And Just Like That: Autumn

The memes are all over the place saying that the change in the temperature over the past week is like what happens when you go by a state trooper on the highway.

Memes as a general rule are what they are, but this one is more or less true for the moment. We moved into October and it was like Mother Nature watched the page on the calendar flip.

(Just kidding - everyone knows that Mother Nature uses the calendar app on her iPhone nowadays).

So now we start to roll into my favorite time of year here in the Midwest. Now the air takes on a crispness to it, especially in the early morning hours, and gently works its way up to the pleasant hi 50° to low 60° degree range. There will be exceptions, of course - we will have days that touch into the 70’s or perhaps a bit higher - this is the Midwest, after all. But for a little while we get a reprieve.

That reprieve is, I think, always shorter than we expect (or perhaps hope). As any parent who’s taken a kid out trick-or-treating can tell you, it’s not uncommon for October to run fairly cold by its end, so much so that the hard one effect of a grim reaper costume is muted by the down jacket that had to be hung over it.

Grim Reaper: It’s time

Dude: It is? I thought I’d... hey - is that a Land’s End jacket?

GR: Yeah - you like it? It was on sale...

This, of course, assuming that all goes as we expect. After a monsoon level spring, a summer that, aside from one three day period felt like we were living in Northern Washington (hard to complain about that, but still...) and an early Fall that looked at the challenge offered by spring and said "You call that rain? Hold my beer", it’s hard to know what to expect.

I write all of this a little painfully self-aware that everyone complains about the weather, but no one does anything about it. You know, metaphorically, but also literally. And this isn’t a hey you guys finger pointing moment - I mean me too. I have, for example, had multiple opportunities this summer to hang clothes on the line, but where did they go? Not on the line, that’s where. It’s hard for all of us to work against convenience and habit.

There are lists of things we can do. Surprisingly, most of them don’t involve buying a Tesla (lets not mention that to my spouse, okay...).

At least, in the interim, I can enjoy this perfect fall day, today.

Weather Continues to Reign

Back in the spring I posted some pictures of Big Bureau Creek following the extensive volume of rain we’d experienced. It was an usually wet spring.

The thing is, I drove by Bureau Creek yesterday and it looked pretty much exactly the same again. Here, set firmly now in autumn as we roll in to the end of December we are again seeing prodigious amounts of rain.

We had a reprieve for a fair amount of the summer, but now it’s like Lady Gaia is making up for lost time.

Portions of this area are absolutely lowlands, and geographically is poorly drained. A fair amount of that is compensated for by tiling done in the fields to drain the water away into a series of ditches and ultimately into the natural waterways (like Bureau Creek). Reading through historical accounts of the region you get the clear impression that much of the travel through the area was challenged by finding routes that could be maintained without ending up caught either in wetlands or, in the winter especially, out on the open prairie where the wind and white out conditions were a risk of life-threatening potentiality.

You can see that history, to a significantly lesser degree, in these heavy rains when they overwhelm the tiling systems. At times it almost seems like Gaia is trying to reassert the old landscape. And it does have the effect of reminding one that, as technologically advanced as we’ve become, the weather has not been conquered.

When is a Summer not a Summer?

On Friday last I took a screenshot from the weather app on my phone:

Autumn airs

This presents the forecast for the current weekend, and leading into the last week of August. As you can see, lows dip down into the 50’s on a routine basis, and the highs never crack 80°.

To be clear, I’m not complaining here - I absolutely love this weather. For anyone who enjoys going out of doors - cyclists, hikers, or even just someone doing yard work - it’s hard to find any kind of fault with our current local climatological presentation (I’ll pause for a moment for the avid summer swimmers to chime in their objections - I hear you folks, but I’m not one of you, so...).

But like it or not, it is odd. Or at least it seems like it should be thought of as such.

In my recollection, August in Northern Illinois is one of the hottest times of the year. It seems to like we should be struggling with temps in the high 80’s at least, if not watching things creep up into the lower 90’s, and all of it accompanied by ambient moisture that makes the heat cling to you like a spiderweb you’ve just walked thru.

