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Winter Fundraiser 2018, Day Seven
The Baron’s Sunday Update: A Winter’s Tale
Well, here we are at the final day of our quarterly bleg. After I finish writing this update I can catch up on my sleep, and then write some more thank-you notes tomorrow.
After my worried remarks the other night, y’all really stepped up to the plate: the donations came pouring in on Friday, making it one of the busiest fundraising days we’ve had for a while. Many thanks to all of you for your generosity! The week isn’t quite back to normal, but it’s getting close. And it’s now clear that we’ll be able to make it through to the spring thaw.
It didn’t hurt that WRSA posted a link to our bleg — we really appreciate that. It’s easy to tell when donors are being referred by WRSA, because the gifts come in from Idaho, Wyoming, Arizona, and other deplorable states that we don’t otherwise see much traffic from.
All of this makes me ponder our peculiar business model. Most websites monetize by selling advertising, but we do it by soliciting modest gifts from our many readers. It’s a weird form of crowdfunding, but somehow it works — every quarter we receive just enough to keep on going.
It helps me maintain my enduring sense of gratitude…
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This morning’s weather-related story is going to be longer and less lighthearted than my usual tales. I’ve never actually written this material up before, and I expect it to be hard to type out.
So… for those who want to skip this part and go straight to yesterday’s donor locations, here they are in advance:
Stateside: Alaska, California, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, and Wyoming
Far Abroad: New Zealand, and the UK
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The photo at the top of this update was taken in February of 2003. It shows a snow overhang outside our bedroom window here at Schloss Bodissey. The tree in the foreground is none other than the Fig Tree of Doom, which caused Dymphna so much grief two and a half years after the picture was taken.
This morning’s reminiscence was prompted not by that particular snowfall, but by my earlier account of the first fall and winter I spent here (scroll down for that story; it begins with the photo of the turtle).
That was a cold and snowy winter, and after Christmas I just hunkered down to wait it out. Since I couldn’t go outside to paint landscapes, I busied myself with what I could create indoors — mostly geometric designs and scenes from my imagination.
But late in January I got an opportunity: a major snowfall was predicted. That was before the Weather Channel, but the radio and the newspaper were in agreement that we would see about eight inches (21 cm) of dry snow.
So I stocked up for the occasion. I made sure I had plenty of coffee, beer, and other necessities so that I could sit it out. In those days the house was heated by a woodstove, and I had an ample supply of firewood, so it didn’t matter all that much if the electricity went out. And I didn’t have any reason to go out, so I would be able to spend a delightful few days looking out the kitchen window at all that lovely snow — and painting a picture of it.
When I woke up that morning, the snow was right on schedule — three or four inches of it on the ground. I set up my easel in the middle of the kitchen floor (this place has a large farm kitchen, and in those days I possessed virtually no furniture) and started a composition based on what I could see out the window, and the area immediately inside it.
Snow in the city gets ugly pretty quickly, what with all the salt and sand from the roads, soot, and vehicle exhaust. But out here in the middle of nowhere it stays pristine for a long time if the temperature remains low. Tracks from birds, deer, dogs, squirrels, and raccoons. And maybe my own when I walk out into the middle of a flat space to stick a yardstick in the accumulation. But nothing to make it look nasty — I knew I would be able to take my time and make that painting look just right.
When I moved out here from the city I deliberately didn’t get a phone, because I didn’t want anyone bothering me. I also used general delivery for an address that first year, to assure my isolation. The postmistress was puzzled, but she let me do it, and forwarded my mail out here to the RFD box.
I expected to have a wonderful few days, working on my painting and enjoying a snowfall in a way that I hadn’t had a chance to since I was a kid.
Ah, but the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley…
When I had last been to see my parents, just after New Year’s, my father had been suffering from some sort of stomach bug. A low-grade fever and some pain in his lower tract: most likely the flu, my mother said.
Late that snowy morning, as the blizzard was tapering off to flurries with about seven inches already on the ground, I heard a rumbling on the driveway, and then a banging on the front door. It was my neighbor Jimmy Mawyer, who had driven down the driveway through the woods in his four-wheel-drive pickup.
When I opened the door Jimmy said, “Your mother called the post office. Your father has cancer. He’s in the hospital, and she says wants you to come home as soon as possible.”
So it wasn’t the flu after all.
Jimmy and I discussed the logistics of how I could get out of there. I had an old rear-wheel drive station wagon (a 1971 AMC Hornet, for the car buffs among you). I could have filled up the deck with cinderblocks or something, but still, it was going to be rough getting out of there.
I had parked facing out, so Jimmy backed up his truck to just in front of the car while I packed a bag with my necessities. He hooked a chain onto the frame behind the front bumper, and when I was ready, he had me let out the clutch while he pulled me down the driveway. I kept gunning it to try and keep from fishtailing, and we somehow made it to the road without whacking me into any trees. He stopped on a straight stretch, unhitched the chain, and wished me the best of luck. Then I set out for Maryland.
