Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sunny NYC.

In Manhattan, even when it's sunny, it isn't. It's like the weather is happening fifty floors up or so, but not down here on the street. Cold, though. Wind. And at night, with the— if you'll excuse the easy reach— city lights on and up all over the place, it's beautiful, otherworldly, even as it's nothing more so than this-worldly, nothing more so than of exactly this place, only this place. Flying in yesterday I realized once more how big the country is, how strange a thing is a map of any kind, how odd to make whatever it is they've made here of an island.

They flew me in to read. I did that. Now my time's my own, and I intend to spend it tomorrow walking the streets, maybe walking the parks, trying to see what there is to see. I have two pairs of boots along for this ride: the ones I've got on now, for this weather, and the ones still in my bag, for the weather I'm hoping for, which is anything inclement that might fall on us here in the city. Weather. Gimme some.

The fancies say rain and ice for 27408. Raise a toast for ANYLF back home, please.

In the lobby of the Sheraton NY, what appears to be several flight crews from United Arab Emirates Air Lines are waiting to check out. Tan suits. Red berets. White somethings— headscarves?

A developing situation: Turns out I missed city as much as anything except AMR herself while she was gone to London. Here, in the subways and cabs, walking block after block, I get a sure notion that while I can't live here, or anywhere like it, I could come more often. Something else, something other. That said, though, the novel's done, and it surely takes place nowhere like here, and nothing I can imagine laying myself into next could take place here or anywhere like here. Turns out, NYC is a nice place to visit. But I do look forward to just the way the air looks back home, the space, the sky. So odd to be here. So good. So different. So ready to come back home.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Rain Dance.

There's a line of storms and heavy rain back behind the Appalachians, so here's hoping that can hold itself together well enough to make it here. The ground directly under the Chinese Firs has gone dusty again, the kind of indicator I look for in the summer and fall, but not now. Rain, please. And can I get you anything else with that? No, thank you. Just the rain will be fine.

The fancies want to clear it off tomorrow, then give us another shot Thursday and Friday. Still: By then it will be February, and even if we get the top end of what they want to give us tonight and Thursday, we'll be at least an inch and a half under for January alone. Never mind the ongoing D-4 drought left over from last year. This is this year. Same drought. New year. You have to wonder how much longer we can get by getting half of what we're supposed to get. And this: half doesn't even seem so bad. Toward the end of last year it seemed like we were lucky some months to get any rain at all.

I'm ready to do whatever it is that's needed to appease the gods. If everyone could please bring one goat to the village square, we could have a festival: face painting, the moon bounce, a few sacrifices here and there. The game where you toss rings into the field of coke bottles, and if you win, you get the five-foot-tall stuffed bird for your girlfriend. Guess your height and weight. Guess your birthday. We're gonna need one of those things that whips you way up into the air in a steel cage. We're gonna need some bumper cars. Some bleachers so the kids have somewhere to make out. A funnel cake stand. Or elephant ears, depending on where you grew up. We are going to make it rain, people. We have got to figure out some way to make it rain.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Yard Signs.

The ChemLawn truck banging through the neighborhood got me thinking of growing up in Tucker, Georgia, on Goodfellows Road, and all the ChemLawn signs all up and down our street, little badges signifying no weeds and lush grass and, even more importantly, an advertisement for being able to afford a little more. Not quite a yard service, ChemLawn. You're still mowing your own. But you've got people to stop by every now and then to do things to it, green it up, shock it into a state of near-perfection that your neighbor, sadly, cannot quite achieve, what with his lawn un-Chemed and all.

And you got two signs, of course: there was the regular ChemLawn sign that stayed in the yard, up by a tree somewhere, and then there was the one they'd leave after a treatment, down in front, by the curb, the one warning kids not to play in the grass until it was dry. Or even, if I'm remembering right, until a certain date.

That people would even these days call a company called ChemLawn blows my mind a little bit.

We had it for a while there on Goodfellows Road. ChemLawn. I remember an argument about it, my dad holding a position against spending the extra money, my mom advocating for things to be pretty. She won. We got the little signs. I don't remember the grass being any different one way or the other.

If it doesn't rain at some point, it's not going to matter how many signs my neighbors pay ChemLawn to stick in their yard. Cool today. Certainly not cold. And dry. Sky a whiteish blue. They want to give us a pretty good shot at some rain tomorrow night. I want to give us that, too. My yard's starting to look a little rough around the edges, and we cannot have that.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Long Range.

Excellent dogwalk weather: sunny, a little breeze, right around 50 degrees. Still chilly enough to believe it's January; enough in the sun, though, to believe that soon enough it might not be. I'm not saying I'm done with winter. Bring back the wintry mix. But. However. Etc. A quick tour of the front yard shows daffodils starting up even in the places where I'm sure it's the new batch, the one that ought to know which season it's supposed to be, the one that knows where we're headed. The old daffodils sometimes come up at odd times, sometimes don't bloom. These new ones ought to have their clocks pretty well dialed in. Which means. I'm just saying. We've still got long February and longer March out in front of us. But it's excellent dogwalk weather. That's all.

I'd like here also, if it please the court, to log another in my ongoing series of complaints about the rain. Yes, it's dogwalk weather. We've covered that. But I'll give it all back for some rain.

Sunday afternoon. I'm getting a little whiff of that old feeling, the one we hone in middle school and high school, that old dread of Monday. I've still got two Mondays left before I've got any right or reason to dread, but I can feel it in my spine, in my heels, a low rumble in the back of my head. This long easy pause is getting ready to shut itself down. And even then I've got no real right to moan about it. But still. Monday. Monday's coming. Mondays are coming. With it, though, with them, maybe rain. Maybe, after that, spring. Maybe first a little more wintry mix. We could take a little wintry mix, you know. Doesn't have to be so bad.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Carolina Wrens.

