Saturday, December 26, 2020

Sounds of Winter

     I woke up this morning to the sound of the snow plow traveling through our neighborhood.   A definitive sound of both the diesel engine and the scrape of the plow blade over the macadam.   It was too early to get up but I was a bit wakeful so my mind wandered off into thoughts of winter sounds.  Here I was in my cozy nest of covers where I began to think of my winter childhoods on the farm.

    The vivid winter sounds I especially remember from my childhood 75 or so years ago arise from sleeping in an unheated bedroom.   Our farmhouse was uninsulated with no storm windows.   The only heat was a kitchen stove and and pot-bellied stove in the living room.  Needless to say, overnight the temperatures in my bedroom mostly matched the outdoor temperature.  On those bitterly cold winter nights I would lie in bed with as many covers as possible, listening the sounds of a storm beating against the clapboards.   The wind would moan and howl!   Loose windows and clapboards would rattle.   I can feel the cold, loneliness and despair even now as I think of the challenge of surviving those discomforts.     Eventually I wold drift off into sleep shutting out the storm sounds.    Then there was the wake up call for my winter morning.   My mother didn't have to shout up the stairs for me to get up!   However, there was a signal that alerted me to rise.  It was the clank of the metal lids on the wood stove in the kitchen.  When I heard several clanks, I knew my mother had started the fire in the stove.   Soon the kitchen would be warm!  After an appropriate interval of time, I would grab my clothes and dash down the stairs to start the day.

    Beyond my childhood memories I've continued  thinking of contemporary winter noises.   There are the noises of both my and my neighbor's snowblowers.  There is the noise of the scraping shovel as another neighbor clears a sidewalk.    And now I can rest in my cozy house and still be in comfort as the wind of the latest snow storm beats on us.   (Just now as I write this blog, our plow people are making another noisy run).

    Now my thoughts turn to the sounds of the ski slopes.   For Eastern skiers, there is the annoying sound of the snowmakers for many days of the season.  Depending on the type of snow maker there are variety of raucous roars to gentle swishes.  I surely like the gentle swishes!  The din of some snowmakers can be overwhelming.  When the snowmakers are shut down there can be blissful near silence on the slopes, especially when we have had a powder snowfall.  Other times we deal with the scrape, scrape, scrape over the hard pack or ice.    Of course each lift has it's characteristic running machinery sound.  On the ride up the mountain the pulleys and cable have both squeaks and hums.     I could go on, but here is the challenge.  Try listening for uniques sounds of winter.   It entertains me!

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Back Off

     A beautiful crisp winter morning!  Sun glinting off the snow with sparkles of light.  Should be a great day to go skiing!  I hadn't planned on it though.  Thinking that the weekend day of Saturday would likely be a busy day at Greek Peak I had tentatively decided to stay home and hit the exercise bike.  Skiing during the Covid-19 pandemic has become a challenge.  Too many people in any space is a danger to old guys like me.   Even rides on the quad chair with one other than a close friend can be treacherous.  Yesterday a dude asked to join me.  Once on the chair he lowers his mask!  Hey man, that's not cool.   I didn't say anything but turned my back and hoped than I wouldn't be downwind of him.   Back to today's situation.   

    After showering I took another look outdoors.  The sun was fantastic and the snow continued to beckon me to the slope.  I told my wife Nancy I had a change of heart.  I'm heading for the slopes to get in a few runs.  In fifteen minutes or so I called for an update on the conditions, geared up, and headed out.  On the way I enjoyed listening to my latest audio book and dreamed about the first run.

    Then I arrived at the slope.  Wow!   A ton of cars in the parking lot.   A mega line waiting to get tickets.   And a quick glance to the area around the two lifts showed what kind of a day it could be.  There were mega crowds dispersed in the run up to the lifts.   Ringing in my head was the thought, Back Off old man!   Rethink your day because you really don't want to go through the frustrations of navigating the crowds and the waits and the potential exposure to Covid.   I made a rolling exit from the parking lot and headed home.   I plan to live for another day such as the normal weekdays at the slopes where the early morning geezers have our own little playground.

