Monday, December 31, 2007

Last Day.

I don't feel compelled to make resolution after resolution because, frankly, I know what's needed: more dogwalks, better work ethic, fewer calories, listen a little more closely. No more reason to do those things starting tomorrow than any other day. These are ongoing matters, aren't they? Not resolutions.

2007's last best effort comes to us live and cloudless, mid-fifties, a hint of a breeze, maybe, yellow and fierce and bright. Sky a pale blue, a kind of imitation of blue. Long shadows everywhere, even at midday. Dog (who recently turned eleven, about which there can be no conversation) in the truck with the windows down, face and chest out the window, nose into the breeze, ears pinned back for aerodynamics.

Winter arrives later this week with a couple of hard freezes, but the ten-day shows the other brand of North Carolina January out there, days like this, fifties and even sixties, sunny. The ten-day shows some rain, too, which makes me a little hopeful, even in the face of all the long-rangers that show us mired in drought until March or so. No predictions here. No forecasts, ten-day or otherwise. That's not what we do here at ANYLF. What exactly it is that we do isn't clear, either, except to say that there's a rain gauge here now, and there's an idea being kicked around in staff meetings about keeping a running rainfall total for 2008. ANYLF, then, resolves to report on the weather either as it happens or after the fact. We're your source for most of what you already know. Now all we need is some kind of slogan, some synth intro music, a blue screen. A podcast. Graphics. Hell, what we need is a blog.

Happy New Year out there, friends and fans of weather. May it rain on us early and often. We'll take a cup o' kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Steady Rain.

It started raining sometime after sunrise and has been raining since, more than a half-inch so far, mid-forties, a cold dark Sunday that's pushing down on us here to close out the old year. Pancakes and sausage, then, black coffee, eggs over medium, every pan in the kitchen dirty, two trips to the grocery: first for ingredients, then back again for syrup. The dog's asleep on the floor and the cats are piled into each other on one of the chairs in the living room. It's one-thirty in the afternoon, but it could be any time.

I like the way the light changes in a rainstorm, the way it will go all dark for a while, then actually brighten up just as it starts to rain harder. Off to our west and south, the gray clouds are banking up into a much darker gray.

There's a melancholy that attends this no-man's land after and around Christmas: the term's over, the presents are sent, the new shirts are hanging in the closet. What to do next? Paint the baseboards. Mow the back lawn, maybe — it hasn't been mowed since early June, because it simply did not rain on us until now. Reorganize the kitchen drawers. Current drawer names: Things That Cut and Other Things. Various Whisks. Drawer of All Things. Baking Needs.

Just went black outside. Now it's like a lamp got flicked on, and it's pouring. I like, too, the way the water hangs on the empty branches, the way how even here in December you can see the trees starting to bud back out. It's a long time to wait, but it's good that way. To each its own season.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Saturday Fog.

All day long a fog hung up in the neighborhood trees, up around the lightposts, off in the corners of the yards. There was a quiet, muffled morning dogwalk. Mud and grit in the streets. Another tenth of an inch of rain — up to .6 inches or so for the 36-hour period, and some of the forecasts are wanting to give us as much as another inch tomorrow. After that a good Arctic high is supposed to sweep through and give us January in a kind of serious crisp way, the kind of week that keeps the bulbs in the ground a little longer.

AMR leaves for the month on the second, and that's kind of hanging around the house, too.

I've discovered Bill Evans, which is a little like last summer when I discovered Bob Dylan and Neil Young. Hey, I asked my friends, who've been preaching to me for years about my sad little music collection. Did you know about Bob Dylan and Neil Young? Yes, they said. We do not live in caves.

Bill Evans: piano player on Kind of Blue, among other things. Addicted to most things he could find. Inventor, so they say, of the jazz trio. Might I recommend, then, for your listening pleasure, The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961. The first democratic jazz combo, they say, which is to say, they say, that Evans found a way to let the bass and drums share the stage with him in a real way.

There's something about these 1961 recordings in particular that seems right for, oh, hell, fog— for winter. Glass with some ice in it. Settle down to listen. There's crowd noise. The recording values aren't terrific. Makes me like it all the more. There's a thing in it, in the way the three of them hear each other, play off each other, that seems not just good, but important. Something's going on here. You can hear something coming.

There were seven thousand squirrels on the dogwalk. Busy. Completing tasks. They can maybe feel January getting ready to show up.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Weather Station.

Four tenths. At least so far, anyway, says the ANYLF rain gauge. And fifty degrees on the screen porch. Total weather station cost: Two dollars and change for the rain gauge, and something close to the same for the thermometer, if I remember right: I've had it for years. Standard round thing, salad-plate-sized, red pointer. More rain's coming in later this evening.

I spent the morning planting pansies. It's December 28. By all rights it should be too cold, too something, but there they were at the store, the last few pansies, and I couldn't leave them there. Cut the pampas grass back for the winter, finally, and that left space for more flowers, which meant, of course, more flowers. Pansies are supposed to need 40 days in the ground before the first hard freeze. That rule's either for harsher climes than 27408's, or it won't matter: we could well go 40 days without a hard freeze— except that a quick check of the forecast shows us headed for 19 next Wednesday and Thursday nights. I like the fatalism of it, anyway. Plus it rained them in all afternoon.

The writing studio has no insulation in the roof, which makes it ideal for an evening rainstorm. Cup of tea, a few terrible paragraphs. But it's coming. It's getting better. I've got January off to write, and AMR is headed for London, so there's a little voice somewhere out back saying Write, goddamnit, write. Get it together, the voice says. Get his wife in the driveway yelling at him. Get his kid out of bed and get him dressed. Get his wife and his girlfriend into the same room. Make sure when things happen that those things get filtered back through the characters' consciousnesses. This is, after all, what you tell your students, over and over again. If it's good enough for them, it's got to be good enough for you. Make it new. Make it new. Make it new. Finish your book.

It's starting to rain again.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Science City.

Went to three places today and ended up with a pretty outstanding Springfield Instruments rain gauge, available here from some place excellently named Science City, but available also at your local large orange home improvement warehouse. It is an instrument, I suppose, in much the same way that a pencil is a form of technology in the classroom. But it is an instrument nonetheless. Now I just have to choose a location. No post-mounting for me. In the ground and in the garden. But where? Which one? The crack ANYLF staff is researching the benefits of various locations even as we speak. I've directed them to have a report on my desk in the morning: rain's forecast for tomorrow afternoon or evening, and I need not go on at too much length about how upsetting it would be to have it rain, and to have a rain gauge, but not to have it out gauging.

The Little Baby Jesus has arrived in the plastic light-up nativity scene down the block, though the green wise man continues his sad exile around the side of the house. LBJ is a small plastic light-up Caucasian infant, and is in what looks like either a log holder or a magazine rack. I'm pretty sure that all of this is exactly as it appears in my King James Version up there on the shelf, so no need to check.

We're in that sort of blank placeholding winter now: In the upper fifties, a kind of damp chill on everything, but not warm, not windy, not cold. Showers and rain forecast at least twice between now and Monday. The crows are coming back from wherever it is they've been all day, are roosting, if crows roost, in the tops of the pine trees. Big black silhouettes against a washed-out afternoon sky. The Chinese Firs are throwing off more and more twigs and sticks and branches. It seems like they're putting a lot more down on the ground this year than in years past. I've got them clocked as thirsty. But our weather pattern may be shifting. The pansies are greening up. The lawns are greening a little bit. I've bought a rain gauge. I'll count that as an act of prayer. There's a church on every corner in Science City, and out front of each, LBJ snoozes away in his basket, on his cinder block, up on a pallet of old newspapers. Most of the wise men look on. The others are off to the side, checking their rain gauges, seeing how much it rained.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Other Landscapes.

So interesting to be somewhere else: a new way the clouds come in, a new way the wind smells, a new way the sky clears off, lightens and darkens. Here, weather from the west, generally. Which is over the top of the backyard fence. Southwest, northwest: still, give or take, the backyard fence. Stay a few nights somewhere with no such compass, though, and it takes a while to recalibrate the instruments for altitude, for latitude and longitude, for most of the other itudes.

A third of an inch of rain from last night's storm, says the airport. I had been considering purchasing the several-hundred-dollar fancyass digital weather station (with rain gauge with self-emptying cups, for those who need such things) for myself, but it comes to this: I've got links on this page to local stations far more fancyass than I can afford, and even besides that, there's something appealing about Christmasing myself not with electronics more sophisticated than those that landed Buzz Aldrin on the moon, but with the plain old plastic millimetered rain gauge that stabs into the ground in the garden. Forget to empty it? You don't know how much rain you got. Want to know how much rain you got? Take yourself a look.

Nothing against the electric. I still want one with a good part of my soul. But for now, I'm going to try it the inexact way.

The local report for last night's/this morning's storm: The nice canvas deck chair I forgot to put away before we left is full of water. The flowerbeds are wet through. It's cleared off, but it still feels wet. The airport and NOAA and the digitals all say more rain's coming by the end of the week. I believe them.

The not-so-local report: Accumulating sleet last night in 28805. Ice on the roadsides this afternoon until the mountain; cross back over and it's just wet.

Fifties today in both zip codes. Warm winter blue sky in both as well. And to all a good night.

Atlantic Storm.

