Dickensian Afternoon


It was so foggy this afternoon that I could think of only one thing: the opening to Dickens’s Bleak House:

LONDON. Michaelmas Term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snow-flakes — gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another’s umbrellas in a general infection of ill-temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if the day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ’prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds.

The dog and the kids spent the day indoors. A miserable day if you want to go outside. Dzien barowa.

First Day Out

It’s been cold here lately — ridiculously cold for South Carolina. The majority of the nights over the last ten days have been below freezing, which is something here; a substantial number (a majority of that majority?) have been below 20 degrees. In Poland, nothing out of the ordinary; K and I are used to such things. Here? It’s ridiculously cold.

Add to it the tragic fact that we’ve all taken turns getting sick over that same period of time and it’s obvious why no one has done much of anything outside these last few days. The dog is the only exception: she doesn’t really care. The rest of us have done our best to stay warm.

So when we all were home and it was 59 degrees this afternoon, there was only one thing to do.

The Boy and the Girl were happy to jump on the trampoline again. The new trampoline, which should actually have some bounce to it, is still in parts on the basement floor.

“Let’s wait until it warms up,” K encouraged. That was Christmas. It’s still on the floor.

“Daddy! Today it’s warmed up! Can you work on the trampoline?” was the refrain from both the kids, but I was too busy laughing with K as she jumped out of the swing like a teenager.

The dog was thrilled to have someone to play with her again. She’s really such a gregarious dog. She’ll play outside by herself for a while, but she’s always happy to have a companion. And don’t even think about doing something outside the newly fenced area: she’ll stand at the fence and whimper like she’s being abused.

Rainy Sunday

“It’s cold and rainy!” I said as I came back inside from taking pictures of the Boy, who was more thrilled than I was that it was cold and rainy. After a blistering dry summer, to have finally some cold, wet weather is a blessing.

It made the rosół we had for lunch all the tastier, the cuddling with Papa and Nana all the more comfortable, and family movie in the early evening all the more enjoyable.

The automatically created URL for this post indicates that this is the fourth time I’ve used “Rainy Sunday” as a post title:

All within the last three years.

New and Old

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Slowly, we’re returning to the old within the new. The grandparents were over for lunch yesterday, eating in our new kitchen at our old table a meal that was cooked in our soon-to-be-outdated field kitchen.

Afterward, we had quiet a rain — unlike any we’ve had this summer. The ground was so hard and dry that puddles formed immediately, giving me a chance to walk around the house and see how our filled in trench from our unexpected sewer renovation was draining. A few problems there, but the rain didn’t last quite long enough for those problems to actually materialize (i.e., start to flood the crawl space). Which means we still don’t know how our sump pump works, whether or not it takes care of the problem.

Autumn Sunday

It’s during this time of year that the early morning sun is so spectacular. It’s not that the leaves are kaleidoscopic for they’re all still green here in the South. It’s the angle of the sun at this time of year.

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“It’s the best time of the year in South Carolina,” K always says. Sunny cool days that invite backyard play.

And it’s time to begin decorating — first Halloween. Pumpkin ghosts to hang on our Crepe Myrtles in the front yard.

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Of course there’s always time for the sandbox.

Cold, Rainy Day

Who would ever have guessed that in southern Poland, a day in late June could pass without the temperature ever rising above the low fifties? Such a thing has never happened before today, certainly. Who would have thought L would have spent her first day in kindergarten here inside because the teacher judged it was too hot to go outside and she would have spent her last day in kindergarten here inside because the teacher judged it was too cold to go outside?

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I’ve experienced it more times than I care to mention, but every single time I’m here during the summer, the cold catches me off guard. Last visit, K and I really simply forgot about how cold it could get. Perhaps “misjudge” is a better term. We came completely unprepared and had to buy clothes, just as my folks did when they came in 2004 for our wedding. This time, we came during a real Polish heat wave, and I thought, “Well, it looks like we might get through this visit without freezing weather.” Now naive. How silly.

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We came prepared for the cold, but not this cold. So we hunted for something warmer for L (she has a sweater on underneath that sweatshirt) and me.

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Yet a six-year-old cannot stay inside all day. She has to get some of that accumulated energy out. A bike helps; a scooter is in some ways a bit better; a dog that loves to play fetch and then be chased adds more motivation. All three mean a tired girl come bedtime.

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Of course, Babcia was neither surprised nor unprepared. Nor unknowledgable, for that matter: she predicted correctly that, despite the forecast, the morning rain would stop by afternoon.

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Since L and I are planning a trip to Krakow tomorrow, we’re both hopeful that her weather forecast is more accurate than the ever-changing “professional” forecast.

Polish Weather

My general color association with the sky in this region is gray — a mix of dark gray and light gray, a whole palette of grays. Some days, the sky was a solid, single gray. Other days, there were lower gray clouds with higher clouds of a lighter gray. But no matter what shade of gray, there was one thing in common: the sun was invisible. Hidden. Nonexistent.

For the first few days here, the sky was blue, the sun was out, and I actually found myself thinking from time to time, “Wow, it’s actually almost hot.”

But of course it wasn’t to last. For the last week or so, the gray has returned (with the exception of a couple of hours yesterday morning), the temperatures have dropped: the Polish weather I loathed has finally arrived.

Flood

It started around five. I called K to see if she’d need to stay late at work and asked her if it was raining.

“It’s coming down pretty hard here,” I explained.

And down it came, through dinner, through clean up time, into play time. E and I were by the window when I realized how significant the rainfall really was.

Sheets of rain; gusts of wind. I had these terrible images of one of the enormous trees in the backyard falling onto the house. What would we do? How could I protect my children, my wife?

And still it came down.

