The Sherman Weather Report     Previous Essays

The Sherman Weather Report: Not Unlike the Dead O’Winter, oh but wait!
 October-November, 2014

First things first, the big news: Deklan Jerry Harden, 9 lbs, 10 ounces, born with some difficulty on Oct. 14.  Came home on the 18th, Violet’s 2nd birthday, with oxygen and a monitor.  But he is looking good now, very masculine and agreeable.  Violet is doing well as big sister and is a delightful two-year-old.  Now, ask busy-mother Shannon for the details on those two statements.

So October was a busy month, with the birthdays, including Sylvia’s trip to Maryland for Wendy’s ?0th birthday.  They saw the dinner theater “Medieval Times” in Baltimore.  As soon as Sylvia returned Bill and Harrio arrived and stayed two nights and then went off to Durango to see  Gabe and Laura.  (Gabriel works here now and rooms with Brie and Randy, but he is mostly in Durango.) Then on the 31st I drove to Denver, had a nice evening and breakfast with Todd and Gretchen, then went in the morning to Denver and met Rob Tully, who was house-sitting at Bobbi’s.  Todd then gave us a detailed fighter-pilot tour of the Wings over the Rockies museum that is near Bobbi’s.  That night Rob and I and two friends of his went to see and hear Bob Dylan.  As usual, his singing in concerts is nothing to brag about.  I wrote a new essay based on it, which most likely will be linked below.  Last night there my high school buddy, Tom,  came over, and we talked.  He is looking good at 67, still working and enjoying sports.

October-November was smooshed together as a single month, it feels like.  The evaporative cooler at Sylvia’s rental gave up the ghost and got replaced, and we are talking to a roofer about a major, deluxe re-roof and insulation job here, and I had the ancient garage doors and openers replaced last week at San Pablo, and I was thinking it needed a new refrigerator, but today Becca (Brie’s sister-in-law) said the gas range is malfunctioning.  I replaced both this past Saturday with new, basic white no-frills units, going to an electric range instead of the gas.  I have a friend with no money and lots of energy, so the yards over there are as clean and trimmed as they’ve ever been.  As part of that I cleaned the garage here, including abandoning the speakers Dad built long ago.  Sigh.  Floor space wins out over memories.  Sigh, also, we gave away the old recliner that came from Amarillo, and Sylvia bought me a Lazy Boy reading chair that neatens up the living room.

While all this was going on, we tried hard to have some bad weather here, but could not keep up. Nov. 13 was the first hard freeze, and then it was cool and cloudy for a while, with brief snow showers here and a glaze of ice and snow across the cap of the mountain.  But even then the sun made its obligatory Albuquerque appearances, like the nervous smiles of a woman with low self-esteem, hoping we’re pleased.  Applying that metaphor to Denver and Michigan might get some interesting results.  Hard to say about Tulsa, what her demeanor would be.  Anyway, we can’t compete in the bad weather department.  I grew up in the shadow of Buffalo, as represented by two siblings who towered over me, born there, while Mom told us often how bad the weather is in Buffalo.  It was bad enough to drive the Shermans  to Denver, so I could be born.  But now my sister towers over me from Denver, the Mile High City, which won’t admit what Mom always noticed, that the weather there is crazy.  And BTW, my junior high school and the present ABQ Uptown and our family dwelling nearby are right at 5280 feet, so we are the Mile High City.  But all we can do is grin sheepishly about how much sunshine we get.  And since the freeze the sunshine has been temperamental, even here.  There have been pleasant working days, cool and gray, and then two days with highs about 39-41 and a steady 20 mph wind from the North, Denver breathing down on us.  But something near sixty will return by Thanksgiving afternoon.  Update: weather was beautiful and remains so . . . sorry  :-(
(Several small rain and snow events since then, our share of California’s stormy month.)