There's a low somewhere between Savannah and Jacksonville, which means, among other things, a driving sleet here in 28805, as well as some genuine rain headed for central NC, 27408 included, overnight. As much as a quarter-inch in a half an hour, or so says NOAA, which has plenty of time to do things like forecast the weather, since things like tracking Santa fall to NORAD.

When I was in elementary school, we drilled on such things as ducking under our desks with our science books over our heads to protect against thermonuclear war. Now that the world is safe for democracy, those War Games dudes have time to turn their attention elsewhere, one supposes. Would you like to play a game of chess?

Today, Christmas Day, even though as I write this, it isn't anymore, we took the dog to Warren Wilson — I'd never seen it — and got lost on a handful of the trails that run up and around the campus. The Swannanoa River hasn't run fully dry yet, and it was a hell of a thing to see and hear running water. All seemed somehow less apocalyptic. It was low, but it was there. A new Christmas day tradition, I think, ought to be getting fairly lost, not really knowing which direction the car is, and walking a couple of miles through pine and sycamore forest until finally coming out into a little cluster of buildings that looks familiar and unfamiliar all at once. Oh. There's the science building. And the auditorium.

AMR has purchased for me a thick bathrobe. I have purchased for her several pair of semifancy wool socks. Maybe a book or two. The dog is dead and down and dreaming of the tiny birds we scared up out of the bamboo the WWC kids are growing without explanation alongside the riverbank. A storm, friends, has formed off the Atlantic coast. And what do you want for Christmas, little boy? Rain.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve.

Yesterday in 27408 we woke up to mist and rain and then hard rain — almost a March rain, a spring rain, warm for December, anyway, fat drops, almost a half an inch out of all that. And then mid-afternoon the weather broke in a kind of dramatic way, sun hinting through the clouds and then the edge of the front rolling through clean as a line, a few last clouds and a high blue sky, sun off to the south and west and heat in it before the temperatures went spinning down out of the sixties for the thirties.

It had been a long, long time since I'd wanted to see the sun, since I'd seen the weather clear and thought that might be good. We're still six hundred inches below normal rainfall, but it's hard to say that when the sun came through yesterday and the dog aimed her face into it and we went through the neighborhood with the rainwater still running through the gutters that things weren't beautiful in a kind of indisputable way.

And now Christmas Eve, live from Asheville, NC, where after we got the car over the mountain last night we returned suddenly to winter, stiff wind and a dry cold air. They got their share of rain here yesterday, too, but this morning dawns cloudless and yellow and the dog can tell she's now where geography counts for something, keeps sniffing the air for moose, for elk, for grizzles, for something. For something well out of her abilities to chase after. Something to hope for. All this fur she's been pulling in all fall seems worth it.

A holiday's a strange thing. It's ten-thirty in the morning. My cousin's thermometer says it's 42.7 degrees outside. Let's go, for now, with what can be measured.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Fog, Luminaries.

Tonight was luminary night in the neighborhood — one of the few neighborhood association rites and rituals to which I am willing to succumb — because I am a damn sucker for all things tastefully Christmas, and even several things not-so-tasteful. The holographic nutcracker, whatever that is, is taking it too far, but a few paper bags and some cheap votives: sign me up.

Plus fog. We're having a fog. Forty degrees and a fog.

In the truck this afternoon, with the dog, I managed to tune in WUNC and thus the BBC, and the Beeb was reporting on One Cold Hand, something I like so much that I think I want to carry it around in my mouth lke a stone, like Jimmy Cross in Tim O'Brien's stories. Now all I can see is shoes in the highway, shirts in the gutters, socks in yards, hats and caps hanging on the spired ends of wrought-iron fences.

Same weather today as yesterday. Somehow we all held our tongues right and earned two gray days. Ten o'clock in the morning looked the same as four in the afternoon.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Winter Solstice.

This is the first official weather holiday in the short tenure of ANYLF — yes, the end of the Atlantic Hurricane Season meant gift cards for the interns, but a solstice — a solstice is as big as it gets. Save for a landfalling hurricane, that is, but ANYLF's home offices are in 27408, several hundred miles from open water of any kind. One wonders, too, whether or not to cheer for such a thing.

The gods have smiled on this year's solstice, delivering a little bit of cold rain and a long low cloudbank and a day in the upper thirties. Down in the soil little switches will go off tomorrow morning: Jonquils and crocus and tulips and iris and whatever all else will register photochemically or however it is that they do it that we have swung back toward the other side, that we are aiming ourselves back through the universe toward the other brand of tilt we feature here on Earth, the one that leans us up in this half more toward the sun. The Japanese magnolia out front has already started in on the slow work of pushing those fuzzy buds out the tips of its branches; this means we're only 12ish weeks away from the yearly mid-March freeze watch, the incessant tracking of ten- and twelve-day long-term forecasts to see if this year, like some years, the plate-sized blooms will get hit by an early-spring frost or freeze.

I like the short days. I don't start to hunger for the warmth and the light until, well, March or so. I like winter, like for the weather to set in and hold on and deliver what it means to. But I like, too, that for these next few months the sun will work its way back across my backyard, back toward where it sets in June and July. A thousand years ago they must have felt the same way, or some version of it, must have stood out on hilltops and said to each other, Now the sun comes back this way. Interesting. Probably we should crack open a little mead, invite a few people from the village, tell the shaman he was right again this year, enjoy ourselves some. That is a nice coat you've got there, Thag. Let me know the next time you've got another bearskin. I'm about a size 42.

December is crazy around here: the end of the fall term means I don't much get to do anything other than lament the loss of evening, wonder when it was, where it went. Survive the holidays, though, and there are the long plain Tuesdays and Wednesdays of January, the thin light of four-thirty in the afternoon, hats and long sleeves and scarves and, if we're lucky, winter. An ice storm. A few inches of snow. Bone-dark by six instead of nine. A time of being indoors. Smell of something in the oven, on the stove. A kind of hibernation, a going in, because March is coming. There is much to do in March. There's a lot to keep track of. Now, in winter, is the time to prepare.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas Formal.

Drove to Raleigh twice in three days. I-40. Flat, dry. Dockside Dolls, an old strip club a few exits past Elon where some of my students told me they used to cocktail waitress, is still 'temporarily closed for renovations,' but the Tree of Life Church of Holiness or somesuch thing seems to be set up in the parking lot, or right across the parking lot, so one can only guess at what kind of renovation might be going on there.

The Chick-Fil-A in Burlington (or, as my grandfather calls it, the Chicken-Fil-A) was slammed last night. I got off the highway around 8:30 for a little dinner. In line in front of me were eight or ten kids from what could only have been some kind of winter formal, semi-formal, maybe, high school, corsages and red and green and gold dresses and slips showing a little bit and heavy makeup and boys in suits looking uncomfortable and proud and the little girls turning to one another with their shiny hair swinging around and going Y'all, I am not kidding about this, OK? The kids behind the counter also, apparently, went to the same high school, so there was some of that.

Good name for a character in the above scene: Darren.

They're giving us a shot at some rain for this evening. Today is the last day to mail packages via Priority Mail. I'll be at the Friendly Post Office at 4 or so, to stand in line with all the other fools who've waited this long. I love the panic, though, the last minuteness, of this time of year. Plus: There's a guy who works at the Friendly P.O. who loves it as much as I do, greets everyone in line, calls people Darlin' and Sport. Talks about when quittin' time is so he can go get margaritas. Invites people along. Mocks me every year when I overnight Mother's Day Cards. And the big bank of glass windows faces basically west, so if something's coming in, I'll be able to see it. Cool today. Not cold. Slight chance of rain.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Rank Amateur.

Last night before I went to bed I noticed a little something on the radar sliding through North Georgia and I thought, Maybe that is a little something, but we were not forecast for anything, and even the place where the little something actually was wasn't forecast for anything, so I climbed in bed and read and scratched the dog between the ears until she got pissy and groaned and got up and left.

But right now we are getting a gorgeous little sleet/rain/snow mix and we might get it for ten or twenty minutes more. This is nothing, but still. We got a Special Weather Statement out of it, and even more special, I can hear whatever it is that's coming down ticking the rhododendron leaves outside the front of the house.

Today's an odd day: I'm making a few GMCs (Grandmother cookies) so-named and made popular on my dad's side of the family by first my great-grandmother and then her daughter, my Aunt Nancy, my grandmother's sister. Christmas cookies of the old variety, small decorated things that A.N. used to bring to our house at Christmas. Rolled balls and sandwiches and thin wafers and cut-out moons. She'd come off the plane with a handled shopping bag full of shirt boxes, in their turn full of cookies. Inside, in packages of twelve or sixteen, ten or fifteen varieties of GMCs wrapped in Saran (she pronounced the first syllable heavy, like "Sarah").

My great-grandmother is long dead and A.N. about eighteen months ago had a series of huge strokes that left her eventually institutionalized. I sent her pictures of the garden last winter, because she and I shared these sacraments: cooking, gardening. She didn't Teach Me How To Bake or anything like that. But she did let me help her the year she broke her wrist and showed up with ingredients for the ones she needed two hands for. I was twelve or thirteen years old. We moved her out of her apartment last year. Packed the whole thing up. I drove the pickup to Binghamton. Now I've got my great-grandfather's green leather chair and most of A.N.'s old baking gear: glass pie pans and aluminum measuring cups and wood-handled spatulas.

