Snow Days

The kids looked forward to them like they were more special than Christmas Day, and in all the years we lived in Seattle it seems like we never had more than one or two, but snow days are snow days, eagerly watched for the night before, groaned over when the night’s accumulation only yielded a late start at school. The snow day is not loved by adults, certainly not by anyone who must get to work and can’t just phone it in.
 Snow days for some adults are like fretful days spent at home when a child is sick and a sitter can’t be found. Snow days are when the office building is being fumigated for rats, or when there’s an acquisition rumor, or the boss quits abruptly, or the project is cancelled, but, in any case, all the meetings are rescheduled and no one is getting anything done. Snow days are the whole day taken off work for a teacher conference that lasted twenty unproductive minutes and won’t lead to the kid being one bit happier or more adjusted to the school.
Some people seem to know just what to do on a grown-up snow day. They hit the gym, or the spa, or do some sort of whiskey tasting or a day-long iPhone photography seminar. Or, they get new tires, or clean out the garage, or completely reorganize their sewing room, with enough time leftover to can a dozen jars of bourbon roasted-cranberry relish. Some people live like they’re waiting for a snow day, and they know just how they’ll spend it.
Before it began snowing in earnest (we were awaiting Juno), I took the dogs out for the counterclockwise tour of the property. There was thick ice under the current top layer of snow, and the top layer wasn’t quite deep enough for snowshoes, so I went out in snow boots and took a pole. The dogs went fast; they just don’t mind as much as I do the scrambling and slipping. I fell on my ass, once.
We came upon a dead fox that made me sad. Who kills a fox? A bobcat? Bear? Coyotes? Old age? Lover’s quarrel? Turf war? Was it poisoned by neighbors? Should I freeze it and take it to the vet for an autopsy? We’ve been watching a fox all year. We could see it hunting along the bushes. Crouching, pouncing. The cat liked to watch it. The dogs hated the fox, and barked their angriest intruder alerts when it trotted across the upper field in the late morning sunshine. Was this that fox?
By the morning the storm had come, and we’d been promised as much as two feet of snow. I awoke to the bright whiteness of daylight without sunshine. The snow was falling, hard, but the flakes were tiny, light, and seemed determined to stay in the air and never land. Outside the windows facing east and west the snow flew by, horizontally, soundless. It gave me the impression of motion, the way that snow would look from a speeding car. Except we were in the house, and the house wasn’t whizzing along at 26 mph. The dissonance, the mismatch of perceived motion to sensed stillness made me feel a little sick.
 

Following on snowshoes

Later that day, we timed our walk to catch the end of the day and the falling snow. The young dog took off at a run while I struggled with the straps. I enjoy everything about snowshoeing except putting them on; I’m beginning to think I should strap my snow boots into them and leave them strapped in. Out on the property, I have to walk behind my husband, and he is faster and fitter and has longer legs. The old dog will follow closely behind me in the snow if I’m alone, but with my husband here she fills the space between us.
Towards the end of my parents’ marriage they took a last trip to Europe. My mother came back with a week’s worth of Kodak Ektachrome slides mostly featuring my father from about 30 feet behind; she couldn’t keep up and he wouldn’t wait. In a few years, my father moved on to a new career, and a new wife and kid. My mother moved on to a new career, and a new husband and step-kids. While I follow my husband I wonder what he is moving on to. I stop him and ask him to slow down. He is happy to. The dog gallops off to join the other dog.
We passed the dead fox. It was a simple lump, covered completely in snow. The dogs quietly sniffed it again, and moved on.

