Friday, February 29, 2008

Look, Leap.

The rain is now starting to cross over the mountains in earnest and it appears — appears — that we may get our twentieth of an inch of rain. Hell, maybe more. And that is, by at least one measure, a great leap forward.

Let's dispense with the meteorology for a moment in favor of a chat about the arc we're carving through the universe. The following, then, from what has to be NOAA's most bizarre division, the Global Monitoring Division of the Earth System Research Labratory (which has, as many of you must already know, recently absorbed the Surface Radiation Research Branch). Surface Radiation as a separate beast, I understand, but what else would you monitor, besides the globe, at the Earth System Research Lab? Anyway, let's go back over that one more time to make sure you've got it right in your notes: the GMD is housed in the ESRL, which also now of course houses the SRRB. What I need is a job over there at the ESRL— or just at NOAA— gimme a satchel of Scrabble letters and I'll remake the government from the ground up. Anyway, February twenty-ninthers, according to the alphabet soup (and brought to you here in full text at ANYLF), here's why today is today:

To account for the fact that it takes Earth 365.242196 days to orbit the sun, the Julian Calendar implemented a system by which every fourth year would have an extra day (366 instead of 365). These years are called leap years. Later, the Gregorian Calendar improved this correction by calling for every fourth year to be a leap year, unless the year is divisible by 100. This corrects the calendar to a year of 365.24 days, which is a good start but not perfect. So there is another condition: if a year is divisible by 400, it is a leap year. Therefore the year 1900 (divisible by 100, but not by 400) was not a leap year, but the year 2000 was a leap year.

The following are reportable, non-governmental items, which the staff here felt compelled to include on this extra free bonus day, which is not extra nor free nor bonus, really, according to Greg and Jules: The clouds rolled in right around three o'clock. Buzzards on the way in, buzzards on the way home. They're drilling a well down through the gravel parking lot of the Brightwood, or at least they were this morning. The pickup is leaking a new amount of oil. I've been teaching Amy Hempel this week. The daffodils survive. My new anti-barking dog system involves walking three-quarters of the way down the driveway and glaring at the completely curtained windows of the house across the street. Oh, friends and fans of weather, and of corrected calendars, that'll by god show 'em.

I love that our calendar, of all things, is broken. And I love even more that the way we fix it, it seems like, is to rub a little dirt on it. To walk it off.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Lucky Numbers.

Is it cold today? a friend asked. It is. It is cold. But I know how she feels, that way of stepping outside and not being sure. There's something in the water this week, something almost paralyzing, something that makes it hard to know anything for sure other than that if the barking dogs across the street do not stop barking then I am going to start the kind of war that can only end with my neighbors running over my flowerbed on purpose with their stupid Ford Taurus station wagon and then me going over there and pouring a coffee can of gasoline in the center of their yard and tossing a match in after it and being all like, How do you like the suburbs now, shitbags?

All these polls. Nobody ever calls here.

If the daffodils—have I mentioned the daffodils?—if the daffodils can hang on through tonight's freeze as well as they seem to have hung on through last night's, then I think our little premature spring will keep on keeping on. Tulips are starting to edge up everywhere. I myself, edging-up-wise, am starting to kick around the notion of filling the big pots out back with lettuces again, sowing the seeds in their little lines, then engaging full-bore in the inside-outside dance to keep the seedlings from freezing all through March and April, dragging those big pots in and out of the writing shed each evening, each morning. Lettuce. Arugula. Spinach.

There is the chance of showers tomorrow night, the last day of February, a free day, a leap day, one last shot at the raffle, one more chance at the .05" my $2.99 orange plastic rain gauge says we need to hit our historical average for the month. Three times out of four it'd be March. Three times out of four we'd miss. I, though, am the kind of fool who will take a little rain shower tomorrow night as a sign. Who will look out at the daffodils and think, goddamn, it was 23 degrees, and we still made it.

Dogs. Barking. Something comes next.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Wrong Clothes.

Since even before I got out of bed this morning, I've felt wrong: wrong day, wrong mood, wrong clothes. Like I've got the wrong pants on, or like I'm wearing them wrong. Wrong number of layers for the weather. Wrong hat. Canceled class for no good reason—even correctly prepared for it, I'm not sure what I would have said to them about anything—and took the dog for a walk. I left the house with no coat, no gloves. Wrong.

Two guys were delivering a refrigerator to the corner of Quail and whatever that other road is, and they did it wrong, I think, because on the way by the first time they were delivering it, and on the way back by, on the way home, they were fixing the screen door, which they'd evidently somehow mangled.

Two bluebirds on a chain-link fence down at the bottom of the dogwalk hill. Blue like paint from a tube. Seems soon for bluebirds. Seems soon for everything.

And we get winter again, which is right and correct for right now, but all the daffodils, wrongly blooming, may not do so well tonight, when it is meant to be something like 23 degrees. The sky looks wrong, like some mishmash of seasons, or the light's wrong on it, or in it, or the clouds are wrong. Like biscuits, like something else.

This hinterland between winter and spring seems today a kind of precarious place. It doesn't seem wrong. I just feel wrong in it. One small kindness, though— once I did come in to work, a student brought me a cup of tea. Resolved: I'll try harder tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Embedded Thunderstorms.