Nowhere to go from here. Don't say you're happy it's rainsnowing. Don't say tradition or family or anything like that. This is not the place to mention an overriding fear not so much of death but debilitation. Make the cookies. Check the radar. Make sure you've got enough Saran.

What else to say? This is all from that side of the family where the Boy Scout Law was something like that hand-written copy of the Magna Carta Ross Perot auctioned off last night. I've managed to carve out my own little space up here in NC, but if the weather's from my grandfather, and these cookies are from A.N., so be it. Can't write this down without noting that they -- A.N. and my great-grandmother -- sent my father GMCs when he was in Vietnam. He'd written home, said that was all he wanted. And that's what he got. Victorian goddamn tea party cookies in a war zone in SE Asia.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Holographic Nutcracker.

I don't know what that is, but there was a piece of the box for it blowing around the neighborhood this morning. It seems a little like that's what we've got for weather this week, in fact: There's a 60% chance of pieces of an odd box blowing by.

I once gave the Hot Wheels Car Wash racetrack away to Fred the Diaper Man, who collected toys on his route and did something with them, gave them to needy children, gave them to his church, something. Perhaps he had a room in his own house full of partially used toys and he'd go home after his route and play with them. It doesn't matter. My mother wanted me, I think, to learn how to give things away, wanted me to learn how to part with things. The car wash had never worked right, anyway, had never worked like it did on TV. Still, after he pulled away in his white panel van, I stood in the window and cried. I'd had to talk my mother into letting me give it away. She'd been surprised. I think she was expecting me to give up something else.

That must have been a strange day for her. I wasn't in diapers at the time, incidentally. My brothers were. Twins. Now I'm also remembering special trips to the mall for lunch, for crepes at The Magic Pan. All of this is wrapped up in cold sunny December days. I had to give toys away every Christmas to make room for the new ones. Santa, Fred the Diaper Man, The Magic Pan, my brothers in their tandem stroller, Northlake Mall. We didn't go to Northlake Mall for Santa, though. We went to Perimeter Mall. The Santa at Perimeter was the real Santa, my parents said. But what about the Northlake Santa? He's one of Santa's helpers. But the one at Perimeter Mall, with the short beard, a real beard, trimmed close — he's the real one.

Today I am going through the house and dumping every single Hot Wheels Car Wash that doesn't work right. I need to winnow. The house is too full. It's like we've got a holographic nutcracker in every closet. I may need a panel van to take all of this stuff away. I've got to make room.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Dry Cold.

A winter day like we were inside of something, a shop window, a snowless snow globe. Clear sky pressing down. The sun lower and lower in the southern sky, regretful, almost. Blank. Birds: A blue heron, vultures, a small hawk.

A confession: Though I know better, each time it rains, a small part of me wonders if maybe that was the last time.

On the radio, a man said he'd taken pictures of people covering glaciers in the Alps with thermal blankets to keep them from melting. Canadian scientists are working on ways to wick the fog out of the air in Nepal. Georgia and Alabama and Florida are suing each other over the Chattahoochee.

For the record, then: High 42, Low 28. Breeze. Clear. No rain. For breakfast, a pot of coffee. Lunch: Chicken sub. Dinner: Leftover chili. That's how my grandfather used to do it. Weather, food. I could never have resisted the urge to add something on. Like what's in your pockets at the end of the day. Maybe he had clean, organized pockets. I've got pen caps and receipts from three days ago and crumpled sticky notes and movie ticket vouchers and a burned-out low-voltage twenty-watt xenon bulb.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Jasmine Tea.

The two Januarys I spent in London saw me most afternoons leaving wherever I was to walk home through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens and squint into a low, low northern winter sun, if the sun was out, and tighten down scarf and hat against the kind of wind we're having here today in 27408, a relentless wind out of the north and west that's really dragging itself through the leafless trees and reminding me of the very different sound a winter wind has from a summer one, a kind of naked low scrape and grind that brought me back after the dogwalk to make a pot of what's left of the jasmine tea I bought from a little shop at the intersection of Hogarth Road and Knarlesborough Place in Earl's Court, which is on page 83 of your London A-Z (pronounced "zed"), grids J4 and K4, for those of you scoring at home.

What I loved about those parks was the fact that you could come out of the exhaust and grit and subway smell of the city and within a hundred yards or so it all looked more like some kind of shoebox diorama, an exhibit a few very advanced high school art students had put together: Here is a city we made. Feel free to view it from the park. Everything inside the parks was so green, so much stiller even with the wind, so much calmer. Step out any gate and there are the bookshops again, the take-away sandwich places, the pubs, the tube stations. Step back in, and once more, there's quiet.

The parks made me ache like hell for the dog, though, which in turn made me ache for everything and everyone else. But I'd sip my paper cup of tea and keep walking, keep looking at all the dogs, the swans, the Londoners with their newspapers and omnipresent black umbrellas. Coats better than mine. I'd pull the A-Zed out and try to figure where I was, try to make the correct turns, miss AMR, miss NC, try to figure out a way to take my students back to the Tate Modern one more time, look forward to a pub dinner at the Hansom Cab (83 J3), to a table off in the corner with my book, and stuff my hands in my pockets, love my little three-week vacation from my entire life, head for home.

The front came through in full force. Half an inch of rain. All of that London business? That's what it feels like out there in 27408 today.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Mist, Drizzle.

We've called all the interns in to work a Saturday here at ANYLF, because something is coming out of the sky. I've been sitting here listening to the NOAA radio out of Roanoke just so I can hear the guy work his way back around to saying, This is a Winter Weather Message for the following counties in Virginia. Then he says some counties. Then I want for Guilford to get plucked up off the map and dropped down in the Winter Message area, but I'm going to try not to get too greedy. Let them have their ice. Here, in 27408, something is coming out of the sky.

I'm not going to look this up to verify its accuracy, because I like it too much — I think the way winter weather info goes is: Message, Advisory, Watch, and Warning. I think that is also the way much of my personal life goes.

Last night, at Target, buying AMR some ornaments so she'll have something on the tree that's hers, there was, in a box up over the ornament aisle, something called a Fiber Optic Angel. Friends and fans of weather, that is, of course, the name of my new band.

Items of note from the dogwalk: (a) The words PEACE, LOVE, and JOY in eighteen-inch-tall letters crafted from wadded up tinfoil, propped up at maybe a twenty-degree angle in someone's front yard. Little spotlights. I'd say the wadding is about at the sixth-grade level. Sixth-grade-level wadding. First letter capitalized, the rest lower-case. (b) The green wise man, of previous ANYLF fame, removed from the scene and kneeling instead by the side of the house. So: There's Mary and Joseph, waiting patiently, there are the two wise men, kneeling, reverent, keeping it real, and then there's the third wise man, over around the side of the house, not even looking at what's going on, hanging out with rusting real estate signs and some rakes.

Channel 2 had Eric Chilton out there last night on the Weather Deck, wearing a brown rag sweater and looking intently into the camera and explaining to us with a very fancy forecast map just exactly where the 32-degree line would be in the rain that actually seems to be getting here. I love the Weather Deck. I may have to seriously consider renaming the front porch. Most of all, though, I love when they're so sure about the weather that they're not talking about if or maybe but instead where it will be snow and where it will be rain.

One of the wise men has been exiled. Tour dates for Fiber Optic Angel will be released later this week. Something is coming out of the sky. This is a Winter Weather Message for Guilford County.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Rain Likely.

Done, done and done: Save for a few letters of recommendation I've promised the more promising kids, I am done for the semester. Finished. No more teachers' dirty looks.

And off to The Brightwood, a roadhouse on 70 left over from the days when Elvis was Elvis. Lucille, who works behind the bar, has been behind the bar, she says, since the mid-fifties. Of all things, I'm headed there to meet a former student, to look at a story he's written. I am celebrating the end of the semester, the end of stories, with a story. Here's another: Lucille's house burned sometime in the early nineties. Her savings, in cash, was in the house. She keeps Ziplocs of charred money behind the bar, pieces it together when it's slow. If she can find more than half a bill, the bank gives her a new one.

Front after front has swept through this December with no rain to speak of, but they say -- they always say, but they say -- that this one is the one we earned when we finally gave up, drew straws, cast lots, and dragged a few virgins out to the volcano. Rain likely, it says. Not chance of rain. Rain likely. Tomorrow night. Rainfall possibly over one inch.

My hope is that somewhere down in the bottom of that volcano, one of the virgins is saying, Well, I could finish that story for you if you want me to, but I really think you're supposed to kill me now. I hope she'll say it for a thousand and one nights, and that it will rain for a thousand and one days. Or just one. The semester's over. Rain likely.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Oh, Tannenbaum.

After a long day yesterday — kids who cannot under any circumstance receive As asking for As, kids who cannot under any circumstance receive Cs begging for Cs — I came home under the cloud of a long semester to this:

AMR had, while I was gone, found the tree stand (behind the lawnmower, outside, in our spider and cricket exhibit), gone to the tree lot, bought a tree, lugged it home and into the house, set it up, and decorated it.