The most direct route out of here goes up and down some major hills before crossing a creek. When conditions were slick — and especially in a rear-wheel drive vehicle — I used to take what I called “the flat route”, a roundabout way that stuck to the ridgelines and avoided steep gradients and sharp curves. It added about ten miles to the trip, but it made it possible to get out. The road hadn’t been plowed yet; all I had were the tracks of the four-wheelers to help me out.
My memory of that trip is of a blurry nightmare. I remember that I came across a fellow motorist who had slid into the ditch about a mile from my driveway. It was on a slight downhill grade, so I eased off the gas and touched the brake very lightly as the car coasted to a stop. I got out and helped him push his car out of the ditch, and then got back in the station wagon and started down that hill oh so carefully, and then up the other side.
When I arrived at the main road, it had been plowed, so conditions were better. But there was still a packed sheet of glaze on the pavement, so it was nerve-wracking. You go thirty miles an hour and do your very best to keep from ever touching the brake.
The most frightening moment was when I was still on the two-lane state road, before I got to the major highway. As I rounded a bend I saw a big dog walking across the road in front of me. It took all of my willpower to leave the brake alone, accelerate to bring my center of gravity forward as I swerved, and remember the mantra: “Turn in the direction of the skid.”
Somehow I got past that dog without wrecking or ending up sideways in a ditch. After that it was easier — I got to the main highway, and although it was in bad shape, it was better than anything I’d been on before. As I went further north the snow got deeper, and the plows had left larger snowbanks on either side. The snowfall had ceased soon after I left the house, and I remember the sky clearing at sunset as I crossed the Potomac.
A trip that should have taken three hours took almost eight. I arrived at my parents’ house after dark, parked on the street, and trudged through the drifts to embrace my distraught mother.
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I stayed at my mother’s for several days and went to see my father in the hospital a few times before returning to Virginia to keep the pipes from freezing (they did freeze once during that period, but fortunately it wasn’t serious). I kept driving back and forth to Maryland every few days as my father’s condition worsened.
He had a galloping form of abdominal cancer, and it was just over three weeks from the day he was diagnosed until the day he died. He seemed resigned to his fate — his own father had died of cancer, and it was what he had always feared. He was a few years younger than I am now, and otherwise in good health. But it was his time.
He was in terrible pain for the last couple of weeks. In those days they didn’t give cancer patients opiates, so all he got was Demerol, which barely even touched the pain of what was eating away at his bowel.
I had been a few days at my mother’s house for the death vigil when the call came in at three o’clock in the morning — doesn’t it always happen at that time? — that my father had died. The following night it snowed again, this time a foot (31 cm) of the stuff. But it warmed up afterwards, and we were able to shovel the cars out and arrange the memorial service a few days later.
That winter was a rough patch for me. I was in my late twenties, so it wasn’t as bad as it would have been in, say, my teens. But, still… I hadn’t expected to lose my daddy so soon, and it was hard.
The following spring, when the weather was warm and beautiful, we carried his ashes up to Yankeeland and interred them in the family plot. As a side effect of that trip, I met Dymphna, and you all know how that turned out. But we’ll leave that for another story in another fundraiser.
There was so much snow that winter that I had no trouble finishing the painting. It turned out fairly well. When I look at now — I never attempted to sell it — a bittersweet aura hangs over it, the memory of a time that had promised to be one thing, but turned into something else.
Many years ago a good friend of mine wrote a song that included this lyric:
Jesus said it came to pass.
He didn’t say it came to stay.
I guess I’ll leave it at that.
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That’s it for our winter fundraiser. We’ll be back in the early spring to do it all over again, except the weather will probably be nicer. A big thank-you goes out to everyone who participated.
Dymphna’s Saturday Update: Nor’easter or Plain Ol’ Blizzard?
Okay, y’all, we’re rounding the curve and headed for the end of this Quarterly Fundraiser.
If you’re reading this and haven’t yet donated, please do so. Think of it as your contribution to the pushback against Ugly and Loathsome Events. We can’t prevent them yet, but we can squish ’em some. But not without your generous help. (You can use this new link.)
As long as our donors continue their largesse, we continue to avoid ads on our pages. All the majors and many of the minors are chock-a-block with scripts and moving ads now. They make my eyes jump, and Ad Block has become of limited help. On my laptop I’ve taken to using a piece of card stock to cover the ones that are distractions.
Save us from this awful fate!
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To paraphrase the Middle English round: Winter is icumen in.
All the birds have fled, but the shortest day of the year isn’t quite here yet. You can sure enough feel its cold breath on your neck, though.
Every year people predict that this here particular winter will be the worst. There are indeed some “worst” ones, but like real estate, it’s all about location, location, location. Some years we get buried repeatedly; other years we never even need our road plowed.
When I lived in North Carolina we called those rare winter storms with a foot of snow and lots of wind a “blizzard”. But when I moved to New England the term “nor’easter” was the usual designation for the white-outs into which only a fool or someone with a life-or-death situation would venture out into with his rear-wheel-drive car. Chains helped a little.