But when I look back thru my journal I realize that the past several years have been like this, more or less, and it brings up the odd differences that result from climate change. 2018, according to the reports, was the fourth hottest year on record ever. Yet here in the Midwest of the US - or at least in the northern portions of the Great Lakes region - we seem to be mimicking the Pacific Northwest.

I can’t pretend to truly understand it, and I absolutely think we should, as a society, be doing more about it. But until then, I think I’m going to go outside.

Hard Summer to Enjoy

As we roll into August, we also roll into the last portion of the summer. This is often a point at which one wants to look back over the season at what’s been done, and check that against what one would still like to do before the season runs out.

Unlike most years, tho, I suspect most of us have a longer list of unchecked items than usual. While we’ve only had a scant few days of scorching heat (and it has been only a few - while the weather reporters churned up much storm und drang over it, it was less than a week), the sheer volume of rain at the beginning of the season, persisting across most of June and into July, really put a damper on the opportunity for outdoor activity.

This isn’t just my perspective. In the last week of June MLW and I went out exploring in Utica, spending a little time doing some wine tasting at the Illinois River Winery and then having dinner at Ron’s Cajun Connection. The folks at the Winery tasting room were talking about traffic being down for the season. And this makes sense - much of the activity in the area is based in Starved Rock and Matthiessen State Parks, the I&M Canal Trail, and/or on the Illinois River. At that point large chunks of all of those things were either under water, or were the water other things were under. And I can verify that the soggy state of affairs persisted two weeks later along parts of the canal trail.

Back at the Homestead, where we have our house on the hill, things have been a bit dryer, but the effects of the rain have still been present. In particular, while the farmers have been hampered in their ability to plant crops, the local insect population has been working overtime. This means that, even in places where things are otherwise high and dry, attempts to spend time outside have been impinged upon by fleets of insect predators. My uncle’s brother’s cousin told me that he actually saw a small child get carried off by a swarm of mosquitos...

I don’t usually tend to grouse here, and if there’s a message that I’m trying to get to (seems like there should be, right?), it’s that there is still summer left to enjoy. Since I prefer exercising out of doors, I’ve spent a fair amount of time out and about even in the misery of this frankly inadequate season. I can verify for you that, over the past couple of weeks the squadrons of biting flies and needle-nosed exsanguinators seems to be paring back to a dull drone. It’s been at least a month since I’ve ridden thru a fog of gnats (a fine source of protein, let me tell you), so now is the opportunity to make up for lost time.

I’ll see ya out there!

Big Bureau Creek - High Water

It’s no secret that we’ve had an unusually wet spring here in the Midwest. Out on our part of the prairie we’ve been more fortunate than others - we aren’t positioned near a large water source, and the Homestead itself is on a hill. That’s not a great thing in the middle of winter, when the west wind is beating mercilessly on the front door, but it is decidedly a benefit when it comes to the rain.

As I sit and write this rolling into a new week the weather seems to have shifted towards the drier end of the spectrum, at least for the next couple of days. But this past week, particularly very early Thursday morning, the ground was not just wet, it was saturated. Yes, there was water on the grass from rain the night before, and low areas in the yard held the expected puddles. But walking through the grass everywhere - including higher spots in the yard - found the ground sopping, squishing beneath the feet. It’s like the water table was announcing that she was full-up.

A major waterway here in western Lee County is Big Bureau Creek. Bureau Creek is a meandering affair that winds its way through Lee and Bureau counties until it ultimately empties into the Illinois River. There are areas on the creek that are wide enough to canoe down, given the right season, but up here, for the most part, it’s a smaller (if lovely) affair. This is Bureau Creek last December:

Bureau Creek in December 2018

And this is the Creek a mile downstream very early in the AM this past Thursday:

Bureau Creek swollen

To be clear, the Creek is bit wider at the location of the second picture - naturally so, given that it’s downstream - but not this wide. She’s out of her banks in parts, and the amount of water being moved is, frankly, astonishing. The channel you see to the left in the picture flowing into the main Creek isn’t really a channel. I mean, it was then, but it’s simply, typically not there. It’s water feeding in from the flooded fields alongside. I was able to get a short video of it:

As I said, we’ve been fortunate out our way, relatively speaking. Everything is wet, but we’re not underwater, and my cousin has been able to get the fields around us planted. Others have not been as fortunate. But wherever you are at, if you are in the Midwest, it is wet, and wetter than we’ve seen for quite some time.