A little background, perhaps, is in order: I have a thing about Christmas. Really, I have a thing about all major holidays. Growing up, we had elaborate rituals even for Valentine's Day (you'd sneak away, go get the cards you'd made that day, knock on the closed den door and then dash back around into the den like it wasn't you — cut to surprised parents, Who could that be at the door, Oh look how beautiful, How did you make this all by yourself, We didn't even see you sneak away, etc.). But Christmas was always the big deal. Boxes and labeled boxes of decorations. Album after album of Christmas music (I was always partial to Kenny & Dolly singing I'll Be Home With Bells On to those sick and broken children at the hospital). The house grinding to a full stop for The Grinch, for Charlie Brown, for something involving animated mice ruining and then saving Christmas (they've pissed off Santa, and now have to apologize) and singing You whistle/I'll worry/You something/And I'll plan/We'll do what's necessary, 'cause/Even a miracle needs a hand.

When we'd decorate the tree, it would be this huge deal. We'd have Smorgasbord for dinner that night — tin of sardines, cheese, crackers, pickles, summer sausage, and I want to say tin of oysters, but that seems appalling — and my mother would turn the tree into a kind of high holy ceremony, the glass ornaments up first, then our birth ornaments, which we got to hang — large glass balls with our names and birthdates in cursive glitter. We were to be VERY CAREFUL when hanging these. Then we'd move on to the other ornaments: ones my parents had made when they were too poor to buy any, some felt horses, these soldiers that had toothpicks coming out of their asses that got jabbed down onto gumdrops, a couple of cut-out angels my brothers had made in Sunday School — one looked decidedly drunk, and the other had a pretty clear look of sexual satisfaction on its face. These got substantially funnier as we got older. The whole thing took hours. Hours. We would take a break in the middle.

The first times I can remember really enjoying being alone were at Christmas, when something would be going on elsewhere in the house, and I'd sneak into the living room and sit on the sofa, upholstered in white, not to be sat on in any other circumstance ever, and sit and look at the tree. My dad hung the same string of lights on it ever year, regular colored lights with these clear plastic crystal attachments around them, so that everything got very faceted and magical if one was say, ten years old. Or thirty. The lights would blink on and off and I'd hear my brothers down the hall, my parents cleaning up from dinner, and I would sit alone and think and worry and love nearly everything about the world.

I've only had my own tree one other time — the year I lived on Crestland in the Gingerbread House, a lonely year, but a good one. That little place had a shallow fireplace and the whole house probably didn't have 400 square feet in it and I bought a tree from my neighbor and made ornaments and strung blue and white lights on it and made fires and sat next to all that and sipped whiskey and thought not one bit about how This day in the city of David but rather about my family, about my girlfriend and what to do about all that, about what a sap I was, about the houses up and down the street with those halfassed icicle light strings hanging off their gutters, which is cheating, but which is still lights on the house, so.

I loved that tree.

No trees recently because the girlfriend came with two cats, one named for a palliative technique common to mental health professionals and one named for a day of the week. The cats are — the cats are often a bone of contention in our little life, due in part to my allergies to them and due in part to a kind of general pissiness that I cultivate and tend to leave with and on them because it's easier that way, and I'm not particularly good at being a person. In the years since we've been living together, we'd figured (I'd figured?) a tree was out of the question: easy enough to imagine a cat in flight, a cat perched atop the tree, the tree going down in a rain of needles and ornaments and cat and water and fiasco. No tree, then, I said, and would after that grump around the house in what I thought was a half-joke, but probably wasn't.

We got married this summer. Midway through the ceremony, a bagpiper appeared and played and walked down the center of the aisle and took his place with the groomsmen. My wedding present. A thorough surprise. And last night I come home to a dark house after a long day and week and autumn and open the door and she flicks on the tree lights and the goddamn thing is completely decorated, including even the painted wooden jigsawed name ornaments we got every year with our names on them and whatever year it was — so, a Big Bird with DREW 1985 on its belly, a racecar with DREW 1979 on the door — and she raises a glass and says, Merry Christmas, dear. Would you like some egg nog?

I would. I would like some egg nog.

I sat up last night, alone with the girlfriend who agreed to marry into all of this, that fool, and looked at my tree. She's not a big fan of Christmas, by the way. This, though, is exactly, exactly the kind of thing she does.

It did not rain. But it will.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

In Pursuit.

At the intersection of Cornwallis and Battleground, I stopped in traffic behind a woman driving a green late-nineties Bonneville with IN PURSUIT OF GOD in cursive capitals on the trunk. I'm no theologian, but I think I could work my way around to a pretty firm belief that God could outrun a Pontiac.

Just past the mulch place on 70, there was a man selling flags and collectibles out of a trailer that said FLAGS AND COLLECTIBLES. Much of what seemed to need flying or collecting had to do with automobile racing and secession.

Coffee, dog, roomie, front porch. Last final of the semester. A kid who wrote a nice story. Plus a little Richard Yates thrown in for good measure, to be sure to send them back to their lives a little bit more disconsolate than they were before, which is, I think, the principal purpose of the writing workshop. Go forth and be vaguely sad.

They're saying it and I'm trying to believe it: something may actually be on the breeze, which, for all this insanity, is a little cooler today. There's something in it, something there. They're saying maybe rain tomorrow, maybe showers after midnight tonight. I think I'll probably say up late to see if anything comes along.

The dog spent part of her morning trying to understand a bumblebee. Don't eat the bee, I said. She didn't. She finally decided to lie down a few feet away, refusing to make eye contact with it. That'll show 'em.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Record Heat.

Yesterday they broke the record high temperature by five degrees in Raleigh. We broke it by eleven at PTI. We're twenty-six degrees above normal. I need not report that it is not raining.

Today I was bitten by a mosquito.

At Pete's Grill, the old men at the bar can't believe Michael Vick's sentence is what it is. In a booth behind me, a woman held that 'generosity of spirit' was important to something, but I couldn't hear what, because a man named "Flat Jack" walked in, to the great delight of the old men. A damaged man on crutches came in behind Flat Jack, but he got no greeting. Specials today included both white and pinto beans, yams, mac and cheese, and cabbage. Cornbread pancake, of course.

I've got a spot here at 27244 where I tend to sit in fair weather to hold office hours, but they're running some kind of tractor-tugged leaf-sucking monstrosity back and forth across it right now. There are dudes with blowers blowing the leaves in the general direction of the tractor. Great cloud of leaf dust pluming across the campus, Don Delillo-style.

There are two days of rain in our forecast right now. We're also supposed to give back our twenty-six degrees, and then some. I am having a terribly hard time believing in science this afternoon, though, and Voyager 2's recent discovery that the universe is bent is not really helping matters any.

On the dogwalk I just couldn't quite get past the notion that everything had maybe died: that the temperature was correct, that we'd come through the seasons, but that the trees just hadn't made it, that nothing had leafed back out.

I can't quite tell what it is I need today, except maybe to go back to bed and try again, to sit out in the back yard with the dog, look west, wait for something to pile up on the horizon out there. The vista's gotten better: earlier this fall, the kids who live behind us took down their old freestanding treehouse with axes and a chainsaw. Right before it went down, one of the kids yelled out, Run! Then it went over, nobody got killed, and they started back in on it with the axes, with the saw.

Monday, December 10, 2007


The drought rolls on. It's 76 and headed for more and I'm starting to suspect that our chances of precip for any given day — 10%, 20% — are really more the meteorologists feeling sorry for us than any kind of accurate prediction. It's icing like hell in Wichita and Kansas City, raining in New Mexico and Arizona, raining hard all up the spine of the Appalachians... and here it might as well be late April, a little dry breeze, everybody's radar a little damaged because with weather like this, we ought to be just on the other side of the azaleas blooming. They're predicting that we'll have winter back by the weekend. I'm not as sure.

This time last year it was so warm that the daffodils were already six inches out of the ground. When I lived in Boston, it sleeted on a soccer team I was coaching — in May. My complaint then was the same as now: What I'd like, please, is to have seasonal weather in-season. Yes: A brief day or two of sixty or seventy degrees in January brings a certain kind of giddy hope, but once it starts happening with any kind of regularity, you kind of want to go see somebody, to check things out, have somebody take a look at that, maybe run a few tests. This won't hurt a bit.

Watered the pansies this morning. By hand. Had to, as per city restrictions. Smell of hose water. It is, by any independent measure, astonishingly beautiful today. But I'm wanting for sleet, for ice storms, for snow, and most of all for what Southern winter generally means or meant, which was and is low gray bone-cold rain, chili in a pot on the stove, my high school girlfriend's grandfather's beat-to-hell flannel shirt she gave me, which I still own. Though now that I think about it, I've got all that attached to watching playoff football, or New Year's bowl games. It's only December. Maybe I'm complaining too soon. I'll hold off. That lament for another time, then. It's not raining, so the daffodils probably won't or can't come up yet. For now: I've got Christmas lights on the porch, but they feel entirely out of context. For now: Like the dog this morning, who two steps out the door turned around to look at me like she might have a few questions that needed answering, I'll opt for a kind of general bemusement. 10% chance of lament, though. We'll keep that in the forecast.

Addendum: Here at 27244, with the afternoon light gone a kind of chewy yellow, the grounds crew seems to be planting a tree. A big one. In the ground. Or at least I think they are. That's faith for you. There's a giant hole with a traffic cone in it. Universal signal for 'soon there will be another oak tree, a symbol of learning, somehow, we assure you.'

