2024—A Lost Year

Birds in Snow


The iPhone was correct this time.

It is snowing.

It started about 4:30, I think.

I didn’t sleep much, I don’t think.

Part of the blame goes to Lawrence Block. I’m finding it hard to stop reading The Burglar Who Met Frederic Brown. It is a page turner. Lots of fun twists.

I just checked. It is the 13th Burglar book. I stopped collecting them in the 90s. Maybe The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams was the last one I bought. It was about rare baseball cards. They were all the rage back then. We sold them at the stores. Plastic-wrapped packs with five or ten cards inside. They stopped putting bubble gum in them when I was a kid. The 1/8-inch flat pink slabs of bubblegum were so hard. And brittle. They’d shatter like glass. It took a bit of time in your mouth for them to soften up to chewing consistency. I remember the next book—about Bogart. I probably bought it and read it, but I don’t remember it. The later ones… I don’t recall seeing them. I’ve seen a LOT of books. Maybe they didn’t sell well. Or maybe they were done by small obscure presses. Maybe they just didn’t click when I handled them.

Only 67 pages left. Maybe I’ll finish it today, in bed, snowed in.

Frederic Brown. I collected him too. I still do, I guess. When I was sorting and purging my old Pennsylvania collection, I saved his book. There’s a “modern” collection of his short stories up in garret right now. Small press. Attractive book.

I handled some Brown yesterday at the warehouse. I sorted a couple cartloads of old mass market sci-fi from the Fratz collection.

There was a nice stack of Philip K. Dick on them.

Philip K. Dick Books

Which sell faster—Dick or Lovecraft? Toss up. They both rarely come in and both sell very quickly.

I put a load of wash on about 5 a.m. The anxious anticipation of yet another snow experience told me I wouldn’t be going back to sleep.

I left work a little early. I went to the pharmacy to get an early renewal on a prescription. I don’t want to run out while I’m in Turkey. I also asked the pharmacist how I can get liquid cough medicine on a plane in my carry on. He wasn’t sure but suggested buying and empty 3 oz. travel bottle. He printed a label for me as well—so I wouldn’t look like a smuggler. Maybe I won’t need it. My cough has mostly disappeared.

Then I went to Wegmans. I discovered I was out of soup. The last two cans had expired in 2019 and 2020. Manhattan Clam Chowder and Butternut Squash. They’ve lingered in the cupboard, and I haven’t been interested enough to take either out in years… COVID years. I was also out of water. I’ve stopped drinking soda but can’t let go of fizziness. Wegmans must have 20 flavors of fizzy water. I wonder what the dragonfruit flavor will taste like?

I’ve been drinking a lot of water in 2024.

Last stop was Central Tractor. I bought some big bags of chewy treats for the dogs.

They appreciate them so much. I also got ten bags of rock salt. I used up all I had in the last storm. Fortunately, a kid loaded them on the pickup for me. The bags say they weigh 50 pounds, but I think they absorb moisture and get heavier. These bags were solid as a rock—as mine were.

“You’re gonna have to bust these up on your driveway,” the kid advised.

“Yep. I’ve been through that.”

Home just before dark.

I started the other cars to get them warmed up so I could brush the ice and snow off. While they ran, the groceries went inside, the fire got stoked, the dogs got released… I didn’t take the rock salt out. An extra thousand pounds might help with traction.

They say 3-6 inches. Snow could continue til 2 p.m. A text came in from the warehouse at 6 a.m. advising all the employees—including me—that it wouldn’t open until 10 a.m. And maybe not then. I tossed a couple scoops of sunflower seed onto the porch roof. A dozen junkos were swarming the suet feeders suspended from a chain strung between trees 20 yards out. It is a brutal life for little birds in the winter.

Birds in Snow

I’ve put up about two-dozen birdhouses around the property. I don’t know if birds use them to roost or not. I’ve often wondered where the little things spend the night in the cold and snow. I also leave snags and “totems” up. (A totem is a tree whose trunk is left standing.) These can develop holes—often with the help of woodpeckers—that can serve as shelters for small creatures. Chickadees are especially inspiring. They are friendly and will actually land near you. (Maybe ON you if you’re patient enough.) Tiny… only half an ounce. Their little hearts beat about 500 times a minute—at rest!

