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...

Limbs Down

Now that spring is officially underway - Punxsutawney Phil’s dubious predictions aside, spring officially started with the vernal equinox on March 20th - temperatures have started to rise, melting back the snow cover. The uncovering of the ground reveals the consequences of this winter of repeated ice and wind storms, backed by a polar vortex - our trees have shed what looks to be an unprecedented volume of material.

Limbs down

There are a lot of nice things about having a country yard full of mature trees, and there are many things to look forward to about spring. The yard cleanup is not one of them.

Every spring involves some degree of impending yard cleanup, to be sure, but the area around all of our trees looks like some sort of lost elephant graveyard. It’s like all of the trees coordinated on an extreme weight loss program, and came to the conclusion that they really had only one way to achieve their goals - radical shedding.

The ice storms probably are to blame for much of this. Few things will take a toll on a tree like being first encased in thick, heavy ice, being made brittle by the cold, and then being buffeted by 30-50mph winds. Honestly, in the big picture, I’m surprised there hasn’t been more damage in general (though I haven’t done a comprehensive overview of the yard, so I may be speaking too soon).

Each year we end up with a large pile of yard material - mostly downed limbs of various and sundry sizes and composition - that provides an opportunity for a bonfire. This year’s pile is likely to be epic tho, likely we’ll want to burn it in sessions rather than all at once.

I started doing a bit of cleanup earlier this weekend to get the ball rolling. Just the bigger stuff, not the heavy-duty raking to pick up the smaller sticks that are hard (and tedious) to get by hand. Those I’ll leave until the remaining autumn leaf cover blows off (one of the bonuses to living on the prairie - the wind does the leaf raking if you let it). One of multiple such piles is shown below.

Pile

And - of course - this is just the beginning. As we go rolling towards spring we will also be moving into thunderstorm season. Looking up in the trees, still bereft of their leaves, one can see additional limbs which are either damaged or completely broken, but caught partway down. They will fall as well. And while spring does remove the effects of the ice from the equation, one can count on more arboreal detritus before it’s all over.

Whoopee?

Time for the St. Patrick’s Day... White?

Our old house has a back stairwell that abuts our bedroom and my office, and that’s my primary route to and from the downstairs. At the top of the stairwell is a window which looks out on the side yard.

The window

Regular readers have seen many pictures from that window. It’s my first view of the wider world virtually every day, letting me know what I can expect to encounter as I venture forth.

This morning was an unexpected surprise.

The calendar tells us that it’s March 17th, the day we here in the US celebrate as St. Patrick’s day by wearing garish amounts of bright green clothing and turning other things green as well. But Old Man Winter had other ideas this year, and gave us an overnight gift in the form of a blanket of white:

Out the window

Things vary, of course, depending upon one’s latitude, but it is surpassingly late in our winter season for snow to be happening here in northern Illinois. My offspring - I’m not entirely an evolutionary failure - joined us some 17 years ago now within the first week of March. LB was earlier than expected by a month or so, and so I can vividly remember getting the call from my wife and driving the hour or so back home across the countryside at a pace that was, perhaps, a little bit more than the law would allow.

This memory comes up here because on that automotive adventure I remember being surprised that it had begun to snow - just flurries - because it was so very late in the season for that to be happening. The ground itself was completely clear of the white stuff at that point, as is typically the case.

And despite all of that, here we have complete coverage more than 10 days later into the season. Anyone denying climate change is really not paying attention.

That aside, though, it’s kind of a late season gift given us by OMW, or at least that’s how I was thinking about it as I geared up for one last snowy trike ride. Of course, LB expressed what was more likely to be the popular opinion when we talked about it after I got home:

Yeah - you are all like "its a white biking day", but I’m looking out the window from my bed thinking "aw crap"...

Yuck

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.

yuck

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.

yuck

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..."

Ice Storm

This past week Old Man Winter saw fit to slap northern Illinois with a truly next-level ice storm. When these things happen - and they do, on occasion - ice gathers on absolutely everything.

Iced over trees

The trees are covered with ice, and branches get weighed down and stretch to the ground or break off. Doors and windows get covered and ice has to be broken away before you can open them. And ice gathers on other things as well, most notably the power lines.

Outages are not uncommon out here, as has been discussed before. But this particular winter event was something special. The power went out Monday night, and remained out until Thursday morning.

The ice gathering on the power lines has a similar effect as it has on the trees, adding weight and pulling downward on them, and gravity is a harsh mistress. This means that lines break, and break in multiple locations.

Along our mile-long stretch of road alone I counted three breaks in the line, and I am by no means a power line expert (which is to say that I could have missed others). In the couple of days that followed I had opportunity to drive along the stretch of line that leads up to our house (there are several miles of it), finding at least two additional break points.

line down

line down illustrated

This meant that, despite the diligent work on the part of the power line workers (and it was diligent - they could be seen, out day and night, in sometimes very unpleasant conditions, struggling to put things aright), it was going to be some time before our spark was rekindled. This was complicated by extreme weather Tuesday evening, resulting in whiteout conditions on the country roads and rural highways. For myself traveling in it the short distance from town to home, there were times where nothing but the foot or so of roadway to the sides of the vehicle were visible, and one would find, in the breaks offered by buildings and trees at homesteads, that one had wandered out into the middle of the roadway. Progress down these roads on the trip home was glacial, with 20mph seeming radical and dangerous. I have lived in northern Illinois my entire life, have been driving here for over 30 years, and I drive a lot; I have never seen anything quite like it. I can only imagine trying to repair a power line in it.

