contact lenses. Keep those systems from failing, if you know what I’m saying.
We wish for it every year, but it rarely arrives. We have rain. Or wind. Or spring-like temperatures. We typically wake in the dark and gradually see the world wake up to whatever weather graces us. But snow? Doesn’t happen.
It looks like this year, however, we will have snow for Christmas. Yesterday it snowed all day. I spent the day in a meeting room, having many conversations, all of them with snow falling behind me. Perhaps I should have sat in the opposite chair. I could have watched the snow.
When I got home we went for a walk in the dark. The snow still fell heavily. It was light, fluffy, scattering in clouds when we kicked at it. It coated our hats. It squeaked underfoot. The trees wore it. The woods were quiet. Back home we took a sled run or two, shoveled off the porch, filled the bird feeders.
This morning snow coated the field. Late morning it started to rain. It rained most of the day, sometimes just a drizzle, sometimes heavily. But the snow stuck around. There was enough of it. Just before dark it started to snow again. With everything wet from the rain, the snow easily adhered. Branches are white again.
More snow is in the forecast for Monday. There is a winter storm watch for Christmas day. We are looking to get up to eight inches. We had hoped to go see the new Star Wars movie that afternoon. We may have to scratch that. We don’t really want to drive in heavy snow. And if we have that much snow, why go anywhere? We can stay home and ski and sled and romp.
Christmas is only two days away, so the forecast is likely to be fairly, if not totally, accurate. Still, I have my doubts, only because I can hardly believe it. A white Christmas, even here in northern Vermont, is a rare thing these days. I am afraid we will have fewer and fewer of them. But if we get one this year, I’ll take it. In fact, I’ll hoot about it and run around in the snow in pajamas. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?
Last Sunday we had some wind. Lots of people had some wind. OK, lots of wind. Strong wind. Hurricane-force wind. It didn’t really start up until after dark. We went to bed. We slept little.
Wind buffeted the house. Meaning, the house literally shook. I have not felt wind like that here before. It whistled through windows and any other crevice it could find. It blew stuff around outside. We tried to sleep, but it was just too dang loud.
In the morning we saw our aluminum porch chairs scattered on the lawn. Another chair, plastic, was in the neighbor’s field. While searching for it, my wife discovered the flipped trampoline. The wind lifted that puppy up and tossed it against the garage. Imagine what would have happened if it had blown into the field. It might have rolled right into town.
Unfortunately, it didn’t fare well. It’s frame is made from steel tubes. Several of those tubes are bent and ripped. Not safe. We managed to right the thing, four of us leveraging it to standing again. It looked, however, pretty sad.
The thing is, it is still windy. The wind has not kept up constantly but we have had some stiff winds every day for a week. Right now, trees wave back and forth. Hang on to your hat. I have been to the lake a few times this week to look for shorebirds and waterfowl. Whitecaps. Rain has fallen frequently among all this wind. At least the convection is keeping things somewhat dry.
Some of our neighbors had their power restored only yesterday. We lost ours for less than a day. That makes hygiene easier. Plus checking the weather. I baked blueberry raspberry muffins this morning. Electricity makes that possible. Eating a hot muffin and drinking hot coffee while looking out over the windblown field makes for a fine Sunday morning. The wind keeps blowing and the house still stands. On to next week.
We used to go every year. We got married in mid-October so we would travel past Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area, on our way to go hiking in New York, every year. We looked forward to seeing the Snow Geese. There is a wildlife viewing station just off Route 17 and there would be hundreds of them. It was a spectacle.
There would be a blanket of white geese, thousands of them–honking, rising and falling in groups, waves of them landing or taking off. They would cluster right up to the fence at times, pecking away at the residue in the cut corn fields. It was hard to contain it in one’s imagination, let alone absorb the reality of it.
We don’t go hiking in New York every year now, but yesterday morning I went down to Dead Creek to see the geese, the rest of my family still in bed. I was alone there at first, arriving before the sun rose. A flock of Snow Geese was gathered close enough to see them, but they kept their distance from the viewing area. Then they started to rise and fly overhead. They did not take off all at once, but in large groups. They V-ed their way right over me, settling on the other side of the road in a cleared field. Eventually they all had migrated from the south side to the north side.