Oh Come On!

This was my thought as I looked out the window yesterday afternoon to see this:

snow at the end of April

Yes, those tinges of white that you see in the spring emerald of grass is snow. The date: April 27th. It continued, providing a light dusting that, by this morning, offered this view:

snow at the end of April

This isn’t breaking news to anyone in the upper Midwest. People further north than us, up at the Wisconsin border and beyond, got significantly more snowfall to contend with. And it will be gone by afternoon, most likely, with a High today projected to climb into the 50°’s.

But it’s there now, nonetheless. And it really should not be here - it should not be about. It should not continue snowing once true spring is out.

This was projected and expected by the weather service, so the only people surprised by it were those who were really not paying attention. But it seems reasonable to chronicle it for posterity simply because it is so out of character for this time of year. The day began with rain, and that rain persisted through late afternoon here at our latitude (the snow arrived sooner further north). A day - or two, or three - of ongoing rain is far from unusual in April (those showers bring May flowers, as I recall).

I’m certainly no meteorologist, but the variation and change in what we are getting in the weather is pretty easy to detect at this point - one doesn’t need to measure subtle changes in worldwide high temperatures to see it.

And ultimately, the "oh come on!" to this is because it’s time to be done. I am on the record as a cold kid - I enjoy the winter and everything it has to offer. But winter has had its turn, and it should find its way gracefully into temporary retirement, going into training for the next competition season. This type of thing is just spiteful and pointless. It’s not really snow, after all. It looks like it, but ultimately it’s just fluffy rain. Or, if you like, rain delayed.

I do not like it. I do not like here, or there. Not in a box. Not with a bagel and lox...


People talk a lot about how they hate winter. What they mean, mostly, is the cold and the snow that accompanies the presence of January and February on the calendar.

And then they herald the changes that roll in with early March - the higher temperatures, the rain coming down in place of snow.

People are nuts - this is the absolute worst time of year, weather-wise, as far as I’m concerned.

This weekend the rain falls.

It falls because the temperature has risen. It’s risen just above that critical freezing line, and so it remains liquid, not solid.

It falls on ground that is reacting to those warmer temperatures, and so is defrosting itself.

But just on top.


So what this leaves is a layer of thoroughly saturated muck that slides about atop a still-frozen substrate, like oatmeal on top of glass. And thoroughly saturated means that the water that falls ultimately just sits on the surface - no where to go, absorption impossible.


In short, it’s gross. And it sucks. Would not recommend, zero stars.

In the winter - in the real winter, with the frozen ground, sometimes covered with lovely snow, it is possible to go out and enjoy the out of doors, the countryside. But what does one do with weather like this.

Sit. Inside.

Sit inside and resent the weather.

Winter Moanings

Well, it’s here.

We’ve reached the part of the winter where virtually every conversation starts out with a reference to how tired of the season the person is, and how ready they are for spring.

I feel a little bad for winter in that respect. I mean, no one ever tells you how tired they are of summer, or how ready they are for the fall colors to just get it over with already. No - winter is clearly a thing to be endured rather than enjoyed.

I get it - we’ve absolutely had our own challenges with this winter, and though we’ve weathered through them, it does help one see how and why the yearning for the vernal equinox occurs. But mostly this sort of thing makes me think back to what life must have been like out here in the days before central heat and rural electrification.

Our old house is several miles from the nearest town. That distance is easily covered in just a few minutes in a car, but it would have been a much longer period of time by foot or by horse. This would have been a journey of some effort in the winter, and something probably undertaken only under specific, favorable conditions.

And they would have been prepared for the weather when they went. This is something that is a recurring theme in my thoughts about this and, oddly enough, in my conversations with LB about the weather (not odd that I bring it up, but odd that LB engages the conversation). While I am certainly not interested in going back to the days prior to those modern conveniences - let’s be clear, I’m writing this on an iPad, not, say, scrawling it with a fountain pen on parchment - the conveniences themselves have absolutely changed how we modern people regard the weather.

