Stuck in Irons


Winter on the Narrow River Middlebridge, RI JAL

Janus was the Roman God of beginnings and transitions. During the inaugural month of each year the northern hemisphere leans back, wobbles on its axis in a sodden stupor, and shields itself from lengthily doses of direct sunlight. The New Year is stuck in irons. We’re aboard a year that’s stalled. Our rudder, that thing we use to steer and maneuver about life, is temporarily unresponsive. These are the burned out days of winter when it sometimes seems that we can’t get to where we want to be.


Patience. Middlebridge JAL

There was a sailing ship January found trapped with its bow facing the wind, its crew going nowhere. Ah, northern winters – the season of elongated murky nights that beget lackluster days and weeks spent tenderly nursing spirits stuck in the doldrums of lethargy. Exhausted by holiday festivities, January begins the year rather solemnly as if the long, bleak cloud covered days are mourning for days gone past. Some find that their lives seem to stall between the crests of enormous waves. Sailors of northern waters shrug off such feelings of discontentment as the essence of winter. Sailors don’t like being in the irons, when the winds roar and the sails get caught in grip of a grand mal seizure. The ruckus rattles the best of nerves.


Sailing St. Thomas Aboard Jolly Mon. JAL

Try not to stay stuck in the irons too long for the damage can get very serious very quickly. The wind is going to blow whichever way it wants whenever it wants – so in order to get unstuck you’ve got to push the sails until they catch the wind. Sometimes you’ll need help (mechanical wind). Be bold and ask for assistance to get back in the groove – that’s why boats have crews. Pay attention to the wind, heed the feel of the rudder, and force the boat away from the wind’s fist. The clean snap sails as the hull bites into the waves is the payoff – you are free to go.

Winter gradually passes and yields to spring. Not everyone notices whether it’s winter or summer. Count them as happy people who are immune to seasonal affective disorders and wise enough to apply sunblock.  Take advantage of this month to recover and prepare. So what if winter nights are long? Savor them for dreaming. Imagine during the night and work toward those possibilities by day. January is an open door to the rest of the calendar. The future lying on the other side might hold delightful surprises or great suffering. For some, an open door brings cold drafts and unbidden visitors, a bit like a Hobbit opening up to uninvited guests. Yet to close the portal shuts out the likelihood of partaking in adventures beyond the threshold. Fear what’s beyond the door and you’ll find that being stuck behind the gateway is fearsome. You’ll miss out and be missed. All doors are both exits and entrances – it depends on where you are when one opens. Carpe porta!


Most pathways begin or end at a doorway. Narragansett Beach JAL

Ice Bearing Ducks


The SS Edmond Fitzgerald Photo courtesy National Geographic

Common sense has it that TV weather people are clueless about accurately predicting rain or sleet or sunshine. The manufacturers of bread, milk and toilet paper count on their ineptness when forecasting winter sales revenue. Last night half of the United States endured record breaking cold (AKA, ‘freeze your butt off”) and snow blankets many homes in the lower forty-eight. The witch of November has come stealing. Nature has dealt a serious blow to residents around the Great Lakes that called forth a State of Emergency not associated with protesters in a Mississippi River port of call. The gales of November have arrived in a fury reminiscent of the one that sank the Edmond Fitzgerald.


Polar Bears’ Pop Tart. Image from Wikipedia

Was this predicted? Champions of Global Warming – or as I prefer to call it, Global Chaos – say, Yes. A bad storm off the Sea of Japan blew into the Bering Sea with enough clout to cold cock the Polar Vortex and send it spiraling south with a full boat load of frigid polar air. Labrador retrievers in Ohio are sensing polar bear farts in every other sniff of icy wind. Polar bears at the Omaha zoo point their nostrils northward while drooling at the faint scent of Eau de Baby Harp Seal.