They flew as the sun broke the horizon, so they were lit from below. Their black wing tips contrasted with the white of their bodies. They honked, higher and a little squeakier than Canada Geese, their calling filling the morning. I looked for other geese, a White-Fronted Goose or a Ross’s Goose mixed in perhaps, but they all were Snow Geese.
By the time I was ready to head out, other people were arriving. I chatted a bit with them. They had missed the Peregrine Falcon perched right overhead, and the chatter of the Red-Winged Blackbirds. I drove up the road a ways to see if could find anything else, but it was a quiet morning. When I passed by again there was a big crowd, there to see the geese. For a while in the golden light of morning I had them all to myself. While there are not nearly as many as there were years ago, it was still a spectacle for a perfect October morning.
It is a good day to be alive. I suppose, as the mystical saying goes, it is a good day to die, but I am feeling happy to be in the former camp for now. Five years ago, on this very day of the calendar, I made a fast trip to the hospital. That worked out well, thankfully, in the end.
Home alone that day, I tried to put on some socks. I missed my foot. Twice. After countless times putting on socks in my life, I suddenly just couldn’t do it. My brain said go and my body just didn’t hear it right. My mind was a bit scrambled. My right side was the problem. I got those socks on with my left hand damn it. But I wasn’t right, so to speak.
My right arm rose without me meaning it to. And when I tried to raise it I couldn’t do it. I limped down the stairs. I thought I knew what was up, but no, it couldn’t be. That was for old people. I was a healthy dude. But just to check, I looked in the mirror. My face was sagging on the right side. Crap, that was one symptom hard to deny. I was having a stroke. I tried to utter some profanity to express my freakedoutedness. Turns out I couldn’t speak either.
I had enough medical training at that point to know I was having a stroke and to know that I needed to get to a hospital. Fast. I was intentional in using the land line because I knew they could find me that way. I called 911.
The woman who answered asked me questions but, as much as wanted to answer, I simply couldn’t speak. I could make a few noises, grunts and such, but that was it. She was patient with me, telling me to just stay on the phone until help arrived. I sat, with my wallet, cell phone and those warm socks, waiting for help. I texted my wife with my good but non-dominant hand. It was all I could offer her.
A fire truck pulled up. Of course, they had no idea what to expect from someone who calls for help but can’t speak. An ambulance followed. When the EMT walked in I had my driver’s license ready. I knew he would ask my name and age and I at least could answer that. I couldn’t say a word.
That was a sweet ride to the hospital. It wasn’t all fun. They had to pull over to insert an IV needle. But we flew. I have never gotten into Burlington so fast. And, despite my condition, or maybe because of my condition, it all seemed so fascinating. The ambulance scene, the emergency room, the questions everyone asked, the posse of medical students waiting to see the 40-something guy who was having a stroke.
My voice did start to return. I could sort of make some words. After my wife arrived, however, and a CT scan, it left me again. So they gave me the big, bad clot-buster drug. Serious stuff. That meant I had to spend the night with constant care. That stuff can be dangerous. No ability to clot means bleeding in the brain can be fatal. That wasn’t exactly a comfort, but the nurses were gems.
I wanted to make light of the situation. I wanted to have good humor about it. But I couldn’t joke. All I could do was half-smile and turn things over in my head. There was a lot going on inside that head of mine. Come the next morning I was starting to speak again. It was surreal simply not having control over what I could do. For four decades I had been used to my brain making commands and my tongue or arms or legs responding. I didn’t think about it. It just happened.
I spent a couple of days under the tender care of hospital staff. I got hungry–no eating when your tongue doesn’t work well. When I got to have chocolate pudding I was pretty psyched. I mean, I love chocolate pudding anyway, but this chocolate pudding was amazing. Then I got to go home, my amazing spouse taking over for those staff members.
Bottom line: I didn’t die. I could have. I could have been in really bad shape. But I healed up quickly, physically at least. It took me a lot longer to heal mentally. But hey, I’m not dead. So Happy Not-Dead Day to me. Over the past five years I have thought a bit about my mortality and about what matters in life. If you’ve had a brush with the other side you know what I’m talking about. If you have not, well, soon enough. Enjoy the days while you can. I plan on it.