A strange day, sharp and cold all morning and afternoon but warmer now, clouding over for the third or fourth time today, the birds busy right here at dusk. Carolina wrens all in the Japanese magnolia out front. They're non-migratory, it turns out, which means that the pair that makes a nest in our mailbox each year hangs out each fall to watch us take it apart, schemes all winter about when they'll put it back. We hang a big sign on the mailbox each year: WRENS NESTING. PLEASE LEAVE MAIL IN SHOEBOX. We leave a shoebox out there. I'd thought all along that was our pair of wrens. But by my count we have three more nests alone in the magnolia, all three the same shape and size, and one of which home to at least one Carolina wren. So.

One thing about this sort of winter that I will confess gets up under my skin some is that if it's going to be this cold, or cool—it's not really cold out there any more today—I'd like it to go on and sleet or snow or at the very least rain. Give us something to huddle up against. An excuse for parsnips and potatoes and another reason to walk the rooms and wish for a fireplace. Another pot of coffee, another cup of tea, a wee dram. Gird. Gird is a good word. I'd like to have to gird against things. Batten down the hatches. Stock the smithy. Bank the coals.

Oh, hell, they vote in South Carolina today. May they do so early and often. I've made a terrible, terrible mistake. I've gotten hopeful. I've gotten excited. So much easier to go to bed and get back up without something as onerous as that hanging around the margins. Not to worry, though. I'll get all that squashed soon enough, either this week or next. The weather down there in SC this morning said sleet, which means they've gotten to gird all damn day long. The state bird of South Carolina, for those of you scoring at home, is the Carolina wren.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Solve For.

One more drive to Raleigh: ducks, small hawks strung across a phone wire, and, at the airport, a sunset. I don't know precisely where my life has been of late, inside of what rooms in the late evenings, but I literally stood there at row 2CC atop the parking deck and looked out west and thought, Oh, right, the sunset. It was a fine one. Not good or great. Entirely passable. Fine. Reddish, of course, and some clouds banked up underneath it, and huge, since as best I can gather RDU is up on what counts for a hill or plateau out east there. All I could see was the sunset. A fine example of a sunset.

Cold, still. And dry. AMR returns bearing fancy coffee, fancy scotch, her fancy self. The dog put on a worthy show. The cats took up immediate residence in the luggage. Easy enough to settle back down into those weather patterns, then, and happily so. The old rhythms of someone else in the house picking things up, putting things back down. Cabinet doors opening and closing. Sound of the shower curtain rings.

Mrs. Newell in 12th-grade calculus was always going on about these curves, these asymptotic curves, that would come right down out of the sky and curve around and almost touch the x-axis, would as they ran out toward the end of the board and well beyond, like into the next room and out the front of the school, come infinitely close to the x-axis, but would never actually ever touch the x-axis. Flip the equation and it's the y-axis. The problem with me in those classes was that I never for one second bought that shit at all. Like the old brain freeze where if you keep walking halfway to a wall, and halfway again, how you'll never get there. Half, and half, and half. You'll get infinitely close, but you'll never get there. For me and my kind, I figured, Hell yes, you'll get there. Hell yes, that damn curve will eventually touch the axis. I was a big hit in math class.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

High Pressure.

We traded low pressure for high — no rain, but a brisk wind out of the west that's knocking the tops of the trees around pretty thoroughly. And it feels like we're headed back in the direction of some good cold weather. Back and forth. We go back and forth. My lone complaint: not enough rain comes out of these swings. We're pretty well behind already. Again. Still.

To do list, before AMR returns tomorrow: Try to mitigate some of the squalor around here. Laundry. Dishes. Vacuum. I have maybe let things go a little bit.

We keep starting off with these heavy fogs each morning, and then burn those off into whatever it is that's setting up now, bright sky and low pieces of broken cloud scuttering along. It sounds like winter out there. The roof is groaning some, trying to lean back into the wind. The occasional limb comes down. The neighborhood dogs bark and whine.

April's a good month. Trees bloom and leaf out. This period in between — January into February — that's why winter jasmine, that's why crocus, that's why the clusters of blue fruit on La Vieja's trash elderberries. Little ways to measure. In March we'll get thunderstorms. If we're lucky. For now, these smaller items. The sun seems to be maybe a degree higher up off the horizon than I remember it being last week. It's cold out there. Every time I check the garden, the daffodils are a little bit further out of the ground.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Weather Pattern.

It's not warm out there, and it's not cloudless — it's not a lot of things — but it is the kind of day that threatens spring, eventually. And here we are only in January. It seems to be threatening other things, too: around the corner a man parked his car in someone's yard, got out, jogged to the front door, knelt down, and called in through the mail slot, Mr. Haynes, are you OK? Then the door opened. Whoever it was at the door seemed fine. No way to tell if that was Mr. Haynes or not. The man went inside. There was a dog, too. The door closed again.

This evening I'm going pen shopping. Made it to the end of another draft of the book, the product, in part, of this month-long one-man semi-ascetic writer's colony I've been trying in AMR's absence. I feel mildly damaged, run over, run down, run through— there's a kind of exhaustion here, today, printing day, that I'm not too familiar with. The book's not done — hence the need for pens, new pens, fancy good pens, to crib into the margins notes on all my mistakes and missteps and dumbasseries — but I've come to the end of another part of the making of it, and I'm weary. Sore. And just in time to go back to work, other work, school work. But also just in time for AMR to maybe try out living here again for a little while.

What I think I like best about the weather is that it just keeps coming, for the most part. That's what annihilates me in August, in fact, after it's turned hot and flat and bone dry and everything seems to be on the verge of burning off to ash — then it seems like it's not coming at us at all, not in any kind of motion. It seems to have pulled up to the curb and just stopped. But I'll have plenty of time to work on that in August. For now, the days keep pushing through, which is good, and we get mornings like this morning, the birds at work on their various projects and the cats on the screen porch in celebration of a little sunshine and me with the dog in the open front door, checking to see what's going on, thinking, There might be a little heat in that sun. Make good eye contact with the dog, nod towards the leash, see what she thinks we might ought to do next.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Slow Thaw.