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Day Off.

For the first time in a long time, I do not have any student stories to mark. I do not have to write a note of any sort explaining why it's my belief, M., that in your story, you may not have the twelve-year-old boy have a heart attack at the hospital doors after sprinting to said hospital to donate one of his kidneys to the thirteen-year-old girl suffering from kidney disease and upon whom he has a crush, only to wake up after the heart attack to discover that (a) she died before the kidney could be donated, (b) his heart had an inoperable hole in it, and thus (c) he's of course undergone heart transplantation surgery and now has within him, yes, the heart of the thirteen-year-old dead girl. About and to whom the opening reverie of the story was dedicated as she, as all thirteen-year-old girls do, swims naked with her boyfriend in the local creek.

From another story: "He stepped into the room like an inexperienced ninja."

I have slept late. I have been to the bookstore. It is 70 degrees outside. Though we are all of us, polar bears first, obviously and totally getting ready to die, I will in this intervening period go outside with my new books (Stewart O'Nan, Jim Shepard) and sit on the porch and read. For pleasure. And of my own choosing.

As soon as Phil stops leafblowing his front yard.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Willow Oak.

Sixty-eight degrees today. Windows down on the way in for a set of Saturday conferences, which was almost enough to mitigate the set of Saturday conferences.

The weather changes plenty of late — it snowed last week, however briefly — but how we get no rain out of what will soon enough be a 50-degree swing, I don't know. I fully and completely understand why Mayans and Incans and Druids and Easter Islanders would have decided the gods were pissed off at them, would have built entire cities oriented toward the solstices, would have dragged enormous rocks from here to there to say, By the way, we stopped by, but you weren't home. Just wanted to say howdy, were wondering if you could maybe make it rain. Here's a giant head we carved.

Spent all day outside, though, with the Willow Oak leaves blowing back and forth across the quad. When I was in elementary school, we'd stand outside at lunchtime in the deep fall and try to catch Willow Oak leaves as they got blown free from a stand of trees I remember being seven thousand feet tall. Their shape — basically an index finger — made them sort of helicopter down in great crisp clouds. Catch the most leaves: you are the champion of Mrs. Swaim's second grade class.

Later that year, Mrs. Swaim fell at Sparkles, the skating rink, and broke her ankle. The ambulance came. We all got to see them load Mrs. Swaim onto the stretcher and into the ambulance. That day was as least as good as the day there was a possum with her babies outside in the trash can, and we all got to see animal control come and get them. At the time, I know they told us they would be released into the forest. Now I feel like maybe that did not happen.

Friday, December 7, 2007

No Rain.

Gray days used to mean rain was in the offing one way or another, and so I'd like to register a kind of general complaint: I am starting to take the drought personally. I still love a good gray day, love how low and heavy and sort of apologetic everything feels, but I'm getting nervous — it's maybe 50 degrees, so it's not cold, not wintry, not really anything. The radar shows various compelling weathers happening to most everybody else all over the country. Here, it's gray. And still. And dry. I kicked some oak leaves around on the way to lunch.

Outside the building: a squirrel, fat for the winter, should winter arrive with any kind of force, licking the top of the iron gate that houses something serious and large and green, something to do with the electricity. I considered coming in and cutting a water bottle in half and filling it and setting it out there — in drought like this, what the hell do the squirrels drink, and where? I keep worrying about how there aren't any cupped leaves with a few tablespoons of water in them anywhere. I mean surely there's some kind of completely straightforward nature show voice-over explanation, like that they walk the half mile down to the pond and drink their fill, but I get worried just the same. Turns gray like this and my money says some kind of internal Darwinian bell goes off inside the squirrel saying Hang on, man, rain's coming, everything will be fine. But it ain't. What's coming is not much. Warmer weather. No rain. Thirsty squirrels.

It's supposed to turn 70 and sunny by Monday and I'll probably find a way to ignore that as a harbinger of a new more fiercely beautiful kind of doom, and instead wax on about one more day in the lawn chairs, a free day, one last glinting example of fall or spring, etc., and for now, I guess, I will love the gray day with the part of me that likes a kind of parentheses, likes a day that basically feels like it did not occur. Maybe, in fact, this isn't anything. Maybe it isn't even weather. This is just the blank canvas. Something else will happen, eventually. I just goddamn wish it would rain.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Pink Pig.

There was a kind of low rumble in the neighborhood this morning, and I sat inside with my coffee, not really worrying about much of anything except my coffee, but that rumble stayed there, stayed there, then got louder, and I figured, hell, just take a look out the window, and it was — the leaf truck! The leaf truck!

Here's the problem: I love an emergency, and I love large yellow machinery, so the leaf truck turning up a week or so early (for its second and final visit of the season) certainly takes us to at least DEFCON 2 or so ("further increase in force readiness, but less than maximum readiness") here at ANYLF world headquarters. Cut, then, to a kind of rake-sprint across my front yard, La Vieja's front yard, and hell, for good measure, a little bit across Phil's front yard, because he's kind enough to mow my side yard when it gets too long for him, and I figured I owed him the favor.

Cold and crisp and blisteringly cloudless and the kind of day one might require for, say, aerial photography, and I'm rakesprinting and suddenly: I am thirteen years old and at some Atlanta Area Boy Scout something — jamboree? exposition? — that was held every year, when we were kids, in and outside of the World Congress Center, in December, I believe, and it was always bitterly cold, like a-hundred-and-thirty-five-degrees-
below-zero cold, and there were two kinds of Scouting exhibitions at this jambosition: the bullshit kind, indoors, and the badass kind, with lashings and whatnot, outdoors. Inside Scouts: worthless. Frigid outdoor Scouts, lashing together ziplines and three-rope bridges and cooking biscuits in cast-iron crock pots? Let's just say that maybe my whole weather-as-competition thing (I used to love to camp in the 33-degree rain, because I thought that was a pretty good way of determining who should live and who should not go camping) started somewhere in this vicinity.

Also: Same time of year: The Pink Pig, a very, very strange holiday tradition on top of the Rich's building in midtown in Atlanta. The Pink Pig is a Pig-shaped roller coaster that somehow equals Christmas. Also very, very cold.

That's what it smelled like out there this morning. Three-rope bridges and The Pink Pig. That kind of winter.

The leaf truck has still not gotten to this side of the street. The dog, overseeing things from the porch, kept looking at me like she knew there was no real emergency.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Lamb Stew.

A deep thick cloud cover to start the day and then: snow. Not of the sort that made me want to find bags of cement to put in the truck bed over the back tires in the hopes I wouldn't go skidding off into the tobacco fields or the parking lots of any of the prefab churches between home and school, but, fans and friends of weather, actual snow, sort of. BBs of snow. Probably several hundred of them, even. At the height of the storm, I could actually hear the snow ticking down on the seven billion sweetgum leaves I'm currently storing on the back patio (Because who knows? I may require them for something).

It is now sunny and nearly 50 degrees, for those of you scoring at home.

One last holdout here at 27244, down at the front right corner of our building: A Japanese Maple gone so red that at first you're not sure what you're looking at. About ten feet tall. Red.

This morning's weather made me want for London, or the version of it, at least, from my two Januarys there, made me want for some tiny pub three blocks off the main road, wood floor and rugs and a coal fire, a lunch of lamb stew and a pint of bitter. Much as I love this place, I seem of late to be wanting other places, too. In an unrelated matter, the timer for the lights on the front of the house seems not to be working, which is good. I need something to obsess about which I also fundamentally misunderstand. Electricity makes the timer work. It must be, then, that the electricity is broken.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Little Clipper.

Which accounts for the cold, the clouds, the prospect of snow in D.C. and maybe snow showers in southern Virginia and yes, of course, the nine-year-old in me wants to wake up tomorrow to three or four inches of snow, but that happens so rarely any more. Used to be the forecast was inherently untrustworthy. We'd go to bed in Atlanta with the news saying six inches, eight, and wake up to sunshine and 50 degrees. Or they'd say rain, maybe a little freezing drizzle, and we'd get the Ice Storm of the Century. Even here in GSO they used to get it wrong, it seems like. It also seems like it used to snow for real here from time to time.

I shouldn't complain. It's unseasonably cool, and we don't get much of that, even. Hat and scarf weather. The dog looking back over her shoulder at me to see if I've noticed that it's chilly.

But my god everything in me could use a snow storm, a free day, a little something unexpected. There was a half-chance of snow in our forecast earlier. Now it's gone. Maybe that's a good sign.

It's winter. We've come through fall and we're into winter. It will, of course, be 70 degrees by the weekend.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Wind Advisory.

The front came through overnight — one one-hundreth of an inch of rain — but left us with what we've got today, a fierce wind out of the north and west at 15-20 mph, with gusts, they say, to 40. Layman's terms? If you spent all weekend piling your leaves at the edge of your yard, as everybody all up and down the dogwalk did, then by now it doesn't matter. Everything's right back where it used to be.