This meant that Tuesday night was another night in the cold, and that, while it would have been nice to retreat to a place of warmth, having made it home through the whiteout, it was clearly safer for everyone to stay there than it was to venture out again. But we learned some important things as a part of this adventure:

  • Blankets work. Implicitly one thinks one knows this, but it’s still surprising just how warm one can be under the right blankets (wool, eiderdown), even in a house that is pretty chilly. MLW and I have always said in the past that there really is no such thing as having too many blankets, and this experience bolsters that.
  • Our ancestors knew what they were doing. At its coldest - after we had finally been able to retreat to a warmer haven - the house never got down below freezing. I’d drained down the pipes anyway, just to be safe (better than sorry). This despite the functional air sieve that is our front doorway.

I have typically been putting insulation in the doorway between the front door and the screen doors as a compromise between nothing and the insulation over everything that I’d done in the past. Between the polar vortex and the power outage that wasn’t enough, so I gave the door it’s own blanket this year.

Door quilt

door quilt poofy

The thing that one realizes, with some thought, is that our ancestors would not have had our modern conveniences such as central heat. Each bedroom would have had a small franklin-style stove in it for heat (the original chimneys for this still in the walls). Still, they understood that the fire they stoked in that stove at bedtime would have long gone out by morning. As such, they would have dressed their beds, and themselves, accordingly. Nightcaps) are inherently easier to understand in this context.

All of this historical realization aside, retreat to warmer options we did, as soon as the weather made it safe to do so. It is, after all, interesting to learn how things were in ancestral times, but one realizes there are reasons why we don’t do it that way any more...

The thaw started early Thursday, with temps rising to above freezing overnight. Out back at the house in the wee hours just prior to sunrise to feed and check on the animals I got to stand and listen to the somewhat eerie sounds of chunks of ice dropping from the trees around me. It’s not quite like anything else.

Those diligent line workers had everything at our homestead back up and running again by sometime later Thursday morning. Astonishingly, aside from a few limbs down, the old girl seems to have weathered through just fine. It’s nice to see that things hold together so well after all of those years.

For the record, however, I don’t believe we need another demonstration of that any time soon. You listening, OMW?

Snow Days

Our encounter with the Polar Vortex out here on the prairie the week before last offered some opportunities. Since it was preceded by significant snowfall, the combination of cold, wind, and snow made travel out of the home challenging at best, dangerous a worst. In some senses of the word, we were effectively trapped at home.

But another way to look at that is that we got the adult version of one of those things that kids long to hear in the short-day season: snow day!

Last Monday we had some continuation of the struggles with drifting and getting stuck that were chronicled here recently. In this case I ended up leaving a car at the end of the driveway because the volume of drifting in front of the garage was beyond the little vehicle’s capacity to clear, and dealing with it in the dark was competing poorly with the idea of sitting on the couch watching TV.

The following morning though, the snow offering up some time, and the day offering up sunlight and brilliant blue skies to combat the single digit temps and negative wind chillls, it offered a much more attractive option. I needed to get the car in the garage, and besides - I wasn’t likely to get any other exercise, so the snow and shovel could be my equivalent of the gym (isn’t that sort of how CrossFit works? I’m not sure - I may not have a compete understanding of that...).

So I pulled on some (several) layers, and the dogs and I went out to tackle the drift.

Now there are certainly animals that struggle in the snow and the cold - a Chihuahua would be miserable in weather like this (or, frankly, probably anything below 40°). But one does get some perspective when one sees this:

Calamity pic

Calamity close up

That is our Blue Heeler, Calamity Jane, rolling in the snow. Because, you know, the air isn’t cold enough on its own - she also wants the white stuff all over her.

And so, with her help, I gathered up my shovel and started throwing some flakes around.

Yup. That’s what we call snow shoveling around these parts: throwing flakes. Doesn’t everyone?

Anyone?

Anyone...?

Uh - anyway... I didn’t have the foresight to get a decent picture of the drift before I started, so you’ll have to take my word for it when I say it was monumental. It took me a solid hour to clear a space in the driveway as wide as the garage door, which was my goal - wanted to be able to move both cars if needed. When I was done this is what it looked like:

Garage pile

And this is the pile of snow I created with my shoveling efforts.

Erin’s snow pile

Ok - technically a part of that pile - the part in the back - is from my cousin Glen clearing the entire driveway the day before, but the part in the front is mine.

Erin’s actual snow pile... ...

Ok - if I’m being entirely honest, the top few inches or so of that second pile is mine. But that’s still a lot of snow, and I worked really hard. Shut up!

So maybe this is more true

Erin’s actual, actual snow pile

At any rate, it was clear, and I was able to go get the car and pull it in.