Looking into the backyard, I saw we had a lake. And it was growing. Within a few minutes, I realized why: the stream was no longer a stream. And within a few more minutes, we were all standing in the carport in shock.

But it was nothing compared to what I saw when I got to the neighbor’s yard. Looking into her neighbor’s yard, I saw something that literally made be question my grasp on reality. Water flowing out of the house. Pouring. Torrents running out of the house.

The poor folks were getting it from three directions.

Seeing the owner in the garage, I walked in and asked him if he needed help. I could only imagine what might be going on inside the house, and I thought if I could help him move anything at all to higher ground it would be more useful than standing around with a video camera in my hand.

Fortunately, at that point, nothing had gotten into the house. It was just flowing through his garage, he explained. He’d lived in the neighborhood for close to forty years, he explained, and he’d never seen anything remotely close to this.

I promised to return later to see if the situation had worsened and if he needed help.

It turned out, though, that we had our own issues to deal with.

“Where did the water come from?” K asked. Walls? Floor? Who knows. When this much rain falls in such a short time, the answer is probably, “All of the above.”

I vacuumed for at least half an hour before I really felt I was making no progress at all.

“Surely I’m just imagining this,” I muttered to myself. “Surely I’m making progress. I’ve emptied this thing at least ten or twelve times, and it supposedly holds sixteen gallons. That’s a lot of water for it to show no change,” I continued, still rambling to myself. (The more confused I am, the more likely I am to begin talking aloud to myself. Perhaps I’m not the only one?)

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I decided to take a quick break and see if the water rose any. That would confirm my obvious suspicion that water was still flooding into the house.

By this time, though, the rain had almost stopped and the water was lower, almost returning to the confines of the small creek.

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What remained was a fetid mess.

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An expensive fetid mess: the house, about a half a mile away from our humble home, with a backyard so gloriously landscaped I thought it was a park, no longer had a beautiful garden. In its stead was a lake.

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It was no Katrina. Flash flooding at the most. Still, enough of a view of what water can do to put famous floods into a more meaningful perspective.

Winds

What a capricious character, the wind. We depend on it for pollination, sustaining rain, and a million other things. Yet the tragedy in Oklahoma reminds us that it’s like most things: in excess, devilish.

While I’ve fortunately never experienced a tornado or hurricane, I’ve had some odd experiences in Poland with the wind, specifically the halny wind of southern Poland. A foehn wind, the halny is legendary for its effects on behavior. Depression sets in and there’s supposedly a noticeable increase in the suicide rate.

My own experience wasn’t nearly so traumatic, but it did lead to the absolute worse bout of insomnia I’ve ever suffered. For about four nights, I found it almost impossible to sleep. Nothing helped. Every morning was a trial, and every afternoon I was convinced that I would finally fall fast asleep that evening, but I lay awake night after night, feeling ever more powerless and waking with a worse headache than the day before.

In that sense, I’m blessed: the worst wind has ever done to me is keep me up almost all night. Nothing like this song, or the tragedy in Oklahoma. Blessed or lucky. Or both.

Weather

Why talk about the weather unless you’re in an uncomfortable situation? Perhaps when the weather is exceptional? Perhaps a week with almost daily rain in the heat of a South Carolina July?

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Still, it’s not so much the rain, or even the storm, that’s worthy of comment: it’s the still-green grass in the front yard midway through July that’s striking.

Snow Day(s) 2011, Day 2

A snow day was always an unexpected blessing when I was growing up. They were so rare that it was hard believe it when they actually occurred. As a teacher, I’ll admit that one snow day a year is just about the best thing that can happen. I know that we’ve lost a make up day, but three are built into the school calendar — not a big price to pay. Having two snow days gets to be irritating. Having three is simply annoying. After that, we’re in the hole: we have to make them up some other way.

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So while the first day is all fun and games — playing in the snow, taking walks, just enjoying the snow.

I went for a walk, watching how Southerners drive in the snow, wondering where such misplaced confidence comes when they have so little experience driving in such conditions. At least one individual seemed to think that because he had a SUV normal rules of physics didn’t apply to him.

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Others thought that somehow the laws of physics increased their stringency in icy conditions, barely going much faster than I walked. The majority managed to meet some happy medium.

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Others were enjoying what the drivers were avoiding. “A day with dry, powdery snow does not present the best condition for a sled with runners,” I wanted to tell them. They were figuring it out for themselves, though.

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As I trudged through the snow, I thought of all the countless walks I took in the snow while living in Poland. I was enchanted every winter: snow on the ground for weeks, months at a time. In the South, we’re lucky if it stays for a couple of days (the present conditions excepted). My first year in Polska, there was snow on the ground from early December to March. I went for a walk almost every day, exploring just how deep the snow in the fields could be in mid-January, after several snow falls.

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Tramping around with a camera brought about some wonderfully nostalgic moments. My whole story of my photographic hobby unfolded in my memory: I arrived in Poland with a point-and-shoot Canon and quickly bought my first SLR — a Russian Zenit (Зени́т‚ in Russian), a solid, heavy metal-bodied camera with a manual focus and manual metering. I learned more about photography wrestling with that beast than I’ve learned since.

I continued my walk to the main street of our hamlet and slipped into an open CVS. By the door, the Southern storm staple: bread.

“Did you put that out for the storm?” I ask as I pay for the lighters I bought.

“I don’t think so,” replied the attendant. “But I didn’t work this weekend. I can’t remember if we had it out last time I worked.”

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As I headed back home, I saw a fitting message.

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Everyone had taken it to heart: the streets were virtually empty.

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“Who would get out in this mess when there’s no where to go?” I muttered to myself. The whole state shut down yesterday: schools, state offices, everything but the DMV and their salt/brine-spreading, snow plowing devices.

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In the meantime, we kept ourselves busy.