Stymied by snow

Just before dark

I worked a long day Thursday–started early and ended late. In the middle, when I had some time, I checked the weather. I was planning to head across northern Vermont in the morning, so I wanted to be sure roads would be clear. The forecast was not promising. Snow was on the way, the heavy wet kind, and lots of it.

In the morning it was raining, but some snow flakes were mixed in. The forecast was worse than the night before. I was going to a school, so I checked the closings list. My school was open, but several others, some schools I would pass right by on my way, were closed. I had to make the call. I decided not to make the trek.

I did drive my daughter in to school. On the way, snow started to accumulate–not a lot, but enough to slow me down. After I dropped her off I headed back to work from home. And it snowed more. It snowed all day. It started really piling up by day’s end. Wet and heavy indeed.

My decision not to drive across northern Vermont was sound. The town where I was headed got two feet of snow by this morning. The section of interstate highway I would have traveled was closed for three hours. There were accidents all along Route 2. Even if I had made it, my two-hour drive would have been longer, and I would have had to return at some point. Here at home, over a thousand homes are still without power, although not ours.

Today is quiet. The snow is tapering off, but all is white. Birds are at the feeder in numbers we haven’t seen all winter. Blackbirds sing despite the snow. The town plow has cleared the road. I just polished off the coffee. Later, I will make a trip out to the dump, run a few other errands, and enjoy what is likely our last burst of winter.

This morning

Between seasons

Just now it was snowing. Wind waves around the bare branches. Earlier it rained. Yesterday the temperature rose into the 50s and, with some healthy rain, the waters rose. The river topped its banks. Across the road, the fields ripple with wind-blown water.

There is a feel to driving on a soft muddy road. Steering turns mushy. The car slides one way, then the other. Then the road turns solid again. It isn’t like a snowy road, where the road feels solid the whole time, but slick. In mud the car sinks, then rises, floating. It can even be fun if you don’t bottom out.

Mud has begun, after yesterday’s warmth. The curve of our road collects water underground, so it predictably gets muddy. Robins poke at the soft spot. The car gets painted with muck. It isn’t the prettiest time of year.

But the sap is finally running. Steam wafts from the sugar house. We just ran out of maple syrup. I wanted to wait for a fresh batch, but I gave in and bought some last weekend. Last year’s run was a good one. I bought a dark and sweet gallon. The folks who run the sugar house up the road offer free maple cotton candy. We might have to stop there and get some.

I had planned to go for a run this morning. But it is cold–cloudy and windy and just above freezing. I was looking forward to a little warmth, maybe even shorts. I might wait. I might just brave it. The red-winged blackbirds are back. They seem to handle the weather just fine. I should take a lesson from them.

But they can fly. I will need to watch my footing when I go out. That mud can suck one in. I’ve seen worse, for sure, but still, I’d hate to wipe out in a mud patch. That would be unfortunate, even if, like the blackbirds, it is a sign of spring.

Busses Stuck on the Hill

“The thing is,” said my son afterwards, “No one even thought it was weird. It was just something that would happen in Vermont.”

He had a point. I dropped him off early for a nordic ski meet, then went to take a walk at the Green Mountain Audubon center. I had over an hour. I drove the couple miles out on the dirt road, passing a bus headed up, and started down the hill at the end. There was a bus there, pulled over at the bottom. Printed on the side was “White River Valley” so they had had a long drive already. That hill was a bit slick, but it didn’t seem too slick. Then again, I wasn’t driving a bus full of minors.

When I returned, the bus was still there. In fact, there now were three busses, from different school districts. I thought of offering to shuttle some skiers up, but I figured that was a non-starter. Parents have to sign a waiver to allow their kids to ride on the bus. Any good bus driver would not let them ride in some stranger’s vehicle, even if they had a current FBI background check. So I kept going.

Up at the ski center I learned that the race, no surprise to me, was delayed–busses stuck. I chatted with my son for a bit. Then someone passed looking for volunteers to shuttle people up. I guess they are being flexible with the transportation, I thought. So I headed back down the road again in my car.

At the bus, the first driver was, predictably, unwilling to let students go. I understood that. I asked if he knew the long way around. One of the busses was gone, so maybe they had already decided to take that route. A bunch of cars started to pile up, folks willing to transport skiers. Then the town truck arrived to sand the road. So the busses were no longer stuck, and we caravanned back to the ski center. I spent a lot of time on that road.

Eventually everyone got where they needed to be, and the race started, only 45 minutes late, and my son cranked it out despite the crappy conditions, and it was an event full of fun and hard work, and I saw a bunch of other parents I know, and it all worked out. There were plenty of people willing to help, and it felt to me like a conflict between neighborliness and liability.

