Thursday, January 13, 2022

Cold


            We are having a stretch of cold weather. Last night when I went to bed it was 4 degrees, down from a high of 14. This is what we signed up for in Northern Michigan. Tonight’s forecast wind chill is -20 degrees.

 

            I venture out into the cold for short periods. I feed the birds, many of whom are not wearing hats and coats. I sweep snow off the porches so Kim and I don’t fall on our asses if the snow turns to ice. I split some firewood. The walk out to the garage with stuff to take to the recycling center is quick and painless if I walk quickly.

 

            The cold hits my exposed skin first – my cheeks if there is wind and I have not covered them. My eyes water. When I remove my mittens to load the bird feeders, my hands almost instantly turn white and start to ache. I come inside and warm my hands on my coffee cup.

 

            Our friend Don worked as a volunteer fireman up here for forty years. He described some harrowing rescues from the water in winter. It doesn’t take long for your body to go completely numb, your limbs and then organs shutting down. One guy he rescued was encased in ice, hugging a tree. If cold, as physics tells us, is a lack of molecular motion, then that guy was really cold! Don’s stories will limit my skating on the lake when it freezes over.

 

            This may sound hard, but it’s not. Winter makes me feel alive. While I was warming my hands, Kim went out into the cold to photograph the sunlight on the lake. 



Twice. So we are alive and kicking, even with the cold. And we can always retreat into hibernation mode, which we very much enjoy – naps, movies, phone calls, hugs.

 

            Being cold is not the same as being cool. I did an article a few years ago comparing the old Ann Arbor High School, closed fifty years ago, with the two newer high schools. Among other things, I learned that the word “cool” still was a signal of high praise, unlike “sick” and “dope,” which changed from negative to positive (which I find a bit sick). Cool.

 

            Cool, I believe, was originally associated with jazz, where “cool jazz” – understated, from the West Coast – was distinguished from “hot jazz” originating in New Orleans. “Cool” became a term of approval that reflected back on the person perceptive enough to appreciate what was understated, less openly emotional. When you pronounce something as “cool,” you are required to do so in a cool, unemotional, understated manner. Hipsters snap their fingers instead of applauding.

 

            “Cold” is also an emotional state, signifying, of course, a lack of warmth, which I take to mean compassion, or perhaps passion itself. It’s uncool to be cold, unless you are, perhaps, working as a surgeon, an assassin, or an accountant. Sometimes it’s cool to be cold. But usually not.

 

            At this point we can go back to physics. On a cold January morning I can do what physics tells me to do, creating warmth by putting my molecules in motion. Or there’s always hibernation, like old bears.

 

            

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Assisted Living


            Kim has been going through a rough stretch with her health the last several months. Without going into any details here, I can say that I have had to up my share of the housework. I estimate that I have doubled my contribution, which I believe takes it up to about 30% of the total. Kim commented that 30% is a bit high.

 

            I was, at first, troubled by the thought that we might be ready for assisted living. I know that several of my classmates and agemates speak well of their experiences in these geezer-friendly facilities, but that suggests that they, unlike me, are no longer 50. Can I sustain my delusional denial when I’m relying on assisted living? But then I realized that I’ve been enjoying assisted living for over thirty years. Why not have Kim benefit from what she’s been doing for me?

 

            Assisted living. The term, at this point, brings a bit of a chill, suggesting that I’m on the path to creeping decrepitude, senility and death. But no!!! We have, of course, been on that path all along, and the giving and taking of assisted living is part of the richness of our human experience. I don’t simply mean how nice it is for Kim to take care of me and our home together, and how good it feels when I take care of her. No, it also means making donations to the local food bank, or adding a generous tip to the waitress at the half-full restaurant (remember restaurants?), or thanking the guy at the hardware store for actually showing up for work, or actually stopping at a crosswalk to assist the pedestrian crossing the street. I am already participating in assisted living. It’s being part of a community.

 

            Assisted living also means appreciating the snowplows on US 31, assist that I gave by paying my property taxes and received when driving to the post office to get my mail, which I can send across the country for less than a dollar, thank you very much. It means knowing that 911 works where we live. It means having Larry’s offering his engineering talent to help me install a generator, and it also means having guys from Great Lakes Energy get our power on in very windy weather. I am also assisted by having fresh blueberries show up at the grocery store in January, and by ordering my COVID-19 test kits online so I don’t have to get breathed on in a drugstore. It means enjoying the apples that Karen and Ted gave us and appreciating the warm neighborliness of Rick and Sandy, assisting us emotionally the way friendships can. We are assisted by Barbara’s laughing at our jokes. Phone calls from friends and family provide additional assisted living.

