Smells Like Vanilla

“Struck brightly by the winter, when the snow falls thick and silent, I can only hear you breathing.” ~Matt Pond PA

I miss the smell of freshly fallen snow. When we were kids I used to dive into it, just lie there all clean, just waiting to get washed in white. It wasn’t about the snow angels, or about the snowmen, or even about catching snow on my tongue, even though I did all of those things. It was just about the symbiotic relationship. I fed off the snow, and it off me, as I carved out a spot in its purity for my incomplete self.

It didn’t matter that my coats were often ratty and full of holes. It made no difference that on my block the snow was mostly black instead of white, with car exhausts wreaking havoc almost before it had even landed. I would always find a patch on the postage stamp-sized front lawn and turn it into my utopia. I would lie there with my face turned sideways, my lips nearly blue, smelling that vanilla goodness. I closed my eyes and pretended it was heaven.

I closed my eyes and pretended it was heaven.




Shoop, shoop, shoop. This guy jogged past me at a steady clip, breathing steady, smooth on his feet. I trudged like a turtle. Clip. Clop. Clip. Clop. I waved to him as he passed me heading south on a two way road devoid of traffic. It was just me and him, and the contrasts really couldn’t have been any clearer. He waved back and continued on his way. Approximately 10 minutes later he passed me again, going the opposite direction. This time I threw a few words his way. “I wish I had your stamina,” I said, and then he was gone again.

I continued trudging through the knee deep snow, head down, intent on my destination. Clip. Clop. Clip. Clop.

wp-1489532906540.jpgHonestly, I should have been driving, but I abandoned my car back in the village. It couldn’t make it up the mini-hill, despite the snow tires, despite the 4-wheel drive. It wasn’t for lack of trying, but I left it in the village because I didn’t trust that I wouldn’t run off the road if I continued, even if I did manage to make it up the mini-hill. So I began to walk. In my bright orange coat I knew I made a big enough target for possible approaching motorists, so I wasn’t too worried about getting run over. I began to walk.

Truth be told, the trip from the village to the house here is only about 2/3rds of a mile, but through knee deep snow, with constant snow still falling steadily from above, it might as well have been 10 miles. That jogger who passed me twice — I have no idea why he was out there, or how crazy he really is, but that man is my hero. Perhaps he was training for some kind of marathon, but in this weather, with these blizzard-like conditions, I wouldn’t have left the house if I didn’t have to work.

But yeah, back to the driving portion of the journey. I left work early after my wife called, upset that I was still there when the snow was coming down like this, while the Snowpocalypse was reaching epic heights without a plow in sight. So many businesses were closed, so many schools shuttered for the day, but at Target we soldier on. I didn’t want to be a soldier, but I got there before the storm began. Boots on the ground. Literal boots.

As the day wore on, though, the snow didn’t stop, the emergency vehicles were loud outside the doors, and the anxiety level of loved ones at home reached a fever pitch. So I left early, even though I almost never leave early, knowing that the journey would be a treacherous one, and wanting to start it before it turned the corner into impossible. I left nearly two hours early, and just in time. When I reached my car in the parking lot it was piled high with thick snow, not the fluffy, pretty kind, but the heavy wet stuff that causes accidents. I brushed it off and said a prayer that I would make it back here safely.


I’m not a fan of snow adventures. On my drive back there was no lack of adventure. I saw no fewer than 10 cars in various ditches along the way, often paired with tow trucks and police vehicles, but just as often on their own, having just gone down. Hazard lights were everywhere, but it was hard to see the lines beneath all the snow. Plows were nowhere to be seen — odd, but not too shocking. But with the sheer volume of snow I would have expected more of a presence from the large vehicles. Without them around I kept it under 20 miles an hour.

About a 3rd of the way back here my windshield wipers inexplicably stopped working, something that has never happened before. With the amount of snow from Snowmageddon coming down it quickly became difficult to see out of the front glass, so I improvised. I grabbed my snow brush from the passenger side footwell, slipped on one glove (Michael Jackson-style), opened my window, and began brushing the snow off while driving even more slowly. Cars passed me in waves, some of which ended up in the various ditches, but I soldiered on.

A trip that normally takes me 1/2 an hour stretched on to over 2 as one by one issues came up to impede my progress, but I never stopped for long. I toughed it out, freezing my arm off holding out that snow brush, my hazard lights on, waving others past like a traffic attendant, until I could go no further. Then I started walking. Because I was close enough to sense the finish line. Even if I couldn’t see it through the rapidly falling snow. That’s still coming down in layers.


Dear Journal: Some Like It Hot

Dear Journal,

It’s hot, but I’m not complaining. How could I? I’m the same guy who argued all winter that the chill was no issue. So heat is also no issue, right? I told myself that over and over again while I tossed and turned on the air bed all night, sweating profusely. I wasn’t hot. I swear I wasn’t. Who am I kidding? I miss the air conditioner.

One summer, when I was in day camp, probably around age 10 or so, we were doing basketball that year, and the final program was all about showcasing our basketball skills to our adoring families. This showcase was full of loud background music, and the song I remember the most from it was “Some Like It Hot,” by Power Station.

“Some like it hot, and some sweat when the heat is on. Some feel the heat, and decide they can’t go on.”

I remember hearing that song for the first time and thinking some people were just wusses. I mean, it’s just heat, right? But heat can be deadly. It can also be purifying, though, like sweating out all the bad toxins and coming up from the heat bath refreshed. I like that idea a lot better, especially when it gets so hot I think I’m going to melt like the Wicked Witch of the West.