Feeling buoyed by my accomplishment, I walked down to the end of the driveway to see how much work that would be to clear. I mean, at this point I’m a snow moving monster - you saw the mountain I created (err - added to) above, right?

So when I got there what I found was this:

End of driveway

And as I stood and looked at this, leaning against the handle of my shovel, out there in the open wind coming off the field to the west, my hand - in the glove that I’d been wearing while shoveling for the past hour - began to freeze and hurt. And I thought "well, that’s probably enough shoveling for today".

And I went inside and had a cup of coffee. For three consecutive days.

Stuck!

As everyone who lives in the mid-upper Midwest is well aware, we’ve had our first real snowfalls of the season over the past couple of weeks. Mostly I delight in the snow, but it has presented its challenges over the past few days.

Mostly those challenges have to do with our driveway.

When I was a kid, growing up out here in the country, we lived in a house up close to the road, with a short circular gravel drive. And this was the most common presentation - not the circular part, but the house situated near the roadway, with a short drive up to some type of garage (or structure serving such a purpose, anyway).

But while that was the common driveway solution, it wasn’t the only one. One of the virtues of riding the bus to school every day was that one got a pretty good look at the surrounding countryside. Most houses were like mine, but occasionally the bus would pull up to a driveway that was different. In these cases, you would see a gravel entryway that was distinguishable from a side road only due to the presence of a mailbox rather than a road sign. And if you looked up from that mailbox and followed the trail you would sometimes see, if not occluded by trees, the house that it led to in the distance.

Sometimes these were straight, direct affairs, and sometimes they wound a bit on their way to their destination. In some cases the property surrounding the drive was pastureland, sometimes plowed field. On rare occasion it was manicured lawn, but this was not typical. For the most part these all would have been 19th century farm houses, and so the location was likely not selected to provide a grand presentation. One suspects that it was a case more of practicality - perhaps they were simply located on the site elevated enough to keep the house from being flooded out when the vernal ponds emerged.

Still, the me that was a kid on that bus didn’t have thoughts of practicality. Rather, to my mind those long, sinuous driveways were cool - this in a romantic, isolative sense. The distance away from the road made the destination remote, protected from prying eyes; and that distance bred fascination.

Long Drive

Long with Trees

Yup - Long

Let me tell you that you only have to get stuck in your driveway once or twice before losing any desire for a long, remote driveway, serpentine or otherwise.

We’ve already reached our quota for that this season.

Our driveway is not particularly long, in relative terms. We don’t have a winding path leading to a secluded spot. According to the measure feature in Google Maps, our driveway is about 180’ from the garage to the road. This is certainly a greater distance, than, say, the average suburban household contends with, but it’s not the extended pathway that you see in some of the pictures above. It is, most certainly, more than one wants to have to shovel by hand.

Mostly this isn’t an issue. For a while we had contracted with folks to come out and clear the driveway. When they stopped showing up (yes, literally just stopped showing up - isn’t that delightful?) my cousin from down the road began to clear it for us (now he is delightful). But in either case, you are victim to the snow remover’s schedule.

What this means, for the most part, is that people stay home until the snow is cleared. Well, at least, people who are not me.

I seem to have inhereted a genetic condition that works in the following fashion:

Weatherman: Conditions are hazardous, so we recommend that people stay at home. Folks, if you don’t have to go anywhere, don’t.

Me: Well, that’s it. I need some chewing gum. From Peoria.

Well, it’s not just that (really!). My work schedule is such that I often have to leave earlier than plowing occurs. And besides, someone has to get the gum, right?

(For the record: I do not chew gum...)

We deal with this mostly with a combination of snow tires, a bit of experience driving in the winter, accented with a touch of dumb luck. Essentially, when Old Man Winter conspires to make our driveway disappear I will venture out with an application of judicious speed and careful feathering of the throttle. Usually this works.

Occasionally it doesn’t:

yup - it’s stuck

snow, snow, and more snow

So. Twice over the past week I’ve had to dig our cars out of the snow in our own driveway. This would probably seem a universally bad and frustrating thing, and it does come close, except it offers a couple of different upsides:

  • I get to play in the snow; and
  • I get to play with cars; and
  • I get to solve a puzzle.

All assuming, as was the case both times this week, that I don’t have any place that I need to be, it is actually possible to look at this as a bit of fun.

Part of the challenge is that, as one can see in the pictures, we are working with cars that don’t have a great deal of ground clearance. The net effect of this is that, when one doesn’t hit the drifted snow at a sufficient speed, or maintain momentum, one rides up on the snow and ends up astride the snow, with it gathered underneath the chassis. This is, peradventure, an impediment to forward motion.

When this occurs the situation calls for multiple steps. If the car isn’t sufficiently crowned up on packed snow, it may be possible to use the old-fashioned rocking technique (do they still teach that in driver’s ed?) to gain traction and free the vehicle.

This was not successful in these situations.

Failing that, one has to go for the Full Monty and break out the shovels and rakes and implements of destruction.

Well, the shovels anyway. And, ideally, something to aid in what is known in these parts as gription. That could be sand, cat litter, or anything else you have handy that provides a similar composition. This week’s candidate was an old bag of charcoal briquettes that we happened to have sitting in the garage.

