Sunday, January 10, 2010

Frozen Pine Winter

Since sundown January 1 it has been below freezing here for all but a few hours. The last two mornings it has been 14 degrees. Our heat pump is giving us the finger, running nonstop. But, this weekend has been bright and sunny and mid-afternoon today it got up to 34 degrees. The wind was forceful yesterday but the sun felt warm enough. I spent awhile this afternoon outside with the dogs in the sun and a constant, slow freezing breeze. The dusting of snow we got Thursday night is still everywhere the sun doesn’t shine.

When I was a kid growing up here we had cold spells that would last a week or two. So, this reminds me of the way winter used to be, cold, in the shadow of pines waving in the dry arctic breeze. Most of the stock ponds have frozen over. On cloudy days you can walk on the sheet of ice, but when the sun is out it melts the surface into slush.

Tree dormancy is something of importance that most people never consider. I was told by the County Extension Agent several years ago that oaks and maples need at least one prolonged period below freezing each winter to go dormant. Otherwise, the tree never really "rests" and ends up being stressed out not only by the accumulation of our recent drought years but just as much by the lack of freezing temperature. Over the past few years I have seen many hardwoods die near where I live. Fortunately, I haven't lost any of my older ones, though - as I mentioned before - the vast majority of my dogwoods have died. In recent months, with plentiful rain and now with abundant cold, our trees should be enjoying this winter.

Charlie loves to run in the cold weather. I took him for a couple of walks today and yesterday and each time he has raced all over our ten acres, sometimes just rounding in large circles until he can’t catch his breath and has to stop and hack. Nala seems to enjoy the weather as well. She was running for awhile too, you just have to make a big fuss over her and give her a vigorous rubbing. She will briefly bolt and dance around despite her bad hips.

Parks, the Perpetual, isn’t so excited about the cold weather. But, he has to stay out anyway except during the bitter cold at night. Otherwise he might pee on one of Jennifer’s carpets or throw-up on the wood floor. He is mental about eating and often staggers through the woods next door to gobble up scraps that the neighbors throw out their back door which often lately makes him sick. Just not a situation you want inside.

Still, Jennifer has been cleaning up a lot after the seemingly ungrateful guy. But, at “true” mealtime Parks is as animated and boisterous as ever. He wags his tail a lot. If he were in pain and wasting away it would be easy to put him down given all the trouble he causes due to being inside so much recently because of the cold. But, he isn’t in any pain at all (thanks to the meds). He staggers around a bit and seems to walk off into nowhere, stare, and come back to where he started. Not really a reason to kill him…yet.

My daughter liked the fact that school was closed Friday but she has been bored out of her mind. She pacified herself with movie rentals, the internet and a bunch of Season 5 Lost reruns we are watching as a family in preparation for the upcoming finale of that TV series.

Jennifer hates the cold. But, the funny thing is that even she agrees after several days with highs in the twenties, it felt almost balmy in the sun this weekend if you were properly layered up. You do eventually get used to the cold to the point that what used to be cold is now not. Still, we both hate the wind. Jennifer played tennis out in it this afternoon. She is on a very dedicated competition team. They will play if it is above freezing, even by only a degree or two. But, the wind chill makes you want to keep running throughout the match.

I got out our kerosene heater for the first time in two years yesterday, cleaned it up and bought some fuel which is outrageously priced at over $3.70 per gallon. The heat pump simply cannot keep the house warm in the mornings when it is this cold for this long. This morning it was toasty even if we had to put up with some fumes.

The conditions make reading a worthwhile pastime. Appropriately enough, I am blazing a trail through David Halberstam’s The Coldest Winter. So far, the book has given me a great overview of the geopolitical situation in which the Korean War took place. But, it is very general on the actual military details. Still, it is an excellent book, shedding light on a topic I am not well acquainted with. My reading is spiced with the usual bits by and about Nietzsche.

Jennifer and I have rewatched the Dudamel DVD a couple of more times this weekend. She only wants to hear the Mahler now. The Adams is too much of a good thing for her. She says she can’t get the Mahler out of her mind. I understand. I told it is that way with each of his symphonies once you open yourself to them.

Standing in the woods this afternoon, feeling the cold breeze in my face and listening to the swish of winter wind through the tops of the tall green pines I thought of Thoreau’s “winter walk” essay. Looking around, I found deer prints and evidence of the occasional scramble of a squirrel. All the while Charlie was my steadfast companion. Roaming wide in all directions around me, now running, now inspecting with his snout. Always coming when called.

From "A Winter Walk" by Thoreau: “The wonderful purity of nature at this season is a most pleasing fact. Every decayed stump and moss-grown stone and rail, and the dead leaves of autumn, are concealed by a clean napkin of snow. In the bare fields and tinkling woods, see what virtue survives. In the coldest and bleakest places, the warmest charities still maintain a foothold. A cold and searching wind drives away all contagion, and nothing can withstand it but what has a virtue in it, and accordingly, whatever we meet in cold and bleak places, as the tops of mountains, we respect for a sort of innocence, a Puritan toughness. It is invigorating to breath the cleansed air. Its greater fineness and purity are visible to the eye, and we would fain stay out long and late, that the gales may sigh through us, too, as through the leafless trees, and fit us for the winter – as if we hoped to borrow some pure and steadfast virtue, which will stead us in all seasons.”

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