Wednesday, March 23, 2011


March 21, 2011: It's snowing. That's one of the ways we celebrate spring in these latitudes. In Otter River we have similarly celebrated Palm Sunday, Easter, Mother's Day, and conceivably Memorial Day. I remember a snow shower on May 22, and concern about frost and the newly planted flowers at the cemetery in the last days in the month. I also remember my grandmother expressing concern that the marchers in the Memorial Day parade might faint from the heat -- it had happened, she said.

At the other end of the calendar, we have had frost before the end of August. My father didn't attempt to grow pumpkins, as much we kids wished he would, because, he said, the frost always got them. What kind of growing season is too short for pumpkins? New England pioneered in manufacturing for good reason. By contrast, the year I bought my motorcycle it was 100 degrees on Labor Day. At the family reunion I gave rides to anyone brave enough to accept.

My mother reports seeing snow in Otter River in every month of the year except July -- and frost in July, once. I remember as a child being impressed by a change of temperature of almost 100 degrees within a week or two.

Meteorologists love New England weather for the challenge of trying to figure out what it will do next. The rest of us accept it more or less philosophically, and newcomers get used to it. I remember a woman from Poland taking exception to snowstorms through March and into April, after what had looked like the dawn of gentler weather: "In my country, yes, it is cold in the winter, but when spring comes, it's spring." What must a person from India think when they step out the door into one of those crystal-clear, still days with the thermometer below zero, especially if their car won't start? From Poland as well as India, our weather looks like some kind of mistake.

Today's snow doesn't bother me. How much harm can there be in an inch or two of soggy snow that melts on contact with blacktop? The crocuses and daffodils go about their business, snow notwithstanding. And for a day or two it'll whiten all those dirty snowbanks.

Monday, March 7, 2011


A television documentary about guide dogs some years ago showed a dog leading its blind owner through a field crossed with parallel ditches, jumping each ditch with its owner a second or two behind, to illustrate the training of dogs for their owners' specific needs. Presumably, if someone wanted a motorcycle-riding canine for a sensible reason, Seeing Eye could train one from puppyhood for the purpose. When Natalie and I lived in Berkeley, we joked about how convenient it would be if her Seeing Eye German Shepherd could be persuaded to ride my Lambretta so I could drive them home when we met unexpectedly.

At the time, I might or might not have seen You Are What You Eat, a hip and trendy movie circa 1968, which keeps showing a small dog -- one of those white curly things as I remember -- riding on the tank of a Harley-ish bike. I had seen, in a motorcycle parking lot on the Berkeley campus, a young man mount his scooter and gesture to his dog, which jumped onto the floor in front of his feet and happily rode off.

One idle afternoon behind Natalie's apartment on Dwight Way in Berkeley, we decided to try introducing the dog to two-wheeled travel. With the engine running and me in the driver's seat, Natalie lifted the dog in her arms and climbed aboard. I don't speak dog and couldn't see the animal -- it was behind me -- but I could tell that this was not, so to speak, a happy puppy.

I pulled in the clutch and shifted into gear. The dog had heard that clunk many times and knew as well as we did what came next. It shook free of Natalie's grasp, leapt to the ground, bolted up the stairs to the apartment, and betook itself to some favorite safe and comfortable corner. Natalie and I laughed long and loudly, and made no further attempts to make a biker of the poor beast.