February 10, 2013

North Cairn: In serious storm mode and loving it

On the morning of the much-predicted blizzard, I awoke early to the sound of the dog stirring.

Otherwise the silence of the snow would have muffled everything back to sleep.

But the dog has gone several weeks without sidewalks to wear down her nails, so her feet look like a fisher's, long claws extended, and have a kind of flamenco familiarity of sound, click-clicking along the floor each morning as predictable as an alarm clock, just before dawn.

My consciousness drifted up from the undersea of sleep without dream, and I heard the ticking of the golden retriever's restless pacing from the bedroom to the bath, where she occasionally prefers to sleep, moored in the boat of the tub lined with cotton quilts and a warm acrylic throw.

Even though barely awake, I registered that the snow was coming and maybe had even started, and my first sensory instinct was to squint into the dark, past the big windows running half the length of the room, to see if the substance of the air outdoors seemed to be swirling.

I couldn't tell at first, but there was no driving or wind-gusted squall in evidence. Once I got a light on I could tell the storm was just inexorable, a steady surrender to gravity and cold white, drifting straight down, piling up fast.

So I followed my meditative instincts and arose for the rituals that calm. I chopped water and carried wood.

I know the Buddhists have it the other way around -- chop wood and carry water -- but all the logs I'm likely to use are already split and sawed to wood-stove length. And the only thing that needs chopping is the jam of icicles that build up in the warmth of the sun slowly giving way each day to the bitter cold of dark. The long blades are drawn, the fight sharp and hard, to survive the elements in winter, out in an imprecisely insulated dwelling in the woods.

I hauled in an armload or two of wood from the stacked store in the lean-to, clicked the radio on for a report of the storm before a likely power outage and hustled along to get the essential task of the day accomplished, namely, making coffee.

I kept the radio chattering only long enough to get the information I needed about roads and rough estimates of total downfall expected; then I shut if off in favor of the silence and the snow falling with the insistence of rain.

I stoked the wood stove but resisted lighting it, calculating that I might need it more later, say at about 14 inches. It was still early -- only 2 inches and slick -- but I knew more was coming and that the wind would be an alarm to keep me notified.

I grabbed a couple of old plastic tubs that originally had been intended to carry a family's gear for the beach or to the boat and balanced them like big milking pails half over my shoulders, upstairs to the tub, where I took a few minutes to fill them with cold water.

I was in serious storm mode now and loving every minute of it.

I let the water run since the pump was still working, listened for the roil of water hot enough for coffee-curing, then filled a cup and sat in a big wing chair by the front window, watching the snow take over the landscape.

Gone was the sense of spring of only a week ago, the grass hoared to white again, the birches and the hemlocks turning a cold shoulder to the storm and wearing shawls of white, the golden retriever out in the yard, in ecstasy, sliding down bouldered slopes and rolling in the surf of snow like a seal pup.

(Continued on page 2)

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