    Surprised my wife that I had returned.   She applauded me for being circumspect.   Ah well.   Today's exercise became some snow blowing and shoveling and nearly an hour on my recumbent exercise bike.   Didn't have to back off of those activities.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Appreciation For Skilled Trades Workers

     Yesterday saw the completion of a wall board repair project in this study where I am writing this post.  After a completely botched job by a previous tradesperson, our new worker did an amazing job.  In just a few hours over two days we have a very satisfactory outcome.   All this has reminded me to appreciate skilled persons in the various trades.  Be it electricians, plumbers, masons, metalworkers, or various kinds of mechanicians.    I know from experience that I am what is called "a jack of all trades but a master of none".   I'm an engineer and although I probably have a deeper understanding of structures and machines than the trades people, I certainly cannot execute the designs as well as they can.  In summary I really appreciate the work of skilled people.   By the way our most recent experience underscored that diversity in the work force is a boon.   Traditionally big burly dudes often are the vision of people in the trades.  However in our recent project we had a slightly built woman that worked wonders!  Liberation!  I especially appreciate the removal of stereotypes since we have two daughters who are engineers.  Both were pioneers in breaking the stereotypic barriers to success as civil and electrical engineers.

    I had a long active career as an engineering professor and certainly value higher level education.   However a college education is not the path for everyone.   As a society and a country we desperately need qualified and skilled doers!   People who can fix and build things!   During this coming ski season, I surely will be calling on the ski mechanics to sharpen and tune my skis!

Wednesday, November 11, 2020


      Time to be sure the skis are ready for the new season.  It got me to thinking about waxing of skis as lubrication to makes things go more smoothly.   I began to think about this as a metaphor for for the functioning of our nation and our society.   What is the equivalent of wax in our society to make things move smoothly?  Unfortunately over the past four years we have seen what does not work.

    Thus I would like to focus on what I think does lubricate our society.    If we respect each other we will be on the right path.   Respect means we honor each person as worthy regardless of economic, social or racial identity.   We will avoid name calling.   We will seek to be empathetic.   We will support leadership that embraces values that enhances cooperation rather than combativeness.   We will foster character that we would want our children to emulate.   We will examine ourselves and seek to remove the lesser angels from our being.   

    I know that what I say next may offend some of my followers and friends but I need to speak my truth.   When truth is subjugated everyone suffers.   Our United States of America has been so assailed by lies that we have become immune to their effect.   This must change.  The very soul of our nation is at stake.   My hope is that there will be an age of enlightenment in the future.  May the grit of lies be replaced by love, respect and truth. I hope to live to see that day. 

Saturday, October 31, 2020

On Being Unaware

     We have lived in our present home for 12 years blithely assuming all was well with our water supply.   When we moved in I noticed there was a water softening system that was not in use.  It looked like it hadn't been used in years.  I assumed that the previous owners deemed it redundant for our municipal water supply.   Not so!

    While visiting our daughter several weeks ago, my wife noticed how much nicer her hair felt after washing in their water, which is soft water.   From that experience we became aware that maybe we had something wrong with the hardness of our water.   Why hadn't we thought of that before?  It is part of being unaware when something is obvious but we are seeing but not seeing.  For instance our coffee pots have routinely plugged up and required frequently cleaning.   The shower heads often have to be changed.  All these clues went flying by us.  

    The upshot of this awakening is a new water softening system.  Wow! What a change!  Every item that is using water has performed better from showers, to coffee making  to clothes washing.  

    There is more to this story.   We have a humidifier attached to our forced air furnace.  This was a new furnace installed in February of 2014.   For the past 6 plus years I have been oblivious to the need to replace the water pad (filter).     You can guess what the pad looked like after 6 years accumulation of hard water deposits.   What a mess!    Another awakening.   It took me several hours to remove the deposits from the frame holding the pad.   On top of that the drain tube was completely clogged with debris.   After a long soak in hot water and a little probing with a wired it was ready to be reinstalled.   Happily a new pad and fully functioning humidifier is in place.   I expect that with the new softener in place the replacement of the pad will be probably be on a season by season schedule.   To be sure of the maintenance I have entered a reminder into my Google Home smart speaker for a replacement at an appropriate time.    Isn't it amazing that things out of sight can be out of mind?  However even things in our sight on a daily basis may not register. 