The key is to shovel around and under the car. Around in order to give clear space for it to move both forward and backward without hanging up on more snow. And by under I really do mean under - pulling material out from underneath the front, back, and both sides as much as possible; and breaking up what cannot be removed.

Then your gription material has to go around each of the drive wheels - both in front of and back of the drive wheels to catch in each direction.

Once all of that is accomplished, you get back in the car and repeat the rocking exercise. If you are smart, you have left the car running while doing all of that so it’s nice and warm inside (though, honestly, the work you are doing may take care of the staying warm part by itself). And if you have done your work well the car should concede to the idea of moving one direction or the other.

If it will only go backwards, it may be necessary to get out and remove the remaining pile of snow that had been underneath, but is now in front, as well as whatever else is still underneath (yes, believe me, there will be more than you thought) in order to get the vehicle to comply with a request for forward motion.

And although it may have been frustrating to have had the thing happen in the first place, there is something particularly satisfying when the car does break free and start to move forward of its own accord.

It’s an achievement; You’ve beaten Old Man Winter one more time. I mean really - screw that guy.

Ask Not for Whom the Bell Tolls...

...Because it doesn’t.

Our old house, like many of the farmhouses out this way, has a bell:

The Bell

It’s been there a long time. This picture - of my mother and uncle as kids - shows them standing by the post:

Joel and Julia

I won’t out their ages by saying how long ago it was taken, but I’m less than two years shy of a half-century myself (but, of course, my mother had me when she was eight). Suffice it to say that it wasn’t doctored to make it black and white.

Unfortunately, this is the bell as it appears today:

He’s dead, Jim

As you can see, the bell is somewhat less symmetrical than would be considered ideal. And one might ask "how could such a thing happen?" Of course, I have no earthly idea how this occurred. Just happened out of the blue. Maybe it was struck by lightening.

Yeah - sure - that’s it. That’s the ticket...

Ok - I might have been slightly involved. Slightly directly involved.

Because it is outside, these bells are subject to the weather. In the winter, that means that they can sometimes freeze...

Frozen ringing

close-up freezy

If memory serves, I had been trying to call the dogs, and they weren’t responding - the yard is big enough that sometimes they are out of voice or whistle range. However, we’d found they would come to the bell reliably (liberal application of treats post-ringing may have been involved in developing that). So I pulled the bell rope to summon them and...

...nothing. The bell was stuck. Stuck sideways, wouldn't move. It was frozen.

Now by this point it’s just possible I’d been becoming a little frustrated. You know, dogs aren’t coming. I’m standing outside in the cold. I’m not dressed for the weather because I hadn’t planned to be out there for any real length of time. So I engaged in a time-honored method of addressing a thing not working.

Which is to say I did what I was already doing, only more and much harder. I yanked down on the rope, trying to break it free. This was once, perhaps twice before the rope suddenly got slack.

Everything that followed took approximately three seconds to occur. I was fortunate in that, somehow, I recognized what the slackness in the rope meant. I stepped away and covered my head as the bell hopped off its saddle and came crashing down to the ground.

And then there it sat, in multiple pieces on the ground. And of course the next step on my part was to look around for someone to blame for this travesty. Well - someone else.

There was, of course, no one. I’m pretty sure even the dogs did not come (wise on their part).

This even occurred several years ago. Since then, the bell has been sitting, broken, on the porch while we try to figure something we can do about it. Sitting there, reminding me...

Enter the internet. A friend of a friend on Facebook posted the availability of a bell that looked to match our poor, damaged friend. What’s more, that bell was cracked, but it’s yoke - the part that sits it in what I call the saddle on the post - was intact.

New old bell

A little time on Messenger and we were able to make arrangements on it. It looks to be about the same size, and it came with a saddle of its own, just in case. And that’s where we are now - I’ve got a second bell here, waiting for myself or someone in the household, to undertake it as a project. That won’t happen soon, mind you, but at least now it’s possible.

Bells of a feather...

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.

Cat and Mouse

So there I was, yesterday morning, having a private moment in the bathroom. Then I heard a sliding and a clacking of sharp little claws, and a quiet "thud" on the door.

A second later the mouse ran out from under the door.

Under these circumstances one has to make a decision. I was in a compromising position, of course, but the earliness of the hour virtually ensured that I was likely to be unobserved. And I had to think and act quickly. So I did what I think most would under the circumstances:

I opened the door.

The cat came skittering in through the doorway and immediately located the mouse, who (of course) immediately ran behind the decorative storage lockers we have in the bathroom.


This is a scene, the type of which plays itself over and over again across time in our old house. The building is, functionally, a web of open passageways from the perspective of a rodent looking to come in from the winter cold. What looks to you and I like a solid wall made of wood and plaster or brick looks to mousy eyes like a piece of Swiss cheese. So, as the temperature drops, in they come.

Now, our issues with these tiny furry friends has lessened over the years with the help of commercial pest control. Still, the numbers never seem to drop to an absolute zero. And while this is somewhat to the dismay of the human inhabitants of our home, the feline crew seems to prefer the non-zero situation.