Wrapped up in a line that rolled in here from Yadkinville and points west, but by the time they made it into the Piedmont Triad generally and 27408 specifically, all the bite left in them was a few cloud-to-cloud lightning strikes, a few throaty rumbles of thunder. Enough, though, to rouse the dog from her sleeping and bring her in here to bravely smash herself up against my side and eventually settle down in my chair. The dog is not a huge fan of storms, embedded or no.

This all comes with terms like isentropic lift and stratiform clouds, but for those of you laypeople out there, an embedded thunderstorm is just that: embedded. In some other less fancy rain. It rains a while, and then, um, literally, boom. This as opposed to the apocalyptic black-sky Fourth-of-July oh-shit find-the-dog kind. So: for those of you just tuning in: (a) It's raining, in a really lovely way. A true and serious rain. (b) Isentropic is a tremendously fine word, as are all of these other weather words beginning with the letter I. Today's ANYLF, in fact, is brought to you by the letter I.

This is going to come with at least one pretty hard freeze on the back side of it, if not a second one, and that either will or won't take out the daffodils already in bloom. There's not any really good way of covering them, I don't think, so we'll just have to ride this one out— Though if my neighbor around the corner with her ten zillion daffodils puts sheets out, maybe I will too. We've got some good Old Greensboro people in this neighborhood, people who know things about azaleas and tomatoes and how things work in general. Keep your eyes open and there's some fine knowledge to be had, knowledge, I suspect, almost entirely free of fancy weather words. These are the kind of people who will tell you after a storm like this one, That was a pretty good storm. They don't maybe much care whether it was embedded.

There are at least two levels of being, I guess: Paying attention to what comes out of the ground and the sky, and everything else. I'm not going to privilege one over the other. I'm just saying that I don't ever want to get too far away from the first one, that I'm trying most days to remember that maybe the first thing we ought to do when it thunders is get out of bed and go look for everybody else. After that—once everybody's accounted for—we can look up all the cool weather words.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Not Guilty.

Me: I was reaching under the seat belt to adjust my collar. I actually was wearing it. You just couldn't tell.

Officer Chehaitli: If you were on my side of this, how crazy a story would that seem to you?

Except the thing is I was wearing my seat belt, which is not always the case, which makes this even more galling, and no legal official is going to believe a word of this, even though it is the truth, and I don't know why I was reaching under instead of over and thus obscuring Officer Chehaitli's view of my belted seat belt, and I freely admit that it makes no real sense, except that it is true, true, true, and while he was writing the ticket I was writing down all the particulars, i.e., street location and time of day and weather, yes, weather, which was sunny, beautiful, edging up into the sixties and the last of a fog burning off and the light all full of morning half-spring semi-holy near-green, like the green of all these bulbs now coming up was somehow itself beginning to leak into the light, and Officer Chehaitli walked back up and peered down at my notebook and said, What's that, and I said, I'm writing everything down so I can make my case to the judge, which was even then seeming even less and less plausible, and he smiled a smile which led me to believe that I was a pretty significant source of legal amusement to him, and he said, Now when you go into that courtroom, don't you lie, and then I lost my temper a little and had him apologize to me for that, which he did, and he then gave unto me a phone number, which is 336-883-6155, and to which person on the other end of the line I can continue my complaint, which is that I in fact was wearing my seat belt, I was, I was, I was, and that the injustice of this moment is in fact unparalleled in the history of jurisprudence if not in the long sweeping history of all of time and man's place in it, and the only thing that makes any of this OK at all is that the fog this morning through which the sun was shot was the leftover part and parcel of yesterday's rain, which was nearly perfect, another tenth, one more tiny stone laid against the drought, which keeps coming, keeps coming, and my goddamn novel is somewhere in New York City, being actually read by an actual person, and this is like nothing more, finally, than riding fairly peacefully and completely law-abidingly along on a very late winter morning and suddenly having a certified officer of the law flick on his lights and siren and ask you to pull over, pull over, because he's got something he just might like to say to you about the collar of your ancient flannel shirt and the seat-beltedness of your seat belt, and you know right from the start that even though what you have to say is true, there is every possibility in the world that none of it, none of it, will matter.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Snow Day.

I wanted a snow day. Felt like I needed one. But the fantastic stone-rattle sound of the sleet and rain on and in the big magnolia on my way back from my morning class yesterday was enough to bring me back around, and I felt badly about sniping about the weather. We didn't get anything like what we were promised, and only got about a tenth of an inch of precip out of the whole thing— instead, though, we settled into a deeply quiet, cold fog, and even if we did need more than anything something more to be coming out of the sky, at least we were so pervasively damp all day that what little we did get was sure to sink well into the flowerbeds. One of those days where you can't be at all sure that the world continues on out past the few hundred yards the fog lets you see.

We get a couple of halfassed shots at some sprinkles today and tomorrow, and a better shot at some rain on Tuesday. The drought, I'm afraid, rolls on.

Today's warmer, headed for the sixties, and our strange winter-spring tilt-a-whirl keeps going. The daffodils are blooming with some vigor now, and not just here at ANYLF: all up and down the neighborhood are these little bursts of yellow against all the brown. A couple of bushes around the corner have pinked out, and the roses, way too early, are starting new growth all up and down the canes. We'll get another freeze next week, and I presume another the week after that. We're thirty days away from any kind of place where we could or even should hope against such a thing.