A letter to the mouse that died in my kitchen last night

Dear Mouse,
You’ve probably been living in the basement your whole life, and today wasn’t even too cold. The cat, Schwartz, was feeling lively and caught you. I didn’t even know about you until I heard your peeps and squeaks by the back door.  Were you injured at that point, or just protesting?
Anyway, my first error was calling the dogs. It was an impulse. They found you with Schwartz and started the mad chase into the bathroom and around the toilet. That was me, the one screaming. Why I screamed I can’t say. I had pet rodents as a kid: mice, a hamster, a gerbil, a rat. I picked them up and carried them around. They were my pets. Sometimes they got loose and I had to catch them and put them back. I didn’t scream then. I must have been a better person then, somehow. Well, it wasn’t a little screaming. Sorry about the screaming.
Captain was the next one to pick you up and carry you around. He was the one who got you wet, I think. But when I shouted at him he dropped you and then Cherry snatched you up. She isn’t the quickest dog in the house, owing to her age, but tonight she was the deadliest.
You died quickly, mouse, and Cherry guarded you for a long time. She was very proud of what she’d done, and wouldn’t let anyone look at you or smell you or take you. She didn’t seem interested in eating you, which I would have let her do as the one who did the deed. Somehow, to my mind that seemed fair. Cherry appeared a little confused by the situation. Instinct ruled when she caught you and when she dispatched you, but after that she wasn’t sure. She growled at Schwartz, even, and she never growls at Schwartz.
There was no question of burying you since it’s nothing but ice outside right now. Maybe we could have left you out for the coyotes or the foxes, but where should one leave such an offering? Alas, you went into the trash.
You left a family behind, I’m sure. Schwartz is down there waiting for the next one of you. This is how it is with cats and mice. He keeps his cool, crouching quietly behind the boxes. He knows your habits, and makes a plan. Y’all don’t live very long, do you, mice? Between the hardships of weather and finding food, and then the cat or the foxes and hawks outside, life for you must be harsh and brief. I haven’t had it easy lately either, what with all the injustice in the world.  But I have a warm house, and food, and with any luck I shouldn’t have to watch predators capture and eat my children.

Did you leave behind hopes and dreams, unfulfilled? Will your family sigh over your promises unkept? Are they dividing your possessions as I write this, or do they not yet know? Will they be left wondering whatever happened to you? Maybe they heard the screams. I’m still sorry about the screams.

