Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Stilts? Hot Air Balloon? Tightrope?

A girl can hope, but that doesn't always do any good. I have to say the call wasn't unexpected. My snowplowing neighbor has conferenced with my county snowplower and they have decided that it is impossible to completely clear my driveway. My neighbor did go over and built me a nice ramp up to the top of the drift.

I don't really mind, though I would have gladly accepted being able to drive to my door again, but there is one big problem. We are starting into a stretch of beautiful spring weather. The roads are already a muddy mess from one day of sun; when it thaws, it thaws fast. All of the straight paths to my house require walking over 5-8 feet of snow. Snow that will be 'rotting' within a day or so from the warm temps.

The surface of the snow looks strong and level, but you can find half of yourself suddenly plunging to the bottom, while your other leg stays on top. Not too bad if the snow is knee deep, but 8 feet is a little much if you can't do the splits! I think we will have to walk all the way out in the field where the snow is only about 2 1/2 feet, a doable depth.

Laura leaning against the snow wall where they cut out our ramp.

Standing in the middle of our driveway.

Walking up to the house, 5 feet up in the air and held by nothing but water, albeit in its frozen form.

A panorama of my driveway.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Snow Bunnies of Westby

The east wind has been blowing for days now. Most of the winter it blew from the west and I have quite a few protective snow walls built up in that direction. I had snow walls on the south-east side of my driveway, too, but they were smaller and the blowing snow has now filled up behind them. So any enterprising snowflakes blow straight across the drift before settling in the vacancy of my driveway. I shall have to hang a "No Vacancy" sign because my driveway up by the house is completely and solidly filled in to a depth of about 5 feet.

This is sad when you are walking out to a car, parked in the far distance, carrying a pot of soup or a basket of laundry, but it is great fun for winter play. It is like having a snow park in my front yard. Sadly , I have been unable to find my royal sled; I fear it has blown away and will only be found once the snow melts, if even then. But to take its place, we have skis!

The skis have been here all along, abandoned in the barn by the previous owners. Laura and I played with them at the start of the winter, but we only had one pole and it was too much work to ski with one pole and the snow shovel so we left them alone. Sabbath as Laura and I were out having a nature plod we saw the other pole leaning against the barn. What fun! We went cross country skiing, the skis falling off every few yards since there is nothing but a pinchy clip to hold our snow boots to the skis.

It was so much fun that we had to have Noni and her kids out the next morning for some serious downhill skiing. Devon got to go first, since it was his birthday snow day. He fearlessly plunged down the hill at almost 5 miles per hour...maybe. After Devon, the ski referee (we really, REALLY need more than one pair by next winter) decreed that it was Noni's turn to try. She had never been on skis, due in part to a reluctance by our parents to pay for broken limbs to be set, so it was high time to discover if this was the sport she would be a 'natural' at.

Devon had skied ONE WHOLE TIME, so of course he was qualified to be Noni's tutor. All of us were yelling advice and encouragement as Noni shoved off. Devon stayed beside her the whole way as she crept down the slope, gradually losing momentum before sinking into the snow. And falling on her face.

Each of the girls had a turn, and of course I did, too, but since my guests could only stay a short time, I tried to be less piggy than usual. I decided the first hill must have been too challenging for Noni, so before it was time to leave, Noni tried one more slope, even more gentle than the first. I feel she was much improved in her execution and I found her hopeful, "Swoosh, swoosh, swoosh" mantra charming, though it was evident this was NOT a case of mind over matter. For all her improvement, "the end" was much the same.

After hand warming and refreshments, it was time to walk out to the car. We all suited up and prepared to tackle the drifts. The snow in this storm has had much bigger, fluffier flakes than usual, so the drifts are more challenging to traverse, as Cousin Clancy found to his surprise.

And Noni.

It's Monday night, and the solid mass of snow in my driveway hasn't gotten plowed yet. The school bus didn't even try to make it today, but the driver has promised to at least make the attempt tomorrow. And maybe, just maybe, the snow plow driver will get to my driveway, too. A girl can hope!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Potpourri of Pages

I was hesitant about reviewing my next book for one reason. It is a wonderful, living tale of everyday bravery and adventure in frontier Alaska, BUT it does have rough language in it. Nothing obscene, but the kind of language one would expect to hear trappers, miners, and mule drivers use. That disclaimer aside, it is one of the funniest books I have read in a long time.