I moved the cars off to the side and plowed the large landing area. It still had some snow and ice. Also, I never plowed sections where the cars were parked. If we got more snow, I wanted it to land on bare pavement—not ice. My back was sore, and it hurt to straighten up. I don’t know if it was from all bags of salt I lifted and broke and spread or wrestling the ATV. It doesn’t have power steering.

(Clif got to the warehouse. He didn’t get the text. He called and said a truck was trying to deliver 40,000 remainders. He said he’d unload and then leave. Wonder Book pervades my life. The alarm company called and asked if I knew we hadn’t opened.)

And so ends a lost week in a lost month and the, so far, lost year of 2024.

Last Friday… seems so long ago.

I went down to my older son’s and finally exchanged Christmas gifts. The baby is about 4 months old now. The ride back from Virginia was pouring rain. It made it hard to see the lines on the Interstate. I just followed the taillights in front of me.

Saturday, I planted bulbs before going in and going through carts. I left at noon. My younger son picked me up, and we went to see the Capitals hockey game. The phone directed us downtown through a strange circuitous route. There was a large protest going on and large sections of the city were sealed off.

Capitals Game

The game was fun. The disappointment was that Ovechkin didn’t play. He’s not having a very good year. Getting old, I suppose. It will be tough for him to catch and surpass The Great Gretzky’s all-time scoring record.

More fun was I didn’t have to drive. Going home was a nightmare. It took 40 minutes just to get out of the parking garage. The protests had created gridlock. On the street, it got no better. I should have trusted my instinct and pushed to head due north and then cut over to Connecticut Avenue. But the phone wanted us to see the protest, I guess. We passed hundreds of people who had left and were taking the sidewalks home. Many were carrying the Palestinian flag. Off to the side, we were given a view of streets packed with people and flags. It took another hour just to escape the crawling traffic.

But I saw the boys 4 times in one week.

The COVID tiredness hit me again both days. The books seemed so heavy. The carts so reluctant to move.


It’s 4 in the morning.

I saw a comet dash across the sky from west to east. It was stunning. Then I awoke and realized that was impossible. There’s a roof over my head.

The fire is dancing against the glass doors of the woodstove ten paces away. I looked at it awhile before trying to return to dreamland. It’s not usually that active overnight. I knew I’d fret about it if I didn’t get up and check to see if I’d left one of the two dampers open.

Nope. The catalytic converter damper was fully engaged. The air intake damper was throttled back most of the way. It must have just flared up for some reason.

Since I was that far, I decided to go lock the door. Maybe I’d dreamed I saw headlights coming up. The black cast-iron wood rings are only two steps outside the door on the side porch. Since I was that close, I might as well bring in a log. In winter, it is a discipline to bring a piece of firewood in whenever I’m passing with a free arm to crook one in. The cold air hit my lungs and didn’t feel good at all. On the way back to bed, I checked the outdoor temperature.

24 degrees.

Not that cold, but colder than it has been this mild winter.

Back in my very warm cocoon, I laid on my back and took in the black silence all around me. If I curled up on my side, I might start coughing. I can usually predict when the cough will return. Waking and lying on my side is often a trigger.

It would bother me if I didn’t record the comet I saw. That is a rare thing. Too often dreamy treats are gone when I wake in the morning. So I reached for the laptop and pecked away for a while.

Now it is 5:31.

Giles started moaning about half an hour ago. Soon it was clear he needed to go out.

So, up again and across the house to the side door. He trotted across the pavement and up the stone steps, past the big rock dais, that I no longer sit upon, and into the forest. I kept an eye on him lest he wander off. He’s not very smart. He rustled in the thick carpet of dead leaves. He’s mostly white, so I was able to track the specter in the near dark.

Something howled far up the mountain. I didn’t recognize it. A wintering owl? Mammal?

“C’mon, Giles!”

I saw the ghostly hound descend to the drive. He trotted toward the house, taking solid form as he entered the pool of light cast by the porchlights.

He went in, and Merry hustled out. I grabbed a log and carried it in. Merry’s trustworthy and wouldn’t wander off.