The tense and tenuous relationship between cat and mouse is a story as old as time - they say that the ancient Egyptians worshipped cats in part because they kept the rodents from overwhelming their grain stores and protected them from other pests. That relationship has persisted over time, and settlers in the 18th and 19th centuries have also valued feline companionship for the purposes of vermin maintenance.

Within our own home the rodent control team consists of two players - Malcolm and Inara. Malcolm is a largish gray cat with green eyes who would seem to be a Russian Blue but for two tiny bits of white - one on his chest and the other on his tail. He has a delightful, chirping meow. He’s a beefy, strong cat. You can feel the muscle when you pick him up. A natural athelete, he is able to gain the top of our refrigerator with a leap from ground.

Inara is a tortoiseshell with yellow eyes. She is noticeably smaller and more slight than Malcolm, skittish and shy with most members of the family. She has a squeaking meow that is sometimes hard to detect and never pleasant. She is rarely seen to leap, and instead must climb our tall cat tree with claws and effort.

And so of course, who would you expect to have come skittering in to that bathroom? The Adonis, the cat-equivalent of the football player, the track god?

It was Inara.

As is so frequently the case in my experience with cats over the years, it’s the lady who does all the work. Inara parks herself at key points in the home and sits patiently and listens, waiting for the thing she hears behind the wall to peek a whisker out in the open.

Ideally, once that whisker shows, we as the cat owners (owned?) would like to be able to say that the rodent invader is dispatched quickly and efficiently. Those of you with previous cat experience will know this is absolutely not the case. Rather, from the cat’s perspective the catching of the mouse is just the first step in what is about to become an event of extended rodential torture that would make the writers at the Geneva convention add another passage to the rule book if they were to see it.

Apparently the mouse must be made to feel that it has a chance to escape, over and over again, just to discover that there, once again, is a swiping paw to block the way. Periodically one can hear the plaintive squeaks for help that indicate the trial is not yet complete. And apparently there are moments when it has become clear that the current venue is no longer the correct one - that the dining room isn’t the right place any more, and the mouse must be moved to, say, the living room. And so the cat is seen carrying the mouse in that characteristic heads-up position. At these moments the mouse is still and quiet and you think "it’s all over".

Nope - I don’t know why they remain still in that position - if it were me, I’d like to think that I’d be like John McClane surrounded by thieves in Nakatomi Plaza doing everything I could to get free. But no, they hang, still, perhaps hoping that, if they are just quiet enough, the cat will forget they are there... in the cat’s mouth.

This is clear, of course, because once they get to the living room and drop their rodent captive, he starts to move again.

Although he is clearly not in charge of the mousing situation, Malcolm does attempt to cooperate. It would be wrong to describe them as team players - it’s more like rivals working coincidentally towards the same goal. And now might be the right time to mention that we know he can jump to the top of the refrigerator because we feed him up there. We have to because, if we do not, Inara eats all of this big, beautiful athelete’s food.

So you can imagine how well his attempts to participate work most of the time.

There was an event once, several months ago, where he finally got so frustrated that he reached over, picked up the mouse, and simply ate it. If you are picturing the kid who shoves the entire ice cream cone in his mouth so his older brother cannot take it you are right on track.


Yesterday morning, during our bathroom adventure, I was able to move the locker so that Inara could access her prize and scurry with it back out of the bathroom. I’d like to say that I know what happened next, but I had to leave, and so have only the memory of feline and mouse silhouettes against the light of the front hallway to finish that event for me. Sometimes we find the mice later, deposited in delightful locations, once they have lost their interest to the cats due to the no-longer-breathingness they have attained.

Our ancestors valued their feline companions for the perceived assistance in pest control, and understandably so. I’m not certain that, in our situation they truly make much of a difference. The mouse sightings dropped precipitously once we contracted with pest management services. For a while we had a batch of cats outdoors on duty, but honestly our dogs seem to catch more vermin than the cat crew ever did (and the dogs are merciless on that score). But it’s possible that our ancestors also delighted in the joy cats do seem to take in their assigned duties. Setting aside the ultimate outcome, watching a cat diligently at work with a mouse is a little like watching Norm Abrams put together a chair on New Yankee Workshop... in an era absent television and video games a mousing cat would likely be (and indeed, is) quite entertaining.

Holidays at the Homestead

It won’t be a white Christmas on the prairie this year - not unless little patches like this, the functional equivalent of Old Man Winter’s snow comb-over, count:

Snow patch

This little bit remains due to a combination of drifting and fortunate shading, clinging on despite temperatures that have drifted up near the mid-century mark over the past couple of weeks. It’s made it through the solstice, and though we are a couple of days away from Christmas, a bit of it might remain on the holiday itself, so perhaps technically...

White Christmas or not, however, the decorating for the holiday season proceeds in this old house. This is always a somewhat nostalgic affair for me, given that this home figures as part of the holiday celebration for the majority of my life. When my grandparents lived here we would come over for Christmas Eve, after the service at Immanuel Lutheran Church (which always ended in a candlelit version of Silent Night - as it should be). There we’d have a light dinner which we, as children, wolfed down in anticipation of going into the living room so we could start in on the important part of the evening - the opening of presents.

