Monday, January 24, 2005

Anonymity

Preparing for a trip to the city, the affectionate title all northern californians seem to give to San Francisco, even those, like myself, who live three hours away, I noticed this article and also this. This is disturbing news. I don't think I could be fired if someone from work found my blog; I have tenure. Free speech is deeply respected at the college level. Though if I had racist or sexist comments up here...well, that might wound my career, even, maybe, get me fired, though probably not.

I'm not worried about my job. I think about the little I've said about my parish up here, the parish where the priest just asked me to be senior warden, someone who works with him directly, a request which shocked me and my family. I haven't all been positive in the things I've said, and I've held back my critical observations. Do I want my priest, who is an avid onliner, a man I have pushed for broadband access for, to see my comments here? Mostly, this would be fine. But not completely.

Also, no one at my work, save one person, knows I have ocd. No one at my church knows, or knows yet at least. I am applying to another college in my district; this will be very competitive, and my goal is to make them think I'm overall bitchen.

Just how real can I be up here? One of the blogs featured in the articles above I found through Romy's page, Incidents and Accidents. I am linked, and honored to be so, at Romy's site. I enjoy being linked on other pages because it honors my blog and it finds me more readers, and I do, like everyone, write for an audience. This means, though, like that Kevin Bacon game, I'm only two degrees from the home site for the city of san francisco. And I have used my real first name.

Some posts, like the one below, I have no need to hide from anyone. But when the crunch is on (and I'm doing pretty darned good right now) I let out that pain here. Since most of the human race is suffering at any given time, I hope my struggles help others who are hurting. But I'm one of those people who thinks we all should be sharing everything we feel with each other, and that feelings are distinct from any action. Many do not understand this distinction. Cyber language hangs in the air, without body language or verbal tone, and it can be read as darkly as our inner selves wish.

I don't know about this. The cyber world is very spooky. I could adopt a fake first name, though I've shared a fair amount of biographical details from my present. What I most wanted to avoid was someone from my past finding me using my name, or someone in my town finding me by running its name through google (and I doubt many websites in the world have its odd little name in their text). I have actual pictures of myself and my family linked here, which I think I should take down.

But this is sad. It's something I have to kick around. How well do I hide my identity, and how much can I share in open blog? This is publication of a sort, though I forget that constantly. Most times I think I'm writing to the handful of you who comment, whose blogs I also read. But I know I've 'lurked' in other blogs, and I could have lurkers here. One day, maybe, one of them may connect the in person me with blog me and spread the link around my campus, my church, worst of all, what's left of my extended family or step family. Actually, that wouldn't be the worst. The parish, maybe.

It's also creepy that nothing erases. Something I shared months ago, or years, is still readable.

I tend to be overly optimistic regarding human nature. A bit naive.

So I'm thinking. I may drop my name and ask, though of course I can't insist and it might never happen, that my real first name be dropped from the links leading to this site. Am I being paranoid? Probably. Yeah. And some people I used to know I want to know this is me if they find my site. So I'm thinking.

***

The last couple days have been good for S and I. She initiated a talk I should have begun. I want more, we need more, of those kind of talks. Once we get in touch with how the other is feeling, what is getting triggered in any situation, we do much better. Intimacy: hard, feels unnatural, but it also feels so good. It reveals the true beauty in my life.

I did have a wonderful dinner at a fairly local place with her that night of the talk. And S.F., oh, you know, I've already blogged about that town. There is no place like it. And I'm staying, for the first time, in a four star hotel thanks to those online discount ticket sites. It's the ZAP festival, more Zinfandel than I could ever taste, and then off to wonderful food, our beautiful room...how desperately I need this.

***

And the last thing: I'm shy to say it, but I've started learning French in my truck as I drive to work. The teacher on the CD's is actually very good, and I love language. I never did another, except Latin in grad school, and so far, French is much easier than Latin, easier than English. The verb forms are so simple, at least the present tense. It sounds goofy, but this is my idea of recreation, fun, a hobby. I know Romy is a French expert, and hopefully if we ever meet I'll be able to yack it up in style.

Well, enough for now. My best option is probably to be careful what I share up here. I have to go. Mikey is asking me football trivia; I know none of the answers, but the message to me is clear.

Be well all.


Friday, January 21, 2005

Some Very Brief Thoughts on Design/Evolution

I have, oh, like forty minutes until I need to start cooking dinner; Mike is taking a nap, S is still at work. But browsing the online news and seeing this article made me want to throw something up here. Evolution and design are two things I've been thinking about lately. I wish I had more time to do this enormous topic justice now, but maybe another time. Besides, I'm truly a newbie.