Two news stories have affected me strongly these past few days.  The attack on the Jerusalem synagogue disturbed me, with sorrow and anger, not just at the loss of those men, fathers to  about 26 children, but also in watching the celebration of the event on the streets.  Hatred.  But I tried to be ultra-fair: if this were war, and we saw our enemies bombed, we might rejoice in their sufferings.  So if the Jews are the enemy, then these murders are a tactical victory from that point of view.  But something is horribly askew, here.  They are not fighting the “other,” but the moral underpinnings of human life itself, as understood by most people at most times from either side of the battle field.

Then there is the news story to love, the Gruber story!  I laugh whenever I think of it, and this is not just Schadenfreude toward the Democrats, though there may be a little of that.  This is political high comedy.  The backpedaling from Washington can be heard like a low whirr clear across the land.  It is all on tape, and the conservatives can hold the denials up against the reality to their hearts’ delight.  Muckrakers once had to work for a living, but this is child’s play. However, the poor man himself, Dr. Gruber—someone will have to write a sympathetic account of how he found himself under the bus. 

The newest story is the Ferguson saga.  I watched the D.A. give his detailed account of the encounter, but then I wondered, as I have so often of late, “Why did he shoot twelve times?”  A friend at breakfast this morning offered several explanations, adrenaline, for one, or just the risk of missing, or the problem (in other cases) of a group reaction set off by the first gunfire.  But these suggest to me that for all our efforts, the policemen are not trained.  My model is Frances McDormand in Fargo.  This cute and very pregnant lady sheriff encounters the ruthless killer who has killed his kidnap victim and his partner, as he is finishing up putting his dead partner through the wood chipper, and when he moves toward his weapon she shoots him in the leg and cripples him, then loads him in the police cruiser and takes him off to jail.  When I think of the ad hoc firing squads that keep cropping up, I always think, “These policemen are watching too many movies!”  They should watch this one.  (Of course, the Coen brothers lied when they said “Fargo” was a true story.)  All that being said, I am glad the officer was not charged, and I wish the townspeople (and the provocateurs) could just go home, eat turkey, even enjoy Black Friday.  Maybe there will be a huge snowstorm.  But I am escaping too easily from this issue.  There are global forces at work, and we have not seen the end of it.  And the police’s point of view is something to be respected.

I am rethinking the Weather Report methods.  In early summer I wrote a very long and obscure essay based on John Barth’s Floating Opera, sending it only to the family list, and getting no reaction.  At the end of summer I wrote a smaller one about Lubbock, Texas (yes, really), but I announced that only on Facebook.  Both of these are on my web site (below). Generally speaking, I plan to use the web page more and write short group letters more frequently.  Also, even though you know me and my site, a link in email is a slight risk, because I could have been commandeered by some ruthless operator wanting to cause you trouble.   So I will just mention the links, without actually creating them.  Those truly motivated will endure the agony of entering the addresses in their browsers. now has a menu that includes “Writing for Fun,” and that includes the weather link, which connects you through a rich cup of strong coffee to the previous Weather Reports.  Other things are on that “Writing for Fun” page, and I have posted there a new Dylan page:
to share the new essay from the Nov. 1 concert, a revamped essay on his “Last Song(s)” and earlier work.

blessings to all! 


September 29 - October 5, 2014: 100% chance of happy ducks in Lubbock                                                
Full playa lakes and happy waterfowl seen in Lubbock. The images are courtesy of Mark Conder.

Summer said goodbye with a quick torrent of wind and sun-streaked hail, and then the cloud climbed up on the mountain and dispersed, while blue sky moved in from the west.  Not a cloud since. 

Up until then I was still chasing those precipitation probabilities, reverse engineering the “let-them-down-gradually” algorithm in which the probability of rain is a negative function of nearness in time.  But the first day of autumn was a counter-example: 80% chance of rain that very day.  However, it did not happen here.  Southern and eastern New Mexico and west Texas got clobbered.  Try Lubbock, Texas for some rain figures reaching up to 14 inches (in late September) and stories of impassable mud.       (try this link for lots of pictures and maps and charts!)