On even very cold days you see people moving about in lightweight gear - maybe a jacket, maybe not, wearing tennis shoes, eschewing scarves, gloves, and hats. It is easy to see how this happens: if all one is doing is moving from their home to their vehicle, and then from their vehicle to a heated office or other sort of workplace, then their winter gear could certainly seem sufficient.

Of course, this means that the exposure one experiences while outside has the dual components of being always that point of initial contrast to the warmth of the inside, and so especially shocking; and it is experienced with insufficient weather protection, compounding the effect. All of which is to say: no wonder it seems so cold.

Now, before this becomes too much a get off my lawn post, let me note that I’m not suggesting that everyone should bundle up like they are tackling a South Pole record ride in order to go from home into a warm workplace. But I do think that we are losing, as a culture, both the understanding of how to remain warm and safe under cold conditions, and some degree of the general weather-hardiness that previous generations had - that ability to go out and tolerate, perhaps even enjoy, winter conditions for extended periods of time.

This is one of the gifts life in our old house on the prairie can offer. On the harshest winter days it absolutely is not as cozy-comfy as a modern ranch in a housing development. It might be technically possible to get it there one day, but short of a lotto win or the passing of an unknown, beneficent wealthy relative ("Great uncle Otto? I don’t think I ever met... what was that? You say he left us $40 million? Oh yeah - Otto. I always loved that guy...") its not going to occur any time in the near future.

But it means that we do have to employ older techniques - understanding how to dress for cold weather to remain warm in the house, and how to outfit a bed so that it’s warm and comfortable for a night’s sleep as the winter wind wails about the home. Our ancestors knew how to do these things well and would have had human and bed clothing specific to the purpose. One has to bear in mind that, even if one has a heating stove in the bedroom, the fire inside will go out in the middle of the night - it’s going to be pretty cold in the bedroom by morning.

None of which is to suggest that I think those ancestors did not complain about the winter weather. I suspect that pissing and moaning about the cold has been a universal since humans first evolved speech. Probably the first word was something like "rock" or "fire"; but I’ll bet the first sentence was something like "sure ready for this cold weather to end..."

First Snow 2019 - Arctic Cat Memories

The snow started on the prairie yesterday and continued to fall through the night and, in places in the region, into the wee hours of this morning. This storm represents not just the first snow of the calendar year, but of the calendar season. We were blanketed with a substantial supply of the white stuff back in late autumn, but winter thus far has only offered precipitation in the form of rain. At least until now.

I find it interesting to chronicle this here not because it’s breaking news - anyone else living in the Midwest knows that’s it’s been snowing. But it is interesting to keep a record of when these things occur. To my recollection the warm temperatures and lack of fluffy precipitation this late into the season is an oddity, if one that is becoming less odd with the progressive peculiarity of climate change.

The thing is, while I don’t believe our region ever was an all-winter long snowy wonderland, my (potentially faulty) memory is of more snow, lasting longer. There is the risk for anyone from northern Illinois who is of a given age to picture the winter of 78-79, when the snow made walls to either side of the roadways after the plows cut through (if they could cut through) as typical, and it was not.

Not Typical

But I do recall extensive periods of winter play - building forts, sledding, and snowmobiling.

And this last is probably the thing that seems the most different. Sledding (downhill) is a single day activity in the Midwest, given that one must travel to find a hill of sufficient height (my Dad would take us to a hill just off of Beemerville Road). One good snowy day is really all you need if you strike while the iron is hot (or perhaps when the snow is nigh). But snowmobiling? To justify such a machine really requires the availability of a real quantity of the white stuff over a meaningful period of time.

Back in the late seventies and very early 80’s, when I was a kid living across the field, we had snowmobiles. They were a pair of Arctic Cats - my Dad had a Panther, and I had a Lynx (or, perhaps better said, my Dad had it, and I was allowed to ride it). I can remember riding that little sled all over through the fields and up and down the ditches. If my recollection is correct, the Lynx model I was riding had steel cleats as part of the tread. This meant that one could jump up out of a ditch at speed, land on an icy, snowy road, and the cleats would dig right in to the ice and shoot you forward. It was very cool.