In a few minutes, I went back and called him in. I grabbed a log.

The arborist is coming in a few hours. Can I sleep some more?

I was so tired yesterday. I’m usually a dynamo on Sundays. The books were so heavy. The metal carts so reluctant. I slowly processed books, watching the clock looking for the hour when I could justifiably leave.

There were some good finds. Firsts of Lolita and Nin’s Children of the Albatross. There was also a first in jacket of J. Robert Oppenheimer’s The Open Mind in jacket. A very early edition of The Picayune Creole Cook Book also caught my eye.

Sunday Finds

But they weren’t enough to inspire my weakened, tired, aching jointed body. I just wanted to go home and sit in front of the tv and recline.

One more cart…

More—what should be—exciting finds.

Sunday Finds

A first of Agatha Christie’s The Hound of Death. An early Roger Ackroyd—her first book. Two The Martian Chronicles in jacket. A first of Stuart Little—which I thought would be worth more. And an unusual Arthur Conan Doyle—Tales of Twilight and the Unseen. I also thought that would be worth more.

Fun finds, but it was 4, and I was toast.

I walked around the sorting area where I had worked and wrote paper labels for all the tubs and boxes I’d generated. I put Post-Its on each stack on the carts I’d filled. Those would be the online prices for better books I estimated were $20 and up. I walked round again, making sure all my work was clearly marked.

Madeline will be getting two tubs—about 50 books—to research. Annika six tubs. Books I didn’t feel comfortable “guesstimating.”

Then I paged Travis, and he soon appeared from somewhere in the far reaches of the vast warehouse.

“I’m leaving a little early today. I won’t be back, so go ahead and set the alarms.”

I headed out back to the dockyard where I had parked. The dogs were there. They’d spent the day playing outside and then coming in and warming up. (Except when they ran away. I’d left the gate open when I drove in. Shows you how fuzzy my COVID thinking is. Fortunately, the industrial park is virtually abandoned on weekends, so there’s almost no traffic. I prepared myself for the worst. I called and called. They both have my phone number on their collars. The wind was very heavy. Debris from other companies was flying down the street. Boxes, sheets of plastic, litter… That may have kept them close. They both appeared before I became too panicked.)

I was almost out the door when I remembered.

“The Buddhas!”

We had acquired a large collection of Buddhas a couple of years ago. Most of them were put out for sale back then. I’d kept some in my garage for some reason. Maybe I was unsure how to price them? These were bigger and felt more “authentic” than most of the others. I’d kind of forgotten them until a few days when I was desperately planting daffodil bulbs.

It’s too late now. The ground has frozen solid. The temperature won’t get above freezing for a week. I can only blame COVID. It will soon be a month that it has stolen my energy and productivity. I can blame myself as well. Why, oh why, didn’t I plant them in November? I got about 500 in over the last few days. I put 75 in Sunday morning before going in to work. My hands got so cold they hurt. Working on my knees was not fun either. I just couldn’t do anymore. If I wasn’t weakened by COVID, I could have “toughed” a lot more underground. I haven’t counted how many are in the garage below the house. Too depressing. I can only hope I can get some in next week. Probably working in the dark and cold didn’t help with my COVID recovery either.

The deep freeze has forced me to relax. There’s nothing I can do. I’m snowed in again. It is the lying iPhone’s fault—again. There was NO SNOW forecast on it this morning. A DC radio station I listen to while driving reported there were problems down there. But my phone assured me Frederick was fine. There was just a dusting of snow in the morning. It picked up later, but the phone was not giving it more than an hour. Then another hour. Another… It is snowing now at 4:30. All I can do is lie in bed and watch the snow come down as the sun goes down. Tomorrow morning will be a mess. No chance of it melting off anytime soon. I’ll be plowing in the morning. Lying phone!

The Buddhas.


They’ve been contemplating the garage floor for quite a while.

Our Gaithersburg bookstore had glass cases installed not long ago. We kept the glass out and the kids’ books in them for the holidays. Now the glass is in them. Collectible books, LPs… stuff will now be on offer there as well as the other two stores. You can go contemplate the Buddhas contemplating you.