We knew this because our special delivery dairy that we belong to had to cancel their trip to New Mexico.   So, yes, New Mexico got rain, and people in other places had troubles I should not wish upon us, and yet I do crave a few pleasant little torrents--and the cows at the dairy are happy, too.

The last week of September did bless us with two very polite thundershowers that crept up out of mostly clear sky and moved along the foothills.  One was just to the south, in the central Northeast Heights, as I was coming home.  I pulled into the Glenwood Hills neighborhood to enjoy golden setting sunlight on glistening wet pines and the rocky foothills.  Got very close to the end of a double rainbow. 
The next day a similar surprise shower fell at our house and gave us close to quarter inch of rain.  So we were blessed with two parting kisses and then the cute little tantrum of hail.  Then weather people began to warn of a freeze, not far away, and the mornings here dropped to the forties.  I began to think of the icy blue eyes of winter.  The Balloons are here now, and the skies are wide open to greet them, but this morning too much cool air was sliding down the valley, and they did not launch.


Sherman Weather Report:Welcome to the real world . . .     100% chance of 57    May 7 - July 3, 2014                               
It’s always good to throw out a category error to get everyone suitably discombobulated.  It would be possible to make a prediction of that kind, but no one has seen a reason to do so.  

The real “100% chance” was for heavy rain, in Chestertown, up here in the northern reaches of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, on May 15.  This would be 5 days after the wedding of Ken and Jeannine.  For that, on the 10th of May, we read it would be showery all night and morning, with a chance thunderstorm in the afternoon.  So we hauled 20 tables and 120 chairs from the Catholic church in town, not clunky steel chairs, but quality fellowship-hall kinds of chairs, with arms, with the admonition ringing in our ears that they could not be in the rain.  We stacked them in the grass with tarps and  headed for church.  The priest asked at rehearsal if we didn’t want to use the fellowship hall, but Ken assured him that his God was good at providing things like this.  He might have said his mother was good at praying for things like this.  It did not rain overnight or in the morning, and we had only a little shower during the reception.  There were reports of “deluge” not too far away and in the D.C. area.   The priest told everyone at mass Sunday morning that God had answered Ken’s prayer for no rain.  He said it with a dry touch of humor but a hint of genuine respect, and the congregation did not murmur, “Praise the Lord!” but laughed gently.

The 100% chance of heavy rain was downgraded to 90% by the time it actually happened on that Thursday.  A soaking two inches, and then sunny by dinner time.  Meanwhile, back at the ranch . . . back in New Mexico, where everyone is panting and praying for rain, a rogue forecast had drifted across the weather programs as early as May 8, when we were leaving.  It said on the 18th there was a 70% chance of rain across New Mexico.  That quickly disappeared, a note of hope offered up by a third-shift coffee-drinking meteorologist, based on random stirrings in the Pacific.  I was keeping my eye on that tiny hope in the West, in those days after the wedding, all comfied out at Ken and Jeannine’s house, with a pool a little too cool, a tiny bit of weather too hot but mostly perfect, and flowers all around; and books to read, computer buzzing away with good intentions, and 200 pictures of the wedding to pull together into some sort of presentation.  I did that on May 31, just before we crossed the Bay to Annapolis, again, on our way home. 

I intended, camped out in Maryland for 25 days between Ken’s wedding and Briana’s graduation, to upload my Ishmael book to On Demand Books, which would make me a writer, 49 years after my dad gave me an Adler electric typewriter for my graduation from high school.  Or it would make me a writer as soon as someone bought one.  I knew my registration  as Richstone Messages LLC was probably leaving the New Mexico Secretary of State office (the check cleared), and so I was now a publisher. And I intended to read my new printed copy through, a second reading in print, and to get my memoir prepared for a trial printout at the Espresso Book Machine at UNM, and to begin transcribing the 30 year old notebooks that contained Lectures at Life University, my theological fantasy novel, wherein Dr. Theodore R. Richstone found me and became my literary alter-ego.