I'm willing to be ready for spring. Coffee on the front porch, odd Wednesday nights with friends around the grill and some ridiculous beanbag toss game from the kids' section at the local big box. But I'm still wanting for one more snow day— early out of bed and the heavy quiet that settles down out of the trees, unfamiliar white-gray light seeping in around the blinds, and an unplanned, empty day stretching out in front of me, a day to hide, to let the phone ring, to make a second pot of coffee, to put it all off until tomorrow, which will be OK, will be without penalty of any kind, since everyone else will be doing some version of that, too.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Und Drang.

But no Sturm to speak of. It slid mainly south and east. I won't even bother to run through the litany of complaint— turns out, for instance, that I have to go to work, and that I have to be there on time— instead, I'll just keep checking back endlessly in to the radar in the hope that something, regardless of whether it's pretty or frozen, does manage to get here and fall out of the sky. There's still a lot of rain back west, in Georgia and Tennessee, but who's to say that won't slide by and around, too? I got all damn breathless a week ago talking about how we might just make our historical average for February. Jinxed us. I blame myself.

I apologize to all you highschoolers out there who had an annotated map of Australia's agricultural corridors due today. Or a paper on Ethan Frome. Or who have a test on the periodic table. Or the subjunctive. There's ice on the truck windshield, but that feels more like a stick in the eye than a hopeful sign.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Less Science.

I will not today explain the difference between umbra and penumbra. I also will not explain in any detail how this afternoon and later this evening cold dry air is supposed to filter in either over the top of or underneath the storm ratcheting its way here out of the southwest, and give us one more sort of halfhearted wintry mix. Ice this time, they say. Or sleet or snow, depending on which they you want to look at.

Instead — thanks for tuning in out there, folks, and keep it here for the latest developments — I can give you the report from the ANYLF WeatherDeck, which is that it's cold out there, just above freezing, a thin sunlight filtering in through a nearly white sky. High, high clouds that don't mean anything other than that something may well be coming in behind them. The pansies look good. Thirsty, but good. The hydrangeas, still carrying the flower heads from last summer, do indeed as advertised add interest to the winter landscape. We have birds. There's also a dude wandering up and down the street with the kind of satchel that makes me fairly certain that he'd like to chat with me, just for a moment, about Jesus. And who can blame him? That whole penumbra/umbra thing is in want of some answers, and this morning I'm not of a mind to begrudge anybody's chosen way of explanation. I've got mine and don't much care to talk with him about his, but maybe he'll find a doorbell behind which is somebody a little bit more open-minded than me.

Or maybe not. He's got his job to do, and I've got mine, and so long as our days are parceled into completable blocks, perhaps that's all that matters. Ways and means of making it through until after nightfall this evening, when the rain, if we're getting rain, should change over to freezing rain as the temperatures fall below thirty-two degrees. There may be a little sleet mixed in. We're not expecting much icing, but that still depends on the track of the storm system and the surface low and whatever else it is that's headed our way. So stay with us throughout the day for updates. Remember: ANYLF is the name you can trust.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lunar Eclipse.

The earth gets between the sun and the moon, and throws the moon into shadow. This is an idea so straightforward that it can be demonstrated to first-graders using an orange, a tennis ball and a — what, I don't know — roundish rock. You need three hands. Would any of you like to volunteer? Super. OK. If this is the earth...

Simplicity aside, it's kind of an elegant idea: we're blocking our own light. The solar eclipse isn't our fault, but this one surely is. We're in our own way.

Here's a little primer, science dweebs (courtesy of the super-excellent Mr. Eclipse):

And a timeline, for those of you scoring at home...

Well, yeah. That might just be enough teaching for one day. In my afternoon class I completely contradicted, loudly and incorrectly and accidentally, both my own well-belabored point and the excellent, concise point of a student. The class was good enough to point this out straight away, and since we'd been in there an hour already, I figured that with that one sure and certain absolute truth— that I'd been wrong in a kind of serious, impressive way— we'd probably fulfilled our educational imperatives for today, Wednesday February 20, and I called it a day. It's not every day you find one thing that's true.

So I'll sign off here as well. Stick your heads outside this evening, friends and fans of eclipses. I'm not in any way sure it's weather, but it's in the sky. We'll award half credit for that.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Signs, Signals.

The maples are blooming, or are at least starting to bloom, which gives a kind of translucent pink-orange hue to certain of the stands of hardwoods on the way in to work. The old trash maple out the back kitchen window's in full red— and I don't think I even knew, really, that maples bloomed before I had that tree, this house. It's a subtle thing, but it's there, and it's sure.

It's cold, I think, out there. It's at least gone very cool. And that forecast for Friday keeps getting more and more interesting, such that now they want a high of 36 and a low of 35. With rain. Thursday they want basically the same thing, but with either rain or sun. Or wintry mix. They're not sure. Which means the ground would be cold enough if— All I'm saying is that a quick spool through our various locals shows that they maybe don't really have any idea what to look for come 48 hours from now. The sky ought to be clear for tomorrow night's eclipse, though.

