Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Back in the USSR...

Well I made it back to the US, though the above title seems far more appropriate for a near infinite number of reasons, but perhaps the most poetic is that when I get to the US border official, he asks me "Vere iz your citizenship" in what was almost a perfect match to any 80's or earlier cold war movie. It seems that with all of the concerns over outsourcing, the US government is actually importing border guards from the former soviet republics... I can only assume that this is because they are the most experienced with the current set of policies under which the use border patrol operates.

Still I was finally allowed through (I of course had to give over my travel papers...) and I managed to get ot Indy without further event, as long as you overlook nearly forgetting to watch the gas guage. :) Speaking of which, I cannot complain too much as it appears that I am getting around 18 miles a gallon for most of the trip. Sure I would like better, but given that I drive a truck, this is not too bad.

Ran into some ice pellets about 50 miles out of Indy, but they almost instantly melted after they hit the windshield so driving was not slowed.

Tomorrow looks like rain, but not freezing rain so I plan on heading south again tomorrow. It seems somewhat likely that I will be at the farm for a day before heading on back home to pursue the new business venture.

For now I am going to sit back and catch up with Todd and Tiff here in Indy and enjoy the fact that I have chosen to lead a life that allows me to see old friends and family.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Ch ch ch changes..

Since I did not manage to get the last entry posted yesterday, it appears at the bottom of this post.

I head out in a few hours for Toronto to see family there. There is no snow falling and it looks like the next two days should be good for traveling. This is doubly good as my wonderful hosts gave me a bit of a send off last night, so I am moving a bit slowly this morning. Still it is a beautiful morning and I can honestly say that I am very reluctant to leave. This is indeed a remarkable and enchanting place in winter as well as spring and summer (and I assume autumn as well, but I've not been here in autumn as of yet).

Now that I am beginning my southward journey I will have much reduced internet availability, but still I will try to get a post in where I can.


As you can tell, I have made a few changes to the blog. My intention is to have the aesthethic feel of the blog match the nature (pun intended) of the content of the posts. Feel free to let me know what you think about it.

The news this morning is that the snow has stopped, from the looks of it we received a couple of inches (though of course this is metric snow :) ) and the route to Toronto ought to be clear for my trip tomorrow. So barring unforeseen adventures (such as difficulty in crossing back into the gulag, I mean the US) I should be on schedule for the trip southward.

One of the activities here which I have not commented upon much, but which as taken a bit of my time is catching up on the stack of reading which has been getting ever larger. (to be continued at a later date..)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

A storm's a'comin'

I have been sadly lax in posting the last few days, which I attribute to some practical hinderances, as well as simply the good times that I have been enjoying with my friends here. The former consist of the redesigning and remodeling of a stair hall and bathroom, as well as the installation of a ceiling fan and some other similar projects. As most folks I stay with on my travels know, I have a difficult time just sitting still doing nothing for more than a day. I get quickly restless and tend to find or request projects to both keep me occupied, but also to provide to me the opportunity to show my appreciation to those who have opened their homes to me.

The good times have been many, and of the sort found only amongst close friends. They have been mostly good evenings in which we share ideas, explore various topics, examine possible designs, and basically enjoy one another's company. Still there have been a few movies involved, including the first and second Shrek movies (yeah I know I am late in seeing them.. so sue me.. as most of you know, I just don't usually make the time for movies), one on the Avro Arrow, and Good Night and Good Luck. It is good to have friends such as these who serve as wonderful filters for movies so that I can be almost certain to enjoy whatever we happen to watch.

I've been using the snowshoes a good deal for not only the sheer enjoyment of walks into the fields and woods, but also for very practical matters such as raking snow from the roof, or getting across to the barn. I have definitely discovered a distinct fondness for showshoeing of the same sort as my love of hiking. Sadly I have not had the opportunity to do any cross country skiing, but now that I know that the winters here are far more pleasant than those in Kansas or other such areas in which I have been, I am planning on return trips during which I will make the opportunity to try out cross country skiing come to pass. I will also be surprised if I do not own my own pair of snowshoes by the time I return.

I should note that we have gotten more than a foot of snow since I arrived, possibly as much as two feet. I have had to dig out the truck a couple of times, in part because I dumped a load of snow off of the roof onto the front corner of the truck, essentially burying the front wheel on up to the top of the hood. Still once out on the roads I have had no problems at all, even without ever getting around to adding weights such as sand bags to the bed of the truck. The roads are kept remarkably clear, except for side roads but even those get plowed so that they are still quite passible.