It also meant that, when you "borrowed" your Dad’s sled, which did not have steel cleats, this same feat would leave one suddenly sitting, sideways, in the ditch on the opposite side, wondering what happened. Or, you know, so I hear... (Reminding me once again that it’s probably something of a miracle that we did not die as kids)

For at least one winter, and maybe a couple, we rode up and down the construction site that would eventually become I 39 (Illinois’ budget issues are not a new phenomenon - the highway was a project that had been started, and then sat incomplete for quite some time due to a lack of funding). When I got older and we moved into town we still had the snowmobiles, at least for a winter or two. Riding them meant carefully selecting a route through town that would touch on private property - well, at least on private residential property - as little as possible as we found our way into the country. This led to one encounter with the local constabulary which, thanks to the combination of overland mobility of the machine, and the complete anonymity afforded by gear that included a face mask and helmet, was probably the only time I ever actually got away with anything. The statute of limitations has probably passed, this event being, say, 35 years ago or so, but I’m still reluctant to say more. Let’s just say that it’s hard to chase a snowmobile with a police car...

Snowmobiles are comparatively rare here now. Occasionally I’ll hear one going down the ditch, or simply see the characteristic tread marks in the snow. Still, the lack of reliable white stuff to ride on has caused folks to sell off their sleds in favor of other pursuits. I have family who have done so, to be sure. It’s easy to see why - even today, after a day and night of snow proceeding, we have drifts of snow, but between them the grass and ground can still be seen. You could ride a snowmobile over this - and certainly there are people who will - but it won’t be terribly pleasant.

Of course, this just means that one has to find other ways to enjoy the winter weather. But it does speak to a real-world change in weather patterns - people who love snowmobiling don’t sell them off if they are continuing to have opportunities to enjoy them...

There is an older website, called Boss Cat Legacy, that archives Arctic Cat information (of course there is). Based on my memory, the pictures of the ‘77 and ‘78 Lynx on this page most closely fit what I recall.


On Saturday afternoon, October 20, we were enjoying a particularly brisk and breezy autumn day. It was a partly cloudy day, with blue sky peeking out between bits of fluffy clouds. The weather report tells us that the wind is out of the northwest at 29 mph...

Its breezy...

It is due to this last fact that it wasn’t terribly surprising to discover that the power had gone out. I was, in fact, involved in taking the window A/C units out of the upstairs bedroom windows - today’s high of 46°, and a week ahead with highs primarily in the lower 50’s suggested it was probably safe to do so - when we noticed it. Specifically, I had removed the unit from the window in LB’s room, and LB went to turn on a light - this a decorative thing, since the bright sunny day, combined with our prodigious volume of windows, made artificial light unnecessary - only to find it unresponsive. We tested a couple of other items, again to no avail, and then heard the tell-tale beep from the battery backup units that make it clear: no power.

What a power outage means out in these rural parts is that virtually nothing works. The incoming electricity off of the grid is your energy source for all of your daily life. Folks who live in a town or city will not be as familiar with this phenomenon. For example, while the power being out means that you cannot watch TV, and that you’ll need flashlights or something similar to see around the house at night, other components - things like water supply - are likely working just fine.

But here, the water comes from a well, served by a pump run on... you guessed it: electricity. This means no glass of water from the tap, no shower, and the number of toilet flushes limited to what is already in the tank (that’s exactly one, for those who may be unaware). It means no water for cooking or coffee as well, but that point is moot, because the stove and coffee maker also require electricity.

It also means no heat. While our furnace uses LP for fuel, the blower that distributes the heat throughout the house requires electricity to spin. That this is October and not, say, January, means that we could certainly be in worse shape in that respect. We have heavy blankets enough for all to ward off the chill, and it won’t get cold enough yet to worry about the pipes.

Other things have changed, however. I am writing this on an iPad in the middle of said outage. The iPad operates on a battery, of course, which will operate e device for several hours before running down. To extend that, I have it and my iPhone both plugged in to one of the aforementioned battery backups. These devices are designed primarily to keep older computers from shutting down suddenly when the power vanishes. They do a remarkable job of this, but they also retain power after this task sufficient for several charges of mobile devices. This means that we’re in good shape for connectivity to emergency services and for personal entertainment.

