“Ice Fishing” in The Meadowbrook…A Tale of Sorts

It’s been a lean winter for ‘ice fishing in the Meadowbrook’…

…unlike last season, when the ‘giants’ were so plentiful, I could practically ‘fish’ from my window.  Hopes were raised with a recent storm that put an abundant snow cover on my roof. But Mother Nature’s tepid temps have dashed any chance of ‘landing’ a big one, now.

As I sit in the mid winter comfort of my sun porch, I’m disappointed by the rapid snow melt, rivulets of water cascading off my roof and streaming down my gutters like a Spring trout stream, ruining any opportunity for a good ‘catch’.  Yet, at the same time, I feel a sense of relief and contentment.

After all, ‘ice fishing in the Meadowbrook’ is fraught with challenges and danger.  ‘Casting about’ a lengthy aluminum roof rake with frozen feeling fingers, and numb toes precariously gripping the icy rungs of a metal ladder, is not a sport for the timid.

Clearing these ‘monsters’ from roof and gutters requires strength, dexterity and the fortitude to take an ‘avalanche’ of snow smack in the face.  If not careful or quick enough to dodge it, the glacial barrage will catch your collar and trespass down your neck, soaking the  long-johns you struggled to pull on earlier to avoid this very thing, a cold damp body.

This was my challenge last winter.  Miserably chilled, I continued my quest for a trophy ‘keeper’, because that’s what a fisherman does: goes after the prize.

After working the roof and watching ‘throwaways’ slide by on their way to the ground, the elusive ‘monster’ finally appeared from behind the last snow barrier. It was the ‘big one’, the one that nearly ripped off my gutter, where it spawned and grew like an ancient stalactite.

Clearing a path with a cautious drag of the rake across snow covered shingles,  the ‘catch of the season’ suddenly lurched forward and hurtled toward me like a bobsled. The extended ladder absorbed the hit and saved it from ‘getting away’. As wet, cold and slippery as it was, I wrapped my arm around it and made a triumphant but careful retreat to the ground.

A 10 pounder, maybe 20. I smiled through lips so cold and cracked, they bled. Fishing for trophies isn’t easy, ‘ice fishing in the Meadowbrook’ neighborhood is as challenging as it gets. But the bragging rights you earn are worth every frost bitten digit you can’t feel.

Now?  Now, it’s trophy time!

Ice Fishing

Every season can’t be as fruitful as the winter of ’14/’15, thankfully!

srbottch

dedicated to all who try to keep ice out of their gutters and survive to tell about it, we’re a hearty group

Today, I Built a Snow Fort

Winter Street

Living in western New York requires a hearty soul when it comes to weathering the weather. Every winter, Mother Nature throws her best punch at us. After lying mostly dormant this winter, she reminded us of her mood swings with a pummeling of snow that stopped drivers, closed roads and shut down businesses.  And some of us thought Spring was on the way.  Ha!

How do people along the Niagara Frontier handle Mother Nature with her long, dark winter nights, and mornings crisp enough to snap the nose off your face if you wiggled it?  Only one way, we take what She’s blown at us and make it our playground.

We tug on long johns, wrap ourselves in downy coats, then race out-of-door to play, just as we did when some of us still could race.

Against cheek numbing winds, we schuss down snow-packed mountains on narrow flat boards. We clamp on snowshoes and break new trails in deep silent stands of nearby woods.

Snowshoes

Dull skates and old sleds are rescued from dusty web covered garage lofts or backyard sheds. Blades and runners are honed and waxed to make perfect for gliding over new ice or flying down slick hills on our bellies.

The brilliant sunshine on a wintry day makes a frigid five degrees feel like a tepid ten. We are survivors!

Me, I call on a time when kids were always outside, playing games that strengthened our bodies and stretched our imaginations. Today, I built a fort in my backyard blanket of cold, cotton-like snow, a dugout snow fort.

My fort today was not unlike one I built back then, simple but strong. A mini fortress, big enough for a cadre of ruffians and a cache of snowballs, just in case real ruffians showed up, as they often did. And amid the screams and yells, and maybe a curse, was the splatting thud of snowballs finding arms and legs and an occasional noggin’.

