Monday, October 5, 2009

The More It Snows [Tiddely-pom!]

View of the pond surrounded by snow-weighted trees.
Old "Snort'n Nort'n", the 92 Dodge work truck, hunkers down under a load of wet snow.

Pebbles hanging out by the fence during Sunday's snow.

Charlie watches the falling snow from the comfort of the bedroom window sill. He isn't especially "bright" and several times scrabbled at the glass, mewing anxiously, while trying to capture wet flakes that slid down the window.

It seemed a good day to put the flannel sheets on the bed; fuzzy warmth instead of the cool smooth feel of crisp percale. Making the bed is always a group activity.

View toward the guest cabin from the front porch of the house, midafternoon, Sunday.

Heaps of heavy wet snow have avalanched from the roof, making a thumping rumble like the sound of distant thunder. Each time it happens the cats run for cover under the bed or the nearest piece of large furniture.
The snow began sometime Saturday night. We woke Sunday to greyed half-light seeping through the drapes, the quality of daylight which has our eyes seeking the clockface in disbelief, lifting a fold of the curtain to verify what we already know. We got through cooking a substantial late breakfast before the electrical power began blipping off and on. After re-starting the PC three times I gave up the idea of reading blogs and news or working with new photos. Various of our appliances, the battery phone, the digital clocks on stove and microwave alert us with dings, beeps, chimes to the momentary status of the power. I have a new book and settled to read with a cozy pile of cats and a mug of tea hastily brewed during an "on" spell.
We were invited to supper at our daughter's house next door and I was requested to make dinner rolls. The electric obliged, J. turned up the furnace, I refilled the tea kettle. At intervals the accumulating snow skidded off the roof in front of and behind the house.
I read til midnight, Diana Gabaldon's latest, which has chapters based on the historical battles of the Revolutiony War taking place in my home area of upstate New York and Vermont. My reading lamp dimmed and flickered half a dozen times, but revived. Sliding at last between the warm flannel sheets I was restless; in my mind I tramped the paths on Mount Independence as I did so many times in reality during the 1980's and 1990's--sometimes with friends, sometimes alone. I recalled the maps and plaques which identified the sites of the hospital, the storehouses, the mechanical hoist at the edge of the lake for unloading supplies from barges. I recalled long hours sitting on the rocks below the Horseshoe Battery, arms hugging my knees, gazing across the narrow expanse of water toward the stone ramparts of Ft. Ticonderoga. I thought of the evening scarcely more than a month past, our last evening in Vermont, when my sister and I drove the short distance from her home to the Hubbardton Battlefield, to walk her dog as the moon rose along the path that winds past old stone walls.
Sleepless hours passed. The cats knew I was awake and plodded up and down the lenght of my body, patted my face, purred in my ears. The power went off again, stayed off. Feeling in the dark for my slippers I prowled into the living room, drew back the curtains. A nearly full moon glowed behind a scarf of white mist, the heaped snow loomed white and bright, so bright that colors almost emerged from the night. Lights were on in the small industrial park across the way, neighbors' outside lights cast shimmering pools from their high poles. [Our power comes in from the old barn down on the main highway, part of the line from nearby Lyons Valley, according to J.] I felt somehow singled out, the only dark house within sight. I considered gathering candles, lighting enough of them to huddle and read...too much bother to rummage in the dark.
Pacing from window to window, the cats' tails whisking my bare ankles, I found myself in memory reliving the night of the great "black out" on the east coast in November of 1965. J. was working in Maine, I was staying with our 11 month old son at my grandfather's Vermont farmhouse. The weather was drab and chilly. I was 7 months pregnant with our daughter, tired and clumsy, trailing a toddler who could crawl into trouble almost faster than I could lumber after him. My grandfather's injured leg prevented him doing his "chores" or climbing the stairs to his small bedroom with it's east-facing window. He spent his evenings listening to the radio while I sewed or read or wandered into the parlor to play the old piano.
When the lights abruptly went out on the evening of November 9, we thought little of it. The neighborhood lines were old, the wind was blowing, the dirt roads were edged with dieing elm trees whose heavy branches regularly crashed to the ground in a strew of limbs, bringing with them portions of electrical cable.
My uncle brought out kerosene lamps from the high shelf in the pantry, added lenghts of cured maple and ash to the "chunk stove" whose warmth was more reliable than that of the furnace. We sat awhile in the shadows, enjoying the novelty of the dark, quiet night to which that old house had been long accustomed.
It was late the next day when, power restored, we learned that we had been part of the biggest power outage in recent history. Many of us will always remember where we were "when the lights went out."
From wikipedia: The Northeast Blackout of 1965 was a significant disruption in the supply of electricity on November 9, 1965, affecting Ontario, Canada and Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, New York, and New Jersey in the United States. Around 25 million people and 80,000 square miles (207,000 km²) were left without electricity for up to 12 hours. The cause of the failure was human error that happened days before the blackout, when maintenance personnel incorrectly set a protective relay on one of the transmission lines between the Niagara generating station Sir Adam Beck Station No. 2 in Queenston, Ontario. The safety relay, which is set to trip if the current exceeds the capacity of the transmission line, was set too low.
As was common on a cold November evening, power for heating, lighting and cooking was pushing the electrical system to near its peak capacity, and the transmission lines heading into Southern Ontario were heavily loaded. At 5:16 p.m. Eastern Time a small surge of power coming from Lewiston, New York's Robert Moses generating plant caused the misset relay to trip at far below the line's rated capacity, disabling a main power line heading into Southern Ontario. Instantly, the power that was flowing on the tripped line transferred to the other lines, causing them to become overloaded. Their protective relays, which are designed to protect the line if it became overloaded, tripped, isolating Adam Beck from all of Southern Ontario.
With no place else to go, the excess power from Beck then switched direction and headed east over the interconnected lines into New York State, overloading them as well and isolating the power generated in the Niagara region from the rest of the interconnected grid. The Beck and Moses generators, with no outlet for their power, were automatically shut down to prevent damage. Within five minutes the power distribution system in the northeast was in chaos as the effects of overloads and loss of generating capacity cascaded through the network, breaking it up into "islands". Plant after plant experienced load imbalances and automatically shut down. The affected power areas were the Ontario Hydro System, St Lawrence-Oswego, Western New York, Upstate New York, New England, and Maine. With only limited electrical connection southwards, power was not affected to the Southern States. The only part of the Ontario Hydro System not affected was the Fort Erie area next to Buffalo which was still powered by the old 25 Hz generators. Residents in Fort Erie were able to pick up a TV broadcast from New York where a local backup generator was being used for transmission purposes.