It's good to live in these times. If I'd lived in other times, stone calendar-type times, and I'd lived through a week of seventy degrees and hard wind, an eclipse, and then snow, I'd have thought very seriously about dragging somebody out to the old sacrificing rock to see if we could soothe whoever's feelings we'd hurt. We are really, really sorry, I'd have said. Our mistake. Please accept the following contribution.

There's wind. Something's coming.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Stolen Weather.

The half-fractured sunlight we've got on the backyard this morning makes the grass back there look almost green. Three or four new daffodils bloomed overnight in all that warm mist and fog— they picked up nearly two inches in Atlanta, but most of that stayed south, and what we got was a kind of warm outflow, the temperature edging upwards all night, and then a couple of showers totaling give or take a tenth of an inch. The evening dogwalk was coolish, but by the time we were doing the dishes from dinner we had both doors open, had all that wet spring air softening the papers and receipts and book page edges. You can smell it out there: they're getting spring somewhere, and out front of the cold front that's headed our way this afternoon, we're getting their air.

This'll be one of those teasers, then: By midweek it will be winter again, and next weekend we'll edge back over into spring. We tilt back and forth while the jet stream tries to figure out what it wants. It's still February, I keep telling myself. An old friend likes to remind me, when we meet by the meat case in the Harris Teeter, that it always snows in March. He's got a coconut in his office that he rubs for luck when he needs it to snow: someone sent him that thing from Hawaii just as it is, wrote his address on it with a marker and stamped it and sent it through the mail.

The light looks sanctified. A morning like this is a good morning to have the truck, windows down and a mug of coffee and a ride to work listening to the BBC explain to me how it is or should have been in any number of their far-flung outposts worldwide. By tonight I'll need the jacket and watchcap for the ride home. Sometimes I'm such a sucker that it seems like every season is my favorite season. So long as days like today are on the big wheel, though, so long as when we spin this remains one of the possibilities, then I'm OK.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Long Drought.

Spring is coming. Not right away, but it's coming. And this: If we get the rain they say we might get this week, there's the possibility that we will either meet or exceed our historical average for February. I do not remember the last time we met or exceeded an average for the month. I've not mowed my lawn since June. It's supposed to rain tonight. Maybe a half an inch. Maybe a little thunder to go with it.

I don't know how many daffodils I planted last fall. An act of blind, stupid faith. I dug long trenches and just tossed them in. The ground was so dry then that I didn't even really get dirty.

It's a gray, damp, muffled day. It rained last week. It's going to rain this week. Who knows. Who knows. Who knows.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Middle Ground.

Yesterday it was very nearly warm, walk-the-half-mile-to-that-meeting-
instead-of-drive warm, snow still on the ground in the shadiest of places, but warm, or warming. Today we're a little chillier, but it's not the wild back-and-forth swing of earlier this month. We're sunny, and the light's distinctly yellower, not that solstice white. I think I tend to think of a winter day as a lingering 40-degree rain, or as the prospect of ice, of snow flurries, or as one of those freeze-dried afternoons, cloudless, the temperature falling through the twenties and headed for the teens. A spring day's easy enough to conjure. No example needed, really. The days I sometimes neglect are days like today, a little chillier than yesterday, interstitial, our buffer between this and that. Late next week they want to give us sixty-degree days. Sunday night they want a cold hard rain. In between, they want more of this. A pause. A federal holiday, banks closed and no mail. Holding pattern. The dog at the other end of the driveway, you saying Stay, stay.

And we are greening over, even if it's mainly in the smaller of signs: Trash onions up in all the lawns, for starters. The pansies heaving up and out of themselves a little bit, new blooms, foliage that pitch-dark green, the plants suddenly twice as big, seemingly, as they were a month ago. I've found tulips edging up out of the soil, and that seems early, but the daffodils have held their blooms back now a week and a half after I thought they would, so. The buds on the Japanese magnolia have started to swell a little, and that seems right: Give or take March 15 I start looking for color.

All this means there are tasks to be completed, then, checklists: rake the ivy out, pull the last of the leaves out of the flowerbeds, mulch the walkways back in, pull the early insurgent chickweed out of the daylily beds, maybe even think one more time about what to do with that no-man's land up front in the yard. Ivy? Other groundcovers? AMR once gave me a book by the title Groundcovers for the South. This is a book with a very specific audience, and the jokes are pretty easy. Still: Turns out I'm a member of that tribe.

But this is not the place to talk about Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricata) or whether it would spread at a moderate rate by rhizomes in the partial shade and humus-rich, well-drained soil of my front yard. This is the place to record the weather, and maybe, as per my grandfather, what I had to eat. A day like this—warm enough to go out and check the daffodils one more time, cool enough to think about a hat—is a plain, basic day. A good day. A day in which to maybe try to get halfway ready for what comes next. Get the shovels and rakes lined up. Put the flannels in the wash.

Yesterday: High in the low sixties, and a slide back towards forty overnight. Today: Mid-fifties, and mid-thirties. Dry, but snowmelt enough to matter. Last night a party with too much talk about work, one more time around a carousel of our own careful making, and a late bad fast-food dinner. I am struggling, struggling with the academy, and with my little place in it. Tonight, though, the product of what ought to be a better day— perhaps, even, a return to ritual: charcoal, a cocktail, a foil pack of potatoes and onions sizzling away. When you can smell the garlic and rosemary, they're done. Ought to be cool enough to get a good look at the night sky. We see Orion less and less. Almost time for other constellations.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Second Base.

