“April is the cruelest month, breeding
lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
dull roots with spring rain.” T. S. Eliot
“April is the cruelest month, breeding
lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
dull roots with spring rain.” T. S. Eliot
“The first day of spring was once the time for taking the young virgins into the fields, there in dalliance to set an example in fertility for nature to follow. Now we just set the clocks an hour ahead and change the oil in the crankcase.”
E.B. White, “Hot Weather,” One Man’s Meat, 1944
“The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.”
Henry Van Dyke
I lived in New Hampshire for four winters and every one was a struggle against the elements. Frost heaves would push up under my kitchen floor and the cupboards would hang on the diagonal until spring. One couldn’t sit on the upstairs toilet without listing dangerously to starboard and if I left the house for a weekend, I would spend an hour shoveling my way INTO the driveway when I came back.
Within weeks of my arrival in the Granite State, I drove home from work one night during a snowstorm. There was black ice under freshly fallen snow and I turned the wheel of my Subaru to the right only to have the car fishtail to the left and slide off the road into a ravine. The car landed nearly perpendicular, the steering-wheel an inch from my chest. My nose was broken and I had a deep cut in my eyebrow. I survived, but the car did not.
It was fortunate that the accident happened a quarter of a mile from my house. I was able to climb out of the ravine and back onto the road. Apart from the fact that I was all banged up, it was an easy walk home. It was also fortunate that it was 3 o’clock in the morning because I was covered in blood but my two kids weren’t awake to see it. My intuitive son heard me come in and appeared at the top of the stairs. “Mom?” he said in a worried voice.
“I had a car accident, but I’m fine,” I told him from the shadows. “Go back to bed. I’m fine, really. I’ll see you in the morning.”
The next day I was battered and bruised, with two black eyes. I ached all over and looked like the Elephant Man. My son was so rattled by my appearance that he stayed home from school.
On another winter evening, my son called and asked me to pick him up from basketball because he’d missed the late bus. I wasn’t happy about it because his school was a 30-minute drive away and it was brutally cold out. In fact, the roads were a solid sheet of black ice. My car shimmied and fishtailed the entire distance and I cried the whole way.
On the way back, the car got stuck going up a hill. We were in a line of cars, all of which were unable to make the incline. The hill was too steep and there was no traction on the ice. When my son got out to see what was going on, his feet flew up into the air and he landed flat on his back on the ice but, being a teenager, he was uninjured. An hour later, a sand truck arrived and one by one the cars were able to get up the hill. We followed that truck all the way home.
Another time, driving through the White Mountains on curving roads covered with icy slush, I slid off the road again. This time both of my kids were with me. No one was hurt, but it took six hours for the tow-truck to get us out.
Snow-days are almost unheard of in New Hampshire. The school-bus would roll up to the house in the morning with chains on the tires, plowing up feet of snow. My daughter, dressed in her shocking-pink snowsuit, would push through hip or waist-high snow to climb onto the bus. Businesses stayed open. People went to work. Life went on. Locals told me that the winter before my arrival, the snow was banked up so high on both sides of the road that you couldn’t see the houses. One of my neighbors said there were still patches of snow under the tree in her backyard on July 4th.
My first winter in New Hampshire was the winter of that ice-storm where all those people in Canada and Maine died. Remember? People in the North were without power for weeks. I could stand on my front porch and listen to trees cracking, splitting and falling over. A friend who was a forester moved to Europe because he couldn’t stand watching the devastation of the forest he’d given his life to.
My house was without power for five days that winter. My children moved to the home of a neighbor who had a generator, while I slept under a down comforter with a Santa hat on my head; the temperature in my bedroom was a brisk 30 degrees.
New Hampshire-ites are a tough and fearless people. As for me, my idea of a weather challenge is finding the right umbrella to carry on Rodeo Drive.
New Hampshire in the summer is Paradise, but I never got used to being the lead car in a caravan on roads thick with snow. I would be driving a sane 40 miles per hour and car after car would shoot past me at 60 or 70, giving me the finger, shaking their fists, shouting rude remarks.
Moving to Connecticut was a relief and a revelation. Imagine my surprise and delight to discover an entire state as scared of bad weather as I am! But it would appear that I have gone from one end of the spectrum to the other. I am no longer the lead car in winter caravans; I am now the one shaking my fist. Three snowflakes and school is canceled. Six and the library closes. The few cars still on the road drive no more than 30 miles an hour.
I do wish these Southern New England weather-people would learn to do their jobs. Is that asking too much? If so, then perhaps they could recycle themselves into professions where they might be of some actual use. And if these soothsayers are unwilling to relinquish the thrill of predicting the future, then they should at least invest in a turban and a crystal ball and do it right.
