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ICICLES IN NATURAL BLACK AND WHITE

Cee’s Black & White Challenge: Small Subjects

How small is small enough? Icicles this past winter hung from the gutters above my office window, naturally black and white, just needing a bit of brightening and increased contrast.

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Are the icicles small enough to be small subjects? I guess it depends on your definition of small … and compared to what.

Dawn In Our Woods – Marilyn Armstrong

Rising sun.

Sometimes, Garry and I are guests on an overnight radio show. We used to do it every 5 or 6 weeks, but I was ill for a long time and I haven’t been able to do it for the past year. I loved doing the show and we always arrived home just as dawn broke. This was one of those post-radio show mornings.

This is mid March in New England. The sun in March is just starting its change from the white light of winter to the yellow sun of spring.

The sun is up.

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WINTER’S LAST GASP – GARRY ARMSTRONG

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We went down to the dam in the middle of Uxbridge today. It was relatively warm and there’s a lot of melting going on. Still, it’s supposed to snow tonight. Not a lot of snow. A mere couple of inches, but with temperatures dropping, it’s likely to stick. Maybe this will be winter’s last gasp — or blast.

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PASSAGE INTO SPRING

It is not the most snow we’ve ever had in a winter, at least not here in the Blackstone Valley. Nor was it the coldest winter we’ve had. Not even the coldest in memory. I remember a couple of January-s, when Kaity was only 6 or 7. We would wait for the school bus at the top of the drive. It was below zero at 7 in the morning. I’d warm up the car so we wouldn’t freeze solid before the bus arrived.

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Philosophical question: Why are school buses early when you are late, but always late when the weather is terrible? Just asking.

This may be the iciest winter I can remember. Or anyone can remember. We’ve had tons (literally) of sleet and ice layered over the snow to create the heaviest, most immovable mix on surfaces. This is the first time ever we’ve been completely trapped by the weather. Although the winter of 2011 when we had to shovel the roof to keep it from collapsing under the weight of snow came pretty close. This has been a good winter to be retired.

So it’s March now. This is the time of year where my yearning for spring goes into high gear. I believe that there are crocuses buried under that icy mess we humorously call a garden. By the time the ice melts, they’ll be long gone. We probably won’t see flowers until daffodils … April if we are lucky.

Mallard amid reflections of spring - Garry Armstrong

We all want a bit of warm sun. Spring is brief in this region and sometimes, it’s all torrential rain. Rising rivers. Flooded basements. Sodden ground.

Mud season. Muddy paws, muddy floors, sucking mud everywhere.

Our driveway used to be a seasonal stream, but the imbecile who built this house just paved it over. The stream doesn’t care whether it’s paved or not and when the spring rains and snow melt come, it returns to its original form and flows merrily down the driveway. It forms a little lake at the base of the driveway and a swamp in the backyard.

It used to turn the lower part of the house into a wading pool, but since Owen put in a sump and pump, we’ve managed to dodge the bullet. But we haven’t had the combination of heavy rain and snow melt in several years. With a little luck, we’ll skip it this year too.

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Spring will come. No matter how disgusting winter has been or how delayed, spring arrives and suddenly everything blooms. Literally between breakfast and supper, the trees come into leaf and the flowers open.

Two days later, the mercury rises into the 80s. Voila! Summer.

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GUARD DOGS!

As the tractor dug the layer of ice off the asphalt of our crumbling driveway, Bishop, who had been lolling about the living room trolling for treats realized he was neglecting his duties as watchdog.

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Bishop has never entirely grasped the whole “guarding” concept, but he has gotten very adept at the “keep barking until they go away” piece of the puzzle. Given even the slightest motivation, he will bark continuously. Motivation is loosely defined as someone or something in the driveway, on the property or nearby in the woods or on neighboring properties.

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If no reason presents itself, he will nonetheless bark continuously — for no apparent reason. Perhaps it is a preventative measure lest some unwanted human or critter be considering invading the territory.

Bonnie is more than happy to help with the barking. The two of them together, sometimes assisted by one or more of the other two dogs, can bark for hours if no one stops them — usually by suggesting it’s biscuit time.

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Today they had a reason to bark and bark they did. Mostly, it was Bishop’s day. That big green machine must have looked pretty threatening! And barking must have been the right thing to do because it went away. See? Bark and it makes everything alright.

STUCK! THEN — HELP ARRIVES!!

The last time Garry could get free of the driveway was last Saturday. Today, as I write this, it’s Thursday. The kids picked up a few things, including dog food — which was getting perilously low — when they were out a few days ago. Otherwise, we are stuck. Our PT Cruiser has been dug out and is actually sitting on bare asphalt, but the driveway is so completely iced over, the car will not go more than a few feet. Then, it just spins its wheels.

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I tried to get a tow, but it’s a front wheel drive car without a tow hitch. Pulling it out from the front … which is the only way it could be done because of the way it’s parked … would tear off the whole front bumper. So the driveway has been plowed twice — for whatever good it did which isn’t much — and our car is still trapped.

Both the yellow car and the silver Cruiser are ours. Mostly, Kaity uses the yellow Sunbird. We use the Cruiser for pretty much everything. For a 2-wheel drive vehicle, it’s been good. Until this winter, which has defeated the snowblower and the car. And the best efforts of everyone in the house.

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Yesterday afternoon it rained. It was in the mid thirties, so I hoped it would at least take the level of ice down, but what it did was convert the last remaining hard-packed snow into solid ice about 3-inches thick. Our neighbor came by early this morning with his tractor … but he said the ice was too hard and too thick.

I called the town, but they had nothing but one (just one!) bucket of sand to offer us. And we’d have to come and get it. I pointed out we are two senior citizens trapped by ice. They suggested we call the police and evacuate to a shelter. Nice to know our tax dollars are so well spent.

AAA say their vehicles don’t have 4-wheel drive, sorry. Good all those years of dues are paying off.

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We are down to our last hope, the neighbor with the tractor who says he’ll try again later. Maybe the ice will have softened a little. I’m not feeling optimistic at this point. But we do have to get out. The Cruiser needs to be inspected before the end of the month. I have a doctor appointment on Monday. I don’t think we’ll run out of food, but I’m running out of time. It’s 13 days until I go into the hospital and there’s much to be done. At this rate, I won’t be able to get to the hospital because I can’t get out of the driveway. Isn’t that a kick in the head.

In all the years we have both lived in New England, never have we been trapped like this. Garry’s lived here since 1970 and me since 1987. We’ve had bad winters, but never have we been marooned. I really don’t know what is going to happen. Or when.

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And then … the tractor arrived! Good neighbor Burt and the green miracle machine and suddenly, we can see pavement! That’s right. Asphalt! It’s been more than a month since we’ve seen it and now … it’s back. Owen is helping, shuffling cars … and of course Bishop is helping by barking continuously, with occasional input from Bonnie. Nan barks too, but stays inside while lending moral support to the outside dogs. It’s amazing!! It’s … a neighbor. A member of our church’s congregation — an elder, actually.

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Because in the end, the reality of the valley and perhaps of rural life in general — you need your neighbors. They are the ones who have trucks and tractors, who will bring you a cooked meal when you are sick, do your shopping when you’re laid up. You meet your neighbors, not over the fence but in church. Believe what you like, but join a church regardless because the heart and soul of relationships in rural New England begin in churches.