I have had to think about leaving as I do have the new business waiting for me back home, but the original plan of leaving today had to be canceled due to a winter storm which could include some freezing rain. So the current plan gives me two more days here, then a jaunt down to Toronto to see family before heading south again. That said the trip is not yet over as I get to see my friends in Indy once again, then head to Arkansas to work on my father's farm for a day or so. There is no rest for the wicked or available.. :)

So ends another entry and evening, so I believe I will seek out any remaining 10W-30 (local brew) and return to reading.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The temps have gone above freezing today for the first time since I arrived. Strangely, other than a brief trip outside to get some material from the truck, I remained inside today. Still, that time outside was without the normal gear, and yet I was still not cold, as I would have been in other climates, such as those in which wind plays a significant role.

Today was a day for rest and some changes. Some were obvious, such as the color in the stairhall, others will not be evident for some time, and still others beyond my right to reveal at this time. The day was one of rest for us as well. Though I am still sore from the raking of the roof yesterday (the roof needs raking every so often in winter to reduce the amount of snow load), it is a good kind of sore. I was out for about 3-4 hours getting down whatever snow I could reach with the "rake" from the ground. This amounted to getting about 15 feet up the roof on average. With a roof holding from 2 to 4 feet of snow in places, this made for a great deal of work, though to tell the truth it never really felt like work. This as with much of what I have done here has been surreal as the experiences are so far out of the scope of my previous experiences. Imagine walking in snow shoes on top of 3 feet of snow, then climbing a snow bank you have just created so that you can get even more of the snow off of the roof. The piles were geting almost high enough to step up onto the roof from the "ground."

All the while the temps feel far warmer than the thermometer says. In fact I am now convinced that there is something fundamentally wrong with the wind chill ratings. When the temps are right at freezing you can stand being outside in short sleeves for some time if there is no wind. But if there is a breeze, even a few moments become torturous. However when I have gone out when the temps were about 0 F, colder than the wind chill today, I've been MUCH more confortable than I would be in similar wind chills. Without wind we build up a layer of warm air around us, that allows us to feel far warmer than the temps say, but with wind we not only do not have that buffer, we have any warmth that our body generates stripped from us, so that we feel even colder yet. It seems that we could take any wind chill and reduce the temp by 20 degrees conservatively and only barely begin to approach the real qualitative effects of the wind.

If it seems that I have been lax in describing my hosts or about specifics about where I am, I do apologize, but this lapse is intentional out of a deep respect for my generous hosts who have welcomed me into their home at least once a year for the last several years. They are very generous, kind, and independent folks who flatter me with the continuing invitations and perhaps the only way I can truly thank them is by respecting their privacy. That said, some of the best meals I have every enjoyed have come from this modest kitchen in which I type this entry now. Some of the most moving discussions have occured just up the stairs from where I sit. I count myself privileged to know my hosts and to have been welcomed into their home. Do not misunderstand any ommission on my part as any slight on them or as any lapse of hospitality on their part.

Tomorrow I will venture into town on my own (maybe) to run some errands, and in part to simply enjoy small town life where it seems far closer to 1935 than to 2000, by which I mean it is friendly, service oriented, and welcoming.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Another beautiful sunny day here in the GWN (Great White North). I finally managed to find the time, energy, and opportunity to head out to really get some time in snowshoeing. This time was no longer an experiment, and it was not cut short by concern over my furry companion, (the border collie Bear) though he did accompany me into the fields and woods. I am quite taken with snoeshowing, and have discovered that with the right preparation, which is in fact quite minimal, the concern is less about being cold as it is about overheating. I am certain that remark will spark scoffing and harumping in the naysayers, but take it from someone who loves the heat, you really do get quite warm. This trip out I skipped the thermals, at least on bottom, added sock liners and toe warmers, wore a thermal shirt, a t-shirt, and a pull over fleece, along with my leather coat and beaver hat (the green one for those keeping track), and all I would have wanted was a scarf or some sort of face protection, and maybe the thermal bottoms. I was not unpleasantly cold at any point, though the front that was to come in tonight to drop the temps came in a bit early so I found myself walking back into some wind, but only about what constitutes a calm Kansas day (about 10-15 mph)

The snow really tells tales, and given the frequency of snowfall, or shifting snows, the tales it tells are up to date. What I am referring to is the tracks of the various creatures. I came across the path of a rabbit (I am guessing that in fact it was a snow hare) and I saw many other tracks which were all from the last day at most. I heard a turkey call, and saw signs of larger animals having foraged nearby recently. Bear got the scent of something under the snow and had to be called repeatedly to get him to leave it be.

I can tell that a pair of good properly sized snow shoes is in my future.