Take today’s “snowstorm,” for example. Last night at midnight, the weather reports on the radio, on television and on the internet were the same: “A Nor’easter she’s a-comin’!! Batten down the hatches!! Lash yourselves to the mainmast!! Make sure you have plenty of rum and whale-blubber aboard!! Prepare for the worst!!”
Twenty-four hours later, as I look out the French doors of my dining-room into the winter twilight, there is perhaps a quarter of an inch of snow on the ground. And yet, I can hear the weatherman on the television in the other room. His tone is dramatic. This is a MASSIVE storm, he’s saying. “Batten down the hatches!! It’s bad out there!!”
I’ll tell you – it’s enough to make a person miss New Hampshire.
She and her brother, Ben, are famous for various exploits recounted in my blog (*See “Is It Me?” blog post of 10/31/12 and “Benny and Joon Celebrate Thanksgiving,” blog post of 11/23/12 at http://www.aparisstateofmind.com/blog.html).
In this blurry photograph, you will notice the – pardon the expression – “hang dog” countenance, complete with sad eyes and drooping hair. Joon assumes this demeanor to convey the notion that she is the tragic victim of rumor and misrepresentation and that her behavior is beyond reproach, no matter how badly maligned she may be.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I am here to testify that this sweet, benign face dissembles a mind so cunning as to rival a Svengali or Rasputin! Those seemingly innocent eyes are the windows to the soul of one of the most nefarious of criminal masterminds – a real-life Moriarity, a veritable Machiavelli of misdeeds!
I set before you as Exhibit A the story of Joon and the Chickens…
Once upon a time – last May, to be precise – Joon, her brother Ben, and I set out on a day’s journey, which had as its goal the procuring of edible provisions. Our destination was a nearby farm store, located in somnolent, bucolic northwestern Connecticut, amid undulating hills and lazy pastures, decorated here and there by the occasional munching goat, chomping cow, or prancing sheep.
It was a perfect day – one of penetrating spring warmth and azure skies, dotted at intervals with popcorn-cluster clouds. The gentlest of breezes caressed the field grasses and stirred the tender, green leaves, newly sprouting along tree limbs that canopied the gently meandering country roads. Butterflies and bees surfed the warm air currents, rising and falling on effortless waves as they sipped the sweet nectar of wildflowers, newly awakened to bask in the sun’s golden radiance.
Joon and Ben have been members of the family for some time, which is to say that on the day in question, we were not strangers to each other. They knew that I could be relied upon for regular meals and walks, belly rubs and the daily bone. I knew that Ben could always be counted on to look cute, and to pee inside on a rainy day. And I knew that Joon could – well, suffice it to say that I knew Joon to be a free and reckless spirit.
When we first got the dogs, my boyfriend painstakingly enclosed our back yard by means of deer-fencing. Every day, Joon would scale the fencing, tear a hole through the fencing, dig a tunnel under the fencing or do whatever was necessary to access the free world. And every day, my boyfriend would repair the fencing without complaint. The man is either two cards short of a full deck or he’s a fucking saint. No wait… that was before he quit drinking. Never mind.
At some point during the course of each day, Joon would create an avenue of escape. In the telepathic way of animals, she would communicate to her brother that the hour of freedom had arrived. If Benny hesitated, she would remind him of the glories – and the cost of Freedom. Together, they would hie to parts unknown to live daring adventures. After the escape, my daughter, son, boyfriend and I would station ourselves at various positions around the property and in the street, calling desperately for the pair to return.
“Come, Ben, come!”
“Benny and JOOOONN!!!”
Although Ben would follow his sister and do her bidding, it caused an inevitable conflict in his delicate, Yorkshire psyche. He’s a family-man at heart and suffers deep remorse at inflicting worry and pain on his beloved humans.
Joon, on the other hand doesn’t give a shit.
Invariably, ten minutes after their escape, the dogs would return. You could set your watch, and I mean it – you could Set. Your. Watch. After ten minutes, Ben would often allow himself to be caught. Freedom may be glorious, but captivity comes with Treats.
After ten minutes, Joon would swoop onto the lawn at lightening speed. Careening in a daring arc, she would all but caress our shins as she ricocheted once again out into the free world. It would be 45 minutes before we saw her again. Then, hunger, thirst or fatigue would descend and she would allow herself to be captured.
These, then, were the dogs that I took for a car ride to the local farm store. Was it the warm and lazy quality of the afternoon that caused me to lower my guard? Perhaps and perhaps not, but certainly it was that very quality which caused me to lower my car windows. The happy dogs stood side by side on their hind legs on the front passenger seat, heads out the window, noses snorting in the wind – their tiny faces pulled back like Joan Rivers’ after that final facelift, ears streaming behind them like majestic, superhero capes.