It's cold out there, good and, but it's not the bone-cold of the past couple days. It's good coffee weather. Stand on the porch with a mug of coffee and think to yourself, Is the mailman walking through my garden right there? Because he could be. The bulbs are only barely starting to come up. It wouldn't in any malicious way be his fault. Should I set up some kind of string around it? Like a little roped-off area? Should I hang up a sign? Or should I just wait in my house like some kind of maniac, some sort of sniper, blinds just open enough to peek through, and watch him to see where he walks?

Sometimes, in answer to some of the above, no. I've seen him walk the long way around. He's a pretty good guy, puts up with the dog's fierce and abiding and well-accomplished dislike of him with good humor. But what about other times? What about when we have substitute mailmen? The substitute mailmen make me nervous.

See-your-breath cold. Camping cold. Makes me want for boiling water and a pouch of reconstitutable dehydrated eggs.

It's gray. A half-version of sunlight snakes through every now and then. Darker out west. Streets wet, driveway wet, ground wet. Sound of the trash truck tires on the wet pavement. Sound of the snow and ice just starting to melt out of the gutters. There's a pinkness to the sky. A kind of wash of something that's nearly color. A flush, a bruise. A spill. The crows and jays have something to say about it. It was in the sixties and seventies right before AMR left, the weather all damaged, and out in the middle of the back yard, right where she left it, there's a lone chair pointing to where the afternoon sun sits.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Seasonably Cold.

What snow there is left in the yards makes a map of the shady places, of the northern sides of trees and shrubs and whatever all else is out there: recycling bins, tricycles, failed water heaters. The sun keeps holding low to the south. It's supposed to. It's January. I'm just saying.

They're wanting for us to have maybe one more shot of this tomorrow morning— a little freezing rain, a little freezing mist and fog. One more Winter Weather Advisory. Those folks in Blacksburg and Raleigh are sure as shit earning their pay this week. The advisories always begin this way: "URGENT - WINTER WEATHER MESSAGE." I think the NWS ought to hire out a late-1970s wood-paneled station wagon and hook a loudspeaker to the roof and just drive up and down the streets shouting out urgent winter weather messages. My friends Jason and Joni Podarez had one. Station wagon, that is. Their parents did. Brown-on-brown. Rear seat facing backwards. A Caprice. Their parents were named Jan and Jon. There was a baby. Some other J— Jean or Jackie or something like that. We played baseball in their back yard a lot. Metal bat, tennis ball. You could hit it forever. Joni was a lefty. I remember that, remember her standing all on the wrong side of the plate when it was her turn at bat.

It's so cold the cat water on the screen porch has been frozen for days. So cold the pansies look sauteed. So cold the front porch is making creaks and groans I've never heard before when I walk across it. So cold I went out there last night at midnight to feel how cold it was. It was cold.

Best guess is we hit 13 last night. Headed back down to 20 tonight. But it'll be 45 on Wednesday. A heat wave. That kind of weather's going to make me want to head out into the back yard, knock the ball around a little bit. Hit pop flies.

All this is refreshing, actually. Interesting. Winter. Right. I remember this, I think.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Tiny Fire.

It's blisteringly cold out there, a two-hat dogwalk, cloudless, sky the same color blue all the way down to the edges. The squirrels are screaming at each other, the crows are down in the yards, and, inexplicably, there are seagulls working their way through the skies here in 27408. The light off their white underbellies was so bright that when I saw the first one I thought it was a plane.

The crazy man down the street was out, wearing layers: boxers over the top of his sweatpants. He was leaning on his recycling bin and talking to a guy who was loading cases of Apple Jacks into the back of a minivan. Two houses down, there was an open house— balloons on the corner, balloons in the yard, color brochure explaining all about the square footage and the hardwoods and the school district. Turnout looked a little shoddy.

In smoke-'em-if-you-got-'em news, everybody in the neighborhood is burning fires, me included, if accidentally: the big heater out back burned its plug this morning, and in an odd coincidence, I was actually writing about an electrical fire at the time, trying to get down just how one would smell. Acrid does not quite do it justice. Light a pile of hair and saran wrap and a bike tire and one of those rectangular plastic divided lunch-counter plates on fire, and you'll about have it. It gave me a good project for the afternoon, though. Now we've got a spanking new plug. Wired it myself. I did not die. Always good to have a project and survive it.

Depending on who you want to ask, we'll bottom out tonight somewhere between 15 and 11. I don't know where the hell the seagulls go to hide out from that kind of weather. The animals around here have been a little weird since last night, sleeping more, sleeping smaller, sleeping closer to wherever I am, sleeping closer to each other. If something were to happen, I guess — if the heater were to burn a plug, say — we'd all be right here together, ready for whatever was coming next.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Big Day.

Kind of a big day here at ANYLF, since it did, in fact, snow, though not in the stick-to-the-streets shut-the-city-down storm-of-the-century way that I always, of course, hope for every time. But it's lovely out there all the same.

No sleds. No snowmen. No days off from school for the kids, no good excuse to call in late to work, no chance of selling anyone on the idea that you couldn't get the car up the driveway. If you had some kind of onerous social commitment tonight, you've still got it. Science Fair project due Monday? Still due. But it snowed.

I think the low ended up tracking well east of where they'd thought it might, and apparently east and south of here they're getting more serious snow — there is such a thing, it seems, as a Heavy Snow Warning, which is of course the new #1 wish on the ANYLF wish list — but I like it this way. I might not like it more this way than other ways, but there's something subtle about our snow today, more like a reminder than a storm, more like a note we've received in the mail. Evidence. Proof. This kind of thing still goes on.

It started snowing around 12:45 and it's still going, even if the back edge of it is already showing up on the radar. I could do with a few days of this, though. I've got a bag of charcoal. I've got some soup in the freezer. I've got tea and coffee and various other necessaries in the house. Let's hunker down, I say. Let's none of us leave our houses for 48 hours.