 

            Assisted living can be seen from a larger perspective as well. We are assisted through these very difficult times, by the chickadees at the feeder, by the vision of snowfall through the lights at night, and by the sunrises over the lake. I’m not prone to put a religious spin on such experiences, but nevertheless, Thank You.

 

            Meanwhile, back on Earth, we are preparing to visit some assisted living facilities in Traverse City, while at the same time starting to work with two sisters who will assist in cleaning and are also qualified to provide assisted living through home health care. It’s our desire to live in our bark house as long as possible, but it’s always good to have Plan B.

 

            We would love to hear about your experiences with assisted living. Please let us know atdstring@ix.netcom.com.

 

 

            

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Jeep Guy



           Maybe 40 years ago I gave a student a ride home from school following a meeting for the literary magazine, of which I was faculty advisor. She followed me into the faculty parking lot, spotted my boring non-descript car, and burst out laughing. “It’s a teacher car!” Yes, it was boring – no doubt purchased used.

 

            Well, things are changing. I’m buying a Jeep.

 

            You know those shallow people who take their identity from the clothes they wear or the car they drive? It appears I’m becoming one of them. Kim has told me that the clothes I wear make a statement about me, and my statement has been, fairly consistently, “I really don’t give a shit about my clothes.” I still don’t, but what may be changing is that I’m going to become a Jeep Guy. The car won’t be built and delivered for maybe three months, but I’m already starting to feel the difference. I’m becoming a Jeep Guy. It’s a Wrangler, so I suppose I’ll be using it to round up some horses to break.

 

            I’m trying to recall the highlights of my car-owning history. Here are a few:

 

            My first car, “The White Streak,” was a prized VW Beetle powered by, as I recall, a 26 hp engine, but I loved it. Its message about me was understated to the point of near-invisibility, which was fine. It was followed by a more powerful Beetle that I used to tow a U-Haul from Boston to Ann Arbor with my very few belongings. I slept in the U-Haul on the way.

 

            There follows a series of teacher cars – unmemorable used (a step below “pre-owned”), seldom washed, practical ways to get me around. Yawn. The recent series of reliable Toyota SUVs has become boring.

 

            I’m about to become a Jeep Guy, and that has given my spirit an automotive Viagra boost. We noticed that there’s a lot of Jeep stuff for sale on their website – shirts, hats, coffee mugs, toys, pens, blankets. So what if it was Kim who really decided to buy a Jeep? I’m still a Jeep Guy. And yes, the gas mileage will not be great, but we don’t travel much these days, and the heavy hybrid version only gets 25 miles on a battery change. To make up for the Jeep’s gas guzzling, I’m wearing my socks an extra day.

 

            Being a Jeep Guy means I need to seek “off-road” experiences. I’ve had a little experience with them, but none with a car. Riding my bike to school for 20+ years is a bit “off-road,” as is my not wearing a necktie decision in the ‘90s – and not just on Fridays. My more off-road adventure as a writer was my inventing a poetic form, “low-ku,” which involved writing obscene haiku poems, none of which, thankfully, have survived. Our bark house is also “off-road,” though technically speaking, it is on a road.

 

            Yes, I know, having a non-Toyota means I will have to learn where’s the button to open the flap to the gas tank, how do I spray salt off the windows, and, importantly, how do I program the GPS to find my home. But of course, as an off-road Jeep Guy, I’ll see getting lost as exploration, shift into 4-wheel drive (not stick shift, thank you, but something shifty) and head into the woods. That’s who I am now. As soon as I finish balancing my checkbook and vacuuming the bathroom.


Thursday, December 23, 2021

Festivus 2

This week’s blog is pretty much a repeat from one from a couple of years ago:

 It’s that time of year again, a time when many of us give and receive gifts. Of course, I’m talking about the month of the Winter Solstice. With that in mind, I am offering up a brief questionnaire to help you through the season. I’d love to hear your responses, and I hope to put them together in next week’s blog. No need to respond to all the questions. No need, in fact, to respond to any of them – but what’s the fun in that?

 

·      What is the best gift you have ever received?