Yesterday we headed up to one of the bigger towns to get a few supplies not readily available locally as well as to drop off a stove at the Salvation Army. As luck would have it, as we got out of my truck to find out where to drop off the stove, we were approached by a couple who were looking for a stove. So we quickly negotiated a very generous (to them) deal and them delivered it for them. The appreciation in their words and eyes would probably have been reward enough though it was nice to make a couple of bucks on the stove nonetheless. Immediately thereafter the snowfall increased, and so our errands were a bit more tricky given a two wheel drive pickup and slick conditions, still no problems and no accidents. The drive home took longer than usual, but we arrived safely which was the main concern. Fortunately the snow driving skills picked up during my years in KS quickly came back to me. As a rule from what I can tell, the roads remain better here than in KS or other areas I have lived where snow or ice occurs. The roads were merely wet, and in the worst places had a bit of slush. I had expected snow pack and extremely slow driving but clearly they know how to deal with this.

I did a bit of work around the house here as a means of earning my keep, or at least showing my appreciation to my generous hosts. We are sprucing up the stairhall, which will be finished by tomorrow.

Ah, and last evening we watched an episode of Little Mosque on the Prairie. This is a must see, especially given the jingoism and bigotry which are sadly the norm in the US. It is a Canadian production, but few of the references will be lost on the US audience. It is not preachy or PC (by any stretch!) but it is an amusing sit com which gets around a good deal of the nonsense surrounding the current efforts and religions tensions. The next episode will feature Colin Mockery for those who are familiar with him from Whose Line is it Anyway.

The remainder of my time has been taken up with reading. I will go into that a bit at a later date.

For now, I hope everyone is well, warm, and happy. I know that I am all three as well as quite content.

Friday, February 16, 2007

I've been asked already if I have gone back out on the snowshoes.. the answwer is yes I have. In fact I discovered that I was able to stay higher in the snow the second time, despite the shoes being too small for someone of my size. Again my walk was cut short over concern about animals, but come tomorrow, or the next day I intend to make it out to the woods where I usually walk in the summer and spring when I visit.

I've gained some appreciation for the task of shoveling snow, which is a frequent task here, and since thus far the snow has been quite light and fluffy, it has not been overly trying. Still, one can work up quite a sweat moving significant amounts of snow from the drive, or a veranda, or some other place where it is unwanted. In fact I even used the snow shovel to remove about a foot of snow off of the truck before I started it today to see if it would run.. (yes it did without a problem)

Today was mostly a relaxing day, with little other than some snow removal and bringing in a rick of wood to occupy my time.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Since I am traveling abroad currently this story seems exceptionally apropos.

An Iron Curtain is Descending: And Most Americans Don't Know 

While the iron curtain has collasped and Europe is enjoying the economic, security, and of course LIBERTY benefits of opening borders, the US is doing everything it can to make the USSR look like a bunch of pikers..

Just a few years back we did not have to have travel papers, now we must. We must be able to show our government assigned numbers, and prove that those numbers belong to us. We must be willing to kow tow to any thug with a badge, or at least three initials at the end of his job title. Leaving the US now more resembles the early stages of trying to get across the Berlin wall than it does anything ever imagined by those men 200 years ago who believed that an experiement in freedom, in personal responsibility and a government which was rigidly controlled and restrained, was worth pursuing.

Enjoy any travel you can do now, as it WILL NOT last. The feds cannot stand liberty in any form and will continue to tighten their choke holds on our lives and liberty.

A brisk two mile walk along the back roads with my hosts border collie was the adventure for today.  Temps are still low, and there are snow squalls in the forecast, so though there was little wind, what slight wind there was in places turned your head around (to borrow from J Taylor).

One of the things I never seem to hear from those traveling in the north concerns the difference in texture of the snow. Sure some refer to it as I have myself already in terms like "fluffy" or "powdery" but there is a texture difference underfoot as well that seems to be easily overlooked or perhaps left off because it does defy description to some extent. I found walking along the roads unlike any walk in or on snow I have experienced in the past. The snow had real grip, a cruchy yet soft foot feel to it, vaguely reminicient of coarse beach sand or extremely fine crushed glass powder.

To my own surprise, and I am sure to the surprise of all of my naysayers, even after two miles of walking out in the snow and cold, I was still good for a while yet. My furry companion however was reduced to biting at the ice embedded in his paws, so we returned home so he could thaw out his paws.

Having been one myself, I understand those who say that all snow is bad snow, or that if you have experienced it once you've seen it all, but I must admit that I, and those who express such a view, are/were simply mistaken. There is something qualitatively different between the snows of under a foot found in Kansas or Texas, and the look and feel of several feet of snow. Far more than the simple difference in depth, difference forces work on the snow, or perhaps better said the effect of forces such as gravity, friction, wind, and the like become very evident with the greater snowfall. Sure edges become rounded, and some recesses filled in, but then too the wind changes the roll of the landscape turning a flat field into hilly moor, a gentle slope into a sudden drop, and a rough swamp into a smooth meadow punctuated by the faint impressions of the water moving beneath.