So, I boxed them up Sunday after bulb planting and drove them to the warehouse. The box weighed 50 pounds, I think. They’d be easier to unload on the loading dock. So I backed up to it and slid the box inside.

What with all the fatigue and moaning and groaning doing carts all day, I had forgotten all about them. If they got mishandled Monday morning… I had “invested” in these objects.

…And they are lovely.

I had a responsibility to protect them until the next owner takes possession.

I turned back and took the Buddhas to Ernest’s area. I put them on carts and priced them.

(I think they are all on display at the Gaithersburg Wonder Book—unless any have sold by the time this story goes out.)

Tuesday Noon

Trapped again.

The forecast really screwed up. Again.

The snow stopped late Monday night.

Then it started up again early this morning! What did the phone say?

“Flurries ending this hour.”

Hour after hour after…

Maybe the flurries have stopped.

Now the wind is rising. Clouds of powdery snow are taking flight from the roof and trees.

I went out after 8 and hooked the plow onto the ATV. I was hoping the snow would be easy to clear off the driveway, and I’d be able to get out.

Here’s how it began.


I drove up and down the steep slope for a couple of hours. The top few inches were light and fluffy. The base was slick. It got slicker the more I drove over it. The flurries that were supposed to stop each hour added a coating to the slickness. When I began having difficulty getting the 4-wheel drive ATV up the hill, I knew it was hopeless. The Polaris “All Terrain Vehicle” was slipping and spinning its wheels on long stretches of the drive. I’d press the throttle, and all four wheels would spin. The machine would slide from side to side. I’d wrestle the steering bars to keep it on the pavement. A real worry was, “What if it starts sliding backward?” If that happened and revving the engine ever higher didn’t stop it, I could only try to direct the descent to a friendly ditch off the driveway.

I finally got it to the top and decided to quit. I parked in the barn and walked across to the house—the snow falling all around me.

It’s really frustrating because I had all sorts of plans. Being stuck at home wasn’t one of them.

I put my wet clothes in front of the woodstove to dry and took a hot shower.

I’ve done some work but mostly just lay in bed recovering.

Somehow my cough has suddenly disappeared?! That’s worrisome. I thought the ice-cold air and stressful hard work would trigger coughing—as they did last night.

Also, my energy and stamina seem to have returned to normal.

Was is the necessity of physical labor or was I suddenly well?

I don’t like coincidences. Especially when they are counterintuitive.

When I checked in earlier, about half the staff was absent.

Well, I’m not a total slacker.

I remembered I’d been forgetting to call about getting glass doors on the bookcases that were installed recently. I dredged my mind for the name of the company we used all those years ago.

Glass and Mirror Services?

I called and identified myself.

“I think long ago you installed a lot of glass doors and tracks for us.”

(I think there are 50—some glass cases at the Frederick bookstore. They were all custom built for us and the tracks and glass doors added by a local glass company.)

A few seconds later, she said, “Here it is. 2003.”

“I think those were the most recent. I bet you put a lot in during the 90s.”

“Our computers don’t go back that far.”

They’re going to come out and give us an estimate.

I’m going out to see if I can’t get the plow blade to scrap the snow down to bare pavement.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday morning, 5 a.m.

64 inside. 11 outside.

My legs are constrained by two dogs pressing heavily against me.

Living up here sometimes puts me at the mercy of Mother Nature. Those occasions are never frightening. Frightening would be a tree falling on the house, for example. An arborist visited early Monday morning, and that was part of the discussion. There’s only one big maple leaning the wrong way. Worse case—it could fall on the house. He marked that to be part of the project. I told him not to cut it down to the ground. “Cut the trunk about 25 feet off the ground.” That is called a “totem.” Maples are famous for sprouting from stumps and cuts. So this totem will likely start growing again. If it dies, then the tall trunk can serve as a future habitat for birds or small mammals who will carve nests into it. Woodpeckers will punch holes in it looking for insects. That begins the process. Standing dead wood—”snags” if they are dead trees that fell but got snagged by a neighbor and still stand—are considered a healthy addition to a forest. Especially forests up here where the deer are so overpopulated they’ve eaten most of the undergrowth.