For the purists out there who are now recoiling in disgust at the opening of presents the night before Christmas, take heart - these were the pre-Christmas presents. This was our gift exchange between family - aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents. We also did Christmas morning, but that was for the gifts from Santa (Sometimes resulting in an uncharacteristic awakening at, say, 4:00 AM...).

Those Christmas Eve celebrations mostly took place in the living room, and we have, in past, decorated in that room. This picture is from Christmas 2012, with the tree in the spot that Grandma Marie usually chose - the Northwest corner of the living room:

Grandma’s Spot

Most years, though, we have gone with the placement in the dining room. This room has a large picture window that, itself, replaced a former bay window (the bay window was, reportedly, a "leaker"). The space lends itself nicely to the tree display, and the window offers a backdrop night and day:

Tree at night

Usually our decorating has been limited to the tree and a few knick-knacks scattered around the house. This year, however, the determination was made that something should be done with the front stairwell. It’s a (the) Central feature of the house, but figuratively and literally. In its unretouched presentation it was meant to make a statement:

Newell post

Stairs Rising

And this year that was dressed with garland and lights:

Stairwell brightly lit

I must admit that I cannot take credit for these things. The how and the why of them is largely and capably determined by MLW, with help from the kids. My role primarily involves lifting and moving and placing of things under her wise direction. And to give credit completely where it is due, MLW both conceived of the garland and placed it on the stairwell. There my role was simply to come home and appreciate.

If there is a challenge to all of this - aside from keeping the cats from taking it all down - it is finding a sufficient number of outlets, correctly placed, to allow for the lighting. The front hallway is a particular puzzle, as outlets in the downstairs portion are as absent as belly buttons on an angel.

Fortunately, There are two outlets in the upstairs hallway, both to the front of the house near the stairwell opening. Getting anything like this light display to work in there is an operation that deserves extra-credit.

In the winter months - especially now, during the darkest time of the year - that stairwell is a dark place much of each day. The kids, who occupy the rooms at the top front of the house and are the primary passengers of the stairwell, are already preparing their arguments for keeping the garland there year round...

Impending Weather

Although the calendar has not yet rolled around to actual winter - and will not, in fact, for nearly an entire month - the weather has taken to trying to prove otherwise. As such, we are sitting on the cusp of a weather alert promising (some would say threatening) 5-10 inches of snow.

Snow’s-a-comin’

Inevitably what comes from such proclamations is the reports that one should, under virtually all circumstances, remain at home. The roads will be dangerous and impassable, emergency crews will be busy, and the weather will make for treacherous conditions.

It is usually under these conditions that I experience the felt need to drive to, oh, Albuquerque to get a pack of gum. And maybe a Slim Jim.

This is a part of country life, the realization that, at times, the weather will dictate your activities, your mobility. The healthy and safe thing to do is to follow those dictates and remain safe and secure in your home, riding out the storm in relative warmth and security. These days, due to the benefit of a few years of wisdom, this is something I’ve come to do. When I was younger I would have engaged in that felt need, and made a run for something, anything, as long as it got me out of the house.

I’m not alone in this. I know there are other members of the family that experience it as well. This makes one wonder about the nature or nurture of such a thing. Is this a remnant of the nature that made our ancestors feel the need to move west? Was this the spark that made John and Martha Foulk and Prairie and Ziba Johnson look at the forbidding, windswept lands outside the shelter of the groves and say "that’s the life for us"?

This would have been a valuable thing, back then. It would have been the sort of thing that would have prompted them to break out of the house and lay out hay for the animals despite the blowing snow; to split the wood needed for the stoves that heated the house. Heck - I suppose a bit of this spirit is what one needs to brave the trek across the back yard to get to the outhouse...

But in all of this, with the animals fed, the wood stocked up, and necessaries taken care of for the moment, would John and Martha still have looked out the window longingly at the snow?

I can see Martha saying to John "you know what would be good on a day like today? Cornbread."

John: "Why, that would be a fine idea. Cornbread indeed!"

Martha: "But John, we have no buttermilk."

And they both look out that window, consider the blowing and drifting snow, before turning to look at each other. Then John says "I’ll hook up the sleigh Martha - let’s ride out to the general store and pick up a pint."

——

So... probably not. But I do suspect that they got antsy when the weather came to call, keeping them bundled up and indoors. That spark, if it really is a thing that is passed down from one generation to the next, may be a little less useful a thing when one doesn’t have to tend to the animals and the firewood, burning off that bit of drive.

First Snow 2018

Over the past couple of years I’ve tried to document when the first real, substantial snow of the season has occurred. In 2017 it showed up on November 12th. This year it touched down a might earlier, falling last Thursday night - November 8th - leaving us a blanket of white stuff to be seen in the early morning light Friday morning.

Early November Snow

The ground is, astonishingly enough, still covered today, three days later. This is different than previous years, where even a substantial early snowfall still disappears quickly the following day. In fact, far from being the typical November dusting, there was enough accumulation for drifting - actual drifting to begin to occur as the wind picked up later in the day. It wasn’t enough to be truly problematic, not yet. But the tell-tale strips of white across the asphalt and tar-and-chip were there, heralding days to come.