Once upon a time neighborliness would have won the day. Today, safety and security take precedence. I don’t think one is better than the other, or that one way should be the right way. I just noticed it in this case. I would have done just what those bus drivers did. But still, it would have been nice to have a bunch of people solve a problem and make the solution happen. And that is something, I am sure, is not unique to Vermont, even if those busses stuck on an icy hill was a classic Vermont situation.

Old Truck

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It’s been there since we moved here twelve years ago, the old truck sitting in the field. Whenever I walked down the road and turned the corner, there is was, looking at me. I wondered how long it had been there. The first time I saw it, it had clearly rested in the same spot for many years. It sat low, sunk into the soil. Rust showed through the paint. Grass grew taller than its hood. It was an old truck with a story.

The farm where this truck resided had been worked in the past, but the farm sat untended now. The barn next to that old truck was sagging. Each spring the roof would rest closer to the ground. Swallows nested in the rafters. Windows had little glass remaining. The silo’s hat sat crooked, like a man too tired to right his shifted chapeau. The fields, while still rich with grass, no longer smelled sweet with spring cutting. The truck was a witness to the farm’s end.

But why was the truck there, in that spot? It was not parked next to the barn, or in it. It was not simply pulled off the road. It was well into the field, as if someone drove it there with a load of hay for cattle, and just never turned the key again. Or perhaps the truck was on its way out already, and when it would not start, was abandoned. Did a farmer die suddenly? Or did this farming family simply retire?

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It was not totally unused. Someone years ago found it made a good target. Bullet holes pierced the passenger door and window. Mice, I am sure, nested in the seats and dashboard. Kingbirds perched on the roof, scanning for grasshoppers. And it generated stories for passersby such as myself.

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A couple of days ago, whoever owns the place now decided it was time to move the truck. An oversized tow truck backed up and tried to haul it out. The tow truck got stuck. A second oversized tow truck pulled that one out. The old truck ended up closer to the road, out of the ground, but it is still there. The rear axle weighs down its bed. The rusted leaf springs were torn off and lie on the ground. It’s a wreck, but its new position meant I could get a better look at it than I ever had.

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The license plate registration sticker reads “APR 79,” so the thing has been there for 40 years. It had to have been registered some time before April of 1979 so perhaps the truck was abandoned at the end of the summer, maybe even October of 1978, if I can conjecture a bit. Several times I have wondered if the truck could be restored–cleaned up, tuned up, parts replaced, running again. Seeing it in detail now, that idea is dead.

I am sure this truck served its time well. From the day it was purchased at Shearer Chevrolet, it hauled people and tools and animals and supplies. This week, I suppose, it will get hauled away, scrapped, turned into steel cans or furniture frames or faucets. Some might say the field will look better without it–tidier, more natural. They might say that the old truck is junk. But I will miss its stories and, when I pass that way, I will wonder a little bit less.

A fine visit to the DMV

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The Department of Motor Vehicles, in most places, has a bad reputation. Long lines, grumpy people working there, uncomfortable seating, crazy wait times. All the stuff that makes people unhappy when trying to take care of something routine that should be easy and quick. But here, that just has not been my experience. The Vermont DMV is easy and quick.

My driver’s license was about to expire. I was going to a conference and was flying to get there. So at some point I realized I could not wait until the last day. I had a window of a couple of hours the other day, so I left work and headed to the DMV. I grabbed a renewal form when I arrived and was only half finished completing it when I got to the head of the line. The woman there cheerily handed me a clipboard and told me to come back over when I was finished. A couple minutes later we met again. I handed her the form, got a number and sat down to wait.

After about ten minutes my number was called. I went to booth 19, cleverly marked with a Vermont license plate, and was greeted, again cheerily, by a smiling man. This guy told me, after I asked him how his morning was going, that it had been expensive. His dog needed surgery so he had brought it into the vet. I suggested that it seemed expensive and stressful, but he assured me with a smile that he would only be stressed if things didn’t work out with the surgery. I mean, I gave the guy a reason to complain and he didn’t complain.

Our visit only lasted a few minutes and, after the four-year renewal was processed, we walked to the photo area and he snapped my photo. I was looking forward to getting a new license since my current one had a terrible photo. Now, I know everyone gripes about their driver’s license photo, but I had never really had a bad one until this one. After another few minutes the woman who originally helped me called my name to hand me my new license. It was really quick. And it was easy.