The dog likes it. She's not entirely sure what to do about it, but she likes it. This is the face you get first. Then there is the sneeze-barking and the running. Then there is the general checking of the perimeter, as pictured earlier. There are things to do, after all. Tasks to complete. It's snowing.

I guess if you live where this kind of thing happens all the time, some of the wonder goes out of it. I lived in Boston for a while, and the snow piles up along the streets, going gray and filthy after a while. A new snowfall cleans it all back up again, makes everything new, but you know what's coming. Here, though— here it can be beautiful without anything being attached to it. One small free thing. I don't want to knock other places to live. Boston had plenty to admire, weather included. But back down here, back home, snow still feels like some kind crazy invention, a thrilling accident, something to be looked at. You want to knock on people's doors. Have you been outside today? you want to ask them. You want to tell them, It's snowing.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Please, Sir.

Embarrassment of riches. They want to give us some more winter. It's cleared off for the time being here in 27408, sunny and warming a little bit, even, but it's meant to snow all day tomorrow— we may get 1-3 inches. I'm struggling to believe it, but I want to believe it, so there's that to kick around for the afternoon.

I'm having some trouble remembering to bring in the laundry from out back, such that I wake up each morning with no socks still, and have to trundle outside in robe and shoes and grab a pair of clean socks from the big pile next to the dryer. I remembered one night this week to bring clean socks in before I went to bed, and it seemed like unimaginable luxury the next morning when I woke up and there were socks, right there, on top of the dresser, waiting for me: Socks! Why I brought in just the one pair of socks and not the whole clean laundry basket is a matter for another conversation. This little life I'm leading of late is starting to show some worn spots.

AMR returns in one week. I'm trying like all hell to finish the work I told myself I would, having long since given up on house and automotive projects and just instead wallowing down as far into the novel as I can. Write in the morning. Write in the afternoon. Sit as still as possible in the evenings and try not to knock things off balance. Live in this weird rhythm, a one-man writer's colony, for one more week. Out to the shed and back again. School and another less-sockless version of this life is looming out there in the margins and parts of that scare me in such a way as to be almost paralyzing, but if I can push all that back into the corners for several hours each day and live in the odd world of mulch yards and sons and halfassed marital fiasco the book wants me to, then I do OK.

Snow coming, I hope. They've gifted us with a second Winter Weather Watch. Two in one week. If you can't find something to talk about, friends and fans of weather, you can always talk about the weather. One of the local fancies says it may be as cold as 10 degrees on Sunday night. This is some weather we're having, isn't it?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Closings, Delays.


First things first: around 5 a.m., it started snowing — enough to dust the WeatherDeck furniture, the grass, the tops of the tree branches, the tops of the cars. Soon enough after, it started sleeting and raining, and here's why, according to the fancies at the NWS: "WARM AIR MOVING IN FROM THE SOUTH AND EAST HAS CHANGED THE PRECIPITATION IN THE NORTHWEST PIEDMONT OVER TO MOSTLY RAIN MIXED WITH SOME PATCHY FREEZING RAIN." I'm leaving it in caps because it helps me imagine the way they talk over there at the National Weather Service. You get the feeling there aren't many Casual Fridays.

Shepherd's Center of Greensboro: Closed. Jazzercise, Winston-Salem: closed. Epiphany Early Childhood Center: closed. St. Blaise Ear, Nose & Throat: opening 11 a.m.

It is beautiful, though, the ice on the Japanese magnolia and the dogwoods and the rhododendrons. And maybe a little something for free: the beauty of an ice storm without all the damage, although I confess here that the damage and destruction has always seemed part of the beauty of an ice storm. As in, You don't get all this without giving something back, OK? Still. The sound of a freezing rain is thoroughly different from a regular rain— there's the first sound, the sound of the water coming down out of the sky, but then there's the second sound, the slowed amplified drip of everything that doesn't freeze to the branches, everything that freezes and melts again, almost a second rain.

Sunnyside Ministry: closed. Guilford County Schools: closed, optional teacher workday. Omega Meats: not closed, and ringing my doorbell right now with their goddamn freezer truck in my driveway, some dude wanting to sell me eight ribeyes for $20.

It's winter. It's gray and cold and wet. I have plenty of coffee. I went to the store last night at midnight to buy emergency supplies: cinnamon rolls, a carton of mushrooms, a sweet potato, a yellow pepper. There was nobody in there. That's one way I knew that probably warm air would move in from the south and east, etc. There was still milk in the store. Still a few loaves of bread. Home Depot had their snow shovels out front and center yesterday. I thought that seemed optimistic.

Winston-Salem Squadron, Civil Air Patrol: evening classes canceled. Guilford County Animal Shelter: closed, employee code A.

I mean, I can't complain. We got our wintry mix.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Wintry Mix.

Well, it is cold outside. And the clouds are starting to build in. And it's already raining in Georgia. And the low is tracking our way. And they changed their minds: Warning, now, and not Watch. The Warning area is a little fingernail of counties that runs give or take from here back toward Asheville, over the north of South Carolina, and just into northwest Georgia.

The fancies keep saying this all starts, give or take, at about 4 a.m.

My mother used to stand out at the top of the driveway and close her eyes and take deep breaths and then come back in and report to us that it smelled like snow. She and my dad grew up in Nashville, where it used to snow, and where it still does. We grew up in Atlanta, where snow was a kind of novelty, and in 27408, ANYLF's current base of operations, it seems like it once snowed with some regularity, but not so much any more. Which is all to say that it may very well smell like snow out there, but I can't say for sure one way or the other.

It kind of seems as though no one really knows much other than that something is fixing to happen around these parts. Snow, sleet, ice, rain. Some combination of those things. ANYLF would prefer that the power not go out. Other than that, we'll take all four. Supposed to get down near 12 degrees over the weekend. Last week I was worried we weren't having winter. Now we're getting it all at once.

