Category Archives: winter


Pawprints in the Snow

pawprintsIt’s snowed the last three nights, and every morning when I go out to shovel there are cat tracks in the snow. They always follow the same route: in through the fence at the back corner of the lot, over some drifts (about a foot and a half tall, but iced up enough to walk on), along the compost-pile path, alongside the garage and up the back steps, back down the steps and around the corner past the trash and recycling bins, down the path shoveled along the driveway, hopping up into the planter with the yews against the front of the house, hopping further up to the front porch, then down the front steps and away down the sidewalk.

I haven’t heard Mike yowling at anyone out there recently, though he doesn’t go out as much in winter, and I definitely don’t encourage him to stay out all night when it’s cold. If it’s twenty below he doesn’t want to be out there anyway, but if it’s ten above or better I sometimes have to chase him down and bring him back in the house. Anyway, he’d notice a strange cat on his turf even if he were in the house. So maybe it’s a buddy of his.

Or – and this is what I keeps me thinking about it – maybe it’s Ariel.

We adopted the two as kittens from Friends of Ferals. We think they’re littermates, though it’s possible Ariel is older and just naturally small. Mike’s a big Jethro Bodine of a cat, none too bright but plenty friendly. He couldn’t wait to be somebody’s house pet, as long as wandering privileges were included in the deal. (With him, my self-imposed pledge to keep my cats house-only went literally right out the door. With some cats it just ain’t gonna happen.) He’s a big black bear of a thing, likes to sit on your lap on top of the newspaper, let you play soccer with him, enjoys mauling mice, etc.

Ariel wasn’t having any of the whole pet thing. She was a skinny little thing, mostly black, but with white paws and a white diamond at her throat. I really liked her; she still had a lot of feral in her, and I sort of admired that. She spent the first week at our house hiding out in the heat ducts, and occasionally taking a dainty bite or two of the food we left for her in the basement. After that first week she’d come upstairs and hang with Mike, but she never was a people cat.

One of the first times we found her upstairs, she and Mike were raiding the bread cabinet. They’d hopped up on the countertop and dragged a few loaves of bread down, torn open the plastic, and were eating some of it and making a huge mess of the rest. That was kind of funny, but most of the time she just ran away when anyone was around. Somebody else might have had the patience to do better with her than I did.

Anyway, one day in summer, Ariel was outside with Mike. They never used to leave the back yard. But this time, Mike came back and Ariel never did. We never saw her again, but at that point I felt like trying to hang onto her as a pet was hopeless anyway. Mike was out there constantly for a couple days, crying and trying to find her, but as far as I could tell he never had any luck. The only consolation was knowing she was spayed.

But with this new cat coming around, I just wonder. Maybe Ariel stayed close. There are all kinds of places around here where a cat could stay incognito. I’d be happy to know she was still alive.

Snow + Rain + Cold = Ice

This is what the sidewalk and our street look like today:





Thanks for the money, y’all! (2)

I get about $50 a month in food stamps, or whatever they call it now that it’s all electronic. Which doesn’t sound like much, but since my salary most weeks is just about enough to pay for food and utilities, it comes in mighty handy.

Last night I needed (yes, needed) (yes, really) some Ben & Jerry’s. So after work, since it was cold and icy and dark and slippery and sleeting and past my bedtime, I decided it would be the perfect time to walk two miles down to the store and do my weekly shopping before the weather got really dicey.

It’s the end of the month and I don’t have much cash, but I didn’t need that much stuff, and I figured my food stamps would cover it. I called the 800 number to get my balance.

One hundred and seventy-four dollars and ninety-six cents!

No idea where that came from. I’m sure I spent my December money all up, having a guest and all. Maybe it was a clerical error? Some politician trying to buy my vote? The result of widespread mathematical illiteracy?

I don’t know, but I’m spending it.

Everyone loves a man with a machete

diagonal Danny

With so much snow weight, branches are coming down all over town. Each of our silver maples landed a big one on a phone line. Our line is fine; it didn’t get touched. My bird block feeder is still hanging off it, attracting woodpeckers and nuthatches. Our trees are just screwing with the neighbors.

One came down on the phone line of Crazy Neighbor Lady to the right, and one came down on the phone line of Party Chick to the left. So this has been Danny’s exercise while he’s on leave: sawing up branches so the phone company can come out and take care of the lines. He’s out in Party Chick’s back yard now. It’s snowing, and he’s wearing sweatpants and army boots and a t-shirt he earned at some 10K in Texas, wielding saw and machete. If Party Chick comes home while he’s out there it’s going to look kind of funny, but I’m sure they’ll figure it out. That branch just came down either last night or this morning, so she probably doesn’t even know about it yet.

Crazy Neighbor Lady wasn’t home either. It’s funny their family hasn’t said anything about all this; that line went down a week ago. We just needed to get the branch out of the way before we called the phone company. (I have a sneaky suspicion that if they had to call a tree surgeon, we’d be billed for that.) I guess their phone and internet kept working, even with the line on the ground. But it’s running along the ground right through our back yard, so we need it fixed even if they don’t.

So good to have the Kids here! Danny is doing the lion’s share of the brush cutting and hauling, and Sam can be around to answer the door for the phone company if they come while I’m at work. Aren’t they helpful little cusses?