My COVID symptoms seemed to have abruptly disappeared yesterday. No idea why. There’s been no coughing today (so far.) The aches in my bones and joints are from wrestling the ATV all those hours yesterday that I plowed (or scraped.) I wasn’t tired or exhausted from COVID yesterday, I was beat by a full day of plowing. Later, when I decided rock salt was the only way to get the bare pavement exposed, I dug out the eight 50-pound bags hiding in a corner of the barn.

They were solid as bag shaped rocks. The salt had absorbed moisture over the years and had become rock solid. I had to lift them high as I could and hurl them against the pavement to break up the salt crystals. The spreaders were ineffectual. Even broken up, the bags of salts had plenty of chunks. Besides, trying to walk a spreader with 60-70 pounds for salt down a steep icy slope was not practical. One slip and the spreader and I would go sledding down the mountain.

So, I loaded a bag of salt into the bed of the Polaris ATV and crept down with two wheels off the drive where that dirt and gravel provided traction. Every 20 feet or so I’d stop, lift my leg over the central hump, get off (gingerly) and toss scoops of salt on icy patches behind and to the side of me.



Rosy Sunset
Rosy sunset Tuesday evening.

Almost always, if the snow doesn’t plow to the bare pavement, then whatever surface remains will quickly melt when the temperature rises or the sun comes out. The black pavement likes to expose it self this way.

Not yesterday. It never rose above 25 degrees. There was heavy cloud cover all day. The ongoing flurries, squalls and snow blowing off trees only added to the slick base that the plow had exposed.

The ice melt worked rapidly. Black patches where it had penetrated appeared everywhere I’d tossed (bird feeder) scoops.

The first light on Wednesday reveals a dusky dawn.

The good news is there is not a cloud in the sky. The bad news is the high today will be 25 degrees.

It is now 10 degrees. I imagine any slush on the driveway caused by the salt will have frozen into ice. I will go out and survey when it gets a little lighter.

I could just lie in. Read. Write. Putter around at indoor projects. But I’ve missed so much time recently. Portugal for nearly two weeks in December. Then almost immediately the COVID month beginning just before Christmas where, when I wasn’t absent, I was slowed considerably. Now this mess…

The melted black patches meant I could get traction on strips of pavement. So, I used those to creep down and hand spread more salt.

I failed to prepare on numerous fronts this winter.

  1. I haven’t needed to put down salt in years. Those bags in the corner of the barn were old and had solidified. 8 bags would be plenty historically. Not this time. I could have gotten down my driveway by late Tuesday afternoon. I dared not go any further—even had there been a reason to get out by then. Beyond my driveway was doom. More on that later.
  2. I didn’t get the chains put on the ATV. I hadn’t needed them for several years, and it just slipped my mind. Yesterday, even with the heavy nubby tires and 4-wheel drive, there were times when it lost traction, and that terror of helplessness struck my gut. Worst was when driving uphill and the machine started slipping backward—with all four tires spinning forward. I’d try to guide it to a safe side of the drive. (One side has a 15-foot deep logging ditch. There’s a loose rock wall protecting it, but it would be easy for the ATV to push through.)
  3. I ran out of birdseed yesterday afternoon. I thought about it heading home Monday, but figured I was coming back past the Farm Co-Op in an hour or two. I’m afraid the birds are dependent on me, and their natural food sources are covered with snow. Fortunately, the heavy wind blew most of the snow off branches and other vegetation that may have seed. I have suet and put some slabs on the roof where they expect sunflower seed. I’ve pleaded with Clif to drop some sunflower seed and snowmelt at my mailbox on his way in.

I went out surveyed just now.

Dusky Dawn

Those shiny orange patches… Sunrise on ice.

But it is beautiful.

Clif should be down there soon. I’ll drive down in the ATV and assess my driveway and the 3/4-mile shared descent of curves and turns and steep slopes.

Soon I had used up the last bags of salt. Much of my driveway was slush now. I went up and down, trying to push as much off as I could. Down and up…

Clif texted that he’d dropped the salt and seed at the mailbox a mile down the lane. I’ll bundle up and head down. The chickadees are starving!

It is just after 10.