In the past I've simply said I don't care. I knew the earth was not 10,000 years old; the geologic record seems plain on this. Certainly the universe is older; we receive light from very distant objects. I've read enough myth to recognize one in the genesis accounts. These are ancient Sumerian creation stories. In fact, Elohim, translated God, is plural, and I have a hard time believing this is some reveleation of the trinity at the beginning of the starkly monotheistic Torah; I have yet to read a satisfactory answer to that issue, though I'm sure some have tried. But please, the earth in six days? Even a child can see that day and night are described before we have the earth and sun.

Christians believe God made everything, but they insist they know how also. The fact seems to be that we don't know how. And evolutionary process is no less miraculous than spoken word creation. I assumed God could used natural processes, processes that are amazing, astounding, truly, to shape suns and planets and even people. The only catch for me is understanding the rest of the Genesis account. The concept of a Golden Age, or a pre-fallen state, is common in world myth. But if we evolved from lower forms who was the first everlasting man? Who was Adam? I've been told by another blogger that a book with that title is coming out soon. Apparently its thesis will be that humans were specially created and did not evolve from lower forms. This I will have to see to believe. The evidence evolution, apart from the fossil record which is ambigous in my humble opinion, is real. As my anthropology prof friend says, 'mice have canine teeth, dogs have them, so do we.'

I am embarassed how little biology I know. But apart from that question, who became the first eternal man, the first man with a soul, and how did he fall from God...evolution presents no religious problem for me. I do think, however, that believing in evolution is one thing; declaring it proof of a non-theistic creation is another thing entirely.

A good evolutionist will leave room for God. Evolutionists don't really know how inorganic matter eventually became a living cell. The leap from non-living to living is a big one. Theists are criticized, often, by people like Michael Schermer with the 'god of the gaps' argument: it is asserted that science must be able to describe the entire process of creation without resorting to God at any point; or as Schermer pokes fun, 'and then a miracle happened!'

But it could have. He wasn't there to see that it didn't. And even if no miracle is necessary, even if we evolved without any suspension of natural law, those are some impressive laws. Some spooky laws. Atheistic evolution is a strong philosophical position, but it is by no means airtight (the same must be said of Christian theism). There is much the evolutionists do not know, much they infer, and much, really, they take on faith. They begin by assuming that no miracle contributed to creation whatsoever, and then say they have deduced that fact from the evidence. Bull. Not yet. And probably not ever. It would take observation of stars we can't visit, and tens of thousands or millions of years to make that claim.

Christ really is a stumbling block. And Paul was right, the Greeks want reason (as does Troy), but I preach Christ crucified. Ominous words, again.

This is why I think intelligent design should be taught in public school as a possible explanation, a contribution, to the creation of life. Church and state are supposed to be separate, but materialism, atheism, the absence of faith, is in fact a form of religion itself. It is a world-view reached through contemplation, as is Christianity. Simply mentioning the possibility that evolution had assistance, or a designer, seems only fair. Telling chidren that evolution has provided all the answers, that we evolved from pre-biotic soup without any intervention from an outside source, deity or for that matter alien, is a lie. My professor friends who are atheists who know evolution inside and out have told me there are big questions which remain. I realize I am an English teacher talking biology, but my point is that Darwin has not closed all the doors, and he certainly did not disprove a theistic force in creation.

I know Darwin abandoned Christianity later in life because he felt our species was not special, could not have been created and given a unique spiritual nature, but this he assumed. Even an evolving line might one day produce the Adam. This is a tough issue for me, and my brain is screaming that such a thing is unlikely. I've said it before, but if it weren't for the NT I'd be worshipping at the shrine of Cal Tech; or maybe I'd be a Fox Mulder...a Schermer groupie with one eye on the paranormal, looking for the empirical anomaly to blow the walls out. I don't have answers to how the Genesis creation myths incorporate spiritual reality, or who the first man really was or when, or why Jesus said he was the new Adam (well, that makes sense; he wouldn't upend their scientific views by two millenia, would he?) But I know evolution has no more disproved God than any other physical law. It's like saying quantum disproves God, or planetary motion. Silliness.