Vizsla, with mouse

North Dreadful

The next day

Thursday afternoon we went for a dog walk, and while we were out it got even hotter and more humid. When we arrived home, we jumped in the pool. I put my iPhone well away from the water because we all know that iPhones are easily ruined and had to get out of the pool to answer my phone when it rang.
There is a certain style of customer service which is employed for especially valuable customers, either to handle a high profile person or to remedy a past problem. I received the call and immediately heard the urgency in her voice and went inside to take notes.
In her eagerness to help me, “Deb” kept accidentally calling me by my first name, then hurriedly correcting herself and calling me “Mrs….” As it turns out, we are just high profile enough, and had just enough of a problem to fall into both categories, so “Deb” was giving it her all and going to fix everything.
At the same time I started getting texts from my husband, the Medium Cheese (he is why we warrant the special treatment). I had to juggle the phone, continuing with “Deb” and letting the Medium Cheese know that he was making my iPhone buzz in my ear during my phone call. My texts to him say, “Getting smothered right now…like a Persian cat rubbing your legs right after you slathered them in lotion.”
By the time our conversation was finished, I was shivering and took a hot shower. We even had plans to go out to dinner. I got out of the shower to find the house was fully engulfed in a violent storm, with thunder, high winds and driving rain. In the midst of texting the Medium Cheese (who was on his way home on a Metro North Train) about the storm, the power went out.
I next wrote, “The long conversation with the Persian cat means my phone is almost dead.”
The Medium Cheese’s train then stopped. “We will have to sit in Chappaqua ’for a few minutes,’” he wrote. “Which means they don’t know.”
The source of the delay was a tree on the tracks, and I was advised to fetch the Medium Cheese from the train station in Chappaqua.
Turning right out of our driveway we encountered the first downed tree across the road almost immediately, at the top of our next-door neighbor’s driveway. Reversing, we discovered another mess of downed trees tangled in power lines about a quarter mile in the other direction. There was another way out, and we took it, but our way was blocked by another large tree which had pulled down the power lines. We reversed again, and made our way on the last possible route. This final attempt ended when we found the road blocked by a very large tree, about two miles from the red barn where we live. The Medium Cheese had to find his own way back. We were trapped.
The only way back was to re-trace our route, and when we got there we got busy lighting candles and deciding what we would eat, given that the dinner plan had been to eat out so we had nothing on deck. We ate the potstickers from the freezer and as much ice cream as we could. 
The Medium Cheese never made it home. His train was over an hour late, but he couldn’t get past the downed trees from the other direction, either. He went and found a hotel.
I checked the NYSEG web site before bed (having mostly recharged my phone in the car), and saw their estimate that the power on my road would be restored by 3:00 pm the next day. This gave our minor emergency an ending, in the near future, and made the situation seem like a non-event.
We woke to a stuffy, quiet house. I was quite awake before six, and walked a dog, and checked on the status of the fallen trees. Overnight road crews had removed the obstacles and our daily newspaper had been delivered. We cooked up all the bacon and fried some eggs, hard-boiling the rest of the dozen. I checked the NYSEG web site and it had changed the status of our repair to the next day, in the afternoon. The non-event felt like a minor emergency again.
In the afternoon I drove to the airport to pick up our oldest son and he had more friends with him than I had anticipated, so we drove home to our hot, dark house with an over-full car. I gave the houseguests a lesson in flushing toilets with a bucket of water from the swimming pool, and we all had a specific disappointment: there would be no hot showers despite a many-hour plane ride from Europe. Not long after this disappointment, I checked the NYSEG web site and found that the status of our road’s power outage repair had changed from the next day to a blank. I called NYSEG at this point, and spent 25 minutes on hold. I was told that the time was not posted because they no longer knew when power would be restored. We ate out.
That night, I woke at 1:57 am, very hot. I thrashed around for quite a bit, and then my phone rang at 2:25 am. I made motions to answer it, but saw it was a “425” number and decided it was a wrong number. I have had this number for almost two years, but I still get wrong number calls for the old owner of it. I imagine that someday each of us will have one number for our whole lives, but for now, I will still get calls for “Brian.”
I checked the NYSEG site then, and it was still blank.
I managed to get back to sleep.
For breakfast there was coffee (using a French press and bottled water and lighting the gas stove with a match to boil water) and cereal with less-than-ice-cold milk from the cooler. After a few hours of lying around we rallied and went to the grocery store.
On the way we had to detour around the first work crew, addressing the downed trees and power lines closest to our house. A NYSEG crew had commenced work despite the lack of a planned time of completion. We met the second NYSEG crew at work on the other mess of trees and power lines, and we were told by the only guy who didn’t look busy (the grumpily scowling guy standing in the road with no gear, no uniform, no helmet and no sign), “Road closed. You gotta go the other way.” 
I told them to hurry.

Also the next day


How cold and bright and startling is the American supermarket after a few days of no electricity! We replenished the drinking water supply and planned to barbecue. It had come time to buy plastic forks and paper plates as well, since we had run through the dish supply.
I think it was at this point, after the grocery store run but before the power came back that I dropped my iPhone in the toilet. Back when I was teaching at my last teaching job, I used to hear the sounds that high school girls make when they drop their mobile phones in the toilet. My classroom was across the hall from a bathroom, and while they were never supposed to take out their phones except during lunch, they often took advantage of the privacy of a closed bathroom stall. As for me, I did not scream.
As we re-stocked the food shelves and re-organized the coolers, a scheme was devised whereby the overflowing sink full of dishes would be washed by hand using pool water. All of the big pots were filled and set on the stove to boil. The sink was about half full of hot water when the light in the kitchen changed. The hood above the range had come on, for power had finally been restored.
My husband, the Medium Cheese, is also a Relentless Troubleshooter, and by the time we got down to making that dinner, my calls had been forwarded to another phone, and my profile fully installed. It feels almost like magic when technology works, and your pictures and contacts and apps are all there in the new handset. It reminds me that the iPhone is, for me, a nearly perfect device, with exactly three flaws: the battery life is too short, it is not waterproof, and it is made by workers who work under conditions so dire they must be prevented by nets from throwing themselves from their dormitory windows.

