Wednesday, March 28, 2007


The village-town line runs right through our house. The Boy sleeps in the village, and we sleep in the town. Although only four years old, he knows the village has a little more cachet than the town. When he’s feeling tantrum-y, he’ll lord it over us a bit. We say “no ice cream,” and he says “peasants.”

Our mailbox and front door are in the village, though, and we get one of three local tax bills from the village, so the village elections seemed like a sure bet.

But no. A politically engaged woman who lives in our house — one who rightly dislikes driving on unplowed village roads, especially after having paid taxes presumably for the purpose of plowing — took her engagement to the voting booth last week, and was turned away. Apparently a front door, mailbox, living room and bedroom aren’t enough to earn you the right to vote in this particular village. The bulk of the lot is in town, and town is where we vote.

THIS was taxation without representation! Quick! To the lawyers! Fortunately, we have firebrand, rebel, metalhead lawyer friends! To arms, men! We called them.

They patiently explained that the Board of Elections had the right to pick a voting location for us, and that if they want to use the largest portion of the lot as the determiner of voting location they blah blah blah something about you can’t vote at your vacation home and something-about-Lemmy what-ever.

Of course, the boy voted at least twice, and keeps threatening to call the new mayor – his guy – whenever we make him clean up his part of the village.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Hiding

Winter lets you see more. When the leaves drop, after the first big wind in November, the land is laid bare, but the browns and blacks of the tree trunks and the browns and blacks of the passing leaves mask the contours. I love that season too, that muddy chill, but it is not a season of seeing.

Call the snow down, though, and you’re suddenly looking at a blown-out Xerox of your landscape, where only the thickly drawn dark outlines stay visible. Then you’re seeing the bones of the country; its high points and low, its undetectable ridges, lines, lifts and inclines. The fringe of trees limns it all in dense charcoal, and steeley waterways, lakes and ponds provide stark flat planes. Evergreens remind you in an understated way that this land is alive.

At the height of winter, there is no fog, no cloudy shroud, no airborne water at all. Just the sun, and the frigid air, and the things that freeze beneath. For as long as you can stand it, you can look deeper, further, with all the clarity of winter and all the angled light of the sun, shining into crevices it normally doesn’t touch. Truth is a reward worth the ice and inconvenience.

And now we’re coming to the Big Concealment. Life speeds up again. Buds form and the smudging finger descends upon the charcoal lines. The snow melts and the mud takes on the color of the trunks again. A gentle brush bearing watered-down green begins to apply its layers. Mist rises off the river and cloaks the places where land and water, air and land meet; insects, birds and thin vines further blur the boundaries. Our vision closes in; there is much much more to see, up close, and the world’s bones hide themselves for another year, which is awfully nice of them, considering.

It’s playtime. But as you go and play, you take that vision of winter with you, that season of far sight, of seeing deeper. Winter is not death; it is sleep. And sleep is when we dream. Play. But be a grownup, and remember what you’ve learned about playtime.

1) Share.
2) Eventually you’ve got to go in.
3) You have to clean up before that.

Further reading.

Friday, March 23, 2007

In Good Company

In recognition of the responsibilities accruing to my new position as part of the hallowed Finslippy blogroll (thank you, Alice, and that thing we talked about? DONE!), I offer a few tidbits about the zany antics of my children:

Apparently the baby cut a tooth this week. How about that? And the lad had fivecount’emFIVE timeouts yesterday. He was yelling at Matthew. Last week he pushed Billy. But yesterday he was really good with Billy. And this morning? Contrite, well-behaved, introspective even.

Uhh, yeah.

You know, for all the scampering and the holiday magic and the tickling and the being lifted waaaaay up high till you’re all the way at the ceiling and the ice cream and the circuses and stuff….

Hmm. I was gonna say “for all that, being a kid sucks.” But that list kind of convinced me that it’s not so bad. I, for one, could really use a circus right about now.

Oh lordy, if you’re linking from Finslippy, just…just go back. Nothing to see here. Coming soon: more Tales of the Sump Pump.