Do I have lots of questions still? Oh yeah. But really, the human just accidentally happened to develop according to some amazing and complex laws...that argues for a designer more than not. The church has, on and off, misunderstood Genesis (though I believe even Augustine considered that the days were ages) for millenia. It's myth, gang. It reads like myth; it performs the function of myth.

The gospels now...I have to side, again, with C.S. Lewis: they feel no more like myth than my morning paper. This does not mean they are true, but they can't be placed in the same class as most world mythology. They fit into their own special class, a class they may have created, that of the wonder-working God-man, but I have to say, I've seen nothing in literature, before or since, which comes close. The lame attempts to find convergence in vague figures of the ancient world, in Mithras or elsewhere, are very weak. The gospels, written (as even Schweitzer notes, and I'll still get to him) in at least two cases by those who would have known eyewitnesses (Mark and Luke) and in one case quite possibly collected from an eyewitness himself (John) scream out their differences to all other world literature. Sure, after the death of a great man, say Bruce Lee, myths crop up. Bruce had the touch of death, or isn't really dead, but is living with Elvis in Panama or something...but entire narratives based on miraculous cures, power of nature, over death itself, coupled with cosmic arrogance on Jesus' part (those who turn him into anything short of this aren't reading closely)...there is no literary parallel. Show me if I'm wrong, I want to see it. The Buddha miracle myths...centuries later. And after Jesus, as well. But I am drifting.

It feels nice once in a while to write like this. To silence the constant critic in my head with his own tools. But it's off to Manwich city...why not? I have a cold and need to make something easy. I'm using turkey and fresh tomato and onion and wheat buns.

Ooh. I'm hungry.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Naples in Winter

Before I begin...if you want to see what ocd looks like, watch Monk on USA. If you want to see what that motherfucker feels like, see The Aviator, Scorcese's new film. I went yesterday and I'm still recovering. Artistically, it's successful, but I had a very hard time staying in the theater. Somehow I managed. I've been doing better lately and that movie brought up all kinds of feelings and anxiety, but a hard set under the steel at the gym helped. Thanks, again, to the Bomber.

***

Blessedly, I had beautiful holidays. Christmas eve, truly, I felt more contentment than I ever have. Ever. So much serenity.

I'm not really a Thomas Kinkade fan. His paintings looks like electrified John Constable cottages. I almost said cartoon (please, I mean no offence to his legions of fans). He was born near where I live, and he is of course popular all over the world. But the myth that sells his paintings of houses glowing so brightly they appear to be on fire inside is very complex; it's shelter, human and physical warmth. What I actually felt Christmas eve. Security, heat, fullness, contentment. Millions have Kindade on their walls because those warm and glowing houses sell that myth. I had it, in my own home and heart, for real.

When I was a poor college student I used to spend a lot of time in the Naples canals. I mean Naples Island in Long Beach, not Napoli with its putanesca sauces. And I wasn't actually in the canals, but walking on the sidewalks between the water and those huge homes. I'd look inside the enormous glass windows and see how clean the interiors were; it was like walking past the windows of the San Franciso Macy's only with furniture behind the glass instead of clothing, precise and neat and impeccably-furnished. Ordered, genteel, familial. The urge to wander there, usually for two or three hours, would hit me late at night, often after midnight and mostly in the winter. The colder it was the better; the coldest night of the year, which for Long Beach means temps in the forties and wind, I'd bundle up, with another guy or alone, and glide along those narrow walks, staring into the grandeur of those architectural digest homes. I wanted to live in one, or just go inside and sit down on the sofa. I felt relaxed, comforted in my despair and terror, staring into those big and open living rooms with their wood floors and stainless steel fixtures. And no one ever bothered me. No police, no irate neighbors. I don't think I ever bumped into another person walking that late. It was a cathedral, a museum, a domestic vision.

Now that I'm older I know the price many pay to live there. I've seen the vanity at Christmas, as having one's home decorated by professionals is de rigeur for that community. Showing off. Touch my plastic Santa. I know happiness is not equated with social class, and even then I had no idea how much it would actually cost to live there. Yet it wasn't fantasies of wealth that drew me, but the interiors, those wide and brilliant living rooms. My mother's house was always a mess, clothes and dishes everywhere,dark, small, and cold, stinking of lower working class poverty and void of all human emotion save terror; my mom, in those days, walking around in a filthy house robe in the afternoon and drinking box wine with ice. The Naples homes were the opposite. I felt the contrast more strongly, looking into warmth when it was cold outside, hence my winter walks.