It’s a bit of a contrast from my youth growing out here. Then as now, the power going out meant being cold and it being dark at night, and it meant having no water. But the landline phones back then operated on their own, independent of ComEd, and we sought our entertainment through more rustic means. Then I’d be reading a fantasy novel or comic book on paper to pass the time waiting for the TV to be available again.

And of course now, I’ll likely be reading... well, a fantasy novel or comic book on my iPad to pass the time...

So maybe things haven’t really changed that much.

Is it Spring?

It’s been weeks of oddball spring weather that briefly promises the season will begin, then, at the last second, pulls the ice cream cone of warmth away, shouts "psych!", and dumps an inch of snow on us. It’s the 22nd of April, and three days ago there was an inch of snow on the ground.

But this morning it’s already 53°, working it’s way up to a high somewhere in the low 60’s. And a look at the week ahead on the weather app suggests that it’s for real this time, tho that’s difficult to trust.

Could it be true?

While there is always some aspect of the feeling of final relief from the grips of winter when spring comes, the weirdness of this season makes that more acutely felt this year. There are things to be done that can only be done outside. Some of these include the usual stuff, like yard cleanup - the combined ice and wind of the winter always yield a fine supply of fallen branches and sticks that have to be gathered - to garden prep (the asparaguys need their patch cleaned out so they can grow freely). But there are also things that need to be done that don’t involve the yard and the house, but do involve being outside - for example, cleaning out the cars. In an unheated garage this is an activity easy to set aside when the temps are in the 30’s or 40’s.

So - I’m going to try to lean forward and lick this ice cream cone. I hope Mother Nature doesn’t pull it away this time...

Winter Warm-Up

As we enter the last third of January 2018 here at the Homestead we are presented with temperatures sitting decidedly above 30°(F). As I write this we have a current temperature of 38°, with a forecast high of 41° for the day. Tomorrow is promising temps in the low- to mid-50’s, and the coming week has highs ranging from the low 30’s to the high 40’s.


People are predictably very pleased about the warm-up, especially coming off of the cold snap of a couple of weeks ago. While, further north, sustained tempatures in the negative single digits are not unusual (and are frankly not all that unusual here), our modern amenities seem to ill-prepare us for the realities of winter at its harshest. As such, the warmer weather is greeted with joy by many.

I am not among them.

When the temperatures rise on the prairie in winter it is warmer, to be sure. But along with it comes several other, predictable effects that, to my mind, do not compare favorably to the features that accompany the sharp bite of the air on a true winter day.

It’s Ugly Out There

Warm winter days on the prairie are typically gloomy affairs. As can be seen on the weather report, above, along with the rise in temperatures comes fog and rain. And the fog, here, she ain’t just-a-kidding. Life in the country is one of isolation by choice, but the degree of that increases markedly as the white wall of cloud descends to ground level.

The view out my back stairwell window looks something like this most mornings:


This is the tableau that greets from the same window today:


Go back to the first picture and count the wind turbines you cannot see in the second picture. Some of them are more distant, of course, but one of them - the largest in the picture - is less than a half mile away. These things are huge, but the fog swallows them up as if they were never there.

As the temperatures rise the snow we were blessed with over the past couple of weeks retreats. It doesn’t go all at once, of course, but pulls back in patches. The braver, heartier, cleverer flakes which chose to fall on to shaded areas remain longer, holding out as best they can. This leaves them transformed, however - like Jeremiah Johnson walking out of the mountains at the end of the winter, they are hairier, more grizzled versions of their former selves.


The melting snow is part of the reason for the fog, of course, and the two conspire to concoct the final, perhaps most objectionable component of this warm winter weather trifecta:

The mud.

A week ago everything was covered in a lovely blanket of white. As it pulls back it reveals patches of brown and black soup lying in wait for an errant foot. And while all mud can be unpleasant, mid-winter mud has the additional special property of sitting on top of the frozen layer below. Instead of simply sinking in, the mud acts as a viscous lubricant on the slip-and-slide that your yard has now become.