It snowed for several hours last night, and for an hour longer than they said it would, and we did not get the slushy inch they wanted to give us— instead, we got maybe two inches on everything that's not the street or the driveway, powdery, light, stacked up on the branches, on the tabletop, on the porch. This morning we're knife-edge clear, deep blue sky, sun jumping off everything, melting already started. They want us at 55 by this afternoon. Here's a little parenthetical snow, then, a reminder, a dictionary entry, an example. Snow.

The streets did slush, though, enough to close the schools, which would be, it seems to me, if you were 13, in every other instance a cause for celebration, except that it's Valentine's Day, and if you're not even going to be at school, then how are you going to time the whole hall pass thing just right so that you can meet Kim Phillips in the stairwell midway through third period to totally french her for like five entire minutes, and perhaps, since it's a holiday, work your hand up maybe under her shirt a little, which you've never done before, and then give her her half of the sterling silver heart which says 'forever' and which you bought at Spencer's at the mall (only barely sneaking a glance a the back of the store where such mysteries are for sale as edible underwear—you cannot yet understand how or why such an event might occur) and which has a kind of jagged cut down the middle, such that there are two pieces of jewelry here, the idea being that you wear your half and she wears her half forever and for all the rest of time?

It doesn't matter. Soon enough she leaves you for your friend Chris Orsey, whose father has recently committed suicide, and you continue to wear your half of the necklace anyway, because how will you love again, and somehow it is your relationship that piques the interest of much of the eighth grade, and sides are chosen, yours and hers, and on yearbook signing day at the end of the year, your new girlfriend Jenny Somebody—many years later, on a snow day, you won't even be able to remember her last name—walks up to Kim Phillips and slaps her in the mouth and knocks her to the ground. She is the man who will fight for your honor. If no one else did, Peter Cetera understood the difficulties of your life.

It snowed. It's surpassingly beautiful out there. More than we deserve. Stay home. Get up under each other's shirts out there, friends and fans of weather. It'll all work out in the end. Happy Valentine's Day. Happy snow. We're gonna live forever.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Good Rain.

Drove home last night through rain showers in Whitsett and Sedalia and it smelled like rain—like spring rain, sharp and aluminum. It kept cooling off through the evening, though, back towards winter. I was worried that everybody else would get the best of it, but right as we were cooking dinner, and then again as we were headed to bed, we got ours, a hard rain, the roof thrumming and the power even flashing on and off right around midnight. Had to reset the clocks. It's still raining this morning, the sky dark and low, the porch lamp on out there, light sensor fooled.

The fancies want to give us a little more through the day, and maybe a little snow tonight. It'll be cold for a while after that, and I'm relieved. I was hoping for spring, but it's too early to hope for spring. First rule: have seasons.

It's a struggle to find the rhythm of teaching again, the rhythm of being responsible to other people.

Let's do the numbers: it's cold out there on the WeatherDeck, 35 and a soft rain. We picked up a full half-inch overnight. The water's thick on the branches, a little syrupy. People's houses are belching out smoke and steam. We maybe didn't miss ice and snow and paralytic live News2 Chopper12 FirstAlert reportage by all that much. And that would have been well and good—I could already use a day off—but this has always been my favorite weather, the kind of day that runs everybody else indoors, the kind of day that leaves me looking out the window, or standing in the open screen door, or out on the porch in my robe, thinking This is not so bad, thinking This is kind of beautiful, actually, thinking Maybe I'll have one more cup of coffee, thinking Maybe I'll just wear the same shirt today as I did yesterday.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Hard Freeze.

A cold truck on the way in, a cold truck on the way back home: we're in that place where you could wake up any given morning and have it smell like May or like December. This morning a good solid chill, a hard freeze, a crystalline quality to the sunlight to remind us that it remains solidly February. Frozen birdbath, frozen cat water. And you heard it here first, friends and fans of weather: the daffodils are at a dead stop, holding out for the promise of a rain in the mid-fifties tomorrow and Wednesday. After that, we'll see: but first let's see if it rains.

In the fall, when the light starts to get long, I get excited: Comes then the weather of flannel and fireplaces and perhaps a way to really enjoy a good peaty scotch. Dig around in the drawers for the watchcaps. The season of boots. The light gets less long now and I think about what dug dirt smells like, how many more months the pansies might be good for, when the prison farm might have impatiens, how long after that it might be until they have tomatoes, until they have okra.

For all my wireless internet and cable tv and flea oil for the dog and presidential primary bumper stickers, I remain happily a creature most attuned to when the prison farm might have those okra seedlings, two leaves apiece, ready to go. Plant those bad boys over by where Phil's cat likes to roam, keep the rabbits off of them. Okra from June until the light gets long again.

Well, then. Live righteously, and it's not long till the cannas start coming back up out of the ground. Headed for a season of things happening. Coming out of a season of stasis. The sedum, right around the base of each plant, have little green clusters wanting to start back out. They'll get frozen back, but they're coming. They're coming. Rain tomorrow if we're well behaved. Behave well, people.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Batten Down.

Wind. All day long, and insistent, continuous, out of the west, mainly, and more than enough to bring down small branches all up and down the street. Bright, bright sunshine and almost warm out there if the wind's not blowing, but it is. Hard. All the time. Wind.