Tisha is the story of a young girl of nineteen who leaves the familiar surroundings of Oregon to travel to the interior of 1927 Alaska to teach school. If you read the jacket, it tries to set up potential conflict between 3 possible suitors, but it's pretty obvious early on which one she favors. It is one of those "true life" stories, true except for alterations made "only when I (the author) deemed it dramatically necessary." So you can pick and choose in your own mind what things actually happened.

"The further we went the more uneven the trail became and I kept slipping and sliding all over the saddle....Then things became worse. Without warning the sun disappeared and everything was gray and chill. A few minutes later big feathery snowflakes were drifting down and it was like being in the middle of winter....Once when Mr. Strong rode back he complimented me on how much better I was sitting. 'You're not sliding all over the place now.' 'Thanks,' I told him, 'but it's not me. The snow melted on the saddle and my pants are stuck.'"

For some reason, (I can't think why!) I am drawn of late to stories of single and (amazingly) attractive heroines who journey to cold new places, have many adventures, and ultimately triumph. Go figure. This book is no exception to that rule, and the funny things that happen to Tisha as she learns about life in the Arctic and life in an often prejudiced small town will have you in stitches.

"It was the outhouse that almost caused a tragedy of sorts at the end of the week. Ten minutes after I excused little Willard Friday morning he still hadn't come back to the classroom, so Nancy went out to see what was keeping him...She came back right away, trying not to laugh and looking worried at the same time. Willard was stuck to the seat.

We tried pouring warm water around him, but it froze almost as soon as it hit the boards, so finally Mr. Carew had to bring a crowbar and pry the boards off. The outhouse was a two-holer, so when we carried Willard into my quarters the boards were long enough so that he looked for all the world like a prince on a litter. It didn't seem to bother him, though. We propped one end of the boards on the stove and the other over a chair and he sat as calm as you please until he thawed off."

After their Indian mother died and their white father refused to take responsibility for them, Tisha adopted two young children. This ignited the fires of prejudice she had already sparked with some of her previous actions and soon the whole town was in an uproar. Matters culminate with a feverish dog sled pursuit to save her children.

"'No!' I yelled, and it was the strongest no I'd ever given to anyone. I didn't think, and I didn't care. I just gave him the hardest push I could and he went sprawling.

'These children are mine!' I yelled at him. 'They're mine and nobody is going to take them away from me.'"

It has a happy ending and not one of those old movie happy endings with the final kissing scene that stops at just the right spot, but you know the rest of the story, how they get a divorce ten years later and one of them dies in their sixties of alcohol poisoning. This was a real happy ending, of a life well lived and love given freely. I won't spoil it for you, but it was nice. And I think I will need a dog sled by next winter. Finley will be so pleased.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Another Day, Another Blizzard

Yes, folks. We really did have another blizzard. I am getting a little tired of all you people in California sending us your bad weather just because you've gotten tired of it. Keep a few of these storms for yourself! This time the weather service began warning us of our impending doom before the storm had even hit the west coast. I think they got a little bit of grief for the last surprise storm and weren't taking any chances of missing this one.

Each blizzard has had its own character, and this one was no exception. It came from the east instead of the prevailing westerly direction that is usual for this area. That meant it had a whole new direction of snow to blow, with no drifts to stop it from choking my driveway. I was smart and moved the car out of the tree belt this time so it wouldn't get socked in, but the snow was blowing from behind and made a drift out in front of it. The van got moved one more time by Jack when he brought me home after Damon's party, but had drifted again by morning.

Every storm my van parks farther and farther down the driveway. Pretty soon we'll be hiking clear to the road! School was canceled in Grenora so Laura and I staggered through the drifts together on our way to my preschool playgroup. My door was frozen shut from the freezing rain, so we got in on the sheltered side of the van, gunned the engine and plowed through the drifts to freedom.