You can imagine how much of this happened.  My bags below me in the airplane as we descend into New Mexico now are twice as heavy as they needed to be.  But it was an excellent retreat, both at Ken’s house on the Eastern Shore and at Wendy’s three-story town home in Annapolis.  A large hand-built table fills the dining room at Ken and Jeannine’s, and the spectacular custom wood floor that Ken labored over last year—18 years after the house was built—gives the room a special life.  There one can put down the notebook computer, the notebooks, the disks and paraphernalia,
Summer time, and the living is . . . and write cheerfully into the long afternoon.  And Wendy’s raised deck with the glass table and red rectangular umbrella, the green forest below, and her house filled with the best Americana furniture and accouterments anyone ever rescued from garage and estate sales— both places with the internet near at hand—this was all a writer needed, except more time.

A writer may need more discipline with his sentences, but not here, and not now.

The task of this 26 day span between the wedding and the graduation formed itself gradually before me and my keyboard as we waited out the hopes of these weather forecasts.  I learned it from John Barth, who wrote The Floating Opera, which I read long before I knew anything about or anyone from Maryland.  I did know the Tidewater region a little from two pre-teen years in Virginia, swimming naked in the slow-moving river (even back-and-forth moving, which is what tidewater means) at the edge of the woods along the border of our neighborhood.  But I read in Barth about a hot day, a sweltering day, at Cambridge, Maryland, on the Eastern Shore.  It would actually have been June 22 or 23 (he was never quite sure) in 1937.  Barth was a child in 1937, but in this story he was a mature lawyer and a writer looking back to that year from 1956.  I barely remembered the story, but I remembered how he left his office and walked slowly to a rented garage to work on his sailboat, without changing his clothes, as his father had done—barely working up a sweat, just wiping his hands and returning to the office.  Slow movements in slow moving air in the land of slow-moving rivers.

Now, Barth as writer-character in that story took liberties with his readers and went on little  eddies around a topic he chose to add to the languid mental adventure he was taking you on.  You had to remember that the Floating Opera, a showboat in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributary rivers, appeared there in Cambridge on that June day in 1937, and you spend the whole book anticipating its arrival, but long before that you are given this metaphor, where a story is told, a play put on, on the decks of the boat, which drifts past you slowly but goes beyond, and then returns later, drifting the other way (the meaning of tidewater.)  From the parts of the story that drift by you off and on, back and forth, you are supposed to put together the meaning of the story.   I think it is a brilliant metaphor in a very well-built book.

But I have to break in and fix two things.  First, in the Chesapeake area they talk of all these “rivers,” but the whole place is so flat nothing deserves the title.  What they call rivers are really just skinny bays.  The back-and-forth currents are driven by both river and tide, but don’t look for any whitewater.  The Bay has more shoreline than California, which is not too surprising, since the shores of the Bay and the sub-bays (“rivers”) extend far into the mainland or the peninsula.  If you cannot draw the line between the shoreline of the bay and the banks of the river, then you might as well add to the “shoreline” of, say, Oregon, the entire southern bank of the Columbia, including both banks of every tributary that comes from the south, all the way to some crashing little stream in Mount Hood.  If you get my drift. 

But I have sat on Ken’s boat, thirty-something feet of crab and oyster industry, tied to the concrete pylon of the highway bridge at Kent Narrows, and almost seen whitewater in the tide pouring in.  So this water does move, and is something to be reckoned with.  Which is true, I guess, of the back and forth, hide-and-seek movements of the Floating Opera—something to be reckoned with. 