  1. That 1965 blackout was quite something.... and all due to one human error about a chain reaction.

    Wow ...your first snow of the season. Some beautiful shots ... again I love the water one best.

    It made me smile thinking of the cats scurrying away under your bed, as the snow loudly slithered off the roof.

    Hope you dont have too much trouble with the electrics.xx

  2. Oh no!!!Snow already. Come to think of it my son was just out there in the wilds of Wyoming, (literally), leading a group of cavers, or spelunkers if you want to be picky! He lives in Boise and just got back this afternoon, so he probably had plenty of snow to drive in. He loves snow. Me? After eight years in Toronto and five years in St. Paul, I wouldn't mind never seeing snow again !

  3. Hullo MM,
    Isn't it strange how a post, a single thread, can open up different strings of thought.

    While initially I thought of the snow and how much more impact the weather will have on your environment than mine in a relatively benign part of the world weather wise, it was the mention of the wars of independance that caught me.

    The battle of Hubbardton was I think part of the Saratoga campaign and the British forces were led by Simon Fraser of Balnain.

    Simon as you can tell by the name was Scots, born in the highlands at the top end of the Great Glen which contains Loch Ness and not very far in fact from the battlefield at Culloden where as most folk know, and certainly you from your reading of Diana Gabaldon, the Highland clan system was effectively destroyed.
    The after effects of this battle with its near genocide of elements of population, destruction of the military power of the clan chiefs, banning of tartan and the kilt and the economic depravation forced many empoverished young men to make the unusual choice of joining the British Army which was the only way for a highlander to continue with much of the lifestyle they had been accustomed to; to wear Tartan, to wear the kilt and to bear arms.
    It was this influx which in many ways directly led to Scotland traditionally providing a much higher percentage of its population to the army than other parts of Britain. A fact which continues to this day.