For the thing I was yearning for then, even when I was too anxious to work or attend school, a desparate and disordered young man of twenty, the thing I never gave up on is the same thing Kinkade sells with his luminous cottages. His houses look warm to the point of combustion, but it's that exaggeration that makes the gesture impossible to miss. Kinkade sells the myth of the thing I actually felt this Christmas Eve. I was in it. I knew it, sipping Bailey's and looking at my family and the wonderful decorations my wife put up and the fire in the woodstove. We didn't even have any snow then! But it didn't matter. Security, comfort, compared to the rest of the world, even wealth, and above all, human warmth. Human warmth. The most precious of all commodoties, besides the love of God.

I struggle almost every day. With fear. With rigidity. With intimacy. With feeling good even when my life is going very well. It was so nice to feel full joy. I have a wonderful and patient wife, and I'm growing every year, moving in, more and more, to my young man's dream, my own Naples home, though I am no longer young. I know such a gift is more than many get, and I am grateful for the good things I have, tenure and a home and above all the constant love of my family, and for the good feelings when they come.

***

Peace to all. I'm tired. I don't know how many of my blog family write as much as they do. I rarely get or make time to sit here and do this. Maybe when school starts, and I have official reasons to procrastinate...

Here's to warmth in the midst of the cold.


Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Back to Blog

it's snowing at the moment, but this is supposed to be the final day. And thankfully, we've had as much, or more, sleet/gropple/rain, what weather people call 'wintry mix,' as we've had powder. Otherwise I would have been snowed in for days. Still, my yard is buried. I'm guessing four feet? Some of the drifts are certainly that high. A bulldozer finally came by and shoved the pile of snow flanking my driveway up in to a huge mound. We haven't lost power except for that one night when the transformer was popping, and the plows have come by every day. I'm impressed.

Lots of news: I bought a truck. I traded in my subaru legacy for a toyota tacoma with 4wd and the trd off road package. 31 inch tires, baby. Locking rear diff. V6. Someone make that tim allen huh huh ape noise.

It's older than my legacy, and has a few more miles, and I had to pay more! But not much more, and it looks brand new. I wanted the height and the horsepower in the weather; also, I miss my old jeep wrangler, and this drives a lot like it. Heck, it's a boy car. My wife has the outback. Think we're set. The subarus are great in snow, plowed snow. This thing will hump over a low berm like nothing.

Asking around I've found out the snowblower my mom got us for christmas (actually she gave us one she never used) is way outclassed for where I live. I wonder if it would be rude to give it back? I don't want it in my yard (though it's mostly buried now).

I feel sorry for the people that just moved to my town from the bay area or elsewhere where it doesn't snow. What a baptism this last two weeks has been.

Again, thank God for all that rain. And the plows and dozers and everything else the county has working up here 24/7. And for the power company, who amazingly kept the power on!

It looks like we've weathered the worse; pun intended, natch.

***

I've had lots of time to think. Uh oh. Actually, I've had a pretty decent vacation, with some true high spots.

I've watched the aftermath of the tsunamis as we all have. I've wondered how and why God lets such things happen, though I think, essentially, the destruction in indonesia is no different than one death, one child or mother or father being killed by a drunk driver. Of course the tsunami is a natural disaster, what insurance companies still call 'an act of God.' People die in avalanches every year. And of disease, many times slowly and painfully. The good die and the evil live long. I have no idea why.

I've seen websites, and I probably have no need to link them, where various religious leaders have discussed the tsunami. Some have even declared that those countries persecute Christians more than others and that's why they were hit; Muslims, Jews, Christians of all drift have addressed the issue and given different answers why God would let such a thing happen. Since God isn't saying anything about it at this time, I prefer not to speculate. I do think of the passage in Luke 13 where Jesus says that those who died when the tower fell in Siloam, eighteen innocent people, were no more guilty of any sin, no more singled out for God for destruction, than any others living in Jerusalem. Their disaster held no more religiuos meaning than the disaster of individual death, from any cause and at any age.

And then Jesus goes on, imperious, peremptory, and warns that all present will perish unless they repent. Was this a special message to the Jewish nation? To those presenting the question at hand? What about those who never hear the gospel, who hear it distorted, or the children and babies who died in Inodensia?