The local forecast on The Weather Channel now comes with sound effects. "Wintry Mix" sounds like someone pouring dried beans into a paper bag.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Cut Once.

Very cold out there today. Bright and clear and clean and cold. And they've got us under a Winter Storm Watch, which of course means that we've had to sound the claxons around here, and we've got one of the interns working to hook up a revolving red light so that everything looks enough like an emergency to justify what a massive set of emergencies the Winter Storm Watch will engender. First emergency: let's say it snows. Do I then bring the rain gauge in to melt it to see how much measurable precip we got? The fancies seem to want a little bit of everything— wintry mix late tomorrow night followed by a change to freezing rain and then rain. Actual weather possibilities: (a) gray and cloudy and no precip; (b) seventeen inches of snow; (c) fifty degrees and sunny; (d) the thing(s) they're calling for.

The local newses are very, very, very excited. And I don't blame them. All that SuperDoppler FirstAlert StormWatch equipment doesn't mean a damn thing if we run July through November without anything whatsoever to light up the radar. Those poor kids are bored out of their skulls. Well, grab the WXII NewsChannel 12 WinterCast storm gear, people. Pull on the hats and gloves and ThermaFleece vests. It may, or may not, snow and sleet. Some. Maybe. Be ready.

I'm acting like an ass. If it looks like it'll do anything, that'll be me staying up all night and flipping on the porch light and looking again and again at the ANYLF WeatherDeck to see if anything's piling up. And watching NewsChannel 12. Or Eric Chilton, who's just so damn trustworthy.

Growing up, when it snowed, we'd measure off the top of the grill. That metal would get cold, and more snow would stick there.

Local conditions: A happy morning in the shed, a small narrative problem solved. The short of it: Do not get too cute when using concrete as a metaphor. This afternoon, over to help a friend who's moving out from underneath a house in (for?) which he's got no chance of finishing the reno he had planned. Baseboards. Wainscoting. Prime and paint. Electric. He's moving out of town. He wants something else. I myself don't want that thing, but I know a small part of what it is to need some help. So.

Measure twice out there, friends and fans of weather. We're under a Winter Storm Watch. This is serious business.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Split Pea.

It's turned. Cold. And the news—the last time I talked about Eric Chilton, I had also been to The Brightwood—the news is getting keyed up. Now they think it may snow a little on Thursday. Now I know it won't. Still, it's nice to give The Triad's Best Weather Team something to do with its time.

Driving back west at dusk meant the sky running itself out from orange to purple, the whiskery trees reaching upwards, the bark black like ink. Cloudless. Silhouettes of water towers and whatever machinery is required at the cement plant and the overpass out 70 at the loop they're putting in, which is not yet a loop.

Split pea soup tonight with the lees of the standing rib roast we grilled last week. Throw the bones in and see what happens. Carrots and onions. Maybe some Jiffy cornbread. Maybe something to sip on while all that comes together. It turns cold and all the noise of robins and leafblowers comes to a full stop and the air goes still again, the dog goes a little stiff, the heater runs all evening. The robins have been shitting up the car doors. They perch there in front of the mirror, look at themselves, shit down the side of the car. Objects may be closer than they appear.

Quiet, quiet, quiet in here. The meatfest continues—AMR is a vegetarian—but even dragging the bones and roast ends out of the freezer for a soup I'd never otherwise get to make makes me miss her all the more.

At The Brightwood, Lucille wasn't in yet. Her husband let us in. You need beer? he said. I can get you beer. Liquor you'll have to wait fifteen minutes for. She ain't in yet, and I don't know about liquor.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Big Gray.

In eighth grade, all I wanted for my birthday was this ridiculous gray sweater, sized XL, from The Gap. I wore all of my clothes sized XL then. And a baseball hat turned backwards and perched halfway back into the hair that tortured me all through middle and high school and even graduate school until I razored it all off, hair of a texture something between a plastic tuffy and steel wool. I had a whole system of placing a washcloth soaked in hot water over my head for fifteen minutes each morning. Sometimes that meant I'd be able to brush it. Usually not. Thus the stupid cap. Which I had NO IDEA was stupid. I thought it was very, very cool. Even though I was second trumpet in the band, and we were playing things like Kenny Rogers' "Lady" and Gloria Estefan medleys and once, in high school, in marching band, a tuba-solo-heavy version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," it is important to here note the aforementioned coolness.

I named the sweater. That's how cool I was. Big Gray. I'd wake up in the morning, look outside, see what sort of weather we were having, and pull on Big Gray. I'd be ready.

It's got to weigh five pounds. I'm wearing it now, twenty years on. It is a very, very unfortunate sweater. As in, I might change out of it even to go to the grocery, even if I am only U-Scanning in a surly manner. However: I have woken up, looked outside, and pulled on Big Gray. I have been many more times than once and by more than one person encouraged to donate this sweater either to Goodwill or to the recycling bin. I have worn it to themed costume parties. I am wearing it now. It is, unfortunately, no longer so XL on me. I need a ballcap. Or a washcloth. Something.

Not for nothing, but they want it to be raining on Thursday, with a high of 36 and a low of 30. My distrust of long-term forecasts aside (I now remember a hilarious and very cool joke between my parents wherein they called it the 'three-day fivecast' — you can see how it is I ended up so damn cool), that's the kind of weather where if they get it just half wrong, then somebody around the ANYLF home office here is going to have to pull on Big Gray and a good sensible pair of boots and hike to the grocery for some milk and bread and cans of pintos.

Local conditions: Cloudy. Chilly. Low forties. That old sweater of yours is in the bottom drawer. Go ahead. It looks pretty cool on you.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Back, Forth.