Which reminds me… water would be nice right about now.


The “Great” Outdoors

o-EASIEST-WAY-TO-SHOVEL-SNOW-facebookI hate being outside. Quite literary. It is an abhorrent enterprise, if you ask me, but I do it when I have to, when there is no other alternative to being outside. Getting married and having kids will do that sometimes, but I still try to avoid it when at all possible. This morning I had no way of avoiding it.

Heidi came into our living room and said, “Go out and shovel around our cars,” so I went out and shoveled around our cars. I learned a long time ago that my wife trumps all of my issues, even if I did still hem and haw before heading out into the tundra to do as she said.

Winter is my favorite season. I make no bones about it, but until a little while ago, when a friend asked me why, I hadn’t made the real distinction between the idea and the actuality of winter. What I love is watching the snow fall down… from the warmth and comfortable confines of the indoors. What I enjoy is sipping hot cocoa by the roaring fire and letting whatever happens outside stay outside.

Because I hate being outside. I’ve always hated being outside. There’s just something about nature that has never quite sat right with me. In summer it was the insane number of bugs that poked and prodded me, leaving welts, bumps, and bruises that were itchy and destructive. In fall and spring it was the uncertainty that each day brought. Would it be achingly cold or surprisingly warm? Would the need for layers force me to be wearing sweaters around my waist by day’s end? And of course there was winter.

I was definitely not a ‘free-range chicken kinda guy.’

Maybe it’s because I am a city boy, through and through. Which is of course ironic considering I live half an hour away from anything remotely resembling a town right now, and because both of my children are country to the core, going through the house barefoot more often than not.

chicken2Heidi was talking about possibly raising free-range chickens sometime in the future, and I told her I was definitely not a “free-range chicken kinda guy.” I’m not. I can’t even imagine walking out my front door and being swarmed by those pesky birds. I’m good seeing the claymation figures from Chicken Run on my TV.

So I was outside earlier… shoveling around the cars, and I could see the steam from my breath rising into the wintry air, and I began wondering if someday there would be robots who could be remotely started who would go out and shovel for us. If there are remote car starters, surely there will be a robot sometime soon who can do the yard work, who can shovel the snow, and who can do the various other tasks related to the “great” outdoors.

I long for that day.


Clothesline Weather

blue_sky_and_green_grass-wideIt’s mud season here in upstate New York, that time when the snow has melted, leaving behind the water that it used to be. It seeps into the softening ground and makes it mushy, making boots a necessity when we’re out there in the marshy grass, the delicate balance of our ecosystem. But mud season means we can at least go outside now without a balaclava, scarf, mittens, the full wardrobe of winter clothing. Rain boots are definitely a good trade-off.

Mud season generally lasts for a solid two months around these parts, so we get used to wearing those boots, and when it rains that makes it last even longer. I guess other people call it spring, but flowers are few and far between here during mud season. When we find one it’s a small miracle, and days without rain during mud season remind me of why I love Ireland so much. But the rain makes their foliage beautifully green while this mud remains brown, and the grass follows suit, when we can see it anyway.

So these past three days have been like heaven. The sun has been out, and the rain has stayed away, so the ground is relatively springy and there is no mud in sight. It would feel like summer if the weather was just a bit warmer and there were clothesline-2more flowers in sight, but summer is just a couple weeks in July, and this “ain’t no July.” Instead, it’s just a strange time when a light jacket is preferable, but shorts aren’t all too uncommon. The neighbors don’t know what to make of it, so they drive with the top down and smile idiotically to themselves. I call it clothesline weather.

We have a clothesline in the backyard. It’s really a behemoth of precision, one line stretches back and forth between wooden posts to give the illusion of five separate lines. For the past three days I’ve been using it exclusively to dry our clothes, something that usually happens on off days when it’s not raining, so it’s been like a dream. I’ve stood out there with my colored plastic clothespins, staring up at the blue sky, hanging up one garment after another with gusto, and humming to myself some Lady GaGa tunes. I wonder how long this will last.

And I’ve probably just jinxed it. Damn.


Feels Like Fall

fallIt feels like fall. Finally. Unequivocally. That uncertain feeling of each morning coalescing into the conflicted atmosphere of the afternoon, and eventually fading into the cool veneer of evening. I woke up this morning to the dark of a night gone wrong, to an early start of another autumn day, and to a cool breeze outside my window. I eschewed a jacket in a show of solidarity for a summer that never quite lived up to expectations, that gave up the ghost way too soon.

As I slid into my car I noticed condensation on the windows, the cool dew’s moisture cold enough to create ice webs on my windshield. Defrosting would have taken too long so I used the telescoping scraper and some elbow grease to clear things up. By that time the inside of the car was warm, but I knew I wouldn’t need the heat on too long. Because fall is just like that, highly changeable. I drove 10 minutes down the road before I turned it off. The car stayed warm, the heat pressed in and comfortable like a supple leather glove.

I wouldn’t need the heat the rest of the day, even though in the morning air I could still see my breath for seconds before it evaporated into the autumn air. When I returned to it by mid-afternoon the air was still like calm waters on a sunny day. Because the sun was out and shining brightly overhead, pretending to be what it can only be for patches of time apart from the summer malaise that is fading with every day that brings us closer to winter.

It feels like fall as I get back home and shrug into my thick, fluffy robe, ready for the cool, collected endless nature of a complicated autumn night. And I settle in for the long haul.


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