I slowed the car as the farm store came into view and pulled into the dirt driveway, parking as always in the shade of that beautiful oak. No sooner was the car in park than Joon, without so much as “Adieu!” flew out the front passenger window.
“Damn these short legs!” I heard Benny mutter as I raised the windows to cut my losses.
With startling agility, I leapt from the car, slamming the door to prevent Ben’s escape. Meanwhile, Joon greeted Sassafrass, the farmer’s border collie. “JOON!” I called sharply, to no avail. (For the record, your honor, I submit that I knew calling her name was futile, but it was my way of respecting the farm owners and letting them know that every effort was being made to subdue the miscreant.)
After a jaunty, high-five to the farm dog, Joon took on an inspection of the barn. I followed her inside and for a blissful moment thought I had her cornered, but she beat a hasty retreat through a hole in some rotting boards. She proceeded to inspect with care the nearby pasture, nose to the ground in true, terrier fashion.
Ah, the smells! Dog, cow, sheep, hay, and poop, glorious POOP! Why don’t we have smells like this at home? I wonder if we can get some farm stink to take back with us? Do they have to-go containers? And what is that unfamiliar, exotic aroma? What these bits of fluff littering the ground and tickling my very nostrils?
AND WHAT THE *!#*!#*!#*?!?!?!?! Joon stopped dead in her tracks at an unfamiliar sight. What kind of fat birds are those, RUNNING ALONG THE GROUND?!?!
And so, I imagine, were Joon’s thoughts as she came nose to butt with chickens, for the first time in her short life. She paused for a moment of reverence at this dream of dreams. Imagine if you will, birds the size of sofa cushions – fat enough, stupid enough and slow enough to be caught! A choir of angels filled Joon’s mind with ecstatic song.
This, then, was heaven on earth.
The pause was brief, however. In seconds, the mists of jubilation cleared, the angelic voices subsided and Joon was off again, scattering frightened chickens to the four corners, feathers flying, filling the air with their indignant squawks. In rapture, Joon scattered their numbers and began making huge orbits of swooping freedom around the barnyard, around the farm store, out into the street and back.
Fortunately, there were no cars at that particular moment, but it was at this juncture that I experienced an instantaneous spike in blood pressure. It was also at this point that the farmer’s plump wife came out of the store to help me corral my dog.
It was my impression that border-collies were great herders, but Sassafras just sat there, looking confused. She watched Joon eagerly for a while but was soon panting at the sight of so much exertion. Before long, focusing on that black blur caused eyestrain and she had to lie down.
True, Sassafras was no longer young, but at no point in her career had she cared much for chasing chickens, not even her own. Sheep were more Sassy’s speed. There was a certain, quiet dignity in nipping at those tender, wooly heels that no amount of chasing after bulbous, screeching poultry could rival.
As usual, after exactly 10 minutes, Joon checked in with a loop of wild exhilaration, then was off again. What must the odd, passing car have seen? Whirling billows of shrieking feathers, infiltrated at odd moments by a menacing, black cyclone, an exhausted border-collie panting on the sidelines and two, chubby, middle-aged women, jogging in the wake of the black tornado, hair plastered to dripping, red faces as they flapped flabby arms and occasionally lunged to make a grab at empty air, where the black menace had only recently been.
Then suddenly, Joon made a fatal mistake.
She entered the farm store for a quick poop. That’s right – 40 acres of pooping freedom, yet she chose the floor of the farm store for her toilet. There’s just no accounting for personal preference, I guess. But I digress. Wheezing, I scrambled after her into the store, and bolted the door behind me. A look of frozen silence passed between us. The jig was up. Realizing at once that she’d been caught, a crestfallen Joon allowed me to gather her in my arms.
The dream of a lifetime was shattered.
I began to pick feathers, burrs, and bits of hay out of Joon’s hair as I made profuse apologies to the farmer’s wife, who was extremely courteous, given the circumstances. She neither cursed nor pressed charges. She even allowed me to make a purchase! With as much elegance as I could muster, I picked up and neatly packed Joon’s poop in a plastic bag, which I set outside on a corner of the step to take with me when I left. For the umpteenth time, I apologized for my diabolical dog, collected my groceries and scurried away down the country road.
After backing out of the farm driveway and heading down the road toward home, I said to Joon in a way designed to convey deep meaning, “I trust you had the most wonderful day of your life because I promise you,” (here I raised a white and trembling fist to the heavens) “As God is my witness – you will never, ever, ever have another day like it!”