The weather report suggests that today is the last day of it, and in fact the temperature at the moment sits at 32° F, working its way up to a proposed high of 40°. These quiet morning hours represent the likely last moments of the pre-winter ground cover.

I’ve mentioned here, likely more than once, that I delight in the snow. This early example won’t last, of course - it’s more of a winter tease. But it does herald future flakes to come.

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...

Paths in the Snow

When we get a real snowfall it visually changes the landscape around us. Physical markers disappear, changes in the topography are erased. Driving down the road after a heavy, accumulating snowfall finds the demarcation between the edge of the road and the sharp drop off of the ditch now invisible, suggesting a wide, flat expanse from road to field that is present at no other time.

The sights of this moment will also change as the wind picks up, blowing the snow into drifting patterns that shift as the strength and direction of the wind ebbs and flows. In other times of year what we see varies with the season - the buds of spring, the verdant hues of summer, the colors of fall - but no other time of year is so dynamic as winter with real snow.

The weather changes the landscape, and then we follow behind and change it again to suit our needs. As we venture out, we cut our paths through the snow to allow our footfall, and the wheels of our vehicles easier transit. These, again, offer an ephemeral visual change seen only now, only in the moment.

For our human purpose, we may make large changes to the winter landscape - clearing out the driveway:

Large Paths

Or smaller ones to make moving about the yard easier:

small paths and Calamity Jane

But we humans aren’t the only ones who need to find the way through the snow. Here, Calamity Jane is content to use the path I’ve shoveled, but she has other places to be, other things to see, than I. For those purposes she - who patrols the property tirelessly - has forged her own trails:

CJ Trail

This is the type of path you get from a canine with six inch legs who is nonetheless not to be swayed from her self-appointed duties. And, other members of the canine contingent - who may not, themselves, be quite so motivated - do appreciate the benefit of her efforts:

Freyja, you lazy slug...

And all of these things are self-evident as you see them. But then, on occasion, you encounter other, less typical pathways or tracks through the snow:

Bouncy Marks

For perspective, it’s helpful to know that this shot is taken from an upstairs window, some 20’ above, and at least 20’ out from the closest marks. There is real space between each track - at least a foot on some cases, certainly more in others. This leaves one to wonder what exotic creature has ventured into the yard to take such strides...

And then one realizes: this is what the snow looks like after an Australian Shepard has bounded through like Pepe LePew chasing his true love (of the moment), refusing the indignity of simply barreling down the snow in front of her in favor of what must seem, at least in the moment, a far more elegant solution.

Edward’s Church

Edward and Erna lived In a house just down the road from our old house when I was growing up. Most of my memories of them were from when I was very young, but they are all fond. I remember that they had a three legged dog - my recollection is that it had been hit by a lawnmower (poor thing). My memory also records that Edward had a delightful speaking voice - a voice I can best describe as being reminiscent of Paul Lynde.

I had no idea at the time that Edward was my grandmother’s first cousin. It makes sense, of course - her brother, also Edward’s cousin, lived right across the road from Edward, and it’s clear that this was a family stretch of road. But I was frequently unaware of these relations as a child, coming to learn and appreciate them all the more as an adult.

I also came to learn that Edward was a painter. Not a painter of houses or fences and such, though I’m sure he was capable in that regard. Rather, he painted oil on canvas of things around him. One of those paintings hung in my grandmother’s house for the entirety of my recollection, and it is of the old church.

the old church in frame

I realize as I write this that I know very little about the painting beyond its original subject and the artist. For example, I do not know when it was painted, nor how old Edward was when he did so, nor where this fell in his artistic arc - e.g. is this an early work, or something that occurred later?

Assuming that he intended a realistic representation of the subject, some clues can be gathered from the painting itself when compared to current day (photo taken from the seat of my trike, so the vantage point is a little different):

Church photograph

Church painting close up

The differences here suggest some things about the era in which the painting was made. The difference in the roads stands out, of course. In all four directions out of the intersection the road is asphalt in current day (though two of those directions change to gravel after a short distance), while Edward portrayed either gravel or dirt roadways. The road signs are absent, of course, as is any sign of anything resembling a power line.

The fence in the foreground of the painting is gone now, though I remember it within my lifetime. Edward’s Church also does not have lightening rods atop the peak of the roof. You can see that he took pains to try to accurately represent the complex lines of the stained glass window.

Though part of it may be the differences in the days portrayed - Edward’s a bright, partly cloudy summer, mine a steely gray midwinter - as I look at the painting I find that I’d rather be in his picture than in mine much of the time. His is quiet, serene, while mine is harsh and cold. I can see that he is connected to the place and the time, and I find that I very much appreciate the window into that place and time that he has given.

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.

387F7E35-30A2-4112-82F0-B95C3750DA69.JPG

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:

BC33DA7B-3671-480D-949F-AE8179DFF4EB.JPG

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

IMG_1338.JPG

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.

F1326F58-D05C-4FCC-B469-849515761014.JPG

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:

IMG_5015.GIF

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.

IMG_5016.GIF

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.

IMG_5017.GIF

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.

IMG_5019.GIF

Of Shed Roofs and Holes...

For the past couple of years we’ve had a very large hole in the roof of our shed.