After preschool I headed to my mom's to help with family togetherness time over there. A week ago the water in my parents' house quit working. My dad is still in California, trapped by the storms that generous state keeps sharing with the rest of the country, but he has been trying to diagnose the problem through the phone wires. The current theory is that the pipe from the road is frozen. "But don't worry," said the former owner cheerfully, "the last time it did that, it thawed by mid-April." After a day or so of hauling water by hand out of the well in the basement, my mom decided April wasn't going to work for her, thank you very much.

We can cut weeks off that water-free time by clearing away the snow from over the pipes so the warming sun can thaw the ground. Only problem is that the snow has turned out to cover about 8-10 inches of solid ice in some places.

The obvious solution was to take an ax to it, of course. We all took turns with it, but my mom used it the most. She'll definitely feel it tomorrow, since she's been sick and largely immobile for a month-plus now. And tomorrow is book moving day, too. (We have books like you won't believe, and that's after the harsh purging before the move!). Quite frankly, I think there may have been some latent hostility being released here...I'm just saying. In any case, the rest of us stayed back when she took to swinging. I guess that's how Montanans do therapy. Saves on the psychiatry bills!

The imprint of a tire left in the snow as it melted to ice.

Flight of the Flutist

Our local Adventist pastor is a remarkable person, at least for a Californian used to pastors that huff and puff over having two or sometimes even THREE churches to minister to. Pastor Milton Fish ministers to four congregations spread over a distance of 137.76 miles in one direction and 91.79 miles in another. He never complains (at least where anyone can hear him!) and cheerfully drives around for business meetings, socials, prayer meetings, and all the other functions of church-hood. And to top it all off, he plays the flute, noblest of all instruments.

This Sunday was the annual Community Christian Concert in Plentywood, organized by another member of our wonderful church family, Trish. Pastor Fish had agreed to join our little troupe of flutists, now numbering three since Tiggy began learning the flute last year. I chose the flute as my instrument of choice back in third grade, and that disgustingly talented Noni plays the flute simply because she can (Along with every other instrument. A regular one woman orchestra, she is.)

Friday afternoon our trembling, under-practiced trio received word that the pastor was called away unexpectedly by the impetuous arrival of his newest grandson. Suddenly half our melody section was on its way to Chicago and Tiggy was a little nervous about carrying the whole thing herself.

I had problems of my own to worry about. I had promised to create a Galilean fishing boat backdrop to match the program theme of "Follow Me." I had done better than usual with my preparations, because on Thursday I bought the foam board I needed for it, but that was as far as I'd gotten. Saturday night found me painting away while the rest of the family watched a movie. But it all turned out, and I even had a scrap that looked enough like a wave to be drafted into service.

Sunday morning I put the last touches on everything, got my food ready, and piled in the car to get to Plentywood. When I got there, Trish had gathered some greenery and other fishing-themed decorations. It all went together quite well, but I found myself needing some kind of earth-toned fabric to wrap around the plants on the shore side. I sent Laura out to the car to scavenge what she could, and I don't think very many people guessed that the shore was really two pairs of Caleb's khaki pants and one of his dark brown shirts. I used my jacket and purse to make the waves in the blue fabric, so I didn't even have to worry about carrying them around.

The concert was lovely, filled with many blessed performances. Our rendition of "Once to Every Man and Nation" went decently, for which we were all grateful! We even met another flute player, so next year we can have a quintet if the pastor doesn't have another grandbaby waiting in the wings.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sudden Death Ninja Porcupine

After the last blizzard we enjoyed over a week of very nice weather. I even wore shorts one of the days, but that may have been a little ambitious. It's been so balmy it was only a matter of time until the wild critters started to stir again. I've seen geese flying north and ducks out in the frozen fields (we're having a blizzard today, and I bet the water fowl are regretting their impetuosity!). And of course the porcupines peeked their heads out and began waddling around searching for delectable twigs after a long nap.

Finely and Anika had already discovered porcupines during the thaw we had in February, but I didn't have much hope for Finley learning from his experiences. So it was with no surprise that I saw him on my doorstep with a porcupine quill on his lip, but I was very pleased that it was only one, instead of the 30 he had last time. Anika wasn't back yet, but I was pretty sure she would have stayed out of trouble.