I don't have those answers. If Jesus is who he says he was, then he will make the correct, and the unassailable, judgement regarding each of us. If he was a self-deluded, religiously inflated apocalyptic human who believed that he personally was going to judge the world...well, then the universe and its disasters are absurd, random, without meaning (barring all transcendence, I mean of course). I find the latter premise no less problematic or distressing than the first. What of those who never hear? Tough one. But what if Jesus is not God, what if there is no creator at all and many of those who drowned in the waves were rescued from years of poverty, distress, and violence? Christian belief poses drastic, unanswerable questions. So does non-belief. Atheism and its cosmic philosophy of accident and luck, of a universe which just happened to produce self-reflective creatures who ponder their own mortality and need for meaning (and certainly humans do both of these) is no less difficult a philosophical problem than a God who allows innocent death and suffering.

I had a chance to attend an interfaith dialogue at a local church (on a very stormy night) and listen to a Tibetan monk, a Native American, a scholar of Islam, and a Christian pastor address the issue of suffering within their respective religions. The two comments that stood out to me: from the Christian, 'if a man breaks into my home and is attacking my wife, her life is in danger, I have no right to take his life to stop the attack;' and from the Buddhist (who brought a translator) 'if a wild dog is trying to bite you and the only thing you are holding is the sacred text, you may use the sacred text to strike the dog in defense.' I respected, admired even, the first point though I know it doesn't describe what I'd do; the Buddhist illustration I appreciated quite a bit.

What I did see what four different people striving for an ethic of love. It has been noted (by non-Christian scholars), and it is possible, that the shift in Indian religion from varna or caste, from the ancient Vedic laws and rituals, to bhakti, love for and devotion to God, to the Hinduism of the Gita, was the result of Christian influence. Maybe. Not all world religions do or have espoused the brotherhood of humanity, the need for compassion and mercy. But many non-Christian ones do, especially at this point in history. True, Hindus and most Buddhists believe in samsara or rebirth, and karma. Each life we live leaves its karmic imprint, and our birth into the next life, into a good family or a bad one, depends on that karmic balance we all carry. If someone holds this view and yet strives for a spirituality of love will this person be denied the love of Christ?

Again, I don't know. But I tend to believe, and the hair stands on my neck as I write it, that many who have 'prayed the prayer' may not be known by Christ, and many who have never heard his name will recognize him and be recognized. Love is the Christian law. I am amazed, at times amused, how Christians sift through the nt looking for specific prohibitions. As if Christ brought a new legal code. Jesus only affirmed what was hidden deep in the Torah already: love is the universal law. Paul and St. John say the same. I saw J.P. Moreland speak once and he argued that the precept, 'do the loving thing in all situations' was too vague. Wake up. Moreland is far too brilliant to miss it: that's exactly what Jesus said the new law is.

My wife and I were white-knuckling it home in the subaru with the friend who had invited us to the interfaith discussion. He is Hindu I think, a bit Tibetan Buddhist; actually he worships, though I may have the wrong verb, a particular Indian healer named Amma. Or he calls her Amma; I don't know if that is her name or a title. His devotion is quite real. He belives in samsara or reincarnation, in karma also (of course in Hindu thought these are intertwined). And when I asked Mark how he found this woman he told me that she found him. Here is his story in brief.

He had a dream in which Amma appeared. When he later heard about her coming to a town near us he knew this was the person he dreamt of and he went. His stories only get more remarakable. Perhaps they are too personal to tell. But he has met a woman who claims to have been cured of cancer by Amma; he has a story of a man who was cured of leprosy. It is possible Amma is someone who thinks she can heal but who really can't. Such a claim could then be raised against at least some of the gospel miracle record of course (walking on water, personally resurrecting these would be tough to fake or misunderstand). It's also possible Amma really can heal. She might be a self-aware fraud, though this seems the least likely possibility. Whatever she is, Mark is on a spiritual path of genuine love, personal accountability; he truly is. He noted those who hate Bush share in the violence of Bush, show the same thoughts of aggression which seem to be behind the Iraq war. Essentially, Mark was describing an Eastern form of matthew's sermon on the mount.

Is this not a spiritual path? Mark believes Jesus was a master, like Amma or the other lamas and avatars (actually, I believe these are different things, but close enough). He would probably say Jesus was the son of God, though perhaps not in a unique way; I didn't ask him. He is certainly not a Christian in the doctrinal sense. But inwardly...he has found the essence, though it is mixed with a certain asceticism, a flaw found in every religion, including Christianity, in my fleshly and not very humble opinion: 'pass the syrah and the ham please; where are my shearling booties; oh, I'm late for my massage.' And of course he believes in reincarnation, as did Plato.