As a special bonus, you will find that your dogs will appear to have made a special effort to step in each and every errant mud-bog that the yard offers, just before trying to crawl into your lap.

While you are slipping and sliding, and regretting the attention of your beloved pets, you are also becoming soaked to the bone because the ambient humidity level is nearly 100%. Single digit temperatures are cold, to be sure, but they aren’t generally wet. 35° and damp has a way of cutting through the skin that is differentially unpleasant from a cold day on its own.

A true, cold winter day has a way of inviting one outside - the bright blue skies, the shimmering blanket of snow. It’s days like today that keep me in, away, isolated.

First Snow 2017

As I walked to the stairwell to begin my search for another cup of coffee this morning a glance out the window revealed this:


Big fluffy flakes here in the middle-ish of November reflect the first meaningful snowfall of the season. We are ahead of the astronomical winter by a more than a month, but as usual, the weather gods of the Midwest feel not the limits of our puny calendars.


There is something about the first real snowfall that always makes me happy. This is not something I’ve ever been able to really explain - it’s just a visceral thing that happens. Perhaps, like fall, or the first buds of spring, it reflects a change in the landscape, a variation what has been the typical order of things for the several weeks and months prior.


Perhaps. But snow makes me giddy in a way that the other examples do not. There is something more to it. IMG_5018.GIF Undoubtedly some look out the window and experience the dread of a coming season of heavy coats, cold hands and noses, and shoveling. I know these things will be coming too, and I have no illusions about the potential future swearing I will do as I’m trying to rock, then shovel, then rock some more in my efforts to get my car unstuck from somewhere, where "somewhere" is even, possibly, my own driveway.

All of that is a ways off for now, tho, and from the vantage point of my warm room, with no need to go anywhere, this is a beautiful thing.


The... What? Is Leaking?

Around 8:30 last night LB comes up to me and says: "that thing over the stove is leaking".

Me: ”The thing... what?"

LB: "That thing over the stove - you know - the thing."

Me: "The vent hood?"

LB: "... sure".

I followed LB into the kitchen to find, sure enough, it was.


This would seem somewhat perplexing, given that there is no water run anywhere in the house higher than the kitchen and bathroom sinks, both on the first floor, both lower than the stove vent hood.

But: It started raining at about 11:30 or so yesterday morning, and continued until some time into the wee hours of this morning. There was occasional thunder and lightening, but the real player in yesterday's weather was the wind and rain. The continuous rain paired itself with an unusual East by Northeasterly wind that gusted more or less constantly throughout the day and night, striking the backside of the house where the kitchen sits.

The kitchen itself, as it stands, is not original to the house. Rather, it is relatively modern, a late 1940's remodel initiated by my grandparents, with some updating of appliances since. That 1940's work has held up remarkably well, all things considered, over the last 70 years or so. Still, events like this make one realize that one does not know what one does not know.

The vent hood feeds into a galvanized duct that goes up into the soffit above the cabinets. I believe that it then travels across, thru the soffit, over to the chimney in the wall. And when I investigated the bit of ductwork I can see in the cabinet above the hood, I found that to be the location of the leak.

Galvanized Pipe

The chimney that it goes into is one of four in the house - three original and one added later - and is the only original chimney that still rises above the roof, coming out from the fireplace in the basement (which I suspect was originally used for cooking) and traveling up the back wall of the house. In short, it faced the brunt of last night's wind and rain.

My best guess is that the volume of rain, and gusting of wind, was such that it created an unusual bit of air movement in the chimney, moving some rain back down the chimney and throwing it down the vent. I say best guess because in eight years of living here, and a lifetime of being in and around the house semi-regularly, I have never seen this before.

It's all subsided now. It's still windy this morning, but the rain appears to have mostly let up. Our as-yet still unnamed vernal ponds have returned at greater than usual size, and the wind blew over the garbage can. The dogs discovered this first and thoughtfully addressed it by distributing the contents of the can all over the driveway (there may have been the occasional utterance of foul language as I cleaned that up). But it is another of the periodic reminders that, although we are certainly not pioneers out here, with our electricity and running water and such, the weather continues to have surprises to throw at us.