    To be aware we need to be shaken up from time to time.  In our relationships things can be hidden too.   I am asking myself what calcifications are accumulating in my routine of daily life.?  Are there changes I could make to be more loving and caring both at home and in my social and societal activities?    In this time of political and pandemic chaos it behooves us all to look beneath the surface to see what need to be cleaned out and changed.  

    Finally a comment about the coming ski season.    On being unaware, I visited my home ski area of Greek Peak yesterday hoping to pick up my pre-paid season pass.  As we all know things on the ski slope will be different this year.    To my surprise the passes will not be available until the end of November.   Apparently with all the adjustments to comply with pandemic regulations, they have fallen behind on the routine activities.  Things will be different.   Sadly I do not see the usual coffee hours for our geezer group this year.   Probably locker room boot ups will be eliminated and we will be putting on our gear at our cars.  However, we should be able to social distance on the slopes.   We have spent years unaware of how fortunate we have been to have the freedom of social interaction in the pursuit of the sport we love.  I live with the hope that this crisis will pass and we will not necessarily return to a new normal, but will be  more aware  overall how fortunate we are with what we do have. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Rainy Days

     I have a love hate relationship with rainy days.   Right now at my home we are experiencing a nice rainstorm. During August and September we have had a drought and the lawn has suffered.   I welcome this precipitation that will revive my lawn and reduce my need to water the two apple trees I planted.

    When I was growing up on the farm, I often looked forward to a rainy day during the planting and growing seasons.  A rainy day was respite from the draining labors of farming!  As a young lad I welcomed the relief from both the heat and the tedium of our tasks.   I especially remember how glad I was to have rain when we were transplanting cabbage on a 90 degree day with the wind blowing dust in our faces.

    Having a rainy day wasn't always a relief from work on the farm.  A frequent task on the rainy day was to clean the barn.   I am not sure that this was entirely necessary or was it was another way for my father to keep me occupied.  It was a dusty, dirty job that I hated almost as much and field work.  Sometimes a more pleasant job was in store like maintaining or repairing machinery.   Best of all a trip to town was a treat that we all enjoyed.  Dad would have a beer and I would get a soda!

    Fast forward to the present time of my life and I think about the hate I have for rainy days during the ski seasons.  Over the last 20 years my records show a significant increase of rainy days  and definitely so in the last five years.   Climate change is taking its toll on the quality of our seasons, especially in the Northeast!  Even with rainproof gear, a day on the slopes with rain covering the goggles and running down your neck is not the greatest!  

    May it be so that our rain comes when we need it and holds off for the outdoor activities we enjoy both in winter in summer.

Thursday, September 24, 2020


     I am a regular reader of the The Writer's Almanac by Garrison Keillor.  A few days ago I learned about Euripides.   His philosophy is summed up in part as follows.  "Tragedy isn't getting something or failing to get it, but it's losing something you already have."   This revelation resonated with me in many ways.  

    In the physical realm I am no longer in the mode of achieving great success in my piano playing or clarinet playing or becoming a competent tree skier,  or even raising my tennis to another level.  I accept that these are not tragedies, but I do see a tragedy down the road when I will likely reach a time when I will be unable to ski with the confidence I once had.   I don't want to play down the incentive to try new things in life, but I am truly ready to accept my limitations and attempt to hold onto things that are dear to me.

    In the larger world of the state of our United State of America I am deeply troubled by what we seem to be losing in our society.   We tragically have lost the sense of mutual care and respect.   Our nation has been taken down the path of divisiveness by our leadership.  Respectful norms of behavior have been trashed.   Leadership has chosen name calling and denigration over grace and charity.   Democracy as we have known it is perilously in danger of being destroyed.  If Euripides was around he would say, "You fools, why have you allowed this to happen?"   Meanwhile I struggle to maintain hope for a new day where the tragic sacrifice of 200,000 lives to incompetence and cruelty will be replaced by compassion and care.   Contrary to what Euripides said, unless we do get democracy restored in our nation it will be an enormous tragedy.