Dire Wolf

That cold, sly, crescent sliver of the New Year’s first moon wore the mischievous grin of a city slicker peering down from the deep, twinkling, southern weekend sky. To me, the ominous message was clear: beware the Wolf Moon.

Who knew, the wind a howling, that developments were about to take a fiendish swirl around my frigid Upper Meadows home? I’d characterize what unfolded as interesting and eventful, all of it not necessarily favorable.

I guess the most fascinating occurrence took place out back on Hinsdale Brook, a Green River tributary that marks my property’s northern boundary, bubbles from a couple of muddy spring-hole marshes above and is fed by several other tiny East Shelburne and East Colrain spring creeks. First, the free-flowing, gravel-bed stream froze thick and hard, presenting a most enticing, near-florescent gray/green hue, small manhole-sized holes erupting in spots as the flow emitted a soft, soothing, muffled gurgle that could remind a man of the oozing emotional pain we sometimes hide under protective inner membranes.

By the time Sunday’s rains had rendered the roads sloppy indeed, covered with hydroplane puddles and salty, splashy slush, as adjacent meadows wore a precious-metal glitter, the backyard brook’s thick, bulbous ice sheet, still firmly in place despite a film of water overflowing the surface, seemed in the darkness to have risen some three or four feet. Upon closer inspection the next morning, sunlight confirmed my assessment while dogs Lily and Chubby ate breakfast on the cook-shed stoop. Not much had changed by the time I left for work Monday evening, though temperatures were in free fall, the roads and landscape growing increasingly treacherous. Upon returning to the scene just before midnight, steadied by a walking stick to prevent any icy spills, I immediately recognized change. From way out by the front of the barn I clearly heard that familiar, exhilarating springtime roar of rushing water signaling dramatic change. And, yes, as I approached the small barn-red cook-shed, the lawn dimly lit to the brook’s bank by a wide yellow V cast from a high floodlight attached to the peak of the barn’s gabled rear end, I noticed patches of disturbance along the glazed stream-side snow. Although I didn’t have the necessary light or energy to investigate thoroughly, even with the small flashlight in my wool vest’s left hand-warmer pocket, I knew something powerful had busted loose. What, I couldn’t be certain. I’d figure it out. Tomorrow was another day.

Sure enough, upon returning with the dogs to the scene under bright Tuesday-morning sunlight, I identified the snow-top debris I had identified the previous night: brown leaves driven asunder off the steep, solidly frozen stream bank. Accompanying the leaves and identifying the destructive path of a violent flood were many triangular, plate-sized ice shards grouped here, scattered there as far as 10 feet inland, most of them settled in icy, channel-like earthen depressions along a row of sugar maples. Wow! Nature had unleashed a powerful event. The water pressure under that thick, light-emerald ice must have first risen and then, aided by warming, ice-softening temps, busted through and smashing it open with a buckling fury only nature can muster. I could picture huge, temporary, vertical, pointed ice-dams capable of cutting you in half forcing the torrent to the side and over the eight-foot bank at along low spots. I have seen this phenomenon only one other time in 16 years at the old tavern nestled into Greenfield’s northwest corner. Luckily, my cook shed escaped damage by inches, the ice-shard trail disclosing all I needed to know.

Hail, hail, the brute force of nature, which you must respect, but gotta love. Well, most of the time, anyway. Yes, there are exceptions. Let me describe one.

As it turned out, the sub-zero deep-freeze delivered by that lovable old wench called Mother Nature wasn’t so forgiving to another occasional home-front trouble spot in the cabinet below my kitchen sink. Situated along a rear west wall where once a wooden trough awaited piped water from a strong hillside spring, the kitchen was renovated in the early 1980s, and whoever built it under-insulated the space behind the vertical copper pipes feeding the sink and dishwasher t’other side a cold, damp, shaded outdoor nook. Never an issue when temperatures stay in the positive realm, I have learned to take special precautions below zero by simply opening the cupboard doors and the one-armed-bandit faucet above,  just enough to allow a steady lukewarm drip. Then, when I awake to feed the woodstove in the wee, chilly hours as I do nightly, I discipline myself to the sink, where I open the tap to run hot and cold water at full flow before turning it back down to a warm overnight drip and snuggling back into bed. Even then, in extreme cold, I have temporarily lost my hot- or cold-water feed by daybreak, a recurring problem that has always been easily remedied by applying direct heat from an electric hair dryer to the affected pipe. Less often, the thin copper dishwater line will freeze and clog in severe cold. But even then I’ve always been able to avoid serious damage with short hair-dryer therapy. Not this time. Uh-ah. These days, with the kids out of the house and the two of us eating much differently, the dishwasher is used less, which can tempt destructive cold-weather demons.

Sunday was such a day, absolutely no signs of trouble until around 3 p.m. Watching a football game with the start of a new work week quickly approaching, I had risen from my La-Z-Boy to feed the stove and heard what sounded like loud running water. I found in the kitchen that the noise was emanating from inside the dishwasher, not the kitchen sink. When I tried to turn the appliance off for closer inspection, it refused to cooperate. I opened the door, noticed few dishes, no soap in the reservoir, and I yelled to my wife two rooms away to determine when she had turned it on. Huh? She hadn’t. I knew we had problems.

I called South Deerfield plumber Mal Cichy and got no answer, just an emergency number I promptly dialed. The phone rang. Cichy’s wife answered. She and her husband was in Myrtle Beach, S.C. She gave me his cell-phone number. I called. He answered, we spoke and he quickly diagnosed the problem before informing me that trusty, longtime repairman Fritz from B&J Appliance, also in South Deerfield, had retired. Uh-oh! Facing emergency when many other had one, I needed a new repairman.

My wheels spun and I remembered first the pleasant fella who’s repaired my washing machine on Home Depot warranty a couple of times. I went to the Internet, found him, called, got no answer, and left a message. The call was returned when I was at work. My wife answered and called me at work to inform me he’d be at our house the next day, would call first. She didn’t think he was who I thought he was, but I could see for myself when he arrived. The next day, before noon, I didn’t recognize my visitor, discovered he was the son of the man I was seeking. They own separate businesses headquartered in same West County town. No problem. Proceed, I told him.

The ordeal is now behind me, sort of. This new repairman, probably in his 40s, replaced a frozen valve before discovering by turning the water on that the thin copper pipe feeding it was split. He could handle the job but didn’t have the parts with him, thus had to return in a day or two. Through Wednesday, he hadn’t shown. I trust he’ll be back.

As for the job performed, the replacement valve cost $42, about a quarter of the $201 bill. Ouch! I wonder if these people know that a good job in this county takes home about $150 a day?  So how can a man working in that market whack you 160 bucks for a half-hour? It just doesn’t add up. But hey, what are you going to do? It’s America, land of the free, home of the brave and indebted. Repairmen have overhead, too. Oh well. I’ll get through it. The man assured me that he’ll only charge for parts and labor on his return visit. Oh boy! I can’t wait. But what can a man do? You win some, lose some.

In retrospect, I immediately suspected that new sliver of a cold Wolf Moon was some sort of ominous portent. Then, lo, my backyard brook exploded, and I took a backhander upside the head, with yet another wallop looming.

I suppose some would blame the rare polar vortex. Not me. I’ll call it Dire Wolf.

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