Now I think I've drifted very far from where I began. And again, I don't want to edit this. I apologize. I should. All who read this far should get the benefit of revised writing. But I'm shovel-tired and need to start a fire and this is, after all, a web log.

I'm trying to say that I think there are no easy answers. Some of those who died in the tsunamis may never have heard of Jesus but may be with him now. And the children...their presence with Christ would not surprise me.

Do I believe in a burning hell of suffering? No. I could of course be wrong. I don't even know if I believe in the soul at all (a resurrected body could in fact be a body). None of this really matters; truth will out soon enough. What does matter is whether I choose to indulge the destructive parts of my psyche or actively love. We say in the baptismal vows, 'I will, with God's help.' And that I do believe. I can't go it alone. But if there is any pinnacle, any transcendent truth, to human religion it is love. If love is proven to be a product of evolutionary need, and how could it ever be proven so?, it would not preclude God from holding me responsible.

***

Well, the snow has stopped, for the moment. And it's butt-cold in my office. Be well all. It's great to be able to write here once again. Thanks to all who read.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Storm Update

I hope I didn't scare anyone with my last post; fact is, I was scared. It was like those scenes in movies when the radar guy on the boat sees a huge mass coming on the radar, 'that can't be right!' Like that. The storm warnings up here were incredible. I'd cut and paste but that feels silly. But this morning NOAA said on their site that if we left the safety of our houses we'd be risking our lives. That's what it said.

Now what has happened is this: it's rained like snot all day. Sideways, windy, heavy rain, and the snow has been just above us! It even got to 40 today, though only briefly. Mostly mid to upper thirties, too warm to snow. I'm very grateful for this. Mikey's school shut down today but S was at work and she should be on her way home any minute, without snow. Wind and rain, but no blizzard snow. I'm sure a little above us, say 5000 feet and up, it's the gods of winter.

And Mikey didn't fly out tonight either, meaning I'm not running to the airport and coming home late. This truly means, Let It Snow. We will all be home safe. According to NOAA, it is supposed to get very cold with this next system; snow levels far below us, and stay cold and snowy through Monday night. We'll see. They were wrong about today!

No matter, I don't care as long as we're all here. I rented five movies, I'm cooking shepherd's pie with lamb, I still have homemade bread from yesterday, and we have plenty of board games. Mikey, of course, wants to go to a buddy's house, but that, as all things will this weekend, depends on the weather.

I am so, so, so, glad S will make it in before the white stuff hits though. You don't even know. It's hard to describe driving in the mountains in a winter storm, as those of you who've done it can attest.

***

I have to get back to my lamb, but I will say I enjoyed Master and Commander quite a bit. It's volume one of twenty novels. Twenty! As busy as I am, and reading for school so much, that could take me three wonderful years. So be it. I'm learning to speak sailor already.

That's it for now. More later. But it looks like we're all going to be safe and sound this weekend. Why we haven't lost power yet is beyond me. The electric company gets better at what they do every year.

Peace to all, and happy epiphany if I haven't already said it.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Let It Snow 3.0

Actually, I have had power the last few days, but I've been doing two things on my winter break, shovelling snow and reading the historical novel Master and Commander. That particular piece of fiction fits with the grunt work of lifting and flinging the heavy snow. I've been working about two hours a day to clear our driveway, widen the narrow opening in our berm...ah but I've used a technical term for those of you who haven't lived in snow, let me talk about bermage (nothing worse than snow snobbery).

Without snow plows, modern transportation would not be possible in snow country. Meaning cars, even four wheel drives, even those with extra ground clearance and snow tires, can only drive in so much snow. Once it gets too deep, you need a snowmobile, skis, snow shoes, a horse and sleigh maybe. And once that beautiful powder begins to settle, pack down from time and pressure, it freezes and becomes very slippery. Ice. It has to be removed for commerce to continue.

Enter the snow plow. These range in size from small-size pickups with blades attached to the front to giant caterpillar monsters with multiple blades, the kind I've seen in Tahoe. Most plows are large truck-like things with enclosed cabs (some of the cockpits remind me a little of the pope-mobile) and large steel snow-pushers hanging off the front. They are heavy. They run tire chains on their wheels and you can feel them thundering down the street long before they get close to my house, that big steel shovel dragging, scraping, sparking down the asphalt.