I was out of there in under 30 minutes. Unfortunately, my new license has an even terribler photo. But at least getting it was a pleasant experience. I don’t mind going to the DMV at all. I might even say I enjoy it. Despite their lack of poor photographers. Something for them to work on, amiright?

Road Hazard

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Back in the fall we had a big old windstorm. Lots of trees fell. Power was out for a while. It made a general mess of the usual tidiness of human daily life around here. But then things got cleaned up. Power was restored. We got back to the day-to-day.

But some remnants can be found yet. This afternoon my kids spent a couple of hours manhandling the tops of two white pines that snapped off during that storm. They made a fence of sorts at the edge of the field. They managed to get covered in sap. Then they got covered in mud. They took advantage of the messiness of spring.

Up the road there is maple that almost fell. It broke near the ground and leaned out over the road to the other side. A beech caught it. It hangs there still. Every time I go by it seems the trunk is more rotted or torn. That thing is going to fall at some point. We rush whenever we have to pass beneath it. It hangs there, patiently waiting for a strong enough breeze. Or maybe an elephant. We don’t have elephants around here so that isn’t much of an option I suppose.

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Today was a warm one. When the sun rose over Camel’s Hump I headed up the hill. A flock of Snow Geese was pecking away at the muddy field. I thought I heard a Phoebe but that could have been wishful thinking. I went to the lake and watched the ducks. I got coffee at the corner store. Later, we went for a walk. We avoided the danger zone this time.

Easter tomorrow. We will hunt for some eggs, eat some candy, have a good meal. Likely, we will go for a walk at some point. I am guessing that leaning maple will still be leaning. But one of these days it will slide to the ground. Or crash to the ground. Tomorrow is as good a day as any. But I’m not betting it will happen so soon. Even if it is a day of new beginnings.

Solar Eclipse From Vermont

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The recent solar eclipse was a big deal all over the place. In the U.S. it was the big news, aside from the shenanigans in Washington. Here in Vermont we did not get to see totality. No moment of evening-in-the-middle-of-the-day for us. But we got a bit of a show nonetheless.

Early afternoon my lovely spouse set up a viewing station: four outdoor chairs facing south to see the sun, but on the edge of the shade. Just the right spot. Some cold drinks and snacks rounded out the event. All we needed were our special glasses.

We could have purchased some solar eclipse glasses, or goggles as we kept calling them, in plenty of time. By the time we got around to it, however, they were out of stock locally at the places we knew had carried them, so I went to the hardware store to see if they might have some. The woman working there did not answer directly but instead said “You can’t see the eclipse here.” I was happy to inform her that we, indeed, could see it, even though we would not get the total eclipse. She was happy to be, well, happy. She was really happy in fact. She said more than once to her colleague that she needed to go home, she was so excited. I don’t believe that was an option for her at that time.

My wife did order some glasses online, just in time. They were more expensive than the ones we missed by a day at the local toy store. Plus she had to order a pack of five. That, however, worked out well. There were four of us and, two days before the eclipse, I dropped one pair off at the hardware store for the clerk there. She hadn’t managed to find any yet. She was, again, pretty happy.

Out in the sunlight, on a perfect day to watch a solar eclipse, we donned our dark spectacles. Let me tell you, those things are dark. I was expecting them to be somewhat like sunglasses, only a little darker, but there was to be no walking around in those puppies. Eyes shaded, we looked up and exclaimed “Holy crap/Oh my god/No way/Whoa that is so cool!”  Variations of this exclamation were proclaimed several times by each of us.

And is was so cool. The disc of the sun getting partially covered by a round shadow does not sound like a lot of excitement. But seeing the sun, round and bright and just there day after day, disappear, even a little, was so different, so out of the everyday, so slowly dramatic, that we looked at it over and over and kept offering our amazement aloud to each other.

I was texting in real time with a friend in South Africa. He could not see the eclipse–not in the path and also night. I discovered the shadows on a chair in the photo above. Each spot of light through the leaves of the tree made its own little crescent shadow. It was an imperfect repeating pinhole viewer. I sent him that photo and it gave him a sense of the wonder of it. I tried hard to get photos of the eclipse itself, using instructions to do it safely and effectively, but failed in a big way. Memory will have to do.

After a couple of hours the moon and sun fell out of alignment. We picked up our empty beverage vessels, moved the chairs back to the porch, and got on with the rest of our summer day. It was a day to remember though. As shadows grew long we all headed out to town together for one thing or another and my wife looked over at the spot from which we had watched. “Remember that time we sat there and watched the solar eclipse?” she asked.

We sure did.