The birds are happy. Squadrons of titmice, chickadees, nuthatches, various finches and wrens are zooming to and from the roof and window feeders. Three varieties of woodpeckers are hitting up the seed and suet. Red-bellied, downy and hairy. The downys are the smallest in North America at 5-7 inches long. All three have a kind of regal upright bearing.

I took the ATV down to the county road and drove back with the snowmelt and birdseed Clif dropped off. I used the 40-pound bag of sunflower as a cushion.

ATV and Birdseed

Then I plowed and scraped and plowed and scraped…

The sun provided more and more assistance as it rose. My driveway was bare and dry—mostly. Far different than 12 hours before.

I caught up on emails. Someone wanted us to buy these in Western Pennsylvania.

Books in Western Pennsylvania

There were a handful of similar images.

Interesting… I don’t think we will imitate that style.

I took a shower and will get dressed.

Box of socks.

2024 has been very unusual thus far.

My bout with the Plague, which after nearly a month (may) only now is dissipating. The cough is infrequent and not as bone shaking. My body rose to the occasion of plowing and salting, wrestling and lifting. My body is still tired and sore, but now it is from honest work not energy sapping malaise.

While I was trapped up here, I got into things I hadn’t looked at in years.

Someone had given me some old wine. I think it was a parent’s estate. Often old wine is a good thing. These were old and bad. Think 35-year-old mulled wine. Other “varietals” were aimed a dieting (Skinny Wine) or novelty (Fruity Wine.)

Bad Wine

Those were easy to pour out in the snow. I thought to try some that I might actually drink. The bottles were dirty (not romantically dusty.) Where had they been stored? A garage? I twisted the corkscrew in, and when I tried to pull it, out only cork crumbles came with it. I tried again. The cork would disintegrate but not come out. Into the snow. Another… Another… When I took the big blue recycling can down the mountain in the bed of the pickup Wednesday morning, it was very heavy with empty bottles. Any nosy neighbor peeking in they might think Chuck has been on a bender.

I got somewhat serious about the cupboards. I was looking for soups. Butternut squash? Manhattan Clam Chowder? Those could be great in a good restaurant. I’d passed over them many times. So many times that upon closer inspection the expiration dates was right around COVID’s beginning. Pickled Jalapeno Quail Eggs?

Pickled Jalapeno Quail Eggs

What was I thinking?

I put together a box to take away.

Chuck’s cupboard is now bare.

Well, pretty bare.

I keep my winter gloves, knit caps, less desirable scarves… in a couple milk crates. They come up from the cedar closet when it gets cold enough. They go back down when it is warm enough. What was that box that came up under the milk crate?


My socks?


But from long ago.

I took them to the love seat across from the woodstove where fire was dancing in the door windows and began to explore. I remembered them.

The golf socks—the country club so long ago. That had been fun. It had been low on members and fees weren’t bad. The little boys could use the pool and playground. The restaurant was good—except on occasions when it was terrible. I rediscovered my childhood affection for the game. I usually played by myself. It is a Zen-like four-hour walk on rolling hills of grass and trees. Often, in the early evening there was no one in front of me. No one behind. It was like my own private course.

The “HIKE” socks. I chuckled. I bought those in London. An off brand. The logo could be NIKE if you glanced quickly. But they’d been serviceable. It was the first trip there with the little boys. So much fun. So stressful too. Maybe it was a 1Pound Shop on Oxford Street. I hadn’t brought enough socks. I remember vividly walking the crowded sidewalks, keeping the kids close, keeping a hand in my front pants pocket holding my wallet… On Bond Street, we came across a temporary gallery. The walls were covered with E. H. Shepard drawings. Pooh stuff. 100 Pounds each. I couldn’t afford it. Now I’d buy a hundred. Now they wouldn’t cost a hundred pounds.

I matched the socks up and put them in the sock drawers. The 8 or 9 odd socks—no hope of finding the mates twenty-five years on—they’ll go in the sock graveyard where they will compost.

So, Wednesday morning after more plowing and salting, my driveway was pretty bare. It would be easy avoiding any remaining ice going down.

What about the rest of the lane?

I took the ATV down to the county road again. There were some dodgy stretches. My neighbor with the big road construction tractor—the kind with scoops at both ends—had plowed all the way to the street. The dodgy spots—the “S” curve and the “Y” split both had bare edges. He had exposed gravel and soil. I could keep two wheels on that and feel not TOO uncomfortable on those stretches.

