Not Pioneering Stock

 

I am not pioneering stock.  My prayers were not answered.  My satellite went out at two and my power followed at five…in the AM.  It’s seven seventeen and it already seems like a lifetime.  Too much time stuck inside my head with nothing to distract me is the main problem.  At least the morning is brightening…a gray light, but at least I can see without a flashlight.

There is a beautiful winter scene outside my window…hemlocks and cedars laden with snow, their fronds drooping toward the ground.  There is an underlying silence, the sounds muffled by the snow…until a tree snaps under the extra weight of snow, sleet, and ice.  It sounds as if a war is being fought on the ridgeline above us.

It is eight oh two and the “Snowpocalypse” is upon us.  There is nothing to do but wait.  A cheery fire in the fireplace…cheery but not near warm enough.  A cast iron Dutch oven is heating water.  Cheese grits are on the menu…instant cheese grits.  Uck!  At least my coffee had perked before the power went off.

Stepping outside to bring in the wood I heard the winds on the ridges above us.  The sound of an old steam locomotive running at top speed…without the steam whistle of course.  Just a rapid chugga-chugga sound I associate with old movies I watched in my youth.  So far, we have been sheltered from the wind, but I see movement in the cypress cedar just beyond my backyard fence.

The snow, flakes once large and wet, have now changed over to sleet.  I can see my clothesline and it is covered with ice…much ice.  This does not bode well for trees or powerlines I would think.  My hothouse is without power and I worry about Linda’s plants…particularly her thirty-year-old scheffleras.  Worry…but there is not a damn thing I can do about it except feel her pain if they die.

Old poots like me are always talking about the good old days and how much better it was back then.  I wonder?  I surely wonder about the good old days the former tenants of my little piece of heaven had.  Three different sets of families left their imprints and memories before we began to add ours.  I wish their ghosts would speak to me.  I have many questions like, “How did you keep those fireplaces fed?”

Built in 1892, the old farmhouse had five fireplaces.  I am only trying to keep one burning and maybe later an old wood stove to cook on if necessary.  I can’t imagine…don’t want to imagine what it was like feeding four open fireplaces and the wood stove pumping smoke out smoke one end and heat from the other.

No, I’m not sure about those good old days especially as I look at the expanse of white between my house and the old privy.  A book comes to mind, “Ten Miles to the Outhouse,” by Willie Makeit and illustrated by Betty Don’t.  I think the cold is addling my brain…or the Jack and Coke.  Five o’clock in the PM and we still have no power, but we have seen power trucks on the move…and the power flickered once…dashed hopes in the blink of an eye.

I’ve also seen turkeys on the move.  A dozen or so all puffed up against the cold.  They look comical taking high steps trying to navigate the now five or so inches of hard packed sleet, freezing rain, and snow.  Thankfully the temperature is now hovering above freezing and it is now more snow than sleet.

The wind is still up.  Trees are popping all around.  Cannon reports in the distance.  Even if the power comes on soon there is no assurance that it will stay on, but I’ll take what I can get…damn!  A hemlock limb just hit the fence.

Light, heat, and water have returned.  At six PM the lights flickered and then held.  There was the welcome sound of air handlers kicking in and the feel of warm air.  Quick microwave something warm to eat.

This is not the worse “storm” we’ve ridden out.  Our first winter was in 1987-88 and in January we lay buried under eighteen inches…for those of you above the Mason-Dixon, that’s like you getting eighteen feet.  We were in complete shutdown mode for a week with only a VW Beetle and a Thunderbird to motivate with.  I swore I would never be without four-wheel drive again.  I think I’ve HAD to use it once since then.  An ice storm with a hurricane came through in ’93 but the four-wheel drive doesn’t work on ice.  I’ve used my four-wheel drive a lot but not because the weather dictated it.

No, I’m not pioneering stock.  There was once a time.  Now I have grown old and lazy…and hate the cold.  I think my next acquisition will be a generator.  Hopefully, I won’t need it any more than I have needed four-wheel drive.

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Walkin’ in the Snow

There was a time…a time when I ran in the snow.  We don’t get much snow here in the foothills of the South Carolina Blue Ridge.  You Yankees think we are crazy, running out and grabbing all the bread, milk and toilet paper we can carry.  Don’t tell anyone, I think we’re crazy too.  Why grab milk and bread when you can just as easily grab Jack Daniels and pulled pork barbeque.  I just got off subject, but I do agree with the toilet paper part of the equation.

We are lucky (unlucky?) to receive one or two four-inch snows a year…if that…and we go batshit crazy when we get it.  Few of us really know how to drive in it and those who do have to worry about those who don’t.  Don’t worry too much though.  If you find yourself in the ditch a “good ole” boy with a four by four and a tow rope will be by directly.

I go crazy too but for other reasons.  I enjoyed going out in it and running.  Years ago, before retirement, I would go out before sunup and tackle it…getting a run in before getting the word school had been canceled.  Snowflakes reflecting in the light of my running lamp against the backdrop of the darkness.  The way the snow seemed to glow on its own when I cut the lamp off.  A man against the elements…no.  Putting on my running shoes and going out on a cold morning was “against the elements” enough.  There was something about sticking my tongue out allowing snowflakes to land., the muted sounds of the event, even the frozen toes due to the ice buildup on the toes of my shoes.

I can’t run anymore…maybe…I still have hopes and dreams that cause me to hobble out daily.  Today I went out and walked my old running trail, up to the top of the hill, down to and around the lake before reversing again.  I DID wait until several hours after sunup.  It was colder without the exertion of my running but at least my toes didn’t freeze, my thermal hiking boots made sure of that.  Sounds were still muted, and I still caught snowflakes on my tongue.  The snow was powdery and light, easy to walk in…not good for snowmen or snowball fights but enjoyable to walk in.