Dogwalk out: Brownie so asleep in her yard, lying in the chill and the sun next to the big oak tree, that for a minute I thought she might be dead. That's Brownie of Brownie & The Colonel fame, a kind of sitcomesque mismatched pair of dogs, a brown mutt (Brownie) and a purebred blue Sheltie that live around the corner behind one of those invisible fences I cannot for any reason bring myself to trust. The Colonel's this little fierce high-pitched matted-down thing. Brownie likes to sleep. Up on a decorative bench, or in the carport, or today, smack out in the middle of the sun, middle of the yard, death-still and barely breathing and, one imagines, as happy as she could ever be.

Dogwalk back: One of the three wise men blown over in somebody's yard, the other two and Mary and Joseph upright and on their tinted plastic knees, waiting for the Big J. I guess the wise man just couldn't take it any more, thought he'd be better off face-down in the grass. Maybe he was just then getting hold of the notion that myrrh is maybe not the best gift to bring to a shower.

Dog with her face into the wind, a nice high trot, bellying through what was left of any pile of leaves she could find, mouth open, tasting the air. Squinting. Dogs love the wind advisory.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Christmas Lights.

Happily overcast most of the day, mid-fifties, the half-scent of something like rain in the air. And rain's actually in the forecast overnight. Light rain, but at this point, I'll take what's offered. Also there's some kind of wind warning for tomorrow, which will mean a long day for the ANYLF staff.

The December Gourmet arrived over the weekend with five or six impossible cookies on the cover, three or four of which I'll probably try on about the fifteenth after I've lost my mind and need some kind of a project. Got the lights up on the house this afternoon, all hung kind of slapdash across the front porch, blue lights around the door in tribute to my grandmother, who has huge blue lights on the front of her house each Christmas. Actual lightbulb-sized blue lights. Growing up, every other Christmas anything I saw anywhere was red and green, or multi-colored. Her lights were always blue and only blue. Blue ornaments on her flocked tree.

I can't get behind the whole actually-divine-son-of-God-in-the-virgin-womb thing, outside of what a genuinely beautiful metaphor some of it can be in the right hands, but I do love Christmas, and just this evening felt myself finally swinging around to it. It was hard getting there this year, but our good friends dropped by this noon with two CDs full of things like Lou Rawls singing White Christmas, Merle Haggard singing some anthem about poverty and how his little girl might not get any presents this year, and the Pogues yelling at each other — an unexpected gift on a gray day and the perfect way to start the season. Lights on the house, then, dog on the porch helping out, the same lights as last year, all carefully put away in the closet and dragged back out once a year, the faulty strands checked light by light, and on top of that I raked the damn yard and blew off the deck: I'm afraid the born-again neighborhood association newsletter people are going to think I'm on their side.

I ain't.

It's a melancholy season, like all good seasons. Happy Xmas to all, and to all a good night.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Season Ends.

Yesterday — November 30 — marked of course the end of the Atlantic Hurricane season. Everybody celebrates or mourns in his or her own way, I guess. Sheet cakes. A quick duck into the bar at TGI Friday's for some appletinis. Somber reflection on the relative water temperatures in given parts of the Gulf of Mexico. Mothballing the planes that fly into the eyes of these things. Putting gingerly away the gridded map available at your local Publix so that you, in the privacy of your thin-skinned home, can track the gods' attempts to wash you clean away.

This ends, then, for now, the live weather remotes with reporters blown sideways and the pop-up radars in the corners of the news and weather channels showing Roberto or Hortence or Felicidad spinning his or her way ashore in Tampa, in Myrtle, in the Yucatan.

If it ever gets cold enough, though, we can replace all that, for the time being, with the weather reporter's ultimate money shot: live from the giant salt pile, snow and ice just starting, stern warnings to motorists to stay off the roads. B-roll of icy interstates. Keep it here for the latest travel conditions, the latest school closings. His Little Ones opens at 10 today. Custodial staff is expected to report to work as normal.

Less Maudlin.

Woke up this morning to a kind of thin high haze and thought oh, hell, once more around, but something shifted over the course of the day, something in the light, I don't know, and it got warmer, and then colder, and now it's the kind of cold that seems to matter, not snow cold, nowhere near, not much of anything, only barely enough for a freeze, but it seems like something, like weather, and I'll take it.

We were in that middle ground, not fall, not winter, not anything. Now we're sliding toward something new.

At least now I know the roses will get hit overnight, the hydrangeas, what's left of the hostas. It's certainly not winter. Not yet. But we have achieved a kind of small shift.

Had the first of the TLK eggnog tonight, a harbinger of something good left out in front of us. Tomorrow the lights up on the front of the house, football I can't quite give a damn about, something big on the grill. Kids in my office this afternoon with real stories. Dog wagging her tail across the comforter. Cats piled up on my goddamn chair.

We'll see.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Flocked Around.

Barry Hannah's "Water Liars," from Airships, opens with the line, "When I am run down and flocked around by the world..." Well. That's how I am today, too. Completely flocked. The drought rolls on, and I guess the good news this week is that the percentage increases in the various severity levels of the drought were smaller this week than last. The drought's still worse this week, but nowhere near as much worse as it was last week, or the week before.

I was in Tennessee. I saw Tennessee. It rained in Tennessee.

The semester draws to a close and I find new ways to disappoint the kids. The dogwalks aren't long or frequent enough. A kind of physical tiredness is settling in, and on top of all of it, I can't shake the feeling that I'm lonely.

Mostly I am just tired, tired. This, too, will pass. Tonight our little college lines up luminaries all over the place. A good percentage of them are plastic. White plastic imitations of white paper bags. We have fake luminaries.

I keep feeling like not only am I not ready for what's next, but that I am not ready in general. That story ends with "We were both crucified by the truth." I love that story. I love most of that book. I am a dragon. America the beautiful, like you will never know.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Other Illumination.

I'm still pretty hyped up about the twilight thing. I like the notion of a few guys sitting around at dusk, holding their hands out in front of their faces, arguing about how dark it is or isn't. This, then, compliments of the U.S. Navy:

"In the morning before the beginning of civil twilight and in the evening after the end of civil twilight, artificial illumination is normally required to carry on ordinary outdoor activities. Complete darkness, however, ends sometime prior to the beginning of morning civil twilight and begins sometime after the end of evening civil twilight."

And this:

"At the beginning or end of nautical twilight, under good atmospheric conditions and in the absence of other illumination, general outlines of ground objects may be distinguishable, but detailed outdoor operations are not possible, and the horizon is indistinct."

I have, all day long today, had some difficulty performing any kind of detailed operations, indoor or outdoor. I raked for maybe twenty minutes. Pulled some of the leaves out of some of the pansy beds. My brother called to report that it's a boy. I'm happy for them, genuinely so, happy they're having a kid and want to have a kid. But I don't know how to be happy about it being one sex or the other, and this feels like a distinct deficiency on my part.

Let's go to the forecast: It's somewhere between cool and cold. It's supposed to stay that way. Some little ripple may or may not be coming through tomorrow, and we may get a little moisture out of that. Keep it tuned right here, then, folks, for the latest updates.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Fleece Hat.

Colder again. Just like that. Watchcap weather. I have this fleece hat this year — this year's hat — that I'm much fond of. It's the yarn monkey hand puppet I can't go to Kroger without. When I was a kid, I had a yarn monkey puppet, named Monkey, who went everywhere with me. Actually, he wasn't named Monkey. He was named Maa The Monkey. My brothers had these squeaky toys, intended originally for dogs, I think. There was a pelican and a purple gorilla. The pelican was named Pelican. The purple gorilla, of course, was named Piver the Moon.

The days are getting so short that I keep missing the evenings. Seems like it just comes on dark and that's it. Christmas lights are going up in the neighborhood. The cold front came through, and on the dogwalk I could see the Pleiades no problem, even in the wash of streetlights.

The dog's limping on her front paw again. It didn't rain enough to quite matter. Thanksgiving was a train wreck. It's basically dark by 5:45. Civil twilight has something to do with the ability to clearly distinguish terrestrial objects. Also the horizon is clearly defined. I miss my brothers. I am not ready for Christmas. I am having trouble finding the horizon. I am having trouble distinguishing terrestrial objects. I am wearing my watch cap indoors.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Much Warmer.

Well, it is. Midnight. Windy. In the sixties. Weather all screwed up. Marchlike. Just thought I'd say so.

Denser Fog.

Dense Fog Advisory. The name of a band if I've ever heard one. We're not so much gray as a kind of filthy white this morning, the sounds of the garbage trucks muted and half-hearted up against the fog and the now-wet leaves everywhere.

The Japanese Magnolia dropped every leaf it had while we were gone.

The weather pattern isn't right yet, but it's closer. There's more rain in the forecast for the end of the week. I don't want to use a word like hope. I have a friend who has a rain barrel system, though, and if we get today and tonight what they say we might get, he'll be in good shape for whatever winter stock he's got in the ground.

Data: The dog is still asleep. Phil's maples are empty. The stubborn apple trees in the back are purpling. The pansy beds are covered over in leaves. I have purchased two new hats. La Vieja's heater kicks on, kicks off. I've got 25 crocus bulbs that still need planting. For today, I'd rather live the kind of life where all I had on front of me was another pot of coffee.

Drizzle, Fog.