Then I have to point out a little language thing that people of the area do not notice (something like people in the Albuquerque area not noticing their odd usage of  “mesa” for any open land not yet developed where kids go out to play).  Chestertown, Maryland, where I sat working in May, and Cambridge, some 40 miles down the shore—as the osprey flies, not as the meandering “shore” goes—where Barth placed his novel, are on the Eastern Shore.  So you might picture yourself looking to the east across the Atlantic.  There is an eastern shore of Maryland (and Delaware and Virginia, sharing the peninsula) that is the Atlantic coast.  Millions of cars clog the Bay Bridge on weekends to get there or back to Annapolis/DC.  But that is not the Eastern Shore.  The Eastern Shore is the western coast of the huge peninsula that creates Chesapeake Bay.  It is the eastern shore of the Bay.  The point of reference is the water. This is correct, by the dictionary: a “shore” is the land as seen from a body of water.  Still, we talk of “going to the shore” or of “the seashore.”  That everyone there speaks from the water shows how prominent The Bay is in the life of Maryland.  Crabs rule.  Barth gave very crusty views of old watermen, in his novel, but having one in the family I know they can be very good looking and genial, not crabby, even if they do talk funny.
Sunflowers make it summer

Did I mention a “task”?  (Did you forget?)  (Barth does this with his readers.)  I was surprised how philosophical the story was, how cerebral in places.  But I was most surprised how many quarters he could keep spinning on the barroom table.  He never used that metaphor, nor even mentioned this task, but have you tried it?   He was almost completely successful, never needing to talk himself out of any backwater eddy, never up the creek without a paddle . . . which is a backwards metaphor to me, as being down the creek would be more serious.  Up the creek the only problem is how slow it is, or, if you are in tidewater, that you go back and forth forever.

So he did give me this task, which was, first, to read the book again.  That’s why I did not get to tasks 4, 5, and 7 of my 26 day sabbatical.  In Chestertown, looking for a postcard to send to a friend in Albuquerque, I ducked into a perfect little bookstore (in a perfect little town where the colonial style reigns); I asked if there was a used copy of Barth’s Floating Opera.  A man my age ducked into his serpentine rows of tall shelves and came back quickly with a perfect used paperback that sold in 1956 for $.75.  The brown edges creep softly into the pages, witness to the years.  I paid $3.00.  I asked if he had read it. “Yes. Barth? Yes!”  I only regretted that we did not drive down to Cambridge and find it in a perfect little bookstore there.  Could have cost more in the town he immortalized.

In reading the novel again I found that the ending—that June day, when we finally get there, was different than I thought. He did not find a reason to live and forego killing himself.  Maybe he found a reason, but he did not admit it.  (Here I wonder if Barth is smarter than his character.)  He tried to kill himself and failed.  Fate saved him, he might say.  Then he decided, after the fact, that if he had no reason to live, then neither did he have any reason to kill himself . . . looking back, I sense, at the stern of the Opera, floating away, downstream or up, if anyone can tell the difference.  This was a very nihilistic novel.

More importantly (if I may return, unimpressed by Barth’s philosophy, to my own silly world), I learned on the re-read that the very hot day at the center of the story was hot and dry, not hot and humid.  I have now been to Maryland many times, always in August, until this year, and I know what humid means.  It was 106 two years ago when we arrived in Annapolis, not typical at all, but terrible, with humidity way too high for that temperature.  Barth’s noon hour trips to the garage to work on his boat would have been hot and humid, as a rule, but that one day in 1937 was hot and dry.  I learned also, on my re-read, that Barth subscribes as do most to the 99% humidity myth and fallacy.  (I disproved this in a Sherman Weather report a year or two ago.)  Horribly hot and humid weather does not give us temperatures and humidities both in the nineties, but Barth says exactly that about the weather in Cambridge.  Horribly hot and humid weather is in the 90’s (or worse), with humidity in the 60’s or possibly the 70’s.  When that air cools down at night, the humidity goes up to near 100%.  Annapolis in August likes to switch 90 degrees in the day, with 80% humidity, for 80 degrees at night, with 90% humidity.  That’s muggy.  Or tune in quick to the World Cup, down in Brazil, in the jungliest location, and the announcers will groan about the humidity in the 70’s and 80’s, with temperature in the upper 80’s.  But not “95 degrees with 95% humidity.”  Maybe in Mecca, which would explain our world’s biggest problem.

