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Journal

Winter Cedes To Onions

Everyone else has been getting snow days–we’re at what is hopefully the bitter end to an uncharacteristic late winter cold and snow snap.  Temperatures have been up and down for weeks, hitting well below 0 degrees Farenheit zero (-18 C) on multiple occasions and, until the past weekend, ascending above freezing for just two days out the the past month or so.  Unfortunately, it rained like hell both of those days, in between snow storms, accumulating inches of slush that turned to the ice that lay beneath everything that hasn’t been constantly shoveled, scraped, and salted.  My wife is a teacher, and her school has cancelled at least 6 days, with at least that many late openings and early dismissals, combined.

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I grew accustomed to my kids are sleeping in morning after morning, classes on what seemd like a perpetual 2-hour delay, due to cold.  I sat at my desk one morning last week and guzzled coffee: outside it was  -4 F, which didn’t even feel that cold.  It was not so long ago I was bundling up in wool sweater, parka, gloves, scarf, and cap to go out to our community’s annual “It’s a Wonderful Life” light-up night back in November.  I remember the gentle winter breeze felt like it was cutting like a dagger.

It was 29 degrees.

If it had been 29 degrees last week I’d have gone outside without a jacket and washed the truck.

No precipitation right now, but it’s supposed to hit 50 degrees–we’ve been above freezing, with highs in the upper 30s and 40s for the past 3 days as well, and not a moment too soon.  If the meteorologists are to be believed (and they aren’t) things look good, and above averages, through the weekend.  Sweet. I’ve got yard work to do.   Apple trees and shrubbery to prune, fallen sticks and branches to pick up, and who knows what else is hidden beneath the foot or so of crystalized mess in the backyard.

Photo shamelessly pilfered from Eric Barker--sorry, Eric.
Photo shamelessly pilfered from Eric Barker–sorry, Eric.

It will be a treat.  I’ve got this little property maintenance gig, and one of the things I do is clear sidewalks for a local landlord whose student tenants are too lazy and indifferent (as I was when I was a student) to do it for themselves.  It’s always been fun, invigorating, especially since I stopped trying to wrestle a snowblower in and out of the truck and opted to do as much as I could by hand.  It’s good, clean work.  The sound of the shovel scraping concrete pleases me, and despite all those mothers in the world urging us to bundle up I think the cold, fresh air is good for me.  I know getting outside, even under cloudy skies, is a good thing–no seasonal depression disorder for me.  I’m the same level of grumpy as always.

But the level of weather has been bullshit.  I said that the other morning, when I woke to find three new inches when the forecast had called for “a dusting.”

“This is bullshit.” I said.  It didn’t help.

Normally, I expect to shovel 17 times, give or take.  Last year was high with 24 trips around town spread between early December and March. This year there was one day of work in December, nothing even in early January, but I’ve been out 37 times in slightly less than 2 months.  Some of those are two trips on the same day, and some of them were easy–a few inches of powder.  The heavy snow and slush of the past two weeks, on the other hand, has been a mess–impossible to clear without hundreds of pounds of salt, and hell on my arms. I’ve got what I think is tendonitis in my left elbow. Tendonitis!  From shoveling!

On the bright side: I’ve been planting.  My package from Fedco Seeds arrived a few weeks back, and I’ve got my onions growing in flats under lights, and the leeks are germinating and should sprout within the next few days.  We joke around here about “clinging to our guns and religion,” thanks to a certain President’s unfortunate, but astute observations of our regional mores, but at this point it is those little green blades of onion starts that are keeping me sane.

Remind me of this when I’m moaning about the heat.

onion_seedlings

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Uncategorized

The Weather-Tainment Industry

IMG_0060It’s snowing outside–actually, it’s not–but I could have written that a day ago, or on almost any day in the young year of 2014 as we slog our way through the coldest, snowiest winter in recent memory.  As of Wednesday, Feb 11, we have enjoyed just 2 days with temperatures above freezing, both of which were accompanied by nights in the low twenties, with much of out time spent below 10 F.  This isn’t particularly bitter weather, especially if you’re from–say–Minneapolis or Calgary or Murmansk, nor is it particularly extreme for us, except that it has been nearly constant ever since the spooky night of our Christmas Party–December 21, when temperatures climbed through the day and maxed out close to 68 at midnight before crashing hard and fast enough to score a (barely, but still…) coveted White Christmas.

IMG_0054The constancy is what gets us.  I live in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains, in northern Appalachia, at the eastern edge of the American mid-west.  Geographically, we’re often grouped as part of the Middle Atlantic States–although it takes me a 6 hour drive to smell saltwater.  Our weather reflects the best and worst of all these divisions–hot, humid summers, rainy springs and autumns, fierce winters, occasional drought, blizzards blown down over the great lakes from Canada, and every ten years or so a N’or’ Easter storm that blows up from the south and can deliver snow by the foot.  It’s a crapshoot, but the one thing we’ve come to rely on are the respites–a few cold days, maybe a cold week, for example, is usually followed by a minor melt.

IMG_0056This year, it has just been nasty, and I have to admit that for the most part I have enjoyed it. In my selective–and possible masochistic–reckoning this is how all winters are supposed to be, and how they always were: seasons of relentless cold and giant piles of snow.

