We’re getting our first real snowstorm of the year, as I write this. We’re deep into the night right now, and it looks like maybe 4-6 inches have fallen so far. Maybe it’s time for this year’s pictures of our Christmas trees. Here’s the one in front of the house. You can’t really see it from this angle, but I cut off so many branches close to the house (squirrel on-ramps, they were) that from a profile it almost looks like a bas-relief of a pine tree. Still, it works!
That strange purple aura isn’t visible to the naked eye. At first I thought it was an artifact of my camera, but now I’m thinking—maybe, just maybe—it’s dark matter. Or maybe dark energy, hard to be sure.
And here’s our indoor tree, a little different this year. We didn’t go out and get a tree. Or rather, we did but we just went to the back yard and brought in a branch I’d pruned off the big oak tree. With fire in the, er, fireplace.
So this is how October chooses to leave us, eh? I was expecting a dusting of snow—not four inches! All these trees on the bike path still have most of their leaves, so they really sagged under the weight of the snow. I had to bend low to pass through the bower. (Captain Jack and McDuff didn’t.)
That’s the backfire sound my new snowblower made today when I tried to use it in our first snowfall of the winter. The snow was pretty, no denying that. But it was also the kind of wet, hard-to-move snow that we get so often here in New England. I guess we got about a foot or a foot-and-a-half of the stuff. And I should have been ready with the new, gleaming, Ariens snowblower I bought on end-of-season sale last year. (And then sold my 40-year-old Toro, a big mistake.)
The new one ran fine last year! It ran fine every time I started it up during the off season. Until it didn’t, a couple of weeks ago. (I always keep our gas-powered equipment—mopeds, mower, snowblower—fueled with fuel stabilizer added, and run them periodically when they’re out of season. Works great. Until now.) I should have called a dealer right away, but I kept thinking, if I change the gas, run some carb cleaner through it, talk to it nicely, it’ll start working right. (Also, I was a little busy.) Nothing doing.
Also, by the way, this Ariens snowblower is one of the worst-designed machines I’ve ever used. That’s ARIENS, the company that makes ARIENS piece-of-shirt snowblowers with the name ARIENS on them, in case you wondered. Yeah, when it was running, it worked well. But it has no throttle, just one speed. It has no way to add oil without spilling oil all over the place. The dipstick is incredibly awkward to check. It has no provision for draining the gas tank. It has a totally stupid plastic key that you insert to run and pull out to stop, and heaven help you if you drop it in the snow. (Get a big piece of string before you run this bad boy.)
Fortunately, as I thought, I also had my new electric snow shovel that I bought last year to make shoveling off the deck a less cardiac-arrest-inducing task. So I got that out. WHIRRRzzzzzzzz. No. NO. Yes. It’s not working, either. The drive belt is slipping. Nonadjustable. Useless.
The shovel company is sending me new belts. We’ll find out what Ariens will do about a warranty repair on the snowblower, when it gets picked up at the end of the week.
I’m feeling a tad grumpy. And I miss my 40-year-old Toro.
The Northeast blizzard of early January delayed flights everywhere. Daughter Jayce headed down a day later than planned, and Allysen’s mom returned to Boston from a visit to L.A. two days late. Still, my flight seemed a go, three days after the storm.
When you fly from Boston to Ponce, you can take either JetBlue or JetBlue, and you can connect at JFK in New York, or in Orlando. Either way, you arrive in the dead of night, around 4-5 a.m. Fair enough. But my flight out of Boston was delayed, and then delayed again, and it looked increasingly certain that I would miss my connection to Ponce. And there wasn’t an open seat to Puerto Rico on any airline for several days. Nail biting time. If I took the flight to JFK and missed the connection, I’d be stranded there with no options for joining Allysen in time to be of any help.
The good Help Desk people at JetBlue in Boston offered me one hope: Run now to the gate where a flight was about to leave for LaGuardia, and then get myself by hook or by crook to JFK to catch my Ponce flight. “It’s a deal!” I cried as I hotfooted it to the gate. Bless them, I was met by a flight attendant who was already checking on his iPad on my best way to get from LaGuardia to JFK. The basic idea was a cab, but a broken water main at JFK had snarled up car traffic going into the airport. (By the time we were coming into LaGuardia, he was able to report that traffic was moving again.)
My seatmate on that flight turned out to be doing exactly the same thing, except that he was connecting to Minsk, in Belarus. So we shared a cab, and got there in time, and I found myself eating JFK food court food right when I would have been doing it anyway.
Sidebar: Going through TSA in Boston was a breeze. The TSA staff were helpful, smiling, friendly. In New York, it looked like the zombie apocalypse. I had no trouble, but all the staff were vacant-eyed and grim. Why is that? End sidebar.
The Ponce flight was itself delayed, as it turned out. Daylight was not far off, as I stumbled down the stairs from the tail of the plane and set foot on the Isle of Enchantment. Some people can sleep on planes. I’m not one of them. I was feeling pretty bedraggled by the time I got to the house.
There was still no running water. But at least the toilets worked, if you carried water from the pool. I fell into a brief but deep sleep, in which I dreamed restlessly about having a really intense dream, about… I don’t know what, because it evaporated the moment I woke up.
If you remember my chronicles of the last couple of Januaries, it’s happening again. We’re in Puerto Rico, repairing damage to the house that Allysen’s parents built. Last year we got it all fixed up and available to rent, at last. And then came Hurricane Maria. The people here did heroic work clearing away fallen trees and generally cleaning up the huge amounts of debris left from the hurricane. Despite that, it turns out the damage was considerably worse than we had believed.