I think sometimes I forget that weather's not just temperature and whether or not anything's coming out of the sky.

It's loud out there, and in that noise, a pretty sure beauty: one more way to know the trees are where they are. Six or eight geese came overhead west to east at an impressive speed. Tailwind. The crows are getting knocked around. Somehow that seems right, though I don't mean them any specific harm.

Trashcans tipped over. Blue bucket up against a storm drain. The neighbor's kid's tent rolling across the yard. Bits of paper flashing by. Nothing not moving. Whatever's in the street gets blown past, then gets blown back again.

Goddamn new neighbor dog barking all damn day. Maybe it's the wind. My dad used to like to tell a joke about two old men, hard of hearing. First one says, It's windy. Other one says, You old fool. It's Thursday. There's more to that joke. I just can't remember it now. He would do the voices. He loved that one. I imagine he still does.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Signs, Omens.

The angle of the sun is starting to change out in the writing shed, where my desk faces west into the afternoon sun. The sun's staying higher off the edge of the planet, and for longer. Brighter and sharper, then, on my desk itself. I know it's only early February. I know we've got March out in front of us, notoriously gray and cold, at least at the end, if history holds. The Japanese magnolia will bloom, and then we'll catch a freeze, maybe some ice and sleet. We'll get an eighty-degree day in there once or twice, too. March is a strange one. But the sun's lifting back up again, and we're dragging our way toward spring. I haven't mowed the back yard since the first week of June. We get a little rain here in these next couple weeks, though, and I'm going to have to drag the mower out and run it around some. I'm torn. I want winter. I know we need winter. But I'm ready for spring, too.

It's supposed to be windy tomorrow, and some of that is starting up already. A few thin clouds out there from time to time. Warm. Sixty, at least, front and back doors open. It cools back off a little next week, and we're forecast to pick up at least one hard freeze. That ought to slow the bulbs some, but they're so far along that it won't be enough. I'm trying to think of what comes next. Maybe the early trees, the cherries and plums. Maybe the hostas start working their way up and out. Maybe just these few daffodils, and then nothing else for a couple of weeks.

It rained pretty regularly there for a while, but it may be time to crank back up that regular drought lament. We're still mired in D-4. We're still way under for both the calendar year and the year that runs from this February to last. We're still under watering restrictions. We're still, or I am, anyway, waking up each morning, looking out the window, and hoping like all hell it's nowhere near as pretty as it is today.

Yesterday the dog peed on three manhole covers. That seems worthy of footnote, if not of note. It's a harbinger, an augury, though of what, I can't quite say.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Gravitational Pull.

At the corner of Gracewood and Fernwood — ! — the roughly 8x8 chain-link front-yard dog kennel has fallen on itself. The BEWARE OF DOG sign on its gate/door is now aimed, give or take, at the sky. No dog in it to be wary of. The blue tarp roof is the culprit, I think: got full of water over the past few weeks and pulled the fencing down. The ruins of a very specific sort of civilization.

Easily five hundred starlings all in a yard on the way to work. A Great Blue Heron in the restored creek out front of the Proximity Hotel on the way home. I looked for hawks every time I went outside, but couldn't find any. Saw a vulture up over the railroad tracks, though, just after I quit this afternoon. Big. Slow. Ink on the whitening sky.

Today was the sort of day where if you'd had your chair aimed just right, you could have sat outside without a jacket on. Cloudless. Blue. Upper fifties after a morning chill. Daffodils still coming on, still coming on. Bluebells starting up out of the ground. It's supposed to be just past sixty tomorrow. These are the sorts of days that get me thinking hard about a truck bed full of compost, another one full of mulch.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Goals, Objectives.

A side benefit of teaching east of where you live is that given the right combination of disastrous late-afternoon universityspeak meetings and Eastern Standard Time and cloud cover, driving back west at, say, 5:45 in early February can deliver unto you a sunset that fills up the better part of half the sky. I didn't drive the truck much during the hiatus. What few times I left the house put me in the smaller car, the easier one to drive. Turns out I missed the truck, its mouse-piss heater core, its fussy idle, its questionable alternator, its gigantic enormous windshield. All in all a nice way to drive home through the cooling evening, a better end to the day than what had come before, which was one more time around the hamster wheel, one more person standing in front of the rest of us and pretending like teaching writing was something other than battlefield triage, the mitigation of disaster, a desperate holding of one's finger in the dike. These people who hold that writing can somehow be quantified, who seem to believe that if we just name enough of the parts of it something unintelligible that nobody except those selfsame people, who already seem to despise the written word enough to do it that kind of harm, can understand— oh, I hate the people with the lingo. Can we just call it what it is? Sentences. Paragraphs. There is no such thing as an "invention strategy." We cannot "dialogue" with each other about anything. No matter how much you try to sanitize and compartmentalize it, no matter how many multisyllabic nonsense terms you drop on it, this still remains: we have to use words to write things down. We can do it well, or we can do it the way the vast damn majority of the university community does it, which is to put a dress on a pig already wearing a dress in the first place.

I'm, ah, back in school.

That front came through and dried us well out, cleared off the whole sky late last night and left Orion hanging there up over my trellis, bright against a pitch-blue dark. Today showed up like it was almost winter again. It may be crisp out there. We could name it something else, but I think I'll content myself with that. It's crisp. Cool. Dry. Little breeze.