Spring, or at least March #4


March (Photo credit: flavijus)

It’s hard to believe this will be my fourth March of journaling!  I started my first journal to have a place to spout off randomness, but, well, let’s just say it’s been quite a trip.

I’ll be heading out to California on the 22nd, to visit family and attend a concert of my dad’s music.  He put together the Albany Adult Orchestra many years ago.  He kept conducting after he retired as a high school music teacher, and only recently trained a younger conductor to take his place.  But even after he became too old to stand up there waving a stick for hours (let alone deal with all the organizational hassles) he’s continued to write new music for the orchestra and some chamber groups that are connected with it.

They couldn’t have scheduled this better for me.  By late March, winter is getting kind of old.

A lot of my fellow Madisonians have had enough of winter by the day after Christmas, but I truly enjoy January and February.  Everything transforms:  anything that stands still long enough becomes a mound of snow, water becomes sheets of ice, air drops everything but its basic molecules and becomes pure.  The second I walk out the back door with my covered compost bin, I can smell it, though I couldn’t inside the house; the cold air is so clean, any whiff stands out.

On a clear day, you can walk for miles in three colors–blue sky, black branches, white snow.  Basic, serious colors.  While winter lasts, my mind doesn’t know what to do with the luxury colors that will follow during rest of the year.  Whimsical spring flowers, summer blue jays, decadent autumn leaves–they all seem like more like fantasy than memory.

By late March, though, we’re down to mud.  You don’t crunch-crunch-crunch when you walk, you squitch-squitch-squitch.  You don’t dare go out on the lake any more, with its blocks of groaning ice.  You think maybe that newly formed sheet covering melt water will hold a person up, but when you poke it with your foot, it buckles.  So you’re stuck on dry land, looking at mud.

At this time of year, I always wonder what I’m doing living in the ugliest place in the world.  At least, until that first crocus comes.  After the emptiness of winter and the drabness of March, that little snippet of purple and green coming through the muck looks pretty damn exciting.

I hope I don’t miss it, but even if I don’t it won’t look the same after California.  After a week of blooming rhododendrons, fresh cocoa mulch, bushes full of cheepy birds getting loopy on berries, and air that holds actual moisture, one little crocus won’t seem like such a victory.

Urban snowshoeing

Urban snowshoeing is no easy thing. Dan bought me the snowshoes with his Christmas bonus years ago–cheap things from Gander Mountain. The rubber straps that bind them to your boots are now stiff with age, and they don’t want to slide through the little clamp that’s supposed to adjust them. Still, I managed to get the snowshoes on. I wanted to use them because I didn’t all last year; there wasn’t any snow in the months when I could get out for any length of time. And I don’t even remember if I got out the year before; my memory has lost hold of everything from that winter but Dan’s illness.

There are plenty of off-road paths in the neighborhood, and I set out early to use them before all the dog walkers and cross country skiers got out. First I had to make it down the sidewalk. Snowshoes aren’t really any use in less than six inches, so I’m relying on the unshoveled sidewalks of  lazy neighbors.  (They actually come in three varieties: plain lazy neighbors, who shovel out their cars but leave the walk buried; extra lazy neighbors who don’t even bother with the driveway, choosing to park in the street where they can just slop the snow off their windshield and go; and extra lazy neighbors with a side order or stupid, just like the previous except they can’t figure out alternate side parking and end up with their vehicle plowed under and a bunch of parking tickets.)

It was nice once I got on the path by the Starkweather Creek. Still dark, of course, but the white ground and the fat white sky bounce city lights all over the place, so it’s easy to see all around. Even the lake is white–surprising, given all the warm weather we’ve been having. I the snow-misted air, the lights of the State Capitol and the convention center looked all ghosty. I barely noticed the sneaky dawn.

The snowshoes kept falling off, so I ended up ditching them after about a half mile. I set them against a tree behind the old feed mill. It hardly mattered, since it’s lucky if we got six inches yesterday, and anyway I wear serious boots. The only place I missed the snowshoes was coming up the bank from the hidden lakeside path. The bank is steep and the snow was slippery, and my boots kept thinking I wanted to go sledding, so the metal grabbers on the bottoms of the snowshoes would have come in handy. But I made it up to the old Indian mounds by grabbing roots and scrawny little trees with my mittens. From there everything was easy again. I looped back around and picked up the snowshoes on my way home.

I suppose I’ll keep them. They’re sort of annoying; they make this clacky noise when they move, and even in the best of conditions (lots of snow, off-road paths, and extra-lazy neighbors) there are always streets to cross. But they’re good to have when the snow really piles up. Maybe if I work with the rubber straps I can get them loosened up.

Spring, or at least March

I want to get a bunch of old Barack Obama signs, the ones that say “Yes we can,” and affix the words “shovel our sidewalks.”  I’d carry them with me, and poke one into the snow next to every unshoveled walk–or worse, every walk where somebody waited a day and then used a blower to buff the ice to a lovely but deadly shine.  Maybe I’d build a little snowman to hold the sign, like the ones they planted around the Capitol.
The jolly snow-lovers of Christmastime turn petulant in March.  They’re getting e-mails from friends and relatives who are somewhere along the crocus-daffodil-tulip continuum, at a time when we’re lucky to see mud.

I can see  why someone might balk at the idea of shoveling.  The snow, they hope, will all melt soon, and so they ignore it–as if being rude to snow would make it go away.