Adjusting to Spring

OMG OMG OMG it was 50 degrees out this morning, so I leapt from bed at 5:10am, determined not to wake my sleeping family. Next I carefully WHANNG!ed my foot against a pile of mail and books, KICK!ed the edge of the bedroom door, belatedly RAN! to turn off my ALARM!, then FUMBLE!d into running gear, nearly TRIP!d over a cat someone left on the stairs, and went running out into the pitch darkness.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Serpents of Paradise

Ahh, yes, the country, I thought when I saw the garter snake sunning itself against the foundation. The most regular snake in the world, Thamnophis sirtalis, both wild and captive examples familiar from my childhood. Regardless, I knew it had to go.

The otherwise very brave woman with whom I share my abode has a cowardice around snakes that is nearly unmatched in the annals of chickenhood. To be fair, she still bears the scar of a youthful encounter with Crotalus horridus, an eastern timber rattler. Not that the snake did anything, but in her panicked flight she tripped over a boulder and gashed her knee on another rock. Then got up and threw stones at the snake.

In addition, we were eating buyer’s remorse for breakfast, lunch and dinner during those summer weeks after moving in. On top of the Sump Pump Issue, the Baseboard Debacle, the Questionably Leaning Mudroom and the Dinky Proportions Conundrum, the last thing I thought the house needed was an Unwelcome Species Situation.

Thus, having a snake of any kind on the premises, even a beneficial garden-friendly and pest-reducing garter snake, was right out. Besides, I wanted to show it to the boy. I snuck up on the specimen, made a clumsy grab, missed, and watched as it slithered directly upward into the siding.

That was an interesting wrinkle.

Perhaps because of perversity, but also with some underlying idea of taking on the Snake Admiration Deficit that pervaded our household, I told my wife a few days later that I’d seen one. And where it went. She was predictably unhappy. My na├»ve hope for primate-reptile reconciliation was dashed when she ordered its removal. So the next time I saw it, I made a more strategic and faster move, and had the snake.

The capture and release program I’d devised was based on repeat viewings of Mutual of Omaha’s pet project, so after some dramatic posturing and a recreation of the event for the lad, I carried the snake a couple of yards over, to a stone wall next to a small pond, and let it go. It immediately took shelter among the rocks.

And that was that.

Until a couple days later, when I spotted another snake in the same spot. This one was clearly not the one I had captured previously. It was smaller, and proved easier to catch. I brought this one down to the snake release center and didn’t mention it.

Not long afterwards, I opened the Bilco doors to enter the cellar and surprised two garter snakes lolling in the superheated oven beneath the doors. I grabbed one – the other slipped between two foundation stones. There were shed skins lying around like the remains of a particularly debauched Snake Party.

C’mon, what was I supposed to do, NOT tell her? How do you not tell someone about all these snakes? And whom could I tell but my trusted mate, my helpmeet, my advisor and confidante, my best friend?

She took it well, if by well you mean that she started calling different hotels to see what kind of non-anapsid specials they were running that week. I got on the horn with a couple of herpetologists to see how many there were likely to be and if they had a homing instinct. The lizard people were about as sympathetic as the smokies had been about the bear. “They’re great!” they told me (which I knew). “Keep ’em!” (I knew, I knew, but they didn’t understand, this woman has a snake scar.)

I converted a bucket into a snake conveyor, adapted a long-handled paint roller and a pair of gloves into the Acquisition Apparatus (I was sick of getting pissed on by every nervous snake in the county) and haunted the backyard, flipping open the doors at random intervals, getting under any snakes with the roller, flipping them out into the yard (I had weeded out the slower ones and now those I found would almost make a whiplike crack as they vanished into their holes) and scooping them into the bucket.

Worst of all, I wasn’t sure whether I was catching the same ones repeatedly. I started venturing further afield in search of the right habitat for release – it had to be as good as my cellar. (We also had these tiny black crickets, order Orthoptera, that lived around the foundation. Inky black little guys. They never bothered anyone. Least of all the snakes, for whom they were doubtless like chicken wings to a fratboy.) If you’re a snake looking for someplace with sheltered stony crevices, a ready supply of insects and occasional running water, our cellar comes up as the first result on Snoogle. The last two I caught I released at a farm ten miles away.

Total snakes: nine (possibly including repeats).

That seemed to do it; we haven’t seen any since. But last fall, after the snakes were gone, we started to see these large black crickets. Big, inky black, startlingly spidery. At night a couple of times, a rogue bull would enter the house, set up someplace undetectable and start singing. So we’d creep around late at night trying to pinpoint its location, and when we’d get close it’d shush. The crickets’ own version of Marco Polo.

And who doesn’t like Marco Polo?