I turned around and headed back up the mountain. Up ahead, I saw my neighbor is his big tractor. The rear wheels are about chest high. The front ones waist high. He was coming down the S curve on the left side. I pulled to the right and stopped. I’d let him decide if I should go around him or vice versa.

He kept coming.

And coming.

Confused, I backed up some.

He kept coming in slow motion.

We were about 50 yards apart, and our eyes met.

Then he raised both hands in the international gesture meaning, “I can’t do anything.”

Then I saw his wheels were spinning, and his tractor was sliding a bit sideways.

I backed up further, watching the drama unfold.

There was no playing chicken. His tractor was a Goliath compared to me on my David-sized ATV.

It was only seconds, but then he was off the road—which was a good thing—he gone off in a dirt section and not rock or trees. His wheels dug in, and he was able to gain control. He turned and headed up the S curve. I followed at a safe distance.

At a level stretch, he stopped, and I pulled alongside. We chatted a bit about the event, and then I headed on up the “end of the road” where I live.

It is 11 a.m. Friday.

I got texts from Clark and my son asking if the stores should close.

“I don’t know what it is like down there. Your call.”

Then I quipped, “Call Blockbuster, and see what they are doing.”

In the old days, that was a gauge to help in our decision process. Blockbuster was our main competition. The video rental business was so fierce that we didn’t want to give in if they didn’t. Once you lose a customer, you may never get them back.

There were stories that they would require staff to spend the night in the store.

Now it isn’t such a big deal.

Would anyone come in during the afternoon? The snow has stopped. 3-4 inches up here. I imagine the main roads down there are clear.

What will I do with the rest of the day?

My editor has agreed to post this remotely.

Then what?

I could do some test plowing…

I at least need to clear a path to the barn to bring in more firewood. I brought a cartload in last night, but for some reason, it was mostly little stuff.

COVID fog…

I just got a call from a large regional magazine that wants to come and shoot me next week.

I wonder if I should put on makeup?

Doing business from my bed, on a mountain, in a snowstorm…

I can look for more expired food and wine…

I can start the project o clearing out most of my travel guide and site monographs…

I can binge watch Inspector Morse. Last night he was quoting Paradise Lost.

Earlier in the week, he was in dialog with a former professor who was on his deathbed.

They were exchanging verse quotes. I recognized “The Hound of Heaven.”

I stand amid the dust o’ the mounded years—
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.

“…My days have crackled and gone up in smoke…”

2024 has been a loss in so many ways.

But being trapped and sick and quarantined has force reflection and introspection.

That is often fraught with whining and complaining about things over which I have no control.

Right now things are… ok…

It felt so good to work again.

My lower back is sore. It doesn’t like bending nor straightening.

But that feels good because I earned it.

Wrestling with the steering on the ATV or hefting the bags of rock salt and casting them to the ground again and again.

I’ve been through this before. And worse.

It hasn’t been frightening. Just inconvenient.

(Except that bit of sliding helplessly backward. Or having doom inexorably sliding toward you. There’s a life metaphor in there somewhere.)

But that goes with the territory.

I’m so glad I can still keep up.

Maybe I’ll make some cornbread.

That will remind me of my Alabama mamma. She’d bake cornbread in her seasoned “spider”—the black cast-iron skillet that she used my whole life and likely decades before I was born.

I love cornbread. I don’t have butter, but some olive oil drizzled over it and a little salt…

Heaven on earth.

2 Comments on Article

  1. Michael Dirda commented on

    An epic week, Chuck. But your snow troubles are dwarfed by those of the Dirda clan trying to assemble in Portland, Oregon this past week. Ice storms, two canceled flights, five hour delays spent on the tarmac, arrivals in the middle of the night, airport hotels, Ubers at 3 AM, SUV rental for four hour drive when one plane diverted to a different city, and more. Details over a drink sometime.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Sounds like a family legend in the making.
      Maybe you wrote a column about it while trapped?
      Safe travels and I look forward to meeting for a drink and chat.
      Thanks for writing.

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