A short time later Laura and I stepped out for a jog. We hadn't gone far when Laura said, "There's Anika and she has quills all over." Sigh. Not again! At least she was the brave one last time.

Since it was still late and I had my camera in my pocket (and yes, Noni, I do realize it is really your camera, but I am condensing for the flow of the story) I decided we would follow Anika. She would lead us straight to the porcupine and I would be able to get some nice pictures.

Sure enough, she took off like a dart down our line of trees. We followed as best we could, plunging into drifts along the way, and finally caught up with her at the edge of the prairie. Hmmmm. No porcupine yet. Laura was getting nervous and kept asking what we'd do if it charged us. Or jumped out of a tree on us. Someone has not been keeping up on their natural history.

Next, Anika pranced back up the line of trees until we were abreast of the house again, then took off across the field to the clump of trees where we like to take walks. Finley followed her, and we could hear barking before we were halfway there, but by the time we'd waded over, they'd moved and were circling through the trees. We followed on the outside and got almost all the way around before the snow got so deep we had to change direction and go into the thicket. That was small improvement and we ended up crawling across the snow in an attempt to distribute our weight more evenly. Even that gave out, and we had to push through the snow, sinking up to our hips at each step, before we could break through onto more stable snow.

We headed back to the house and were half way there when the dogs set up a ruckus from the same spot they'd been originally. Laura and I dashed as fast as possible on unstable snow and managed to get there before they lost interest and moved off. We had to cross a snow drift at least eight feet deep between two rows of trees to get to them. I was a little nervous, but the drift held and soon we gazed at our friendly neighborhood pincushion. He was tucked back into the drift with his business end pointed out.

I wanted to get a better angle for pictures, so I stepped off the drift onto the snow about 3 feet below. And promptly sank to my waist in soft, white quicksand. I had to have Laura pull me back up, after which I decided that the angle from the top of the drift was pretty good, after all!

The dogs barked around, Anika with her face still full of quills, but I noticed neither of them came within striking distance. While a porcupine cannot project its quills, it can move very quickly, and the slightest brush will embed its razor-sharp quills deep into its victim. The quills themselves are actually modified hairs coated with keratin, but they feel like spears if you're on the wrong end of them.

We left the porcupine embedded in the snowbank and headed back to the house. The sun was setting, but it was still a mild 30 degrees or so with no wind. As we passed under the giant poplar we saw a very beautiful owl sitting there, but once we noticed him he only let me get in one shot before sailing silently to rest in a less crowded part of the thicket. If you squint, you can kind of make him out in the middle of the tree. You had to be there.

Once back at the house, it was time to take Anika's quills out. Evidently she used up all her bravery the last time because we had a hard time holding her still long enough to remove her 13 quills (same # as last time). The last one broke off and disappeared into her lip before I could get it, but no matter how she suffered, she and I are both glad she wasn't the pit bull in this picture.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Wolf Pack of Westby

Laura and I didn't sled in our driveway very long Sunday morning. I'd promised my phone stalker, Tiggy, that we'd come in and share the sledding with her. The day was gorgeous and the snow was pristine as we stopped off at her house to pick her up. First we sledded down the road by my mom's house, but the girls wanted to go to the premier sledding hill in town, which happens to be right by the cemetery.

As the owner of the royal sled and as the responsible adult, of course I tried out the track first for quality and safety verification. I verified an adequate measure of safety (and if anything went wrong, the cemetery was right there) and decent quality. But to be sure, I tried several different runs...several different times. Testing wind speeds and the like.

"Aunty! Let us have a turn!!!!!!"

"OK, girls. I'm just going to do one more run and then you can have it."

I got a running head start and slid down the hillside. I began to slow well before I reached the row of bushes at the bottom of the hill, but scraped myself along with my hands until I could go no further. The girls were little specks at the top of the hill.

"OK, girls. Your turn."