The county's committment is to plow every road within twenty-four hours, and so far they've mostly met that. I don't know who decides what order the streets get plowed in though, because mine, I swear, is the last to be plowed in my town. It's also one of the highest streets, and shady, and we get slammed. Noticeably more snow than my friends who live just a hundred feet below me. My house also sits on an outside curve.

This is significant because when the plow rumbles down the street, shoving tons of snow onto the shoulder of the road (it would be nice if it could somehow actually remove the snow, but it just pushes it aside of course) the plow creates a berm, a wall of snow. If only a few inches have fallen, that berm might be a foot high. But when more than a foot it sitting on the road, maybe two feet as in the last storm, the berm grows exponentially. At this last storm the berm behind our cars was about five feet high and five feet thick, sitting like a defensive wall at the end of our driveway. And berms aren't the sweet white fluff powder, which is heavy enough. Berms are pressed, chunky, dense ice and snow. Even most blowers can't tackle a berm like that (and I have one little blower, a present from my mom, and it has never worked).

Therefore meet the snow shovel.

The plow didn't go wide enough across the street from our house in the last storm and S wanted me to deepen it, make it easier to get out of our driveway and turn down or up our street (literally of course; nothing in my neighborhood is flat). She said, 'is it possible, can you make that berm go back a ways;' and I philosophically responded, 'anything is possible with a shovel, a shovel and time.'
And indeed it is.

It took me all week to get as far as I have, an open area around both cars (my legacy was buried until yesterday) and a decently wide space in our wall of a berm (with shoveled snow thrown onto it, now probably six feet on each side). Yet my back is beginning to ache. The good news is this is a great way to burn off holiday calories which I ingested in prodigous quantity, but it's tough work. Glad I'm on vacation.

***

And the spooky news is more snow is coming. This last storm was probably the biggest snowfall I've seen in four years, or as big as any I've seen. What is supposed to hit this weekend will most certainly be huge. We could get as much as four feet. That much snow cripples a town. And it must be shovelled; what did Gandalf say when he saw the Balrog, 'and I am already weary.'

Mikey is supposed to fly down to see his dad, which means a drive to the airport tomorrow night, late. That's beginning to look unlikely. And S is working today and tomorrow. I hope she can get out tomorrow morning. Coming home is another story. My biggest fear (besides her actually getting into an accident) is that we'll lose our cell phones. It happens sometimes in big storms, and if it does and she can't make it home after work, I won't know where she is Friday night. Even if M and I stay home, which has yet to be arranged, I would hate to be up here, hoping/knowing she was staying with someone down the hill but not knowing for sure, while the snow drops in feet and buries the road.

For this storm is supposed to be very cold and very wet. Not a storm of the century, but maybe a storm of the decade. The neighbor that used to live next to me had been up here twenty years and the most he'd ever seen come down at once was five feet. Four, even three, is dramatic. Probably, though not certainly, we'll lose power and phones and have to wait (more than 24 hours I'd bet) for the plows to come by.

Then, of course, I shovel!

We have plenty of wood, half-buried under tarps in our yard, probably a cord and a half still of hardwood, and wood is all we really need. With wood comes heat and with heat life. Our wood stove will warm our living room, even if outside temperatures drop into the teens, enough to be comfortable in a sweater (and in this kind of weather, that stove can heat the room to 74 degrees, and it's a big room with a high ceiling). Once that stove is hot, we can cook on it, even melt snow on if if we had to (though the water pipe which froze three years ago is better-wrapped, and I have a torch to thaw it). We have oil lamps and spare oil, flashlights. Lamplight is quite beatiful, and I'm never out of books. Board game and charades are also good.

In the short term, electricity is over-rated. I'd never do laundry any other way though.

***

It is truly beautiful up here now. I've just come back from taking Mikey to school and I'm wearing a gore-tex parka, fleece lined jeans, and baffin snow boots, sitting here in my office at my computer. How zany is that? The snow is so deep in my yard M and I could build a snow cave; we want to, but that takes shovelling and all the shovel muscle I have is going into clearing our drive. The temperatures have not gone high enough since the last storm to melt much of anything, and the trees remain full of snow, though the saplings aren't bent over with the weight as they were.

The sun has not come out all week, and now the sky is thick-gray and still, ominous considering the forecast.

Pray, briefly, that we all end up here safe Friday night. That's the big issue. S may have to stay in p-ville, true. I just hope I have a phone to get the news. M may end up at his dad's, though I doubt I want to come back up the hill Friday night at ten. There should be a foot or more on the ground by then if the forecasters are right. Apparently this is polar express (but they call it something else here) meets subtropical moisture...this means butt-cold air from Canada is going to mix with the Alaskan storm track and moisture from the south. Oh yeah baby. We be slammed.