A young man riding on his ATV disturbed the silence but was thoughtful enough to stop and ask if would like a ride.  I smiled and thanked him.  I told him I was enjoying my walk too much to spoil it with a ride.  He smiled too before riding on into the white.

If you enjoyed this might like to stop by Don Miller’s writer’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38G

The picture is from Run-Karla-Run and is credited to Phil Hospod.

OUR FOREFATHERS WERE BUILT OF STERNER STUFF!

In honor of our first snow storm of 2017 I am posting a story about our first winter storm of 2016.

Our power is off and I am writing this using the wonderful modern technology we possess, a battery powered laptop. I am also freezing despite the roaring fire I have going and the worry I feel that my lower than normal wood reserves will dwindle to nothing before Blue Ridge Coop gets the power back on. It can’t be much above freezing in here. I also wonder how previous generations survived.

You see, here in the “Dark Corner” of upstate South Carolina, we are having a major winter event. I live in the South where most of our “snow storms” would be classified as a mist if it were rain and an inch of snow can bring
everything to a screeching halt…except the dairy and bread baking industry. Ours was a doomsday forecast with copious amounts of predicted snow falling followed by freezing rain and sleet followed by more snow. We are on the thin line separating more freezing rain from more snow. I pray we are on the snow side of that line and as dawn breaks I see we probably were. It looks to be some six to eight inches of compacted snow and ice. So, let’s get the power back on okay?

Nearly thirty years ago, my wife and I decided to purchase a farmhouse built in 1888. Built on top of oak timbers milled from the land, it had bead board walls and ceilings, pine flooring, wavy lead glass windows, all covered by tin shingles. Thirty years ago, we were big on “ambience,” today we are big on “KEEPING WARM!”

The old house sat empty from the Forties until 1956. It also sat bathroom-less with no plumbing or electricity and no heating system other than the five fire places and the wood “cook stove” sitting in the kitchen. It is my guess most of the winter functions “back in the day” took place in the small kitchen due to the heat produced by that the cook stove…and the kitchen’s proximity to the path that lead to the distant outhouse. The old house also had no insulation until 1956 when shredded paper insulation was blown into the walls. Sixty years later my guess is the insulation has compressed just a wee bit. Thankfully we added a modern “edition” that is well insulated but still the temperature just can’t be much above freezing in here…can it?

Can you imagine keeping five fireplaces and a wood stove fed during the winter months? We found a broken cross cut saw, forgotten in a closet, which I am sure is a tribute to the “stuff” the original owners had. I have a top of the line, modern chainsaw and since my last bout of sciatica from splitting wood with an axe and maul, a yearning for a hydraulic splitter. I can’t imagine keeping those fireplaces fed with modern technology much less with just an axe and crosscut saw. Did they just freeze if someone came down with sciatica? I hear people “yearning for the good old days.” Really? Maybe simpler, less stressed out days. More time to spend with family instead of trekking to and from the office maybe…. Just remember “more family time” might be sitting around the kitchen stove for the heat or family wood cutting and splitting expeditions.

YEAAAAAAA! THE POWER’S BACK ON! Quick turn up the heat! Wait, the furnace thermostat says it’s a balmy sixty degrees. Certainly seems colder. Yes, they were built of sterner stuff…or thicker blood.

If you enjoyed this you can find this story and others like it in the book “Through the First Gate.” More of Don Miller’s unique views of life, humor and Southern stories of a bygone time may be purchased or downloaded at http://goo.gl/lomuQf.

EARLY THIRTY

Too many years of getting up early at early thirty I guess. I am standing in front of my western facing kitchen sink window admiring the full moon as I prepare my morning coffee. It is cold and crisp with not even a whisper of a breeze. “La Luna Llena” seems so close that I might be able to reach up and touch it and I have no clue as to why I think of it in Spanish. The moon light is causing the snow that still lays on the ground to glow brightly and seems to brighten my backyard forest, illuminating it in an eerie light.

I normally don’t have to set an alarm to wake up by five o’clock despite having no place special to be and an icy driveway that would prevent me from going out anyway. This morning my rambling “dream thoughts” awoke me at four thirty along with a puppy dog wanting to go outside. It is mornings like this that I am glad my “dream puppy” awoke me. Most mornings in a time gone by I would get up at four-thirty so I could run or walk before school. This habit has been hard to break. I always knew that if I waited, my labors would not get done and I really didn’t want to feel that elephant sitting on my chest again that I associate with an earlier heart attack. As scary as the outside darkness could be, even with my “miner’s lamp” style flash light, I loved running, probably more so walking, on mornings like this…even with the twenty degree temperatures.

The light cast from the full moon was so bright that most of the time I really didn’t need to use a flashlight. I would climb up the hill on Airline Road and crossover Highway 11 to the drive leading into Lookup Lodge. It was as if the moon was following me, always right over my left shoulder until it disappeared behind the small mountains to the west. Above me, and to the east, Orion still hunted despite the pre-dawn glow of the still unrisen sun. As I chugged, wheezing and gasping, out of what I called the hole and climbed the asphalt path up toward the lake, I always knew that both the moon and Orion would be waiting for me as soon as I topped the next hill and found my way to the eastern side of the lake. I also knew that I would pause, stop timing my run, and admire the scene of the setting full moon over the lake.

It is still too icy for me to get out this morning and with an attack of sciatica trying to hang on, I will resist my urge to do so. I think I am going set my alarm for four-thirty tomorrow, just in case. I think there will be enough light from an almost full moon left to make it worth it. If not, it will still be worth it.