PS: Were you looking for Edward Abbey? Here.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Season's Greetings


I’m sorry I called you flimsy.


PS: Get bent.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


On the Friday before Labor Day, 2005, my wife and I sat out on the elevated deck at the old place, chatting. I had worked a half day from home, the boy was napping, and the lass was only a gleam in my eye. As we spoke, I noticed movement over my wife’s shoulder, out at the edge of the trees. Large movement.

A big black bear (Ursus americanus) moved placidly out from the wooded area and into our yard. I arched an eyebrow, took another sip of my g&t, then thought to myself Bear in the yard! Bear in the yard! Bear in the yard! Bear in the yard! I admired its glossy coat. Then I thought Bear in the yard! Bear in the yard!

I mentioned the bear to my wife. She found it interesting as well. SHE thought Bear in the yard! Bear in the YARD! BEAR in the yard! Bear IN the yard!

Oh and the shouting to our neighbors not to come out, and the banging of the pots and pans and the shouts of “gettee on, bear!” (I am fourth generation Queens by heritage, so I knows my bear-scaring tactics….they HATE “gettee on.”) I called animal control. Because let me tell you, this bear was completely uncontrolled. Like some kind of force of nature. You come into MY yard? I don’t THINK so, friend. You just got yourself a call to a special agency, pal.

They told me to call the State Police. The State Police told me the bear wasn’t breaking any laws. What was WRONG with these people? The bear cares nothing for our petty human laws! It’s as complete a scofflaw as was ever cubbed! This bear in particular! Why was there no one who would CONTROL this bear, which was by this time wandering along up the hill at the edge of the woods that backed the yards, doubtless daydreaming of giant garbage cans filled with mallomars and honey.

I was on my way in to get the camera when I heard the shotgun blast.

Turns out one of the neighbors (Recklus endangerus) had thought to come out to see the bear, had walked around the corner of a house and found himself closer than he’d expected. And oh yeah, he happened to walk out of his house with a loaded shotgun, just in case.

This time I thought Live ammo in the neighborhood! LIVE ammo in the neighborhood! Live AMMO in the neighborhood! Live ammo in the NEIGHBORHOOD!

Our resident marksman, a very young volunteer fireman, was apologetic but employed the “coming at us” defense. The bear had fled, apparently uninjured. I suggested – since you don’t command a deranged 24-year-old with a shotgun – that he never again ever fire a loaded shotgun anywhere near my house.

So far, so good — but we moved just in case. And on our first day in the new place, which is in the heart of a village and not far from the main street, our new neighbor came out and told us about the pictures he took of the bear eating the bird feeders in our new front yard.

I look forward to seeing those snaps.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Live! Music!

Y’all down in New York City (and France…bonjour France!) probably don’t get the opportunity to see well-known musicians in very intimate venues within perfectly-preserved 19th-century mansionswith potluck luncheon & dessert — at reasonable prices. Here in upstate New York, however, such things are possible. So it was that on Sunday afternoon we drove to Middletown to hear Marshall Crenshaw in just such a setting. He does complicated things with an old hollow-body Gibson while doing seemingly-simple things with lyrics and very complicated things with his phrasing. And then there are cookies.

And if y’all down in New York City spent Sunday afternoon recovering from seeing some really excellent cutting-edge band at Bowery Ballroom and staying out till four drinking whiskey and posing naked in Central Park for Spencer Tunick photos then dropping acid and going to L’Express for croissant, I can only say that you missed quite a show.

Oompa Loompa (or, I Did Not Know That)

Babies can get orange noses from the consumption of lots of carrots and sweet potatoes.

There but for the sense not to dash across the road at night go I

Sometimes you’re running along feeling fleet of foot and you look down on the shoulder and realize the branch you’ve just avoided is actually a neatly-severed deer foreleg, with hoof.

Friday, March 9, 2007

7, 12, 9, 14, 19: On the Flimsiness of Winter

The thermometer was a cruel lottery official this week, pulling from the low end of the bucket and dropping the numbered ping pong balls into the slots each morning with a peculiar icy pop. A sound that told you to wear extra layers and get out early because the river was frozen and the bus departs sooner to cross the bridge in time for the train. And you didn’t win this time but stay tuned tomorrow because we’re drawing another number and we’re selling fifty-seven thousand tickets an hour today.