 

·      What is the best gift you have ever given?

 

·      Have you ever given or received a partridge in a pear tree?

 

·      Which would you rather receive as a gift, a thing or an event?

 

·      How do you feel about cash as a gift?

 

·      Do you have a favorite Christmas movie?

 

·      What Christmas song do you hope never to hear again?

 

·      What, if anything, makes you sad this time of year?

 

·      How has the Holiday Season changed since you were a kid?

 

·      What are you planning to do to make this holiday season different this year?

 

·      Do you and your family have any unusual or amusing holiday traditions?

 

·      Who would you like to come down your chimney?

 

·      What are “reindeer games,” and have you played any?

 

·      If you are not a Christian, what does Christmas mean to you?

 

·      If you are a Christian, is your faith an important part of how you celebrate Christmas? In what way?

 

That’s it. Please email your best responses to me at dstring@ix.netcom.com. I’ll publish them, and if I don’t get enough, I’ll publish my favorites from last time. 

Thursday, December 16, 2021

How to Winter


            Those of you who live south of the 45th parallel may be wondering what you need to do to winter successfully in Northern Michigan. Soon you will know.

 

Clothing

            As you may suspect, it sometimes gets cold in the winters up here. The first requirement is a pair of mittens. Not gloves – mittens, so your fingers can keep each other warm. Kim has a strong preference for wool mittens knitted by Grandma, suitable for making snowpersons, but I have no experience with them. I do, however, have experience with Raynaud’s syndrome, the cure for which, the internet tells me, is mittens.


            Boots are essential. I have two kinds of insulated snow boots – regular and deep. Last year I never had to wear the deep. Same is true for long underwear and snow pants, mainly because my primary outdoor winter experience is shoveling snow and chopping wood, both of which generate heat.


            Hat – of course. I prefer the classic knit hat, though here in Northern Michigan the Stormy Kromer hat (look it up) is popular. I am also very fond of my “Turtle” neck wrap to cover the gap between collar and hat, and you can pull it up over your mouth, nose and cheeks if need be.

 

Car

            We have stocked our car – just in case. This means we carry a blanket and extra gloves and a scarf in case we have to spend the night off the road in a snow drift. Water is not necessary as there will be snow. Kim, from her experience in the U.P., advised me to keep the gas tank at least half full. We don’t use snow tires because, a) our dirt road is fairly level, b) US 31, our main artery ¼ mile from our house, is very well maintained, and c) I’m cheap and don’t want the hassle of changing tires.

 

Snow Shoveling

            I also learned from Kim that it makes sense to shovel the driveway when the snow depth gets to three or four inches rather than waiting for the blizzard to stop and it’s just too deep to handle. We get our road plowed at five inches of snow, but our driveway configuration does not allow for either a snow blower or a plow. I actually enjoy the exercise, and I enjoy knowing I can still do it.

 

Our Road

Power

            Power failures are not uncommon on the winter, as our power lines have to go through the woods to get to our property, and that means passing through icy branches. We keep a good supply of candles and a couple of handy flashlights. We also make sure to keep our cell phones charged when we know a storm is coming. Kim has also figured out how to light our gas stove with no electricity, and our little gas pot-belly stove has a battery back-up for starting. And Ted and Karen, our neighbors who winter in Virginia, generously said we can stay in their house, warmed thanks to their generator. So far, our longest power outage has been about 24 hours – thanks to the men and women who climb cold and wind-whipped trees to repair the lines.


            We also make sure to store several gallons of water, both for drinking and to pour into the toilet to create a flush. We refresh our stored water every six months or so. We refresh other beverages more frequently.

 

            You might think that winter up here means struggling with the elements. But that is far from our daily existence.


            We still go out in the morning to photograph a sunrise, even if that means no time to put on a coat or exchange slippers for boots.




            We feed the birds, loading the feeders in the morning and then watching, off and on, all day.


Pileated Woodpecker



White-breasted Nuthatch



Brown Creeper



We have not had many unusual species so far this winter, but that’s OK. We did see a few.


Unidentified Species

            Also OK is knowing that most of our guests are squirrels. Kim also saw a fox cruising through the yard, just outside the windows.


            Kim bakes. This year’s Christmas cookies will primarily be eaten by me.


            I take pleasure in fulfilling my habits – coffee every few hours, evening cocktail, etc.