Well, friends, if you don't like the weather, just give it a few minutes. We're slipping so quickly back and forth between spring and winter that it doesn't make any damn difference that I'm not doing the laundry. We've had that thick winter sunshine here in 27408 this afternoon, and something that almost feels like winter to go with it. Yesterday afternoon I sat on the porch and read. Tomorrow it's supposed to be gray and in the mid-forties. It's to the point where I'm not bothering with any forecast that runs out more than a couple of days, since the fancies seem to be getting it wrong with remarkable frequency. They say they want for us to have winter this coming week. I want that, too, but let's maybe throw a little bit of everything in the wash. Because I'm going to have to do the wash at some point. There are only so many pairs of socks.

In south-facing garden news, the pansies might be starting to come along. I always forget how long they sit, how long they're paused, until the light begins to drag itself up off the horizon again. But it looks as if they may be starting to bloom a little, may be making good on all that green they've been working on down at the base of the plants. I get itchy, worry that I should have bought more from the prison farm or more from the shiny nursery, but they tend to rally right around now and spend the rest of the time until the leaves come back out exploding up out of themselves.

I found some crocus poking up through the pine bark.

Next door, some little goddamn kid is out in the grass yelling and falling down. I can't figure out what he's saying, but it's the same thing, over and over, and then he falls down again. I think the phrase itself is what's knocking him over. And on the other side, Shafty's going into apoplectic shock and has been barking for nearly ninety minutes. His real name's Duffy. Phil's dog. I can't remember why I decided his name was Shafty. It's not locker-room humor or anything. Just some dumbass thing that came tumbling out of my head a few years ago.

Little kids shouting and dogs barking. What an outrage.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Clearing Off.

The front's through. I slept with the windows open last night under the promise of thunderstorms, but no such luck. A quarter-inch, all counted. There's a sure warmness in the air. Daffodils nosing up all over the neighborhood. Winter Jasmine blooming down the block. This happened last year, too. I remember one year on my birthday we sat on the porch on Carr Street and made French fries outside because it was so crazy warm. But I also remember that as being an anomaly. Now it feels like we can be pretty much guaranteed a handful of sixty-degree days each in December and January and February. Makes the late-spring freezes all the worse.

The clouds are clipping by west to east and sun and blue sky is filling in behind them, a stiff breeze and the smell of wet soil everywhere. I get the feeling it's as warm now as it will be all day, though, and as we sift through the afternoon maybe it'll start to feel at least a little bit more like it should.

Out back, that novel might be taking shape. It's an odd rhythm I'm in, one that makes it tough for me to carry on conversations even with the woman at the U-Scan at the grocery store. I'm sometimes so far deep down inside my own head that coming back up and out is more trouble than it's worth, and so when she tells me to Have a nice evening, often enough the best I can do is grunt, or give her what must probably look like some kind of bent clown leer, and carry my Yukon Golds back out to the car.

I think the weather's broken. I'm not making any scientific climatological claim here. Nothing long-term. I'm just saying that today the weather's broken, and that through that fracture has come something better suited for coastal Mississippi. They want to give us back some frost and freeze for next week. Good by me.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Trace Amount.

One good way to tell that it's started raining is that the exhaust fan ductwork for the range hood in the kitchen functions like an organ pipe or a bell or one of those tin can telephones, so there'll be a kind of pinging up over the stove, and then you know.

I'm going to go with a trace so far, if only so that I get to say 'trace.' A trace of rain. According to the UN, "...a "trace" is also recorded when there is no sign of precipitation in the gauge but it is known for certain that slight rainfall has occurred since the last raingauge reading." Full disclosure: there is a sign of precipitation in the gauge. It just doesn't yet cover the bottom. We're headed for more, and it hadn't started raining yet earlier, so at some point, Mr. Secretary-General, I feel like we had a trace.

It's cold out there, at least relatively. Yesterday I drove the dog to the Prison Farm to recycle the Christmas tree, and we had the windows down and the seventy-degree air blowing in all over the place. The dog did that eyes-seven-eighths-closed-and-squinting-into-the-sun-and-tasting-
the-air thing most of the way back. One of the many things she does that threaten to split me wide open. This morning, because it's gray and cool, we're getting instead the abject refusal to get up, or even, really, to move. She's currently involved in a very complicated dream involving a lot of barking with her mouth closed. Gray days she sometimes won't get up until mid-afternoon.

All that porch-sitting weather was about to get me ready for spring. But now it's hat and coat weather again and a different sort of happiness is settling back in, one I don't have to apologize for or feel guilty about. Soup weather. Yesterday we broke records. Today we're dead-on average. And once this front comes through, and the one behind it, we're forecast to have winter again, a string of cold days and cold nights and maybe one eye half on the local news to see if they can't squeeze out some kind of ice or snow toward the end of the old five-day. A set of tornado warnings in Birmingham and Nashville just isn't right. School closings. Give me school closings.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Loose Leaves.

There's so much going on with the sky that it's hard to believe it's not raining, but it isn't. And hasn't. Wet street. Wet driveway. We are getting some Olympic fog around here at night, or the Dew of Champions. Still: In the pansy beds, the soil's wet, so I shan't complain.

The leaf truck is in the neighborhood, so there is, then, that. I was wrong about the leaf truck schedule: Though it was my understanding that the truck came twice, i.e., Time 1 and Time 2, the city website (which is such a tangle that I can't figure out how to find this information on purpose; instead I have to sort of believe that the information and I are of the same lifeforce and then click things at random until, voila, etc., except HERE IT IS! HERE IT IS!) says instead that there is a Time 1, a Time 1B, and THEN a Time 2.

We here at 1303 are on City Loose Leaf Collection Route 44.

The daffodils are starting to come up, but since I planted seven thousand new bulbs in approximately the same spots as where the old bulbs are, it's difficult to say whether what I'm seeing are last year's effort, the year before, or the new. One of the years doesn't bloom so well, but I can't exactly remember or tell which one that is. The record-keeping around here is not excellent.