Storm victim found in road


 

The Landlords: Pruning

I thought I was done telling storiesabout the Landlords, but I ran into Her on the driveway this weekend and Her look of amazement made me realize I wasn’t done telling stories about them.  We have lived in the house 256 days as of this past weekend, but we persist in feeling we keep surprising them by being here.  Because of more tree planting (yes), His car was parked halfway up the driveway, with about 6 feet of room to get by.  One of their cats was in the driver’s side window, and at first I mistook it for Him. I crept slowly down the drive, trying to understand what I was looking at, and She asked if I could get by in my car (which I couldn’t).  I mistook her question for a joke since it was obvious that I couldn’t.
There is a large mature flowering dogwood tree between the Big Red Barn where we live and the garage where the Landlords live. It is no more than thirty or so feet tall, but broad and substantial. It was damaged pretty heavily by the snowfall in late October, and now shows that removing the broken limbs late last fall was not enough. A ladder was propped in the tree a number of weeks ago now, and it has not moved as He tries to correct with pruning a process which looks to me like an ordinary old tree death. Throughout the weekend I heard sneezing coming from the tree, either because He has allergies or because he has a cold. 

Pruning is a year-round hobby for the Landlords, along with splitting and stacking firewood by hand.  There is a large maple at the top of the driveway growing out from a crotch made by an old dead stump and the piled-rock wall. It is the sort of volunteer tree that grows in an over-looked spot until one day it drops a huge limb and traps your cars on the other side.  It has a lop-sided growing habit, extremely vertical branches, and a rotten-looking core. If it were a tree on my property I would have it removed.  One weekend, the Landlord took it upon Himself to prune it, highlighting its inherent unattractiveness. He then used twine to tie several of the lower, live branches so that they make a better angle with the tree. The result was extremely startling for me, since it suddenly became impossible to see to the left from my car as I emerged from the driveway. Before I had a chance to say anything, though, the deer came along and ate every single green leaf on that branch, so it is now easy to see through.

In between pruning and planting sessions this weekend, a repair was made to the garbage hutch, which is at the top of the driveway, across from the sad ugly volunteer maple, facing the road, for the second time. Within only a few days, the first repair had become a dangerous piece of trim with sharp protruding screws every ten inches along its length. Seeing no new support for the lid, I have reason to believe this repair may remain solid until mid-June.
The garbage hutch stands in front of a large stand of mature bamboo.  This bamboo collapsed under the weight of the wet snow in October, and lay across the driveway like a fully-loaded snow-flinging trebuchet, but stood up again when a willing nitwit (me) shook off the snow. (“Shook off the snow,” dear reader, is a euphemism; it really means, “got a lot of snow down her sleeves and coat.”)  Now, because of the massive root structure established under the bamboo, numerous spring shoots have emerged.  Young bamboo is pointed, and can pass through many layers of leaf litter or simple impale it and carry it up with itself like a hat on its head.  Because the bamboo is at the property line, I am not sure if its presence is the Landlords’ doing, and I doubt it.
I followed Him out this morning, as he sped up the driveway, demonstrating the revision He is making to the shape of the driveway, and I now understand the new path in the grass. He also veered off the driveway at the top, plowing through all the young bamboo sprouts with his car. From behind it looked like He was careening out of control, but in reality, he was doing some more pruning.