Those snow castles gave us a place to escape, a place so cold that only the energy of our youthful exhuberance kept us warm, as a pint size ‘band of brothers’ huddled together, making plans for our next adventure.

And what better place to have that adventure than on a corner snow ‘mountain’, the high, hard packed hill of shoveled or plowed snow, perfect for a game of ‘King of the Hill’.

Winter is a great time to test our endurance, to demonstrate our vim, vigor and vitality. Come Spring, we will scratch a notch in our snowpant suspenders as a symbol of success against the elements. We shall prevail!

Today, I built a snow fort. And tonight, under the cold, star lit sky, I’ll climb a corner snow ‘mountain’ and declare myself, King of the Hill!

srbottch.com

Dedicated to the kid in every adult, builders of snow forts, and those who challenge themselves in the great outdoors.

Winter, In Name Only…

“Thy tooth is not so keen, Because thou art not seen”
(Shakespeare, As You Like It)

snow 4
february 3, 2015

“Where is Winter?”  The calendar tells me we are in its grip, but the thermometer says, not so. 2015 brought thigh high snows, yet 2016 has seen nary a flake. “Where is Winter?”

No Snow
february 3, 2016

Our daffodils, normally unseen until April, are breaking ground, and like a periscope, daring to peek at a most unusual sight…grass, in February.  “Where is Winter?”

I almost expect to see worms wiggling out of my way as I leave prints in the soft underfooting of my yard, a ground seemingly unfrozen. But they know better, this is just a tease before arctic air dares to return for an end of season blast, the way firework finales finish a show.  And my orange snowblower looks content to be idle, gathering dust instead of devouring snow. “Where is Winter?”

Today, I saw a flock of Canada geese heading north. Were they locals who call this home, or the real birds that migrate when weather signals them to go?  Oh, let it be the latter. I do admire watching their hard work, these harbingers of the changing seasons. I called to them, “Where is Winter, eh?”, but they were far gone.

I am not a ‘winter person’. Neither the snow nor the cold make my life comfortable. I grumble about it. And just when I’m ready to say, ‘enough with this nonsense, Mother Nature senses my frustration and begins the change to the most beautiful stretch of weather from April thru November. It’s the reward for my patience with her.

But for now, the strange calmness that has enveloped us along the Niagara frontier reminds me of the sailors on the listing Pequod, waiting and waiting for the wind. In our case, the winter wind. I do not miss the winter, wherever it is.

I believe I am not alone…am I?

Buckland in Winter
Buckland Farm in Brighton, NY

srbottch

http://srbottch.com

to my Rochester Instagram followers, whether you are winter fans, or not

Good Movies Make Good Memories: I Saw Elvis

Movies 1

My dad was a Sinatra fan, said he could sing anything. Then, along came Elvis Presley, a different kind of performer who ‘rocked’ the country and attracted fans of all ages, including my dad.

It’s an understatement to say Elvis was unique.  From his slick black hair and long, wide sideburns to his trademark hip swinging, Rock ‘n Roll singing genre of music,  Elvis was the new king of entertainment.

When Elvis hit the silver screen with his first film, ‘Love Me Tender’, my dad took us to see it, my first movie experience with him.  We blended with a crowd of young and old at the Park Ave theatre in Worcester to see this ‘all American boy’ who had the girls screaming with every gyration and lip curling lyric that accompanied his guitar strumming.  I enjoyed the movie, but the priceless memory for me was catching a glimpse of my dad, generally a serious man, surrounded by excited youngsters and enjoying the Elvis experience along with them.

We’ve had fun at the movies with our two children, making our special memories. My son didn’t notice the tear I shed when we saw ‘ET’, he was 5.  We saw the first ‘Star Wars’ in 1980 at 6, and came away thrilled. We saw the newest episode, accompanied  by his wife this time, 35 years later, and got goosebumps, again
Movie Tickets

My daughter and I saw ‘Titanic’, a tragic love story with a beautiful score, and ‘Jurassic Park’, a fantasy adventure with life-like dinosaurs that kept us on the edge of our seats. She laughed when I jumped during a scary moment, then we both laughed. And today, we’d laugh again when remembering it.