Home again, home again. Out of a gray Nashville dressed up right for the occasion, down and off the plateau (only the lasts of the oak leaves left), into sunshine and back over the mountains on 70 through Hot Springs, where we ate a kind of desperately needed charmed lunch — outdoors in November in the NC mountains — at the Paddler's Pub, then south and east through Asheville and back onto the Piedmont (we've still got the dregs of the maples in places) and a welcome mix of fog and rain and that cold still winter wet that makes me feel so much more at home, in every sense of that word.

Coming through the mountains the clouds were piling up on the sides of the slopes, skittering across, breaking up and coming back together. Long lines of geese in Tennessee. Hawks. Vultures. Crows flying with and against traffic. Weather coming in.

And everyone's back home now and through their own doors, bolts thrown behind them and deep breaths and scotch and coffee and dog walks and books on the shelves where you put them, where you intend for them to be. My pronouns have gone to hell here, but so be it. I know what this home thing looks like, what it's supposed to be, what's needed, what's gained. I know it better than anyone, or at least as well. But how, then, to reconcile this up against a non-negotiable demand I've got lodged in my skull that my family come back to Nashville or Atlanta once or twice a year and box all that up and drop back into the roles that we're supposed to remember, say the words we're supposed to know back to front?

And let's say one has a kid. Expand one's family: My mother's new favorite hopeful euphemism of choice. Let's say one has two, or three. One raises these spawn the best one knows how: don't shake the baby, don't pour scalding water on the baby, don't instill some set of disastrous complexes (social anxiety, nervousness, inadequacy, general shittiness) in the kid. Tell the kid her Science Fair project is good enough, for god's sake, even when it's not. Baking soda and vinegar. Gravity. Beans in a cup in the dark. These things can be tested, proven. Mainly. But let's say one does this, raises a family, gets it all somehow to hold together without death or pestilence or famine. Get them to where they can dress and feed themselves, get them finally out of the house.

What if they don't come back? Or: What if, when they come back, they're all completely damaged anyway?

Sweet potatoes. Onions in cream sauce. Turkey. And on Saturday night, as always, the roast beast. Whiskey. Wine. Coffee.

All that maybe and probably for the last time. That way, anyway. That's what's got me half-miserable right now.

But: Drizzle. Fog. I remember this. The drought's not broken, isn't going to be any time soon. But I think I remember this weather. Something about this, goddammit, looks familiar.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Snow Flurries.

And I only mention it because I sometimes worry we could go all winter in Greensboro without seeing any. It used to snow. Seven or eight years ago we got more than eight inches twice in two weeks. Haven't seen anything like that since. Here on the plateau it's 35 and flurrying. Back in 27408 the .19 inches of rain was all we got out of a system that dumped 2 inches on Atlanta. They needed it more than we did, though, so.

Celebrated Thanksgiving by slowly but surely cracking the fragile detente we'd glued onto the side of our lives. Our positions, newly staked out: Some of us simply do not much like others of us. With that firmly established, then, let's hold hands and sing songs and make construction-paper turkeys and celebrate the New World.

I think I know what happened in those early colonies like Jamestown where the people just plain dropped off the face of the earth. They had at least one too many dinners together. And, just like that, I'm now I'm an anthropologist. Anybody needing any additional expertise should please take a number and wait patiently. I will get to you as soon as I can.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving Day.

Nine hours yesterday across the mountains and up onto the Cumberland Plateau and Nashville, TN for Thanksgiving with the family for what's probably the last time— new babies and aging patriarchs will probably get you every time, no? Last night, a real and honest thunderstorm. Close-striking lightning, the dog at full alarm, and then a free-fall down out of the seventies overnight and this morning we're gray, fog, and 43. Here's hoping that front and that rain make it fully through to Greensboro. PTI only shows two tenths so far.

Part of me hates that drive— the eighteen-wheelers banging by, the families all packed into their minivans headed through Hickory and Newport and Sevierville, the way when we hit the power plant steaming away west of Knoxville we've still got two hours to go, still haven't even made it to Cookeville. Part of me's the kid again, though, headed back to the house on Foxhall they don't own any more, the island in the center of that cul-de-sac with the Bradford pears as touchdown markers, the street Adam whatever-his-name-was' mom taught me to ride a bicycle on, the creek and woods down the back of that neighborhood. All of it's too easy and too homespun. But part of me might be too easy and too homespun.

I'm caught squarely between hating whatever all this has become and is becoming, and loving what I thought it used to be so fiercely that I might be able to wink it back into being. Like if I just squeezed hard enough, this shit would somehow snap back into focus. Like I'm sitting in the optometrist's chair, and that grassy hill with the goddamn red barn floating a half-inch off the ground is there, and everybody wants to know is it clearer like this, or like this? This, or this?

Is there no more scientific way for those people to go about their business? If I knew what was wrong with my eyes, I'd fix them myself. The orthopedic surgeon doesn't ask you if you like your broken wrist set better this way, or this way. That whole thing at the eye doctor has always bothered me. It's an outrage. It all is.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Dense Fog.

At least that's what we had at 7 a.m., when the dog asked to go out. Things were a little less dense later on, but still gray and excellent and heavy and slightly colder than I'd been expecting. The sun burned through by 10:30 or so, and the drive in to work on 70 was almost crystalline, a thin gauze left in the trees from the fog and the low sun hanging in the southern sky throwing a kind of deeper orange on everything, which was already orange to begin with. The sky went white at the horizons.

I guess I should say that this entire exercise is a kind of homage to my grandfather, who for years kept a journal of what the high and low temperature that day had been, what the weather conditions were, what he'd had to eat. At Thanksgiving or Christmas some debate would bubble up about what we'd had for lunch three years ago, or what wine he'd served with the turkey last time, and he'd go straight to the archives, one or another little red or brown day planner about the size of a checkbook, and there, in his penciled capitals, would be the answer. A Willamette Valley Pinot. Barbecue from Whitt's. Tomato aspic. Rain on Thanksgiving. Clear and cold the Friday after.

I don't know if he keeps that journal any more.

The stands of hardwoods are starting to go gray, that brittle winter shade that hangs on through March and into April, long after I'm ready for things to green back up again. And it's been months since I've seen the retarded man at the end of his driveway there in Sedalia waving at passing cars. I'm worried something happened to him, worried he may have died, or worse, that they had to put him somewhere. We go to Nashville tomorrow. Everything is stacked on top of everything else.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Morning Storm.

A small one. Tiny. Not in the forecast. A few rumbles off to the northwest, the dog panting, nervous, up in the bed, and then what would have been a very nice little early June storm, if it had been early June. No progress yet on the rain gauge front, but it's not wet under the Chinese Firs, so we can't have gotten more than about a tenth of an inch. Enough, though, to dampen the flowers, and with the excellent High Point soil, that'll hold for a day or so.

Outside, then, to work on the novel— this is meant to get me stretched out and ready each morning, not to do whatever it's doing to me now, which is leaving me sitting here trying to find something else to say about the weather. We're supposed to get most versions of it this week, they say, so that's encouraging, and it's beautiful out my window right now, clouds burning off and a pale blue sky building back in behind. Hi ho, then.

I left the windows down in the truck overnight.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Not Cold.

Not anything, really. Not much breeze and slightly warmer than it is in the house, so: windows open. But none of the celebration that normally attends such a thing. I don't know what it is. Maybe the sleet ruined me. Made me too ready for whatever it is that's next.

Tonight I'm cooking and freezing chili for 10, to take to Nashville on Wednesday. The pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving is over, and now we hang on against the prospect of actual Thanksgiving. I'll avoid forecast jokes for now. I've got it idealized, of course, which is the whiskey-soaked Norman Rockwell in me, but I remember it as something astonishing, somewhere safe, a warm house smelling of sandwiches and awful coffee, the lighting different than anywhere I'd ever been, definitively my grandmother's house, all those odd angles and half-corners— my family the way I still can't break myself of thinking of it.

And now we're all married and not ourselves anymore, at least not the selves we were. Which of course and etcetera, but still.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Big Bird.

A sixteen-pounder. Tonight is a return to an old friend: the Pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving. I'd had intentions of grilling it, but (a) it was too tall for the grill, and (b) I started too late to get it done in time.

So. Inside the oven, it's 450 degrees, as per this excellent Gourmet recommendation. Outside, it's gray, low sky dropping down on the backyard, the back end of fall, the oaks turning now that the maples have finished. It's 54 degrees and headed for 35 overnight.

Our house will not hold the number of people we've invited. It's pot luck, but we didn't tell anybody what to bring. I have to go add water to the roasting pan to keep from filling the house with smoke. Thanksgiving's always been my favorite holiday.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Gimp Paw.

In the course of the morning show — massive stretching, sneezing, snarfling, small and big barks, bouncing, sharp expulsions of air — the dog gimps up her paw. Nothing serious, no cries, no whines, but the scared face and a nice heavy limp. Great way to start the day. So we solve it the only way we know how: dog walk.

And once we're out in the wind and the cold (it hovered right around freezing last night; this morning we've got sharp winter sun and low forties and a fairly serious breeze out of the NNW) she's fine, she's her old self, digging with all four feet in the leaves and grass and mulch. She likes to squint into the sun and wind and pant and taste what's coming in. Pretty sure I'd like that, too.

Down the street is what I hope is not an eviction: Bags of clothes and boxes and boxes full of coat hangers. A ruined blue plastic rocking horse. A few other boxes. It all got rained on yesterday. And on the way to work: A building going up, and out front of it several palettes of drywall, also rained on yesterday. Everybody always a half-step away from disaster.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Live Update.