What I have not enjoyed is rampant commercialism of the weather reporting industry, both nationally and locally.  Teasing important weather-related news, branding weather as an entertainment feature, exaggerating situations to shock and awe patrons, and even running commercials featuring narrative and imagery from past storms to scare potential viewers into watching “news at eleven” newscasts has reached a shameful zenith, and I fear it will only become worse.

IMG_0039The Weather Teases have been around for a while, and they strike me as both the most dangerous and the most important.  It’s as simple as any news tease: an anchor or meteorologist pops up in a commercial and offers up some cryptic tease, often phrased as a question, of information that viewers ought to have earlier.  For example, “Will local roads turn dangerous as temperatures drop?  Find out at eleven!”  If someone has someplace to go, that’s important information being withheld, in the name of drawing viewers.  If the answer is “No, the roads will be fine,” the broadcaster is guilty of being sneaky and deceptive, but I don’t see a potentially dangerous result.  If, on the other hand, those h0015BE3Ddropping temperatures mean ice on the road after an evening of drizzling rain, people need that information–maybe to get where they’re going early, maybe to get kids home before things get worse.  Those TV Talking Heads shouldn’t be teasing between commercials during Wheel of Fortune–they should be telling us the facts, baby, “Look, compadres–it’s been raining, temps are dropping sharply and the winds are picking up.  It’s getting slippery and it’s going to be worse.”

The next one is more of a pet peeve than a cynical, possibly dangerous practice, and that’s the sudden fashion to report “wind chill factors” rather than actual temperatures.  Every boy who ever broke out of his plastic bubble knows it feels colder when the wind blows–but that TV meteorologist, who used to do traffic on a local FM station–ahem–will have a much easier time holding your attention if he skips telling you about the actual 20 degrees thermometers read in favor of a hyperbolic windchill of +3 degrees–wind chill factor. That sure makes us sit up straight in our seats, eh?  So cynical.

Next up, this is for you, Weather Channel.  If you haven’t noticed, The Weather Channel recently began a policy of naming winter storms, you know, like they name hurricanes, and then copywriting those names.  Though it hasn’t worked out very well (the idea has failed to resonate with audiences, i.e. nobody gives a damn), one can see why they would try this.  People love that hurricane thing–especially when particularly fierce storms turn out to have the same names as our ex lovers and in-laws–damned right Isabelle tore a path of death and destruction through the Dominican Republic; they should see what she did to my heart!  Folks also got a big charge a couple of years ago when a modest storm dumped a bunch of snow on Washington, DC and the media pinned the headline “SNOWMAGEDDON” over the whole thing, as if frozen zombie corpses were roamng the streets of the capitol while Jesus lifted all the pure, clean snowmen into heaven–a gross over-reaction by any accounting, but a perfect precedent for potentially profitable pandering to the public during future storms–and using the hurricane model (copywritten!) releases the dullards from actually having to cook up another catchy name…where do you go from there?  Snowzilla?  The Snow Ness Monster?  The Snow Death?  Snowsquatch?  It thrills me to no end that this marketing plan has been met with complete and total indifference by American consumers.  This year they came up with “The Polar Vortex” which doesn’t sound that monstrous, but certainly has the appropriate ring of a 1950’s science fiction thriller.

Of course I’m making a hopeless argument that few folks care enough to support–most people are sane enough, and restrained enough, to simply ignore this crap, like it’s background static, and get on with their lives.  Not me.  I have to complain about it–but I always believe the ticket to a good bitch-and-moan is a viable alternative to the status quo–and this one is easy: stop reporting weather and news in general as a marketing tactic–stop the “there’s a bad man in a neighborhood that any minute now is going to kick in a door and kill everyone inside–details at 11pm.”  That might have worked before the internet, but when I’m watching TV and the talking head comes on and says “a severe ice storm is bearing down on the region–find out where it will hit the worse at eleven” I’m not waiting until eleven-damned-o’clock to find out if I’m doomed.  I’m headed straight to the internet.  TV stations are going to learn or continue to lose viewers.  As for the storm names: guys, just stop it.  You’re embarrassing yourselves.

Inappropriate, extraneous, irrelavant, possibly sexist, definitely superfluous winter bonus: I did an image search looking for an illustration of a broadcaster with “details at eleven” and, oddly enough, the first picture through the filter was the one below.  Score.

g-travel-us-hawaii-oahu-honolulu-waikiki-girl-1983

 

 

Categories
Commentary Journal

Gardening Season Is On The Way…

Gardening season is on the way, even as we plunge into another cold snap–it’s a balmy 33F right now, the warmest it is expected to be for the next 10 days or so–brrrr.  I’d rather it stay cold then climb up and down and up and down, of course, but the “stay cold” thing wears thin.  I watched (mostly slept through) the Denver/New England AFC playoff game yesterday–always a good day with Pretty Boy Brady and Team Beantown lose–but it was 64F in Denver, while I skipped out to shovel sidewalks at something like 24.  That ain’t right.

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I placed our main seed order last week, and still have some fill-ins to take care of–onions and leeks will be seeded in trays as soon as they arrive.  I didnt think I’d going to grow Cosmonaut Volkov this year, because I’m focusing almost entirely on paste tomatoes this season, but it’s one of the best tomatoes I’ve ever grown.  If I only had more room…and that quickly I added a couple more of my favorites to the list.  I’m so fickle.

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