Together, the family saw the hilarious comedy Beetlejuice while vacationing in New York’s Adirondack region.   Not only were we entertained, but the memories of going together are enduring and we still say, ‘remember that scene in …..!’

The movie theatre is one of the early entertainment experiences for kids. It’s an opportunity to introduce them to a simple cultural event while teaching them to become discriminating consumers, understanding good product from bad. And the bonus, it’s a wonderful way to spend a few hours bonding, watching the event and critiquing it later, together.

I recall my own childhood and rememberances not of ‘things’ I got, but of what we did together as family: ballgames, fishing, rides to the country, stopping for ice cream, and going to an occassional movie.

Times are different, life is faster, people are easily distracted, all the more reason to get together and do something to enjoy each other’s company. Go to a movie!  You won’t see Elvis, but you just may discover something better, each other.

Today, I Stopped the Bleeding: First-aid in the Locker Room

Styptic 2

I have become the purveyor of Styptic pencils in the locker room at my health center. This past year I dispensed personal ‘pencils’ to three different gentlemen who apparently have not mastered the art of shaving and sliced themselves on the lip, neck and earlobe.

As an experienced blade shaver, I understand a nick on the neck, but a laceration of the lip and excision of the ear, or portion thereof, befuddles me.  It’s awkward, if not impossible, to have a conversation with a man whose blood is squirting down his cheek, cascading off his chin and splattering onto the floor like ink leaking from a cheap fountain pen. If not for the grey hair and loose skin that is a curse of us ‘senior citizens’, the bleeding gave each man the look of a pugilist who stepped out of the ring with the great Carmen Basilio*.

However, quick action saved the day, when I offered my Styptic pencil and stopped the carnage.  For the uninitiated, the Styptic is a pencil thin chalk-like instrument packed with astringents that “contract tissue to seal blood vessels”(Wickepedia).  A short stinging dab on the cut and the bleeding stops quickly. Every blade user should have one in his kit, or medicine cabinet.

Understand, the Styptic pencil is not ‘loaned’ to the bleeder.  On the contrary, it’s a giveaway with the proper response, “no, keep it” when he offers to return it.  Then, buy a replacement to make sure you keep supplied, as I did.

Styptic pencils are not expensive and last a long time, unless, of course, one spends his workout session during the peak ‘senior hours’ when shaky hands and diminishing eyesight contribute to cuts and nicks that call for a Styptic pencil, as they’ve called for mine, 3 times.

My ‘heroics’ wasn’t life saving but it still was first-aid.  And, over time, my embellishment might just make it seem so.

Everyone who shaves with a blade must have a ‘cut story’. What’s yours?

*Carmen Basilio was a boxer who won both the welterweight and middleweight crown in the 1950s.  He was well known for being a tough fighter who would wear down his opponent as the fight progressed into late rounds.  Carmen certainly was accustomed to getting cut or bruised on his face and his ‘cut man’ would stop the bleeding between rounds. I wonder if he had a big Styptic pencil among the tools of his trade.

 

“Today, I Shoveled Snow…”

“Announced by all the trumpets of the sky, Arrives the snow…” RW Emerson

Winter Street

Today, I shoveled snow. Yesterday, I shoveled snow. And the day before that, I shoveled snow. It’s winter in western New York and we live with a steady diet of snow

Along the winter shores of Lake Ontario, steady snowfalls are the norm and removing it is more than a daily ritual. It’s a right of passage for youngsters and an absolute necessity for adults who get up, get out and get to work. Commerce doesn’t stop for weather, here.

Growing up in central Massachusetts, where measureable snowfalls also were a common occurrence, kids there learned to shovel at an early age, too. It was not an option in a blue collar neighborhood where dads had to be at work early and on-time.

All able bodied males in the house, young or old, manned shovels, clearing driveways and walks to help get workers on their way. Plow service and snow blowers were an unaffordable luxury for most families.

All that was heard on eerily quiet, ‘three decker’ lined streets the morning after a nor’easter, was the scraping of metal shovels over frozen pavement, and dry, fluffy snow squeaking underfoot with each twist of our black buckled boots. The task of finishing a job fell to the young school boys with nothing but time on their hands. Time and energy.