Coffee this morning on the porch and the dog out there and a little bit of raking — did I mention the leaf truck? — and some general if half-assed pansy bed maintenance. Today is a better day than yesterday. Yesterday I think maybe I had fallen off a cliff and into a hole with a sharp stick in the bottom of it. Today I have been outside on the porch. With the dog. Yesterday was Today 1. Today is Today 1B.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Piling Up.

There are towhees and bluejays and wrens in the back yard. Last year it snapped warm in February and we got a pair of house finches nesting in the trellis, and then it snapped cold again and their hatchling died.

The clouds are piling up out of the west, and every now and then the sun wants to break through a little bit, but mainly it's gray and not quite low— it's pushing at us, maybe. I don't know. It's like the weather is getting ready. Maybe this is the outflow from the tornadoes they're getting in Wisconsin and Arkansas and whatever other states are between here and Colorado. I don't understand very much about much of anything, but it is my considered position that January is not a big tornado month. This is also the considered position of the TV weather folk, who got to dust off the Severe Weather graphics package and were pretty jacked up about that.

It's a lonely kind of weather today, and beautiful in its own way for it, but it's making me restless and nervous and weird. I keep looking out the windows.

The shift key on my outside computer, the one in the writing shed, has developed a little squeak. The new dogs across the street bark plenty. The painters two houses up are listening to the radio. Who are you? Who, who, who, who? I really wanna know.

Still too warm, still no rain. There's a grimy yellow light underneath all these clouds.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Unseasonably Warm.

There was a fog so heavy the street and everything else was wet, but I don't think that's going to count for the precipitation ticker over there in the sidebar. It's warm. Short sleeves warm. There's a tribe of people out there who say 'shirt sleeves.' I am not of that tribe.

We're headed for almost seventy today and better than that tomorrow and the song birds are out, the ones that are here, anyway, and the only real difference between today and mid-April is the smell: in April it smells like spring. Today it smells like not much. The streets, in the shade where they're still wet, smell like wet street.

There are tasks, then: lights off the porch, wreath off the door, tree out of the house. The season has changed. That it has changed into whatever this is is no matter. Keep the lights on the house too long and I run the risk of becoming the old man down the street, in shirt sleeves and pajama pants, standing out in his yard leaning on a Harris Teeter grocery cart underneath his two window signs that say MERRY CHRISTMAS HAPPY NEW YEAR and PEACE ON EARTH GOOD WILL TO MEN. Red letters on white boards. They've hung in those windows regardless of season since I've lived here. He's got an American flag on a flagpole out in the red clay of his front yard. He flies that thing in all weathers. I wave. He does not wave back. Sometimes he makes a kind of guttural sound at the dog.

We're supposed to cool back down and even get a little rain after tomorrow. That might make it OK to enjoy this while it lasts. Still. It's odd. Something's not altogether right here. We know what season it isn't. Just hard to tell which one it is.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Doors Open.

The other half of January has landed here on the twelfth day of Xmas, warm and sunny and a little breezy and the temps up into the high fifties/low sixties, so: doors open. And windows. No rain with the front. Now they're saying maybe Tuesday.

The plastic light-up wise men down the street are done for the year, in a heap around the side of the house, the LBJ stacked up on top of them like cordwood. My hawk is back, roosting out on the end of an oak branch fifty or sixty feet off the ground. It's so big that for a second I got excited and thought it might be an eagle, but I think that's just enthusiasm and astigmatism. The damaged kid two blocks over is out in his backyard, singing at the top of his lungs. It might be a kind of bent version of the Star-Spangled Banner. I thought I heard something about rockets. Whatever it was, he was trying it out in a number of different keys.

Out at the far end of the dogwalk, at the turn, the dog got all low and bellied slowly along the ground for about a hundred feet, staring the whole time at this Benji-looking dog named Gideon. Come on, Gideon. Gideon, come on. Gideon's mother, as they passed, and as the dog then did her growl bounce thing, tail up, jumping basically toward Gideon, every piece of fur sticking out, said, You have a very intense dog.

Hammers and saws all up and down the streets. Various projects underway. Last week was the kind that holds the daffodils back a little bit. Today's the kind of day that tugs them back the other way.

I think yesterday's temps might have been average for the day, and I missed it. Maybe that's what an average day is. The kind you don't notice. Our average for this time of year is. We're twelve degrees above average for. Our normal yearly rainfall should be.

No rain. Warmer than normal. You know the words to this song.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Two Hawks.

Red-tailed, by my Peterson's Guide, and on the biggish end of the scale. The crows started going crazy on the dogwalk and then there they were, hawks, sailing along, big, big, big. The sky's been kind of white all day long, high haze and a few clouds and the hint of maybe a little weather overnight. Not that we're not having weather now. But something else, something other. It's raining in Tennessee and Alabama and Mississippi. They're saying a little bit of that might get here.

Things are piling up in the house: mail, coffee mugs, socks. Something gets put down and then I stare at it, leave it where it lies. There is a kind of tyranny of items around here. Pizza coupons. Plugs and wires. Now the Peterson's Guide, which may be here on the desk a week from now if I don't get up immediately to put it away.

There are 236 species of hawks (kites, eagles, buteos, accipiters, harriers) in the world. 19 of these are in the American East.

In second grade I did a project on birds of prey. It was meant to be a joint project with my friend Jack Lancaster, who at the last minute had his dad do the whole thing and turned his in seperately from mine, leaving me with just 20-some-odd colored-pencil birds of prey drawings, and just the heads, at that. He had, as I recall, a model of a fucking bird of prey and like three binders of bird of prey information. He got an A. I got a C.

Later that year, Jack got his leg caught in his bicycle wheel riding down his driveway, got a spiral fracture, and was in a body cast for six months. They brought him to show-and-tell. We signed his chest. He always limped after that, never really could ever run right again.

That's what happens.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Still Cold.