Oh, Deer

The house we are renting has large windows, and the windows want washing, inside and out.  First I wasted a whole bottle of Windex and a whole roll of paper towels, having poked around in the closets looking for a proper squeegee, and finding none.  The dogs watched me going at the windows the whole time. I thought I was being interesting. It was the deer in the yard, though, that was the interesting part, and as I came in, out went Captain for a long, deer-chasing romp.
Later, I made for the closest hardware store I know of, in the near-ish town of Cross River. The hardware store makes keys, sells paint, and has the parts of your running toilet that will make it stop running. Like so many of the small hardware stores you find in strip-malls, it’s packed to the rafters with merchandise. I always find that you walk in and ask the guy behind the counter. Don’t bother looking for yourself. I was shown a few options, and picked a squeegee for which one must provide a handle. The clerk found a couple of possibilities for the pole, none of them perfect, but he did secure the pole to the squeegee with a screw, charging me for neither the pole nor the screw. Along the way, I got a bit of history (the upstairs of the store used to be the screening room of the old movie theater), and some predictions for snow this winter.
In Westchester County, deer (and black bear) can be hunted only by bow, and the season is from October 15thto December 31st. I have already met one man who has permission to hunt on this land.  The deer here are certainly plentiful, and a danger to motorists. I see them every morning when I walk the dogs to get the paper, all day when I look out the windows, every afternoon when I walk the dogs on the road, and every day when I am out driving.  There was a large doe killed recently on Cat Ridge Road, where I walk.  One of its hind legs was broken in the accident, and stuck out from its body at a disturbing angle. It happened on Friday night, and the carcass had been removed by Monday midday. Scavengers had only just started to make progress on it.
The deer here in Westchester seem well adapted to seeing people and cars and trucks, and give everything a good, long, dumb stare before walking or running away.  There is a group that I have seen grazing dully at the margins of the Taconic Thruway near Lagrangeville. The speed limit is 50 mph, but many people seem to take that as a polite suggestion, like flossing daily or changing your smoke-detector batteries twice a year. The one thing that seems to make deer try to leap high and run fast is my knuckleheaded dogs; they charge at deer, barking furiously in frustration, running as fast as they can with no plan for maneuvering over the stone walls that the deer hop over without much visible effort.  Maybe if deer made more noise I would respect them more.
My landlord informs me that he likes seeing the crows and ravens and vultures and eagles that come if the bow hunters leave the entrails after gutting a deer.  As a dog owner, the possibility of my dogs getting into rotting deer entrails is pretty scary, but it is not nearly as scary as the prospect of preventing any and all Vizsla escapes from October 15thto December 31st, from dawn to dusk.  I am pretty sure that Vizslas look as much like white-tail deer as any dog can.  

Nohio

The only non-stop flight from Seattle to Cleveland is a red-eye, departing Seattle at 10:50 pm and arriving about five hours later.  Even if I could sleep on a plane, which I can’t, five hours is not enough sleep.  I am pretty certain to be in a stupor for several days thanks to this experience.
Cleveland recently saw the completion of a large, glossy lavish car-rental terminal, in an industrial park about ten minutes from the actual airport.  The shuttle bus driver, hilarious in his own opinion, wanted to know why in the world we would leave Seattle to come to Ohio.  He also pointed out that we should enjoy the lavishness of the car-rental terminal in the five or so minutes we would be spending there.  I had reserved a full-size car, employing my husband’s strategy for “getting something decent.”  Of course, there were no full-size cars available, so I was offered an SUV for the same price. 
Navigating in Ohio is not especially difficult, though, and we arrived in the town of Wooster just about an hour after landing here.  Our “Modern Blue Pearl” Jeep Grand Cherokee, with 31,00 miles and a huge stain on the back seat is inoffensive from the driver’s perspective, although the tires screamed on most cloverleafs, and there was no figuring out the satellite radio.  As a position of principle, I find the entire SUV category to be rather offensive, being neither good to drive, good to park nor good to the planet, but my opinions are not interesting to many auto manufacturers.  I understand that even Mercedes has discontinued carrying wagons in favor of their uglier and mightier monstrosities (including, a RAV4 ripoff, some bulbous mini-van-ish things, and a military-themed assault vehicle started at $105,750).  Someday I would love to talk to a Mercedes-Benz strategist about what (if anything) they think goes on inside the car-buying mind of a wealthy American mom.
It was garbage collection day yesterday, which meant many piles of neatly bagged garbage on the curb, but also a few ripped-open piles of trash, and a bit of extra road-kill. We passed a gloriously fluffy dead red dog on the shoulder of a two-lane road, a recently squashed cat, a severed opossum, a flattened skunk and a matched set of gorgeous, gruesome giant dead rabbits being pecked at be an equally over-sized matched pair of crows.
It took three tries to check-in, owing to how early we were, and the front desk’s insistence that we were just too early to have a room.  We paid them back by parking in front and falling asleep in the Grand Cherokee, windows open, limbs hanging out.  When we were finally given access to our room, the manager had emerged to supervise the transaction. “What brings you to Ohio?” he asked.
I told him my middle son would be attending the College of Wooster in the fall.
“I have to ask,” he replied. “What would make you choose to come all the way from Washington to Ohio, just to go to a school like that?”
The middle son provided a thoughtful and honest answer.  I thought about roadkill.