WC’s Jim Cantore

What’s next? Rather than consult weather pin up Jim Cantore we should pull on some cold weather gear and check out the neighborhood beavers and ponds. Beavers were once prized for their hides that were turned into really warm coats and stove pipe hats (made the PETA hatters stark raving mad). Beavers aren’t smart enough to escape many a trap – but they are great predictors of the upcoming winter weather. Like the brick-building-third -little-pig they build their homes to last. Beavers intuitively understand just how hard they need to work to protect them from the cold long before the big lake they call Gitchee Gumee freezes. When beavers sense an especially heavy snow laden long winter they build sturdy, thick lodges that block a lot of the water mass. If you see a McDamansion – count on a rough winter. If the dam looks like it would fit right into a Tornado Alley trailer park – plan on a mild winter.


Dam harbinger of winter weather

Don’t see a dam? Check out a nearby pond, “ice in November to bear a duck, the rest of the winter’ll be slush and muck.” It was 10ºF last night but the ducks in our lake are swimming merrily about today. So much for a balmy forecast of warm breezes melting off the snow that leave us with muddy boots most of the season.

Given that most of the oak trees in town still wore their leaves well past October and there are all kinds of berries hanging off tree branches in the yard – I’m predicting this winter is going to be colder than a well digger’s arse. Last July, Lake Michigan steamed like a young man’s dream and flipped her deep cold waters to the surface. Right on cue beavers started adding insulation to their dam homes and the firewood sales people made reservations for luxury spring vacations. Dean Martin swooned it best, “Baby, it’s cold outside.”


Beavers, Ducks and Bears, Oh My! Polar Express Arrives Way Before Christmas Eve

Homage to Gordon Lightfoot who wrote the lyrics of The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald after reading an article about the tragedy in Newsweek Magazine.

Greetings from the Entropics, Southeast of Disorder


Got lobstahs? @ $3.99 per lb. we gotta lotta!


Before the fall there’s June Bloom.
Middlebridge, RI

Last August our Middlebridge friends bid us farewell with a lobster feast. It was a balmy August evening and we savored each other’s company late into the night. One of our friends sighed, ‘It’s amazing Labor Day is just three weeks away. Every year we think summer will last – but every Labor Day Mother Nature flips her thermostat to cold – the temperatures plummet over night and the weather turns nasty. Then everyone waves good by and we all hibernate until Memorial Day. This place turns into a ghost town – everything looks dead.”

I’ve been hibernating all year. It’s more than just being a passive New England Patriots fan – I’ve been holed up like Sri Lankan sloth bear. I can’t blame the Polar Vortex or recent snowstorm – I’ve got a closet full of winter jackets so there’s no reason not to get out. I’m not suffering from SAD (seasonal affective disorder) – in fact I’m quite cheery, content, and comfortable. I simply have no motivation or energy to venture beyond my snug little nest.


The flow of entropy – the Ex Libris is going nowhere fast.

I’m stuck in an entropic free fall. My energy vaporized right after the winter solstice when winter took the season by force.

Nature is enforcing the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. To hip Newtonians, this means people who live in the colder climate zones of the northern hemisphere are quite literally, chilled out. The reason for this, physics wise, is it’s impossible for heat to flow from a colder body to a warmer body without any work having been done to accomplish this flow. Nobody feels like working once they finally take time to chillax. Blame Mother Nature – she threw the sun in the pen with very limited time to shine in the yard. Or ask a physician and she’ll confirm that during winter a lot of people complain that they don’t feel so hot.

It’s a new year only because some old pope came up with a calendar that says so. It is foolish to decide on the first calendar day of the year to put your life in order by proclaiming New Year Resolution when most living things outside are abiding by the 2nd Law. They’ve already progressed from order to the state southeast of disorder. And that’s why setting resolutions this time of year is futile. Even the sun can’t shine for even half of the 24 hours of any given day from now until we drink green beer to celebrate an Irish saint who rid the emerald isles of snakes. Right now in the comfy confines of your winter burrow life is about as chaotic as it is going to be – and it’s not so bad is it?


Clean Up! Clean Up! Every Brain Cleans Up!