Even this comparatively mild winter takes it right out of you with week after week of the lows, and the ruts you carved in the fall turn solid. It’s cold enough to freeze your ruts. And it’s all you can do to look up from scraping the ice off the driveway to catch a glint of occasional sun off the hardpacked snow.

And it is at this time of the year that Tom Waits says:

Hell’s boilin' over
And heaven is full
We’re chained to the world
And we all gotta pull

And so we pull, and the wind off the river is cold and goes through your long johns like three hundred and fifty-five million needles, each claiming its own skin cell to freeze. Your feet take three hours to warm up and your will a little longer than that. The news, when you listen for it, is bleak – it sounds like it’s coming through a thin tube from a long way off, where the physics are different and the language is always one syllable removed from truth. You pause to wonder “is that about me?” and then you move on because the winter is telling you to pay the oil bill.

But. This week, your lottery number comes in. The payoff’s never what you hope — after the taxes levied by life and the five-way split with your colleagues, your share comes out to little more than the right to continue. But you’ll take it, and why not? Your jet stream is becoming more zonal – that is, more west to east – and your temperatures are going to rise. So here comes a thin sleet and a warming rain and yeah, there’ll be floods when the breaking ice jams in the narrow spots, but after the deluge the rivers will run.

The lion took a hard look at you and decided you were too scrawny to eat, and you can hear the lamb bleating in the distance. Go to him. Go to him and serve him.

With mint jelly, or with a mustard sauce if that’s your thing.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007


1) The Newburgh-Beacon ferry's out again. Propellers dinged and bent from the ice. They're getting the boat fixed tomorrow, but will probably cancel the run until the ice clears.

2) The ground around our house -- all of it -- is coated by a thick layer of slick frozen snow. It's as hard as concrete and as slippery as a Calphalon lawyer.

Seeing the Shadow

Dennis the Skunk trundled purposefully along the bank of the Quassaick. The days of warm weather had lured him out of the den, that first scent of spring knocking at the doors and calling him forth. Winter’s not gone, he thought as the dusk descended, but it had rained, and the rain was working its way into the soil and loosening the grip of the cold. The water was high. Dennis left tracks in the sand near the creek mouth where it opened into the Hudson.

Upstream, unheard, a chunk of ice broke free from the bank, carrying with it a four-inch-thick tree limb with a cruelly hooked and broken fork. Dennis, nose-deep in a hollow carved out by the stream, looking for something tender to eat, didn’t see it coming. It caught him by the hind leg and swept him into the flood. He swam for a moment, but was lost. All that night a vicious wind blew, and the day dawned frigid.

Tonight, as our ferry crossed from Beacon to Newburgh, half a mile from either shore, the unmistakable aroma of skunk took over the cabin.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Life, Celebrated

This wasn't my fastest half-marathon (and even my fastest is slow), but any one I finish still feels like a victory. Every run, in fact, is unique. It feels like you've told yourself a story, carved something out of the world and out of yourself, and whether or not it's the same route, every day is different.

I once asked a sporty friend to tell me the likelihood that, in all the years baseball's been played, there have ever been two games with the same box score, in which every pitch was played the same way. The odds are incalculably astronomically against it, he said. (He's also pretty good at math and stats and whatnot.) That, to me, is the most interesting thing about baseball.

Running is like that. So today it was cold (but not as cold as last year) and I wasn't in training (and last year I was) and this year I ran with friends and talked (and last year I pushed pretty hard), and this year I had more to think about while running. And even though the same guy won the race (he wins all the races around here), his time was different, too.

And humans are like that. So when the Celebrate Life Half Marathon director called out the cancer survivors who had come out to volunteer, or to run, and talked about the mission of CROC, the group that benefits from the race, it was one of those times where events and people fuse in a way that they never have before and never will again -- an absolutely unique moment, and one worth celebrating. L'chaim.

Friday, March 2, 2007


For a little while after we moved in, the Boy, then age three, had a disconcerting habit of referring to The Changeout People. One memorable time, as we ate dinner, he indicated that they were sitting among us in the empty chairs. We told friends, and they revealed that their daughter, when they moved to their old farmhouse, told them about The Haircatchers, who lived in the walls.

How's the hair on your neck? Mine too.

So at work now we try to come up with these things. The Dustbreathers are pretty scary. And the Fingerprint Thief may come to you in the night.

So, beware, is all I'm saying.