I headed back towards the house, leaving the sled at the furthest reaches of a snowy field. Shouts of outrage burst forth behind me. I began to run. A serious error in strategy became apparent very quickly. The hillside as a whole had a very nice crust on it, but right by the bushes the snow was deep and soft. I sank in with every step, all the while listening to the baying of outraged girlhood coming ever closer. I felt the panic of a deer pursued by a ravenous wolf pack.

My only hope lay in the fact that they would reach the soft snow before they reached me. If I could only keep going, I'd make it to the road first and from there to safety. I just had to outlast them. Yeah right. They're in their youth and I am in my 30's. I was close, almost within arm's reach of the road before I collapsed on the snow. I was dog-piled within seconds.

After the girls released me, I went back to my parents' house while the girls kept sledding. They spent most of the afternoon out there and were at it again the next day after school got out until sunset. I had to drag them back in. It's a good thing we had our fun then because the last few days have been hard if you're a snow flake. We've had temps in the high thirties and the snow is melting FAST! There are vast lakes around town and when you walk through snow your footsteps fill with water as if you were at the beach (only a colder, whiter beach where you wear lots of clothes). It's starting to look and feel decidedly spring like.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Delivery Trucks' Blizzard

After a lifetime of "no known allergies", Laura has gotten a mysterious, full-body rash three times this winter. The most recent occurrence began last Tuesday and by Thursday was bad enough I planned to take her to the local clinic in Crosby the next morning, weather permitting. We'd had days and days of very nice weather and warm temperatures, but a tiny weather system was supposed to pull through Friday morning.

The weather forecasted a possibility of light freezing rain in the morning. I'm a little sensitive to freezing rain these days, so I planned to wait til later in the day to make sure the roads were still good. But in the morning when I woke up, I could hear the wind howling fiercely and I knew that freezing rain or not, the roads were going to drift too badly to make the trip. That was OK; Laura had a holiday from school and I had a new book that I'd just heisted from Noni's house...The Children's Blizzard.

What nobody knew, not even the weather people apparently, is that the light weather system was going to develop into a full-blown blizzard right over our heads, trapping scores of truck drivers out on the road. It was a little surreal trying to read my book about a sudden blizzard that killed hundreds of prairie school children, all the while a sudden blizzard raged outside my own door. It felt like I'd been transported through one of those mystical time-travel devices that happen with alarming frequency in movies. Evidently Laura caught a little of the same feeling, because when I went outside to take a few pictures I soon heard the faint sound of a spoon being vigorously banged against one of my pots. Someone has been watching a few too many pioneer movies.

The last blizzard we experienced had sprung up while I was in Westby, safely ensconced at my parents' house. By the time I got back to the house, the drifts were made and I parked my van on the other side of them. This time the van was right up next to the house. I thought about moving it mid-morning, but didn't want to go out in the storm. It was probably too late by then, anyway.

Towards late afternoon I could tell the storm was slackening somewhat. The wind wasn't quite as fast and there was slightly better visibility. The perfect time for a walk, of course. I still didn't take the chance of going outside my trees, not wanting to run the risk of being the next day's headline, but things were still plenty dramatic inside of our shelterbelt. I quickly discovered the grim truth that blizzards do nothing for my figure!

When we explored further down the driveway, we found that the drifts, again blocking the exposed road as they had multiple times this winter, were now the worst we'd ever seen them. Laura and I had to face the grim scenario of being snowed in. When I told her we'd have to eat the chubby ones first, she screeched, "That's not funny!" and hid the cat in her closet.

The next morning the rescue bus from Westby picked us up early so we could go to church. Jack and Noni came out in the Suburban, Jack blasting through all the drifts on the open road, and Noni squealing next to him. Or it could have been a dolphin, but I've read they rarely come so far north. The ride back in was less dramatic because he'd already broken through the drifts, but even he, in his four-wheel drive beast, didn't feel like tackling the drifts in my driveway!

Noni and Jack very kindly let me use the Suburban over the next day, since neither of them wanted to be my perpetual chauffeur. Sunday morning dawned bright, warm, and beautiful, the perfect day for sledding with my "royal" sled down the drifts across my driveway. Except for the dramatic snow deposits you'd never have been able to tell that two days before there'd been such a dramatic storm, but that is the way of blizzards, I guess.