It’s silly to think your brain can take command of your behavior and meet the challenges of resolutions that sounded good after the last champagne toast of last year. After a certain age people get excited during the season of longest nights because they can go to bed early rather than get out and about. Winter brains are in janitor mode. Brains use these long nights of deep sleeps to do some much needed house keeping. During winter naps your brain has plenty of time to do a thorough glial wash (scrubs out neural waste formally known as brain junk). While you’re sleeping the brain sucks energy from your body to rev up its neural circuits needed to clean out lots of things you really don’t need to think about and certainly can live without remembering. Nocturnal brain washing is essential for clear thinking after the morning wake up call.

During a natural period of disorder when brains are busy vacuuming and dusting it makes absolutely no sense to make unrealistic pledges to bring fresh order into your lives. We don’t have the vigor to go from chilled to warmed up with the notion of change. Accept that the bulk of your energy has been routed to the brain’s clean up detail. Use what little energy you’ve got to go with the flow. Accept that we’re all milling about in the Entropics – an imaginary island chain where we can wiggle our toes in the water and all of our energy disperses with the receding surf. Here’s where what goes around, comes around. Diddle about on the beach long enough and the sun will concentrate its energy in your toe and you’ll feel the heat and high tail it for the sunscreen. For now, abide by the 2nd Law – conserve your energy because ice cubes melt in a warm room whether or not you get involved.


Winter’s sun casts long shadows to honor shortened days. IRB, FL
Photo by JAL

Sails and Sheets

IMG_3867The bard, Buffet lamented to Mother Ocean that the men who rode her switched from sails to steam. He was a pirate who arrived too late and pissed his fortune away. Today’s forecast is for bone cracking subzero temps and buckets of snow. Aside from heeding a friend’s warning of a French Toast Alert (plunder the grocery stores stocks of milk, eggs, bread and toilet paper), it’s imperative that we get a bubbler under Ex Libris’ hull before the ice damages her hull and Boat US cancels my policy for not keeping our winter berth ship shape.


Like the finest silk. Thin enough to examine under a microscope.

It’s a new year and if we’re lucky, things are going to change and old habits will catch a second wind. There are a couple of changes that, personally, I find perplexing. TP is #4 on the French Toast alert.  We dealt with an unexpected change when our California crew arrived for the holidays. When Barrett visits he has the habit of sending ahead an air humidifier and a load of disposable diapers. The new quirk is that he also provisioned the upstairs bath. Not a 12 pack of Charmin. He gifted us with thousands of sheets of 100% Tree Free, Septic Safe, Single Ply Bath Tissue made from Sugarcane Husk & Bamboo. The wrapper testifies, “We believe in living well and making positive choices.”

Nick says that he butts heads with Amberley when grocery shopping because as she promised at age 13, when she grew up she would never buy generic store brands – it’s only top shelf for her. Being a CPA and proficient with counting beans, Nick protests that much of the stuff on the shelves is the same except for more expensive branding. Yet he yields on one non-negotiable point taught by his father in law – “Never choose to buy cheap toilet paper.” Barrett lives the mantra with his choice of Bath Tissue – his choice of brands is not about the room or the paper – it’s the wellbeing gained from a clean swipe and a good choice. Still, I question his choice, bamboo husks? Does he know the going rate for feeding pandas at the Washington Zoo? I do. It costs around $500,000 a year to keep two pandas healthy and content on a bamboo and Purina Panda Food diet. Our son’s Tissue must be the Johnny Walker Blue of commodes.

Dealing with bamboo and pandas is a delicate process. The lovely panda Yan Yan on loan from China to the Berlin Zoo had a hardy appetite for bamboo but died tragically. The autopsy revealed she died of constipation that triggered a heart attack. It’s a tough tush life.


Chillaxin above the Bubbler

A couple of swipes of the flimsy 100% pure bamboo treeless Tissue will help you empathize with the tragic demise of Yan Yan. It’s hard to switch from trees to grass unless you’re in Colorado this week. I’m going back to Mr. Peeble’s Charmin and will save the rest of the sugarcane and bamboo for our boat. The bamboo seems to disintegrate on contact with liquids and solids so there will be little risk of a plugged head on Ex Libris – unless we arrive too late and the pipes freeze because we don’t get the bubbler installed before the big chill.

The greatest irony is, the Tissue was made in China. It’s your choice, trees and paper or bamboo and starving pandas.