I was several miles down the road, when I realized I hadn’t remembered to pick up that little pack of poop… Oh well, I thought, there must be other places in the area for fresh eggs…
Is it me, or has it been a rough year? I woke up this morning recovering from yet another traumatic experience and, before getting out of bed took a casual, mental inventory of my life in 2012…
First of all, the house was full of strangers and distant family they hardly knew. Nerves and tempers were running high.
In response, the dogs’ first order of business was to redecorate by doing some business in the front hallway. It’s little touches, they say, that give a house that “lived in” look.
Joon and Ben
Maybe it’s me, but I find myself frequently astonished by the stupidity of people around me. Take yesterday, for example. I was walking my dogs, Benny and Joon, along the rail trail through the woods at the end of my street. We walked for a mile, until we got to the next town, then turned around to come home.
Suddenly, my dogs started snarling and snapping as a woman and her Scotty-dog emerged from a side street. I scolded them and yanked roughly on their leashes to make them come. My dumb dogs then did what they always do when they get frustrated – they set on each other like Piranha until I could yell loudly enough and pull hard enough to separate them.
The woman and her dog were placed in such a way that they could not possibly have missed this upsetting spectacle. Wouldn’t you think this would be enough to make the dog-owner behave in such a way as to avoid an unpleasant encounter? Think again! To my amazement, instead of slowing her pace, this woman strode purposefully toward us. She was a tall woman and she used her long legs to advance upon us as rapidly as she could.
Apparently, her intellect was less tall than she was because every time I glanced back, she was still walking as fast as she could in our direction. I decided to jog with my own dogs to increase the distance between us. After a couple of minutes, I slowed to a rapid walk. The distance between us and our pursuers had grown, but less than I’d hoped and I noticed the long-legged female was continuing to take rapid strides in our direction. Joon noticed, too, and started straining against the leash behind me.
Then Ben also noticed, and joined his sister in pulling against me with all his force in the wrong direction. “NO!” I cried masterfully, as I gave their leads a mighty tug. Frustrated by their inability to separate the pursuing canine’s body from his soul, they did what any two mentally challenged beings would do: they started in on each other again like two Tasmanian Devils.I yelled, I yanked and I jogged again, slowing down when I got winded. This time the dogs did what they do best in all the world: Benny got embroiled in a bundle of dried sticks and leaves and Joon yelped because she’d gotten the leash wrapped uncomfortably around her front foot. Panting and sweating, I stopped to soothe and disentangle my dogs, which resulted in the idiot woman and her dog getting uncomfortably close so, tired as I was, I was forced to start jogging again.The woman was relentless. She and her innocent-looking dog continued to bear down on us, looking straight at us as my own dogs strained to free themselves so they could make mincemeat of her animal. True, my dogs are a Yorki-mix, unlikely to make mincemeat of anything other than mincemeat, but I can’t bear to tell them that.I started to consider other options. What alternatives did I have? I could yell at this stranger and say, “Lady, could you help me out here? Can’t you see we’re running away from you?” Or, I could slow down for 2 or 3 minutes allowing them to catch up and pass us, straining my arms as my dogs snarled, snapped and pulled, and then wait another 2 or 3 minutes with Benny and Joon still snarling, snapping and pulling, to create a comfortable distance between this not-too-bright woman and ourselves.
Neither of those options seemed appealing so I continued to alternate between speed-walking and jogging, stopping frequently to pull the dogs out of mud-puddles, remove sticks from their fur, and disentangle them from their leads, before yanking them forward to run again, as the idiot female and her dumb dog continued to gain on us.Perhaps the woman wasn’t as stupid as she appeared. Perhaps she was blind. Yes, I thought – that must be it! She is courageously making her way down the treacherous bike-path, aided only by her seeing-eye Scotty!
Then again, perhaps not.
Maybe she was some kind of sadist, who relished an occasional canine blood-bath.
Ooh, I thought, perhaps she’s actually a serial killer! That seemingly harmless animal is in reality a Zombie-Frankendog and we’re their next victims!
This thought got me jogging again. Then I got a grip on myself because I’m really not much of a believer in zombies.
But is it reasonable, I thought, that someone could be so stupid? Certainly, there must be some explanation besides low intelligence, for this woman’s refusal to allow us to escape to a safe distance.
And then the truth came out…
The long-legged female and her dog were actually witches!
Discounting stupidity, it’s the only logical explanation, because when two, consecutive raindrops fell from the sky, the two of them disappeared instantly back from whence they came…
My daughter lives in a world only she can understand, and perhaps it’s better that way… I offer this recent quote by way of explanation:
“Mom, why on earth did you buy quail eggs? You know I don’t eat meat!”