Climate Zones

One of the interesting, if not endearing, aspects of living in a 155 year old house is the array of climates one can experience moving across the building. The progression of climate change has caused considerable temperature variations this winter, with temperatures ranging from well below freezing (typical for this time of year) up to the 60's. That variability has been good for our LP Gas bill, but the variability makes the temperature differences in the house more apparent when it gets cold, as was the case this past week. For most of the week we would bask in tropical temperatures in the kitchen and dining room, and periodically make forays into the chilly, autumn climes of the living room. Any time spent there typically involves sweatshirts and blankets, and a lot of entertainment was sought via iPads, since the TV resides in the living room (thanks Steve Jobs!).

This all flipped on its head Friday morning, when I walked downstairs into the kitchen to make coffee, only to be embraced by normal winter house temps (we keep the thermostat set at 63). To be honest, having not donned a sweatshirt prior to this journey I would have sworn it was colder than that, but a check of the thermometer in the kitchen said otherwise.

This may seem like over-dramatization, but I assure you it's not. At times we can see a nearly 30-point difference in temperature from one side of the house to the other - temperatures in the high 50's in the living room, and hovering around 80° in the kitchen and dining room. A day later the entire situation can change.

Mostly this has to do with two separate factors. The largest component to this feature of our 1800's house is the direction of the wind. The living room - where the thermostat resides - is on the northwest corner of the house. When it is being struck by a strong, persistent, prevailing, northwest winter wind, the temperature in the room drops below the thermostat setting, and it's often the case that, while these conditions continue, it is not possible for the furnace to catch up and heat the room to the shut-off point. As a result, the furnace runs the entire time, and rooms that aren't being pelted by nature's malevolent majesty see a dramatic rise in temperature.

The second component is that the dining room and kitchen are on the south side of the house, in the direct sunlight. In this house of windows that can make a significant difference in daytime temperature on its own, without the wind as a factor. The dining room in particular has a large picture window (which replaced the original bay window on the home). That window offers unfiltered access to sunlight for three-quarters of each day, and offers a lot of heat gain. On such days the dining room is almost certainly the warmest room in the house.

An older picture of the dining room window

None of this is to complain - this is a reality of living in a 150~ish year old home. My Grandma Marie spent a lot of her time in the kitchen, as I recall, and I suspect this was in part because the prevailing west wind made that eastern room more comfortable the other areas of the house. In our own old country house across the field a search for my mother in winter would often find her sitting atop the furnace registers, reading a book. I learned to emulate this myself, though often with comic books rather than novels. It's a pleasant enough activity right up to the point that you realize it is indeed possible for your buttocks to fall asleep...

And - to be clear - we don't simply allow this phenomenon to persist. When it becomes clear that the furnace is unable to catch up in the living room I will turn the thermostat down so that it will stop super-heating the rest of the house. Then we relocate to other rooms - one of the lovely things to a big, drafty old house is that there is always another pleasant space, away from that draft, to curl up and relax.

The Fog

Today has been almost entirely cloaked in fog.

Early in the day it was cloudy, but otherwise clear. As the day progressed, the fog gathered and encroached, closing us in. It was warm for early January - above freezing in to be sure. Still, lack of visibility prevented any thought of venturing out.

When I was younger I always thought of fog as a thing of stillness - low lying clouds that wrapped around, laying against the earth. No wind was welcome, as one would assume that it would move any cloud coverage away.

Either my childhood experience was lacking, or my memory was poor. The plains of Illinois beg to differ on this point, providing dense cloud cover in the face of considerable prevailing winds. It is possible to be unable to see where you are going, and yet to be struggling against a headwind or treacherous cross wind.

The Midwest is a place of weather. Other regions and latitudes offer consistency, predictability, in one direction or the other. Here, each day offers the interest and excitement of variability. Have you ever seen freezing fog? It's an amazing thing that the Midwest has to offer you.

It's possible, in this weather, to feel locked in. Certainly Stephen King has had that experience. But it also offers an opportunity to exercise flexibility - to pivot with what Mother Nature has to offer. A day like this presents a good opportunity to stay inside with family and relax. Curl up with a good book, tv show, or iPad and enjoy.