Allysen came down first, a few days after Christmas. Her initial discovery: no running water. (Power and water had been restored a least a month before to the neighborhood, but water to our place was nonexistent. This was not a hurricane issue so much as a chronic utility issue.) Her second discovery: three of the four toilets were unusable (even when supplied by buckets of water from the pool). It turned out that when the great mahogany tree came down in the hurricane, its roots ripped up a section of the septic line. The one toilet that did work had a huge piece of cracked concrete hanging over it, looking like the Sledge of Damocles. Large sections of fence were mangled, and the newly installed driveway gate was bent. An accident that mashed the rental car was just the icing on the cake. (No one was hurt, thankfully.)
Through all this, Allysen remained astonishingly calm, steady, God-trusting, and of good cheer. If it has been me here alone, I think I would have locked up, thrown away the key, and headed back to the airport.
While this was going on in Puerto Rico, I was contending with a little blizzard in Boston…. (to be continued…)
Happy Advent, everyone—or whatever holiday you prefer. We received a very pretty 7 inches of snow today, leaving lovely mounds in the branches of our evergreen out front, all lit up for Christmas.
Driving home this evening, I watched as a taxi ahead of me spun in a graceful 270 degree circle (on a street that fortunately was mostly empty). As he straightened out and drove on, I imagined he was driving a bit more cautiously. I wonder if this was his first time driving in snow. You learn fast!
The situation on the ground in “our” part of Puerto Rico (Ponce) is apparently a lot tougher than we had come to believe. Allysen finally got through to the next-door neighbor for a talk via cellphone. She says conditions are terrible. Still no water, and this in the second largest city on the island. Still no power. They fire up the generator for about an hour a day to charge things up, and they’re being very miserly with the water that’s left in their cistern (which, fortunately, is larger than average for a home). They have enough food still, but many, many people are hungry. The land feels devastated, and for the first two weeks, they felt utterly abandoned. The National Guard was down there somewhere, they supposed, but nobody came up to their side of the city until just recently.
Her description of our property was pretty discouraging, too. We still haven’t seen any pictures, but apparently trees are down everywhere, making things look like a bomb went off. We’re hoping that the original report that the house itself is okay was accurate, but we just won’t know until somebody can send us some pictures.
Frances said in her whole life on the island, she’s never seen anything even remotely this bad. The kicker is that, prior to the hurricane, tourism had been on the rise. Cruise ships had been coming in—not just to San Juan, but to ports like Ponce. Even our house was getting rented. All that’s over. I hate to think how long it will take to rebuild a viable economy.
These folks still need our help in a big way—and will, for a long time to come.
We finally heard from our friend and property caretaker in Ponce, and the word is that he and his family and their house are okay! (Concrete house; concrete structures fared far better in the storm than wooden structures.) We had gone so long without word that we were worried, to say the least. But, he said, the cell companies were working together to get communications back up, and he was at last able to call out. He’s been working extremely long hours as a policeman, and he reports that people have really been pulling together to put things back together. The U.S. military is there, and has been providing much-needed assistance. A little bit of power has come back in the city. I don’t know about water.
Our own house (when I say “our,” I mean my mother-in-law’s) escaped major damage, though a much-loved mahogany tree went down, and also a large Northern pine. There was some damage from the trees falling, but amazingly, all but one of the windows survived, and that one was on the side of an open-air dining area that was exposed to the elements anyway. The road up the hill to the house was cleared by the residents.
We count ourselves and the people we care about extremely fortunate, to say the least. I wish the same were true of everyone. These pictures from the New York Times can serve as a reminder that the people of Puerto Rico still very much need our help.
As I write this, Hurricane Maria is riding across Dominica and other Caribbean islands, trying to destroy whatever Irma left standing. I cannot imagine what it must be like for the residents of those small islands. Maria has been gaining and losing intensity, in the sense that it’s going back and forth between Category 4 and Category 5. Neither of those is something you want to see coming at you.
Sometime Wednesday, Maria will hit Puerto Rico (the red blob in the center of the storm track). We are of course worried about our friends and the family property in Ponce. The current predicted storm track looks as though it will hit San Juan hardest, but will likely also hit the southern coast of Puerto Rico harder than Irma did. All we can do is wait and pray.
Here’s a stunning and sobering video composition of Irma, Katia, and Jose as seen from a new NOAA weather satellite, GOES-16.
Click to view the video on the NY Times website. Do it. It’s worth it. Be sure to scroll down the page, as there are several video perspectives. These amazing images are from a satellite that’s not yet even fully operational.
Do we really want to cut funding for this kind of science? (The current administration does.) Or are we ready to take seriously the problem of global climate change?
Irma Round One (Puerto Rico) left us with gratifying news for our family—friends and neighbors okay, and the house in good shape. We’re still awaiting a detailed report, but word is that the south side of the island didn’t get hit too badly. If there was any damage to the house, we haven’t heard about it yet and it’s unlikely to be serious. We’re keeping an eye on Jose, but it seems to be sheering away.
With that worry down, we turn our attention to Florida, where my brother will be first to feel the effects, near Miami, and then right up the length of the state, where we have family and friends in various locations. Chuck and Youngmee and the dogs are hunkered down in place, having decided that they’re probably as safe in their own house as anywhere on the road or in upstate Florida, given that the whole state is in the hurricane’s crosshairs. The late shift toward the west is good news for them, though not so good for folks on the Gulf Coast. Keeping all appendages crossed, and praying for everyone’s safety!