    It allowed the government to control and separate the most potentially dangerous part of Scots society, sending the sons of many clans far and wide across the world and to use them quite cynically in the most callous ways.

    At the same time as this many ordinary folk were also forced through economic or penal forces to migrate through the world and many especially to 'The Colonies'.

    General Wolf was a great believer that using the martial spirit of the highlands in this way was a sure way to preserve peace and control in the potentially rebellious north and is quoted as saying "No great mishchief if they fall". He often deliberately used Scots troops as a 'shock wave' taking the highest casualty rates.

    Of course over time they became famous and valued as soldiers but initially it was a disgracefully cynical ploy.
    Many Scots regiments were deployed in the Wars of Independance and again its is a sad and, to me, bitter historical footnote that the Scots contingent in the army were in fact helping their previous enemy to subdue a rebellion with very similar aims to that which they or their forebears had supported, and in many instances directly against Scots emigrants of their descendants.
    How general Wolf must have glowed at the thought!

    I find myself wondering regretfully what Simon Fraser, who must have felt the results of Culloden fairly directly, thought of that fact. I'm inclined perhaps to be kind in my thoughts but in reality I don't know why.

    Ach jings, that turned into a bit of a rant didn't it. sorry 'bout that MM. I'll try and not fall on my backside as I get down off the high horse.

    Thanks for a nice post and as often is the case, an evocative one.

    kind regards.......Al

  4. Oh wow. I love it when the comments are every bit as good as the post. Off out in a moment, but I guess I will be reading and re-reading this again when I get back, and Al's comment is raising issues I never considered before (or knew of). I think I am a Diana Gabaldon behind MM - but how lovely to actually KNOW the area so intimately . . . Thats why I enjoy Phil Rickman's books set along the Welsh marches, because I can visualize everywhere.

  5. Thank you all for the comments--the "discussion" and the jumping off points make this very lively and interesting for me. My sub-heading referring to a "ragbag mind" is a deliberate reflection of the way I think/process/relate. Not in an orderly fashion, but following the intriguing paths that loop and weave their way off the main track.
    Angie: the cats have subsided somewhat in behavior since the sun has come out today. They were weary from ushering in the big storm. J. has put up the bird feeder, so the cats can be "bird watchers."
    Chris: what part of WY was your son exploring? Is he in some way connected with NOLS here in Lander?
    BB: Would I like Phil Rickman even with no knowledge of Wales? [other than being able to play the Welsh national anthem and such from memory..]
    Al: I sympathize with the presence of night time ghouls who rob us of sleep. After a certain hour one KNOWS that sleep is not going to happen and might as well get up and DO SOMETHING--which of course has to be quietly done not to distrub the spouse.
    I don't think it at all a high horse which you have mounted; rather, you've brought into my focus the view of the Revolution from the Scots position.
    Oddly, I had just finished reading of Simon Fraser's death at Saratoga from the fictional stance and your comments set me off on several hours of looking up more info about the major players in the area battles.
    My interest in Scots and their part in the settling of the US has very personal roots---descent from the Ross and Andrew clan[s] of Scotland. I began reading historical novels in my teens, as my late uncle had many on his bookshelves. The series by Inglis Fletcher[ Lusty Wind for Carolina, The Scotswoman, etc] were some of the first I read and would be worth a revisit if I could find them. My own Ross forebears arrived in the Colonies after [typically] having been defeated and captured in the Battle of Worcester. And yes, I've been interested in the fact that many Scots, displaced by English cruelties of war, ended up serving in the Loyalist army as the best of several unsavory choices.
    I have two posts in draft, including the one which was meant for Sunday and another conceived as a follow up to Mount Independence.
    Meanwhile, I must go and work for my pitance at the quilt shop.