Hole in Roof

It was there for the hole winter

Like most rural residential properties in Illinois, we have outbuildings in addition to the house itself. Like most such properties of similar age to ours - that is to say, 150+ years of age - those buildings vary considerably in terms of condition.

I’ve written before about the old barn, which is slightly younger than the house itself. It was in a state of decay when I wrote that, and it continues to insist on embracing entropy. In addition to the barn, we have two other outbuildings - a small garage, and the aforementioned shed.

The garage is a smallish building - probably technically a car-and-a-half in size - into which we manage to stuff our two, smallish Honda Fits. This is an exercise in automotive yoga, involving parking one of the two cars - mine - so closely to the wall of the building that it is physically impossible for a human being to enter the vehicle from the passenger side. Prospective passengers - my wife and child primarily - must wait outside the building while I back out before they can enter the vehicle. This mostly works out fine - I almost never fail to stop and let them in, virtually never drive off having forgotten them...

Despite its smallishness, the garage also does the heavy lifting of housing most of the things we care about enough to care for them but, you know, not enough to bring them into the house. The cars, the bikes, spare lumber, dog food, and so on.

The shed is a much larger building. It is a pole structure, sided in corrugated steel. Growing up out here we called these "machine sheds" or, sometimes, "Morton Buildings". "Morton" is a brand name, suffering here in the Midwest the same fate as "Xerox" and "Kleenex" have nationwide. There is nothing on the building to indicate that it was manufactured by the Morton company and yet, on multiple occasions I’ve been heard to utter than name in relation to it. More recently, however, I’m sure much to the relief of Morton Buildings, Inc., I’ve just been referring to it as "the f&%king shed".

And this takes us to where we started: there was a hole in the roof of the shed.

While the majority of the building - both sides and roof - is covered in corrugated steel, it did feature skylights made of translucent fiberglass. I wouldn't have actually known they were made of fiberglass, but Mother Nature felt it important to educate me, and so chose to rip one of the panels off in a windstorm, providing me the opportunity for close inspection of pieces of it down on the ground.

Now, I’m all for gaining knowledge, and I don’t want to seem unappreciative, but this lesson had a rather permanent effect upon the weather-tightness of the building. Perhaps Mother Nature could, in future, email me a link to a Wikipedia entry or something...

The process for addressing this took longer than one - particularly if one is me - might have expected. First up was a call to the insurance company in hopes that repairs to the building might be covered. Unfortunately, they pronounced the repair costs to be below our deductible, and drove off with their checkbook secure and unmolested.

Not expensive enough for the insurance company isn’t the same as inexpensive, however. Given this, and given the fact that most of our items of value were already stored in the garage (even with a roof fully sealed against the elements, the dirt floor of the shed is not ideal for longevity of stored items), we moved the few other items in there away from under the roof opening and started to save up.

Once we were ready to get the roof repaired, early exploration of this found a new area of concern. As I mentioned, there is no indication on the building to suggest that it is a Morton Shed and, in fact, no indication on it (that I can find) of its manufacturer at all.

And - not only am I unaware of the make of the building, but I’m also unsure of its age. I know that it was not there when I was little, and that it had appeared at some point between when I moved away and when I returned. The progression of years is such that this seems to encompass but the briefest period of time, but reality insists that it covers a span of at least 15 years, if not closer to twenty.

I am not always a fan of reality.

This wouldn't seem much of an issue to the casual observer, but it turns out that corrugated steel siding comes in multiple, subtlety different shapes and designs. What this means is that matching the pattern on the building becomes a challenge. The pattern on our shed looks like this:

Shed Pattern

When first informed of this issue I thought perhaps of repurposing sections of siding that appeared on the old barn. Two different types of siding had been added there over the years, likely in both cases to better seal it up against the elements and extend its lifespan.

The Barn white siding

The Barn steel siding

However, given the barn’s decaying state and, perhaps more importantly, it’s ongoing engagement in providing aid and comfort to the enemy, I would have been willing to repurpose those sections. And you’d think, being on the same property and all, that they’d perhaps be the same type of siding...

You’d think that, but you’d be wrong. And of course, by "you", here, I mean "me".

Shed again

Barn White up close

Barn steel up close

If you look up close and personal at those pictures you’ll see that the patterns do not match. Whether this reflects a different era of product, different style, different manufacturer, or all three remains a mystery, but they are, in fact, different nonetheless.

And here I was learning so much about the diversity both within the world of corrugated steel siding, and within the bounds of my very property. The nature of these lessons were such that, while I originally thought them visited upon me by a gracious, if heavy handed Mother Nature, I found myself now wondering if they were not perhaps the work of the old gods brought over by my ancestors, perhaps the whim of Loki peeking thru...

Ultimately I was pleased to find at there is a way to cover the opening with a newer roof panel that does not match, exactly, but which will function to keep the elements out regardless. In fact, this could be done using new translucent panels that continued to function as skylights, but were not made of the fiberglass material that tends to become brittle over time, and do things like break off in the wind.

The shed guys came out and repaired the roof this past week, leaving it looking a little different, but now sealed - at least at the top - from the elements.

All sealed up