Monday, December 13, 2010

Blessing Count 2010

Lisa and I worked both days this blizzarific weekend at The Hotel in Downtown Minneapolis. Saturday morning we got up and I had to give myself a little extra time to clear off the car before we left. We decided to park in the heated garage under The Hotel to avoid what we’d already heard would be a snowstorm of biblical proportions. It was crazy downtown. Everything was closed. The people in The Hotel had nowhere else to eat. We were busier than we’ve been on a weekend in months. By 2:00 P.M. when we were done with work, the airport had closed. The people who were supposed to check out ended up having to stay another night before flying home, so there were no extra rooms for employees. We thought about leaving the car in the garage (since we don’t have one at the house) and busing home and back downtown the next morning, but by that point the buses had stopped running. We didn’t have a choice. We had to drive home.
Everything went well at first. The thoroughfares were passable. Not clear, but flat-ish, and about ten feet wide between canyon walls of plow deposits. The problem came when we turned off of Penn Avenue to travel the one block to our house. The snow was just a bit higher than the undercarriage of my Geo Prism, and we couldn’t go. A car was trying to pass around the protruding rear end of the Geo, so I had to run a half-block to the house and grab two shovels. When I returned they tried to help me dig out of the bank, but the car wasn’t going anywhere. Out of sheer luck a guy drove up with a plow on his pickup truck. He opened his window and hung his stubbled face out, cigarette hanging unattended from his mouth, and asked if we could roll back far enough for him to clear us a parking space on the curb of 34th. Seriously, if he hadn’t come along at that moment we would likely have been digging out for hours into the night. He looked a little like a young Billy Joel, if Billy Joel drove a plow for a living. That was the first Christmas miracle.
The next morning we came out to the car to drive back to the hotel for day two of Blizzaricious. We turned around without incident (since Billy had cleared the whole intersection the day before), and got up to the light to turn back onto Penn. The problem was this: Penn Ave is a snow emergency route – it’s the first to be plowed. 34th is not – it’s low priority. So turning from 34th to Penn involves barreling through the plow contrail left the night before and ice-hardened into a car stopping rampart. We hadn’t had the foresight to stow shovels in the car before we left, so we sat, hung halfway between the street we lived on and the street that would take us to work, while I poked at the snowpack under the car with my windshield scraper and cursed. Our neighbor, a man we had met on the street but not really exchanged more than a moment’s pleasantries with, happened to be waiting at the corner for a bus that I assume was never coming. He came over and helped us push off of the plowridge, to universal delight. We weren’t sure if buses had been reinstated at that point, but offered him a ride downtown anyway. He doesn’t speak English super fluently, but we shared some laughs on the drive nonetheless. That was the second Christmas miracle.
By the time we were done with work at 1:00 on Sunday life was almost back to normal. The snow was manageable, the streets were clear, and the populace was self-absorbed again. People had dealt with the adversity and moved on and were either gearing up for the workweek or heading home to finally relax, but I won't forget that twice over the stormy days we were rescued by an unlikely Samaritan. To mystery plow man, thank you, and you may in fact be right – I may be crazy. To our neighbor, come up the block, friend, and we shall feed you. I’d love to hear more about where you have come from, and how much we have in common, while we share some dinner together. Skol.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Do Not Disturb

There’s snow here now, and there has been for about a month. It was weird: unseasonably warm autumn with low squinty sun but comfortable afternoons on the porch, and 48 hours later there were nine inches of snow on the ground. Later this weekend we’re supposed to pick up another six inches or so. I think that’s cool. Last fall I was a little miffed – we’d had an anemic summer without any real heat and the snow came early. I felt cheated out of a season. This year, our last snow fell in late February. We had an almost unprecedented snowless March. I had our garden entirely planted by the first of May. Then September was dry, and October was warm enough to give us a second crop of heirloom tomatoes. This might be the longest I’ve gone (except when I lived in Eureka CA for a year) without trudging through snow. I can honestly say I’ve missed it.
I was prepared. I raked the yard, I drained the hose and shut off the spigot, I cleared out the garden. I was just waiting for mother nature to tell me I didn’t have any work to do outside for the next few months. The window boxes were all blank, and ready for a covering of reflective white insulation. In short, it was time to hibernate. This summer was awesome, it was long, it was hot, it was glorious, but now I had a new winter coat from Old Navy and a pantry full of canned vegetables and jams, and I was fully prepared to make the shift from grilling green and red things in a citrus marinade over flames to frying orange and brown things in animal fat over cast-iron.
Plastic went up on windows, salt went out on sidewalks, and Kev went into a warm bath. Seriously, if it’s going to get dark this early in the afternoon I’m going to put on pajamas and check out before dinner. And thank god I live in a place where such is possible. All summer I keep sandals on and stand in front of the grill until 9 P.M., but come November I can step into slippers and sink down into the LaZBoy at 5 when it gets dark and watch the news, or a movie, or all six seasons of The Sopranos (over the span of several weeks, of course).
Since buying a house I’ve come to realize that this is an important time of year. And perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself with it, as well, for first must come the holidays. There’s shopping to be done, and family parties to attend, brittle and bark to be made, gifts to be wrapped, et al. There is really no relaxing, in the true hibernatory sense, until after the first of the year. However, the winding down of the outdoor activities and the battening down of the homestead for the impending winter is an essential first step.
The Earth itself will actually cocoon us into idleness if we let it, and after New Year’s Day I fully intend to let it. It’s one of the glories of this landscape: In the summer our workshop is the whole of the world (or the whole of our world, anyway), an immense expanse waiting to be subjugated and controlled by us in the form of lawns, gardens, parks, etc. In the winter our purview moves indoors to a smaller, more controlled, and more insular kingdom. My basement is finally going to be tamed, if only because it is my only habitable frontier for the foreseeable future. In the mean time, the raspberry sticks in the side yard will have free reign over the sidewalk because it’s cold and no one else would want to walk on it. I’m inside with a book, or a pie recipe, or a band saw and a blueprint. Eventually though, this house will bore me to tears. I love my house, but it is small, and doesn’t offer the kind of creative challenges I would enjoy. I will organize my basement, and repaint the bedroom, and want another canvas on which to work. With any luck, by then most of the snow will be gone and I will be able to move my operations back outdoors to rebuild the herb beds, expand the lettuce garden, shape the hedge just so, or adjust the boulevard garden for larger and more extravagantly humble stock. Anything to keep me busy and out of the house until I need to hibernate once more.