I was a snow newbie back then, so the New England designation intrigued me. In the days before the internet, the reference sections in libraries were a good place to learn. I intuited that the frenzies of snow must have something to do with the Canadian cold weather systems endemic to the area (they made for wonderful New England summers to my southern-parched soul) but it wasn’t until I read about — and remembered again — the Gulf Stream, which hugs the eastern coast and makes its way around the world, that nor’easters finally made sense. They are born of the clash between extremes of weather systems created by those two factors: the cold jet stream pushing down from Canada meets the warm waters of the Gulf Stream hugging the eastern seaboard. It makes you wonder what god the Greeks would have assigned to such titanic clashes.
Having lived through some fearsome winters, the nor’easters seemed to me to be winter hurricanes, but of course, they weren’t, not really. Hurricanes smashed houses, ripped up thousands of trees, and disappeared small towns and barrier islands. They caused the Spanish to abandon the colonization of Western Florida. Hurricanes carry their victims out to sea; nor’easters and blizzards bury them in snow. The frozen stuff is wicked, but hurricanes are evil. The Florida panhandle will be years recovering from Michael’s devastation this year. They’ll probably retire his name. And Sandy wrecked the coast along New York, not to mention the long-term damage from Katrina in 2005. New Orleans is below sea level to begin with, so that whole area is still affected more than a decade later.
The Wikipedia entry provides the simple explanation for us non-meteorologists:
Nor’easters develop in response to the sharp contrast in the warm Gulf Stream ocean current coming up from the tropical Atlantic and the cold air masses coming down from Canada. When the very cold and dry air rushes southward and meets up with the warm Gulf stream current, which is often near 70 °F (21 °C) even in mid-winter, intense low pressure develops.
In the upper atmosphere, the strong winds of the jet stream remove and replace rising air from the Atlantic more rapidly than the Atlantic air is replaced at lower levels; this and the Coriolis force help develop a strong storm. The storm tracks northeast along the East Coast, normally from North Carolina to Long Island, then moves toward the area east of Cape Cod. Counterclockwise winds around the low-pressure system blow the moist air over land. The relatively warm, moist air meets cold air coming southward from Canada. The low increases the surrounding pressure difference, which causes the very different air masses to collide at a faster speed. When the difference in temperature of the air masses is larger, so is the storm’s instability, turbulence, and thus severity.
The nor’easters taking the East Coast track usually indicates the presence of a high-pressure area in the vicinity of Nova Scotia. Sometimes a nor’easter will move slightly inland and bring rain to the cities on the coastal plain (New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, etc.) and snow in New England (Boston northward). It can move slightly offshore, bringing a wet snow south of Boston to Richmond, Virginia, or even parts of the Carolinas. Such a storm will rapidly intensify, tracking northward and following the topography of the East Coast, sometimes continuing to grow stronger during its entire existence. A nor’easter usually reaches its peak intensity while off the Canadian coast. The storm then reaches Arctic areas, and can reach intensities equal to that of a weak hurricane. It then meanders throughout the North Atlantic and can last for several weeks.
North America is a huge continent. There is no “safe space” from weather extremes. Generally, in Virginia we get weather from the west, though hurricanes are an exception; they can come up from the Gulf inland (not usually so bad, though Camille was a mortal exception) or more commonly the Atlantic versions that barrel up the coast. Not having lived through the spring and summer tornadoes of the Midwest, I’ve no great desire to experience the real thing. We have an occasional one in the summer here, but they are more likely to be short-lived, narrow micro-bursts rather than the Kansas-sized monsters that ride over the plains. Don’t you wonder how native Indians survived them? It’s not as though they had tornado cellars.
Europe is more fortunate in its climate. Snow and rain, yes, but few disasters. I always thought that might be the case, and the wiki entry above agrees:
In Europe, similar weather systems with such severity are hardly possible; the moisture content of the clouds is usually not high enough to cause flooding or heavy snow, though NE winds can be strong.
So… is Europe a meteorological safe space?? Will our snowflakes move there?
I’d say my interest in weather phenomena was a function of getting older, but the myriad ways the winds blow has always fascinated me. However, it’s much more interesting to read about events rather than live through them. Definitely a spectator sport.
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Lots of donations blew in yesterday. The B keeps careful track of their origins:
Stateside: California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, and Virginia
Far Abroad: Hungary, New Zealand, and the UK
Canada: Newfoundland, and Ontario
Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Queensland, and Victoria
He’ll be back for the final update tomorrow.
The Baron’s Friday Update: All the Leaves Are Brown
We’ve hit a rough patch in the fundraiser.
This has happened from time to time in the past, and we’ve always weathered them before — things eventually pick up.
It’s like the snow we had on Wednesday (or the snow that’s predicted for Sunday): for a while it’s a real blizzard, and then without warning it all fades out, with just a flake or two drifting by.
The ebb and flow of donations is a stochastic process. It’s not easy to determine what causes the sudden shifts.
Maybe we should call it “Schrödinger’s Tip Jar”…?