The pansies have that dark green beat-up look about them, but they're basically okay. Everything has that look, really. The neighborhood looks exposed, looks bare. The rhododendron leaves droop when it gets this cold, which I know is no real kind of cold, but for 27408 this counts, I think, for winter. Something small is coming through, some small change: there are high sheer clouds bowed out across the sky.

Yesterday I saw what might have been five thousand crows in a vacant lot on Battleground.

A stray ran up to us on the dogwalk, a little black dog with a white blaze on his chest. A woman from down the street came to get him, put him in her daughter's back yard, said she'd found him yesterday, put an ad in the paper. He had a chewed or broken rope around his neck. No tags.

There are lost cat signs all over the neighborhood. There are always lost signs all over this neighborhood. It's a tough spot for pets. I don't know why. Maybe there are lost signs on all the phone poles all over the city, but we seem to be especially unlucky over here. I keep looking in all the front yards, under all the shrubs, hoping to spot Sammy or Zeppo or whoever's up on all the 11x14s this week. Last seen. Answers to. Spot above one eye.

A quick head count here gives us the three we're supposed to have.

I can't help it: I keep imagining taking my child to Kinko's to make copies, to Lowe's to buy a staple gun. I want so badly now to see a LOST DOG sign with that little black dog on it. I know where he is. He's not entirely lost.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Deep Freeze.

We made it to sixteen degrees last night, and so did everybody else all over the country, basically, which means live standups this morning on all the newses: fresh-faced J-school grads in pink fleece berets and/or leather bombers standing out by a field of strawberries or oranges in Florida and stumbling through the science of coating plants with ice to keep them from freezing. What they're reporting: that no one knows whether or how much anything's been damaged, and that no one will know for several days. Now that makes for some compelling video. Wait for it: here comes the sprinkler again.

I do feel for the farmers: That's me every spring hanging sheets over the budding azaleas, turning pots upside down on what hosta has come up already, covering the daylilies with milk crates and towels. I once planted a tomato garden in March and lit charcoal smudge fires along the rows during an April freeze. They lived. Then, later in the sumer, they got creamed by the Yellow Death, as do all of my tomatoes, every goddamn year.

Two summers ago I moved my brother from Maine to Maryland during a heat wave so fierce that NPR led that afternoon with a live radio weather report from the streets of New York City. And how hot is it out there, Jim? Very hot, Neil. Back to you. We were in my pickup, no AC, on the New Jersey Turnpike. Then we blew a tire. Those NPR boys were correct: it was, indeed, very hot. And this: while changing the tire, I both burned and cut myself on the steel of the steel-belted radial.

I guess maybe I hurt for the J-school kids, too. I worry they don't know much except how to wear fleece berets and how not to stumble over their own names when they say them out loud, and then we send them out to stand in front of something that's either very hot or very cold and explain that very fact. Not an easy task. As you can see, Julie, it's very cold here. Julie cannot see that, though. Julie is in the studio. Julie has seven years experience already, and she's blonde, and that means she's been bumped up to the studio. You, though, have to go stand in the field and say it's cold.

It's cold here. It went down to sixteen overnight, and we're gonna be cold again tonight. I'm a little worried about the potted pansies, a little worried about the Dusty Miller. Not much I can do, though. Don't know how much, if any, damage has been caused. Won't know for several days. This is ATP, reporting live for ANYLF.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Scarf, Gloves.

It even smells cold out there. It's 29 on the screen porch and it feels harsher than that out on the dogwalk loop, a pretty good breeze and not one cloud in the entire sky and pools of blackbirds accordioning in and out, each flock a bellows, expanding and contracting as it comes across the sky, thirty, fifty, eighty birds at a time. They always make me think of math.

The dog looked surprised, looked cold, looked like she might be in a hurry. Small, closed mouth. The tall wise man is face-down again. This was not the weather he signed on for, star in the east or not. The dog seemed sympathetic.

I say it smells like oak leaves, like sticks, like wood smoke, like handfuls of rock, like rainwater frozen in birdbaths. The Christmas lights are coming back down all over the neighborhood. I've got mine still up, though, even flicked on the tree lights before I leashed the dog so I'd have something good to come home to. I'm not quite done with all the tinsel and string, not quite done with the lights on the porch, even if one long strand of gold gave out over New Year's. There's plenty to look at once it all comes back down everywhere, plenty to record: that we've gone from brown to gray, for instance, a winter gauge of the drought lifting just barely enough to register. The physics of blackbirds. Windchimes. The crocuses will be sending up green soon enough. We'll lean towards the next week, and the next. But for now, for these few more days, I'm not yet ready to be done with the flash and shine of December.

There's a deep, deep quiet in this house with just one body in it instead of two. Or four instead of five, depending upon your math.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Year.

Brand spanking, even. Cold and bright and a little heat in the sun when the wind's not blowing, but it's blowing, mostly, something colder coming in behind it. Every now and then, out of the north and west, a few torn pieces of cloud come sliding through.

AMR leaves tomorrow, and the prospect of a month alone, a month of work, a month inside the book— all that hangs out there in front of me and scares the shit out of me and I'm looking forward to it and horrified by it all at once. A return to a thoroughly selfish life for a while: not malignantly selfish, but a life in which I must really only attend to what wind blows through my own head at any given time.

When I'm working, the best days look like this: coffee, an hour or two in the studio, a dogwalk, another hour, lunch and the gym, an afternoon hour revising, and then evening, a little radio, maybe a game on TV, somewhere to sit down. Get up the next day and try again. Invent an errand or two some afternoons, go to the store for a lightswitch, for a box of screws, break something and put it back together again.

What's required: do everything you can to get your work done while she's gone, to get ready to work more when she comes back. Get ready for her to leave, get ready for her to return. It'll be January. Play your cards right and it'll snow, settle the whole street down into that deep kind of quiet that comes with snow. Sodium streetlight reflecting orange up off the streets. Stand out on the porch and look out at it, be happy to see it, be sad she's not there to see it with you. Stand out there, though, all the same.