Snow shoveling is a low skill task, even the tools are simple and aptly named, ‘shovels’.  Bend, scoop, lift, toss, use your legs not your back. But those weren’t instructions my dad gave. He was more direct, knowing that I could figure out the mechanics, myself.

“I expect this driveway and sidewalk shoveled by the time I come home from work”, he announced, without mentioning my name or even looking at me. It was understood whom he was addressing, the skinny kid and the only one left home after he and big brothers went to work.

My dad’s directives were always clear and concise. The fewer the words, the stronger the message. Besides, mother always made sure the work got done, as prescribed.

And when the jobs were done, the neighborhood became a bevy of street hustlers, as I and other like-minded junior entrepreneurs with shovels slung over our shoulders, eagerly slipped and slid through heavy snowdrifts, knocking on doors with wet mittens, competing for whatever snow removal opportunities were left at neighboring houses.

We had no business plan or even understood the value of our labor. Regardless, we would shovel walks clean to the pavement, keeping tempo to imaginary cash registers ringing in our collective minds, totally dependent on the client’s generosity. Sometimes it was good and other times, not so good. But the greater lesson of work and reward was invaluable.

Now, I still find myself taking on the task of snow removal. It rekindles frigid memories of finger and face freezing days under the watchful eyes of my father and the lessons he ‘taught’ me.

One thing is certain…I can’t wait for the return of summer in western New York!

Snow 2

srbottch

Winter

The Bar Chronicles: #2, Coal Was King

Bar Night 2

‘Coal Was King’

It was coal country and there were bars on every corner. My dad came home from work, black face, sometimes unrecognizeable. I had to get outta there…and I did.” (A friend)

We had our second ‘bar night’ recently, my friend and I, leaving the house for a couple of hours of ‘senior bonding’.  Two beers, this time. The choice, again, Guinness, and the setting, Thirsty’s, a small but vibrant ‘watering hole’ in the heart of Pittsford, NY, across from Starbucks and steps from the Erie Canal.

Thirsty’s doesn’t have a sign over its front door, doesn’t need it. On a week night in December, business was brisk, with patrons of all ages in good spirits, days before the Christmas holiday.

It was unusually mild weather for the start of a western New York winter and the crowded pub was warm.  We arrived just as two barstools were vacated.  With dark beers in hand, we raised our mugs to the other’s good health and the conversation began.

Personal stories that take us well back in time are often fascinating. Telling them with the background din of other ‘spinners’ and patrons reaching between us for their beers, added to our evening experience in this iconic village bar.

My friend’s narrative was no exception and the pictures he painted are still unfolding in my mind’s eye. He took me deep into the coal mines of eastern Pennsylvania while offering a glimpse of a young man’s life in a mining family. All of this ‘time travel’ while perched on wooden stools, a beer in one hand and the other stretched out and anchored on the bar to mark our borders from the pressing crowd.

Coal was king in eastern Pennsylvania in the 1930s. The mines flourished while the earth gave up its mother lode of solid black gold, albeit reluctantly. Miners, often immigrants, worked tirelessly in an environment fraught with danger, scraping and shoveling, removing coal layer by layer, loading it into ‘cars’ to be hauled above ground.

In the shortest days of winter, workers entered mines in early morning darkness, leaving their frozen breathes at the ‘drift portal’, like a gentleman checks a coat. At day’s end, the pitch darkness welcomed them out, camouflaged as they were with dust, black coal dust, on them and in them.

“Another round, fellas?” The call snapped us back. Without a word, we threw down the last bit of beer, paid our ‘cash only’ tab and relinquished our prime seats. It was late, two beers down and our eyelids were heavy. I reached back for a last handful of bar snacks as we put another good evening behind us.

The streetlights cast feint shadows over the historic canal, empty now, reduced to a mere ditch in winter when it’s murky waters are drained.  As we walked, I looked at my friend through tired eyes and thought about the different paths we’ve traveled. Life is an adventure and it makes for good stories, good bar stories.

srbottch

Dedicated to my friend, Steve P, and story tellers everywhere.