My colleagues, I think, believe they can defeat something by naming it. Maybe I'm no better, but I like to believe that what I'm up to is trying all hell to learn what the name for it is already, what people have been calling it for years. Get it right. Don't break it worse than it already is.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Be Prepared.

Looks like we won't get the worst of all the tornadic activity that was up and down the mid-south last night and rumbling through parts of the southeast this morning. There's a fierce-looking line of storms in south Georgia and Florida, and our air today feels more than wet enough for storms, but I don't think the line's going to hold together well enough this far north to toss us around in quite the same way. The pictures of exploded houses and ruined everything coming out of Tennessee and Arkansas are awful. Maybe it's not the witch that's so scary in the Wizard of Oz. Maybe it's not even the notion of other worlds, of displacement, of being lost. Maybe it's just the weather, plain and simple.

Back-to-school day for me here in 27408 and, as a result, in 27244. A classroom full of kids wanting like all hell for me to have something to tell them. I passed a brand new grocery store on the way in, a grocery store where there used to be trees, and it's the Grand Opening of said grocery store, apparently, bunting and flags and a hot air balloon on the roof. So what I told them—my students—was that as near as I can tell, all evidence this morning suggests the following: groceries=hot air balloons.

The building wherein lies my office also houses an auditorium, such that with some frequency I get to hear, say, the pipe organ, or show tune rehearsals. We've got a winner today, though: they are tuning the harpsichord. String by plucky little string. And I say good for them— we need to have that thing ready in case the Renaissance suddenly breaks out.

They did cut the tornado siren on here a little while back, but there's nothing in the area. They were just practicing. Good to have that thing ready, too, I suppose. Good luck out there, everybody. Keep one eye to the western sky.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Keep Off.

A stunning day, frankly. Winds out of the west at oh, I don't know, five to ten miles an hour. Gusts to something more than that, sometimes appreciably more. Enough to send wind through the house west to east. Enough to knock the crows around some while they chase the hawks. Sunny, for the most part. And seventy-three degrees. A free day. A piece of late April dropped down into February. Another day of this and I'd wring my hands, freak out about the state of the planet. I should be doing that today. But I can't. It's just so damn beautiful out there. I think I'm going to have daffodils by the weekend.

Big storms are supposed to track through tomorrow and scrub us clean of this, send us back a little closer to what we deserve and what we need. Somewhere out there in the forecast is a low of 20. But damn, damn, damn.

Took the dog a little further afield than normal, and came across a gentleman who's seemingly lost his temper a wee bit: four signs hammered down into his yard, white posterboard, hurried orange marker: LET YOUR DOG DUMP AT YOUR PLACE. DON'T LIKE CLEANING UP AFTER YOUR DOG? NEITHER DO I. TIRED OF CLEANING UP AFTER HIM? SO'S YOUR NEIGHBOR. TAKE 'EM HOME. Can't you just see the gritted teeth? The self-righteous standing in line at the orange marker store? He couldn't take it any more, I guess. I'm sympathetic: I get my own jeans in knots over barking dogs, over kids dribbling basketballs too near my flowerbeds. But I try to keep myself one step back from the ledge. You don't, I don't think, want to advertise to your neighbors just how close you are to freaking right the hell out. I don't, anyway. I'll do my best to keep my jackshit insane self a secret. A partial secret, at least.

Days like this help. Hard to get mad on a day like today. Hell, if someone's dog was shitting in my yard right this minute, I might even let them.

Sometimes when I'm teaching on days like this I'll walk into the classroom and just say, Have you been outside today? Seems like a lot of them sometimes don't get what I mean. Easy to go outside without going outside. People can't see the yard for the dogshit. Something like that. I'm going back outside.

Monday, February 4, 2008

It's Raining.

I came out of a friend's house last night, and it was raining. Wet street, wet truck, the whole thing. Real and actual rain. This is not the surprise that it was in, say, November, but around these parts, of late, there has been no such thing, really, as being surprised that it's raining. No surprise rain. No opening the front door and discovering that Oh, hey, it's raining.

I've got the windows open right now. 3:30 on a Monday. It's raining again.

I got so mired in the drought — so caught up in knowing that our best chance of rain would be in three days, maybe four; so caught up in 7-day and 10-day forecasts with not one bit of rain in them; so worried about whether or not, say, the trees would be getting enough water to produce anything like a spring bloom — that I completely and totally forgot what it felt like to discover, as opposed to expect or hope, that it is or would be raining.

That feeling's hard to pinpoint, but for me — and I know other people don't necessarily feel this way, which is OK, since I don't really have to have that many friends — opening a door or coming out of a class or waking up and discovering that it's raining is of a deeply personal, deeply spiritual satisfaction. I still want the sunny days, the warm days, the porch days, but a rain is right there with a fire in the fireplace, a mug of coffee, a glass of ice and maybe a little something else, the discovery of a quiet bakery or bar four or ten blocks away from my hotel in NYC. The dog asleep on the couch. I am quieted by these things, and by a good rain. Or even a kind of sad, slack, intermittent rain of the sort we're getting now.