I wish I had snow shoes of my own. Or telemark skis. Then I'd know I could get out if I had to (though I've never used skis like that, I have snow shoed). It's a little wierd, knowing I'm truly stuck, when the snow is very deep and no plows have come by, especially when the cells go out (we got rid of our land line, but it went out in storms more than the cells). I think of Thoreau, living at Walden Pond, and the things his neighbors in town asked him, 'what if you get sick out there, are you lonely, who do you talk to?' All that. I'll forgoe the ten thousand word philosophical response Thoreau spits out every time he addresses any issue, and stick to what I know: I'll be okay. I've backpacked and been a day or two away from medical care no matter what before. Still, it's something that takes a little getting used to. It's not the cities of so. cal., where everything is always available at any time.

***

Thanks for listening guys. I may not get to post during the storm itself, but if I can I'll try and let you know on Sat. that we're all okay and riding out the white stuff. Today on the radio they didn't say 'blizzard-like conditions,' they said 'blizzard conditions.' True white-outs, where the snow is so heavy and the wind so strong you can't see, even at my elevation perhaps. I already have two feet sitting on my roof; where will the rest go?

Peace. And happy Epiphany.



Saturday, January 01, 2005

Let It Snow 2.0

Thanks to all for the positive comments. I should write about the weather more.

The fact is, the snow has really hit since my last post. There is close to three feet of powder around my house. The plows haven't been by all day, and the road is so deep S called in to work. The woman who was filling in for her (after staying up to celebrate the Eve) had her husband try to come up here and get her. He has a big diesel pickup with chains. He wouldn't even come all the way up the main highway. Power lines down and cars stuck in the snow all over 50. And trees across the road. Guess it's a good thing we stayed home.

But last night, madly, we went out. We left about 9 to head down the hill a few miles to celebrate new year's with a couple we know. I've never driven in snow that dense. I don't know what the technical definition of a blizzard is, but on the radio they often warn of 'blizzard-like conditions.' Usually, that's above us, over the pass. But I'll tell you, I couldn't see six feet in front of my car for the blowing snow at some points. I had no idea where the white line in the highway was (the center has a divider most of the way); I'd drift too far toward the shoulder and hear the thumpthumpthump tires make when they run over those indentations caltrans puts in the road to wake you up if you begin to slide off the highway. That's the only way I knew when I was going too far to the right.

That was only for about twenty minutes, though, and then we got down into the rain. But I couldn't relax the whole time we were there and we left about 11:00. It was still snowing as we climbed, but not as hard. And then this morning, at least a foot of new powder. I can shovel out the drive behind my wife's car, but the plow has to come by to get a subaru out in snow that deep.

This all makes me want to get a higher vehicle, a four wheel drive pickup maybe, with big cool tires. Ooh. Boyness.

***

I see it's still snowing. The blower my mom got us for Christmas wasn't put together right, and I got part way through with it before I just got too cold and wet. We don't really need it, probably, but it would be fun and cut some of the work.

I will recommend a new year's day lunch however: my wife made home made cornbread, collared (sp?) greens and black eyed peas. The greens and the peas have something to do with money and luck in the new year, but oh how good those greens tasted, covered in bacon and onion and vinegar, as I lifted my spoon with frozen fingers. And I will tell you something I discovered you probably won't hear anyplace else: cornbread with butter and honey goes exceptionally well with Schramsberg's Cremant demi-sec. You can get Schramsberg at Trader Joe's of all places: since they've been vending the stuff so long; it's cheaper at Trader's than even at a good wine store. Schramsberg is a wonderful sparkling wine house in Napa, and perhaps the finest sparkling producer in the US. Their Cremant is decadent, slightly sweet, almost chewy-creamy...nasty I want to say, with a strong California flavor. Very smooth. Have that with warm cornbread and honey, and you will be in new year's heaven. I think it's about twenty five bucks, no more than thirty I think (though S bought it this time). Worth it if you have the cornbread.

Well, S is sleeping on the couch, Mikey is bored and playing Madden video football, and the snow is beginning to fall harder. I see it's nearly to the bottom of my office window.

We still have electricity, which is amazing me. Great for the Monk and Twilight Zone marathons if nothing else.

Thanks again to all who read. Every comment touches me.