Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Recipe For A Crazy Man.

It's New Years Eve and I'm sitting in my living room looking out the picture windows at the snow coming down. A perfect day.
I'm reading the Goliath Stone by Larry Niven and Matthew Joseph Harrington.
One of the characters, Alice Johnson, makes a statement: “I freely acknowledge that I am the sort of person who looks at those charming Currier and Ives prints and wonders how many inhabitants of the snowbound houses are, at that moment, being forced to resort to cannibalism.” As I read that line it got me to thinking.

As a child I remember mostly snippets of what happened around me. I seldom allowed for the feelings of others in my surroundings being more interested in how circumstances affected me. I was the baby of the family for four years. That may have focused my thoughts inward since if I cried or smiled everyone noticed and reacted to my behavior. Anyway....

My earliest memories are of living at Messenger Lake outside of Coldwater, Michigan. Messenger Lake was a marl pit dug out by the cement plant on the south end of the lake. The plant had used the Coldwater river to transport the marl in barges and as the pit was dug and the deposit was mined out the barges went on to dig out and form South, North, Cemetery, Randall, Morrison and Craig lakes before going out of business or running out of raw material at the Waffle Farm Campground north of Coldwater and just east of Hodunk. Since it was a dug pit, the ground on the shore of the lake was a steep bank.

We'll discuss most of that later but one thing sticks out. There was a heavy snowfall and the snow drifted behind the hills surrounding the lake. At the time the snow seemed really deep. But then I was 3 feet tall and a foot of snow was a huge amount. Mom bundled I and my two older brothers up in winter clothes. I'm not sure if it was snowsuits or coats and two pairs of pants. I seem to remember both being worn at alternate times. But I digress. We went out to a small ledge in the bank just to the west of the cottage. Far enough away for adventure but still within running home distance. The snow had drifted to completely fill in the area behind the ledge. In retrospect it must have been a fairly warm snowfall because the top layer had frozen into a thin crust and the snow had become packed to the consistency of Styrofoam. One of my brothers suggested building an igloo. We all agreed that that was a great idea and set about cutting blocks of snow and arranging it in a circle. I don't remember finishing the structure. I think probably lunch or supper interrupted the project. The main thing that sticks with me is that instead of panicking at the thought of deep snow we embraced it and set about turning it to our own purpose.

We moved sometime in the next year to a house on Crippen Street in Coldwater. There was a great deal to do and wonderous things to explore in the new environment. I was older and allowed to travel on my own but usually found myself in the company of one or more neighborhood children. We would fish or swim in the river and, being boys, would hunt whatever moved into our range of attention. The rule was you could never kill anything just for sport. If you killed it you had to eat it. Or at least attempt to. Frog legs roasted on a stick, fried pigeon, squirrels and half a hundred other experiments later we new pretty much what was catchable and out of that group what was edible after catching. We weren't ravenous brutes set upon a path of mayhem. We were an amalgam of backgrounds and creeds that had a common thread in adventure.

In 1978 there was a snowstorm in March. As snow storms go it was a respectable amount of precipitation. The thing that enhanced the experience the most was the wind storm that preceded it and followed it. After watching the house across the street disappear behind a drift of snow I and Lydia went to bed thinking that it was a good thing we went to the store that night before the storm hit.

I woke up to find that the houses across the street were behind a huge wall of snow but the front porch and most of the street right in front of our house was open. The back yard was another huge drift that reached the height of the roof but was separated from the house by a ten foot open spot where the house had channeled the wind and snow away. After digging out the back door I looked over at the hedge row and had an idea. I went out and cut down a couple of box elder trees that had clumped around the base of the trees. With the sticks and some clothesline rope I fashioned a set of snowshoes and had a great time walking along the tops of the drifts and looking down on the houses.
People who would have lived in the Currier and Ives houses would have grown up like I did. Rather than reverting to cannibalism they would be sitting warm and snug around the table eating chicken or rabbit stew. The world is a host of possibilities for the person with the inclination to look for them.

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