Where Is Spring?

 

Where Is Spring

An indomitable groundhog scurries across my lawn, signaling the start of Spring. A hairy woodpecker drills at sunrise from the dead branches of a tall locust tree and garners my attention, signaling the start of Spring. Pyramidal piles of pea like deer droppings accumulate by my patio, signaling the start of Spring.

But, ‘where is Spring’?

The calendar confirmed it days ago. The incessant honking of returning geese announced it from the heavens, and well tanned ‘snowbirds’, returning home from sea, sand and sun, expressed their disappointment and dismay at finding lingering snow showers. Even weather reporters  proclaimed it, albeit reluctantly.

But, ‘where is Spring’? 

Baseball players pass hours oiling their gloves and tarring their bats, hoping against hope that fields will be green and  plush for Opening Day.  Pot holes turn roads into obstacle courses, challenging drivers at every turn. Even the earliest flower, the crocus, is nowhere to be seen.  The supply of hand warmers is depleted. The flannel sheets are worn thin. The damp air, low clouds, and dire forecast surely is winter’s last ditch effort to overstay its worn out welcome.

But, ‘where is Spring’?

Mother Nature was kind to western New Yorkers this winter, giving us hope that Spring would be early. However, the proverbial ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ seems to be out, dashing our spirit.  Easter Sunday is but days away. Newspapers are announcing the opening dates of local golf courses. School kids are starting their ‘Spring Break’.  And while my weather app just flashed this warning, ‘ snow flurries starting soon’, I am compelled to ask…

‘Where the Hell is Spring?’

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“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

“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

Today, I Smell Gingerbread…a Holiday Story

Bread

It’s not just the calendar that puts celebrators in the Christmas and Hannuka spirit. It’s a host of sights and sounds that makes these holidays special: the change to wintry weather; the hustle n’ bustle of gift shoppers; colorful decorations and lights illuminating neighborhoods, windows and shops; the gaiety of passersby offering holiday wishes; quiet moments spent in reflection and prayer. All help create a festive mood.

One of my favorites is the aroma of freshly baked desserts and treats filling our home and signaling the start of this special season. Yesterday, it was almond crescent cookies. The day before, I sniffed roasted walnuts and candied bark, white chocolate with craisins. Tomorrow will bring something new that tickles my senses and rewards my taste buds. But, today, I smell gingerbread.

What a pleasure to be awakened on a brisk winter morning with the smell of ‘just from the oven’ cranberry bread or molasses cookies wafting down the hall and finding me stubbornly stirring beneath the cover of a cozy quilt. My wife, an early riser, is eagerly preparing delicate desserts to be shared with friends and enjoyed with our meals. Yes, I know, I’m spoiled.

Walnuts

Later, the chilly air on a new December day welcomes those escaping kitchen aromas that intoxicate me with spices and sugars, as I finish some outside chores. My work can wait, I decide, and hurriedly make my way inside for some hot coffee and a sampling of today’s treats. Ahhh, I smell gingerbread.

These holidays have a ‘baking season’ like no other, where the kitchen is the arena and the clashing of the cookie sheets, muffin tins, bread pans and mixing bowls tells us that it’s ‘game on’, while the cook builds up to the highly anticipated call, ‘Bon Appetit’. It’s a race to blend, stir, beat and mix ahead of the beginning of the Hannukah and Christmas Day deadlines. The desserts and special dinners seemingly roll out of the kitchen and onto the dining table in a tsunami of meats and greens, biscuits and breads, truffles and spritz.Dishes

When the calendar turns to January, the cooking slows, the menus change, and the emphasis is on dietary needs to help our bodies recover and prepare for spring. Is that possible? Yet, through the dark, cold winter months, I still yearn for the smell of gingerbread.

Pumpkin Pie

Spring rains roll into summer heat, and a warm kitchen loses its appeal. Quite unnoticed, the oven begins a period of involuntary hibernation. Delicacies are not a priority and a cold beer on a hot day will suffice. But nature is a wonderful thing. In a matter of time, the baking season will return in all its glory, and, once more, I will savor the smell of gingerbread in our home…

srbottch (11/23/2015)

Dedicated to my wife, who keeps our shelves filled with wonderful desserts during the Christmas holiday, and to cooks in their kitchens, everywhere.

Welcome Fall…

Front Porch

“I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house.
So, I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air.”
– Nathaniel Hawthorne, American poet

What wonderful words to welcome the new Fall season. Today, I did just that, welcomed it, in all its glory; clear skies, early morning dew and a crispness in the air that snaps your lungs to attention.

Earlier this week, our house prepared for the change, as well. The air conditioner was retired, window screens removed, the furnace inspected, and most importantly, the oven reported for duty.

Welcome, Fall!

The much appreciated and long-awaited aromas of baked goods returned with scents of apples, cranberries and pumpkins for cakes, breads and muffins. Spices aroused my sensory receptors like perfume on a delicate nape. My salivary glands stirred from their summer sleep, anticipating the coming feasts. Surely, a measure of discipline will be required to maintain my belt size.

Maples and oaks will treat us to their final burst of fiery red, bright yellow and sparkling orange before laying bare their limbs to the certainty of winter. Blankets of grass will succumb to frosts and begin their seasonal dormancy, a relief to my tired lawnmower.

Welcome, Fall!

Hiking trails will become colorful murals and deer will be forewarned of intruders in their woods by the crunching of dried leaves underfoot.

Local farms will welcome us into their orchards for apple picking and cider tasting. We’ll sample the delicious fruit as we pick from trees, filling our bags with the sweet and tart varieties, intent on eating our daily quota to ‘keep the doctor away’.

Small town farmers markets become destinations for fun excursions. Families will mix and greet amid just picked greens, ripe tomatoes, a plethora of squashes and apples, fresh-baked pies and fall plants, while everyone’s favorite, the pumpkins with their long, twisty stems, wait to be carved and decorated with scary Halloween faces.

Fall, the season to lay gardens to rest and prepare their beds for the harsh winter. And, as Hawthorne opined, we will enjoy the Autumn sunshine with walks in the woods, shopping at outdoor art festivals, or raking leaves. We will breathe the crisp air and succumb to the beauty of the season…at least until kickoff, because, alas, Fall is football season.

Yes, welcome, Fall!

Pumpkins

(photos by Dick Moss)