It's a little like I live my life between rains, like I measure things out that way. Days, weeks, seasons. The last time it rained. The time before that. The time it rained so hard on a Scout campout that the older kids floated by me in their tent, headed downhill, singing Yellow Submarine. The time a friend in grad school called me up to come down to his place and watch it rain because the storm drain had backed up and the cars on the street were getting flooded. Other times in grad school when we'd bowl in the street with an actual bowling ball every time it would really open up and rain in any serious kind of way. The night I drove from Crescent Beach to Jacksonville to pick my girlfriend up from the airport, and lightning was striking and striking the highway median. The last time I fell asleep with the window cracked open, listening to the rain. The way the dog gets up on the bed and pants in a thunderstorm. Friday's torrential NYC downpour. Last night's surprise rain.

It rained. It's raining. We were way under last year, are already way under for this year. But I am starting to get to the point where I'm willing to hold out a little hope. Or at least willing to be surprised.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Home Again.

And just like that a flight out of La Guardia, a loop around the top end of Manhattan and back down the other side, tiny sack of pretzels and half a Coke and the tray tables unlocked and locked again and back home to 27408, to high clouds, to warm weather. Warmish, anyway. A dogwalk sans jacket. Warm enough.

A quick check of the yard — so nice to see the yard — shows daffodils coming up almost everywhere now, and right out front, two buds. Seems early for daffodil buds. The crocuses haven't even started blooming. But I'll take it, even if it's wrong— those early risers can bloom whenever they want to, and if they get smashed in a freeze, well, so be it. There are others behind them. I plant at the wrong time, after it's too late and everything's half off, or more. November, December. This is the price of the sale bulbs. The ones that are budding aren't this year's set, anyway, so out of last year's set I'll take anything that's offered.

Odd to jet back and forth across the country. Odd to live way above my means for a few days. Odd to ride the trains, odd to come back home and look around and see trees, the sky, a horizon. It rained while we were gone. Coming back in, the plane flew over the lakes, and they're still awful, still dry, but they're better. Barely better. The fancies want to rain on us a couple more times this week. Maybe I'll fly back and forth again after that, look out the windows, check on our progress.

The new dogs across the street are at it. Barking, whining. Don't know how you could sit in your house and let your dogs do that. It's a whole other way to live. As for me and my way, I'll just sit over here and stew about it. Watch the yard grow. Plan. Scheme. In NYC, it's never quiet, either. Emergencies at all hours, sirens up and down, car horns. Beagles seem maybe about the same. Who the hell knows. We're back.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Chilly NYC.

Scarf weather. Windy. Though it's hard to tell if the wind is real wind or wind-tunnel wind from the buildings. On and off the subways, which I'm beginning to understand, just in time for it to not matter much any more. Back to 27408 tomorrow, and none too soon. I still feel like I like the city, but I'm ready. And broke.

Village Vanguard last night: it's a room maybe the size of my house, and my house is not large. The Vanguard seats 123, says the sign. The bartender let me say for the second set, so I sat there all night drinking $10 drinks and listening to a Hammond B-3 trio work its way through Monk and Rollins and a few of their own. Hard not to think of Bill Evans working his way through four sets on a Sunday, his bass player two weeks from being killed in a car accident. Hard not to think of everyone else in the world who's played there. Hard not to like the Vanguard.

Off now again to The Snug, a little bar in Hell's Kitchen, where my brother just sat with me for two beers and at great peril to his own immediate well-being: I thought for all the world that he'd bail on me and ride with his wife and his friends, as he was clearly supposed to, back to Brooklyn, where they're staying— but he actually stayed here in the city to talk a few things through, to have a couple beers, to speak as men speak. However that is. Little glimpse of how it used to be with us. Before we got all growed up. Goddamn I love that kid.

It's dark here in NYC. Cold. Cloudy. Little wind. The puddles freeze overnight, melt again the next day. The cabs will run your ass down for sport in the intersections. It costs one million dollars to live here. It costs other things, too. We're coming home tomorrow.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Rainy NYC.

And better this way. More like we're achieving something. Eight or nine blocks south and two or three over this morning to Amy's Bread in Hell's Kitchen. Now that we've found the neighborhood around here — now that we've found the place that doesn't seem like the home game version of New York — all is well. A ten-dollar umbrella and the crappy boots and three or four layers and a keen eye to the crosswalk signs and all is well. Hey, sticky buns. Hey, coffee.

Cold, cold, cold, and hard rain — but a quick check of the relevant data shows much the same back home. I'll take it here and there. Good enough for me. Almost an inch in 27408, it looks like. If I had to guess, I'd say we're past that here, but I don't have to guess. Here— I'll guess anyway, and for free: We're past an inch. And still raining.

One problem with writers' conferences: all the writers. Not so much the competition that bothers me as the mass outbreak of overtly sincere nodding. Lots of black coats. Black scarves. Lots of people trying really, really hard.

To escape that then, in a fashion that screams You cannot escape that, then: Further south this afternoon towards The Strand. Maybe a little lunch. Surely a little more rain. Hey, books. Hey, weather. Hey, rain. Hey, no more Conversations With Someone Vaguely Famous in the Mercury Ballroom East at 1:30. It's the talking about the talking about that gets me about all this, eventually. Let's read books. Let's talk less about talking about reading books. Same same writing. OK? OK.

But it's raining. Here and there. So. Peace be with you. And also with you.