            We have moved into afternoon nap mode, especially with the extreme fatigue Kim has been experiencing. By “nap” I mean hitting the couches and watching movies – occasionally dozing off. The fact that gardening duties have paused for a few months frees up time to do this.

            We keep in contact with friends and family by phone, text, email, Facebook and this blog. Kim is much better at this than I am. I keep in touch with people by worrying about them. 

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Wind

            We’ve been noticing the wind. We see it on the lake, looking east to whitecaps driven by the north our south winds, or scattered patches of rough water as a dancing west wind decorates the surface. Wind from the east is rare, but it brings waves crashing in.

 


            The prevailing west wind is most often experience as sound – moving heavy across Lake Michigan about a quarter mile to our west, then blowing through the tall trees all around our house. We don’t feel it on the ground, and few leaves are being driven along with some snow swirls, but we can hear it, and we see the tree tops swaying, with an occasional branch falling for me to move off our road. The sound in the high trees is the humming of the universe.

 


            Wind means change. Maybe it’s just this time of year, but the throbbing hum is ushering in what feels like more than a new weather system. Maybe it’s the prospect of a new year, or perhaps the solstice, where darkening changes to lightening. Our isolation has a new feel of its own with our neighbors gone for the winter. We have changed to more of an indoor life, except for the occasional shoveling of snow or trip to the store, cancer center, or post office, but change is electric in the outdoor air. Some evenings we turn on outside lights to watch the snow blow past our windows.

 

            The wind-driven anticipated change is more dramatic than changes such as the steady decline as we age, and it’s more hopeful, for me, than the bleak prospects of climate change and continuing social chaos. It’s larger, more spiritual. The idea is to be attuned to the wind and to change, and, where possible to celebrate it, even participate in it. How?

 

            As Shelley writes in “Ode to the West Wind”:

 

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!

 

To begin with, it’s time to move our dead thoughts out of here. There certainly are enough of them around . . ..

 

Thursday, December 2, 2021

True or False

 

      Half of the following statements about me are true. Identify 15 of the true ones and win a prize.

 

1.     Tried out for Survivor and made it to the semi-final interview in Chicago before being cut.

2.     Bungee-jumped in New Zealand.

3.     Tried out for the Olympic ice hockey team and was cut very early in the process.

4.     Had a date with Miss North Carolina a year after she relinquished her crown.

5.     Slept with the coach of the Miss Michigan pageant.

6.     Published a poem in The New Yorker.

7.     Appointed Poet Laureate of Antrim County.

8.     Was thanked by Robert Frost for suggesting a revision in one of his poems.

9.     Rode an elephant.

10.  Achieved a score of 700 in Words with Friends.

11.  Made a white sauce without assistance or instruction from Kim.

12.  Wiped my butt with poison sumac.

13.  Finished second in a 10-mile swimming race.

14.  Spent a summer working as a model.

15.  Was selected to be King of St. Clair, Michigan.

16.  Swallowed a live bee.

17.  Slept through the night in the cemetery of the Great Swamp Baptist Church in Georgia.

18.  Learned how to reboot my modem and router.

19.  Won my college’s “Ugly Man” contest.

20.  Successfully cleaned my bathroom.

21.  Floated down a major midwestern river with a guy named Jim.

22.  Received an A in a college English class.

23.  Dated the same girl that Ken Howard was dating, and asked her to choose between us.

24.  Read War and Peace twice.

25.  Changed the oil in my car.

26.  Died, briefly, but made a comeback.

27.  Streaked across the University of Michigan’s Diag (at night).

28.  Enjoyed regular breakfasts with the author, Dan Brown.

29.  Had two vasectomies – the second one free.

30.  Taught three classes in a row with my fly unzipped.

31.  Bicycled from Ann Arbor to the Mackinac Bridge.

32.  Met Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.

33.  Hunted for whales in the Atlantic off the coast of Cape Cod.

34.  Shot and killed a deer.

35.  Spent a summer working as a dishwasher.

36.  Trapped a skunk.

37.  Learned the names of all the trees on our property.

38.  Without Kim’s help, picked the house we were going to live in.

39.  Auditioned unsuccessfully for Dancing with the Stars.

40.  Tended a small cannabis garden for personal use.

 

By the way, I had much more fun writing this than any of you had reading it. So: Make your own lists – and feel free to share. You might want to start with 5 and 5 – good for holiday gatherings.