The water still moving has been another surprise of sorts given the temperatures. I would have thought that the smallest of the streams, what I would certainly call mere brooks, would have succumb to the frigid temps, but to my surprise as far as I can tell they are still running, though often they are running under a thick blanket of snow only revealed by the occassional cattail or the unmistakeable gurgling of water moving downstream.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Well the aforementioned artic front has come in, with the temps hanging about -17C (around 0F) according to the themometer right outside the window. I must admit that I am not terribly inclined to venture outside, but that said I do need to move the truck forward to get it out of the way of the snowplow. The principle game plan is to spend the day inside enjoying the warmth of the wood stove. I talked to some friends about this method of heating for a reasonably large home (couple of thousand square feet at least) and there was a great deal of skepticism as to whether a small air tight wood stove could actually keep such a house warm. Even I was a bit doubtful, but rest assured this house is not merely not cold, it is actually warmer than most if not all homes I have experienced in Texas or Kansas during the winter. There is a real coziness or comfortableness to the warmth that this stove puts out, quite different from forced air systems or other methods of heat.

So the day will be spent reading, perhaps doing a bit of writing, surfing the net (thank goodness and Brad for wireless!) and generally relaxing. I am reminded of how things (used to) slow down in the south when the temps rise. The same thing happens here when the temps plummet or snow closes the roads (which I take does not happen to often). Everyone just kicks back with a warm beverage, hopefully good friends, a good book and appreciates the time not spent running around in the rat race maze.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Finally some new posts!

I have arrived in the great white north, to a welcome of a few feet of snow, along with a forecast of temperatures to be around -18C (0 F) come tomorrow. The trip up was largely uneventful, at least the last leg of it, not counting the effort to park the truck once I arrived. Unfortunately pick-ups are not made for good handling or good traction in snow and ice.

The first leg of the trip on the other hand was quite eventful. Driving through Oklahoma around OKC with freezing mist and frozen roads made for a long stessful drive. I was one of the more cautious driving at 20mph at most for the better part of four hours. Most of the rest, especially the foolhardy four-wheel drive owners I passed at some point with them either stuck in a ditch or part of multi-car accidents.

A full week in Wichita resulted in a few all too brief visits with dear friends, and a new relatively high end bathroom for my mother. What was a make do basement bath, is now an elegant bath with rich deep green walls (409-7) with a new pedestal sink, new faucet, new mirror and light, as well as the addition of crown molding with several corner/cornice pieces. The final new addition is that of a new floor, which is a leather treatment floor protected by polyurethane. The end result is a surprising gem of a bathroom where it is quite unexpected: the basement.

Weather left me in Indy for a couple of extra days, but that simply allowed for more time with good friends there.

Today being the first full day here, I took the opportunity to shovel snow away from the truck to make it easier to unload, as well as move to allow the snowplow to get to where it needs to get. Fortunately unlike the snow I am familiar with from Kansas and other locales, this was very light very fluffy snow which made for quick and easy shoveling. That said, I did discover a layer of snow which held together much like the blocks of snow that they use for igloos. Yes I was tempted to build one, or at least see what I could do, but other than the drive there is no clear spot, and even with the snow being light, it is still a few feet deep so more effort would be necessary to clear a spot than I would care to do for a silly experiment that only a damn southerner would do..

Not wanting to be out in the extreme cold tomorrow, I also decided to try moving through the deep snow to see just what it would take. That experiement was very short lived. About ten steps into it and I understood completely that short of life and death, there was little if anything that would encourage me to try to get anywhere that way. So I took advantage of the generous offer of my hosts and tried a pair of snowshoes. Now these are not the fancy new fangled ones with the bells and whistles and a 20 hour Tivo built in, nope, these are the snow shoes you see in the movies: oval shaped bound leather and wood.

Well they do wonders I will say that. These are probably to small for someone of my size, but still they were a vast improvement over trying to walk without them. I headed out into the virgin snow where I could see snow banks at least 4-5 feet deep (my best guess, but I would not be surprised to find that they are deeper). After walking about the area, not even venturing into the woods where I would normally have gone, I decided that the smart move was to head back while I still had enough energy. I know it does not sound like much work, but even now as I type this I am quite weary and can tell that tomorrow I will feel the effects of the exertion. Still, a good experience and I look forward to a bit more of it after this artic front passes.

So for now, and likely the next few days I will be staying inside enjoying the remarkable warmth coming from the small air-tight stove which more than adequately heats the entire house. More on that later.