It sleeted. For two bursts of fifteen seconds, but still: five minutes ago, at 9:54 a.m., it sleeted here in 27408. There is ice on my front porch.

PTI is reporting almost a half an inch of rain out of this storm, which leads me to this: I'm probably going to have to buy a rain gauge. I love the airport and all, but we do not live on Runway Three. It turns out that if I'm going to do this, I'm going to need to be able to report live from the flowerbed, live from the patio, live from the cracked adirondack chairs. You people deserve nothing less. You hunger for accuracy in all things. Exactness. I'm worried that only divorcees and ham radio operators and scoutmasters have rain gauges, but I'm willing, in the name of science, to take my chances.

It's 49 degrees on the screen porch. It's no longer sleeting. There's a light mist. This is as warm as it's supposed to get all day. Tasks for the day, then: Baby the truck into work (starter, alternator). Survive the afternoon. Survive my late-day meeting. Baby the truck back home. Engage in extraordinary and far-reaching rain gauge internet research. I will have the rain gauge to end all rain gauges. I will have the Official Rain Gauge of the 2008 Olympic Games. Or I could just go look in the bottom of the coffee mug I accidentally left outside six weeks ago.

Still vaguely sad. Still vaguely worried. Slept like hell. But it sleeted. Back to you in the studio, Jim.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

To Do.

We did get rain, but only for show. Still: The forecast is calling for specific amounts for tonight and tomorrow, plus a good long day of temps falling off down through the fifties and forties all afternoon, so I can't quite complain.

An invasion today of box elder bugs, in the hundreds, on the south-facing wall of the house, which my vast amount of research suggests is normal. Also several hundred tulip and daffodil bulbs installed in strategic front yard locations. Plus six flats of pansies.

I'm tired, and there's something like sadness creeping in around the edges. Dirt under the fingernails helps to some degree. Red Garland's albums, newly discovered. Ice in a glass tonight and a mug in my hand tomorrow morning. The dog on the porch giving the mailman the thorough business. More pansies still to plant, more bulbs to trench in.

This morning, Phil's trees next door had turned so red that they changed the color of light coming in this side of the house.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Light Rain.

The weather said so. I can't confirm it because I'm at work, but just to see those two little words pop up over there on the weather thing gives me the happiness. And more in the forecast for tomorrow evening. An embarrassment of riches.

Outside here at 27244 it's dusk, a little damp, and spitting some — but not enough of any of it to keep me from student conferences in the lawn chairs, under, oddly, the only other Chinese Fir I've ever seen. Cool and gray and dark at 5:10. Acorns are falling and bouncing off the sidewalks, and a squirrel leapt off the roof of Whitley and fell three stories, tail helicoptering out behind it, crash-down into a bush. Then it walked out like nothing had happened at all, like it had done the whole thing on purpose. What, that? I meant to do that. I do that all the time.

Monday, November 12, 2007

High Clouds.

Gray morning, rain out east and a little more back behind to the north and west, but nothing for us. Warmer. That winter crispness is out of the air, and a kind of thick early fall has set back in. I can't quite say it's humid, but it's different. Which is what counts for weather these days. A kind of beauty attends to it all the same.

We spend most of fall swinging between September and December. What I need now, I think, is the three days of 42-degree rain. I want to plant bulbs all day long in the frigid mud and then come inside and make too much chili. I could use a little fog. Or sleet. I'm about ready for that.

Inside, Outside.


Pulled the half-frozen impatiens out, cut the mums way back, dug out the flowerbed, put 3 1/2 flats of pansies in across the front. The highschool kids across the street fronted at each other in their giant jeans and badass minivans. And here's me, Joe Driveway, glaring at them. But I remember what fifteen looks like. It looks like that. Good luck to them. It's hard enough.


Dinner with friends — white lasagna and a pear salad and overlong conversation about real estate values (my fault). Then back outside to sit by a fire pit and bitch and whine at each other about where the logs ought to be to burn better or brighter. Cold enough for the fire. Plain and good and simple.

Was I wanting for this at fifteen? I hope so, sort of.

Warmer this week, then rain by the weekend. Rain's always a week off.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Sale Pansies.

Five (more) flats. Plus another bag of bulbs, 40 tulips this time. I'm a sucker. And a specific kind of fool. When Tita and I were first working out our finances, she wanted to split everything. Not the landscaping budget, I said. You do not understand the landscaping budget. The landscaping budget, is, of course, also the mental health budget. This she understood. She just did not quite understand how much was required for head cases around here.

One year I spent $300 on dirt that only costs $20 per ton.

Dog in the truck, light getting low and long, brand new hooded sweatshirt. This might be my first and only hooded sweatshirt. I fear I look like a dumbass in it. Still. Thanksgiving's coming. The solstice is coming. The leaves keep piling higher along the curbs.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Mockingbirds, Clouds.

Both the same color, for starters. On the docket this morning: Two mockingbirds down and out of a magnolia and chasing each other — and the dog, a little bit. Flight confuses the living hell out of me. Also: A man in his eighties doing laps around the cul-de-sac down at the 600s end of Elam. Hunched hard over, shuffling, looking like it hurt him. But taking his laps around the circle all the same. And a green and silver heating oil truck banging through the neighborhood.

There's something out west, something darkening, even though there's nothing in the forecast. I cheated and looked at the radar and there's a blob of what might be light rain that might get us. If it's even raining, that is, and not some trick of the radar, not something evaporating before it hits the ground. We could use it. We could always use it.

Down on that far end of our street it's a little bit more like being in the woods. The dog sniffed every leaf in every yard. Took us half an hour to go a quarter-mile. And so long as I'm listing: Carolina wrens, hawk, crows, jays. The usual suspects.

Thursday, November 8, 2007


There was a freeze warning up for Raleigh and down east and upstate SC last night, but not for us, though we've gone below freezing both nights. Just not enough, I guess. This morning we've got high gray clouds and no real breeze to speak of and maybe 40 degrees. Between last night and the night before there's been a kind of drive-by effect: some plants down to whatever shade of frost/freeze we've had, some not. I'm still holding out for one last rose bloom out back on the bush my mother gave us. The last living morning glory is still, well, living.

I love the cold.

Down the street the house that went up for auction last winter has a new sitting garden over to one side: mowed grass, ornamental grass, a Japanese maple, an iron bench. The bench is set up directly in front of the A/C, facing it. So you can sit there in all the beauty and view the compressor. There's a little flagstone path leading to the bench. It's not just some place they're keeping the thing. Somebody wants to sit right there.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Dog Walk.

First of the new morning dog walks: Hat-cold. The cannas are going purple-black, the oaks on Fernwood are just starting to turn, and the acorns are getting crushed into a flour over on Timber. Acorns under tires or heels is I think a pretty good sound. The neighborhood gets a little ugly in the winter, but I don't mind. There's something interesting about the spareness, the sparseness, all these plain box ranches huddled down onto the browning lawns. The neighborhood feels more its age then, somehow. We're not there yet, but it's coming.

Something I love about Greensboro: The leaf trucks, the guys walking behind the leaf trucks with the gaping vacuum hose, the piles of leaves that hunch up on the curbs from now until the first of the year. I'm sure most everybody else in every other town has leaf trucks, too, but we didn't in Atlanta, and so it's still a novelty to me, even after ten years, still another new kind of big yellow work truck coming down the street making a shit-ton of noise. And the dog likes nothing better than to wade chest-deep into pile after pile after pile of dogwood and pin oak.

This afternoon, then: maybe some raking. The Chinese Firs are starting to cover over the lawn. They throw off great huge chunks of their —leaves? needles? twigs? branches? — for about the next four months. Kind of a pain in the ass, but a good excuse to drag down my grandfather's giant rake and try suburban life on for size one more time.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Cold Front.

Another cold front through and no rain. Well, not entirely true: The airport reported a whole hundredth of an inch at 3 in the morning. So I took the dog and my coffee out front to water the pansies first thing. Hand-water, that is, as per the ongoing GSO restrictions that probably ought to go permanent.

It nearly smells like winter out there. Southern winter — not real winter — but it smells like Thanksgiving in Nashville. Or warm January. Or something. The leaves are coming down all over. Our dusty drought-resultant fall continues. Like a special set of paint chips: Drought. Earth tones, sort of.

Last night I got a little hopeful: a big comma of thunderstorms hung itself across the west side of the Appalachians and back through Tennessee. All we get out of it, though, is fire warnings. And perhaps a frost. Only you can prevent forest fires. Safety first. Look alive out there, people.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Weather Report.

Eastern Standard Time. Dark so damn early. Winter on its way back in. The leaves in La Vieja's maple next door almost down. Leaves on the forsythia out back going purple. Blue sky like the Mountain West. No rain. Dog in the dry lakebed on Saturday afternoon. Dog full of fetid mud not too long after. Orion wheeling east late last night. Half the pansies in the ground. Half still to go. Impatiens hanging on until the freeze later this week.

I remember the thing I used to like best in the world was my dad's old NOAA weather radio, a faux-wood cube about four inches on a side. That used to be a real person in there. Now they've got it computerized, like all else.

Maybe showers tonight. Maybe tomorrow. We'll see.