The task?  Well, I read the book and made these corrections in my mind, and I marvelled at his story-telling, how he could flip each quarter just in time to keep it all moving forward.  And I realized that when I start a Sherman Weather report I have some takeoff point, and I have some idea at work, but I don‘t know where it is all heading.  I imagine Barth the novelist  did know where he was going, but just gave the impression of being at sea.  That was the delicate task he did so well.  In my case, the uncertainty is genuine.  The task is to let out as many lines as I think I can handle and then pull them all back in with something attached, and get back to shore before dark.

One line I tossed out, too late in the day, was the churches we saw, four of them, six visits, first the wedding in the Catholic church, light and broad and open and colorful—painted by the groom himself.  We felt that the Catholic wedding was nicely structured, with just the right tincture of authority and institutionalized ritual.  Not so touchy-feel-ly as born-again Protestant weddings. Then there was mass there the next morning, where the Father had to say that communion was for Catholics only.  There was some grumbling about that later, but I felt to stand for something important might also mean to hold it apart, else it is nothing at all, as per John Lennon’s Imagine(d) insight.  But then there were the other Protestant churches, Lon Solomon’s mega-church on the far side of Washington (McLean Bible Church), where thousands raise their voices to sing, and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Annapolis, with musicians and big screens for their faces and the lyrics, and big, clean song books, making it easy to know exactly what we were saying as we sang, and then Zion Church of Baltimore, originally Zion Lutheran Church, where Sylvia grew up.  The first service there is still in German, and we went to the second and heard a sermon that left us wondering exactly what it was about.  There were only 20 people there, including the four of us, surrounded by all that solid brick building of the past. But even there the numbers were given for the hymns, and we could open the books and sing those same words, the perennial truths that hold those bricks together.  Every one of these churches was saying the same thing, whether by rote or enraptured: the great God of creation has bent down to meet our deepest need, dying for us, and making us whole.  The Institution—“organized religion”—is still preserving the only message that makes us rejoice.  Maybe the Catholic church with its exclusive communion was extolling the wrong thing in some way, but the solution is not to extol nothing.  That just gives you a barge with some people floating back and forth with the tides.

The promised storms in New Mexico did come, a week later than promised, the day before Memorial Day, and enough rain fell  to give a shot of love to the tiny tomatoes and peppers I had stuck in the ground after dark on May 7.   As the sun was going down I patched together the drip system, and in the morning at 5:00 as we loaded up I started the timer.  It is a cheap one that gives you a start time only when you actually start it the first day.  So we flew off wondering if anything would drip or grow.  All the peppers and tomatoes did survive until June 2, and the sunflowers sprang up and thrived.  They seeded themselves by the dozens in the garden, along the edge of the driveway, and in most of the empty pots on the back patio, where they stand now, small and skinny but bright-eyed, kind of like me at 11 splashing in the river.  Small or large, they flower.  The ones in the garden are spectacular, but trimmed back so the beans and cucumbers that will climb their stalks can get the sun.  And amidst all this gaiety the wondrous month of June has flown away, with one very hot day, the last, and then the kind of stormy New Mexico we love, large roving storms Tuesday, a good shower here last night, and now, at dinner time before July 4th, gusty winds and dark clouds on the mountain, and whitened streaks of rainfall cascading down the slope in our direction.

What more does one need, for resolution, for focus and closure, than sunflowers and mountain thunderstorms?  Well, my title reminds me that there are other ways to be perfect weather.  When we returned to Chestertown for our third week in Maryland we found newlywed Ken the Waterman/Contractor suffering in the heat of an attic he was remodeling for a customer.  The man loved model trains and had them all over his unfinished attic, and now Ken was putting up half-walls and more floor, crawling among the paraphernalia and moving materials, sweating and regretting.  So Sylvia prayed that night for the best kind of weather to work in attics, and a cold breeze fell upon the region and dropped the temperature to 57 degrees by mid-morning, and it remained at exactly 57 degrees for 24 hours, then raised a few degrees.  So Ken had two perfect days. I kept checking to see if my android program had frozen up, but all day long and through the night and the next morning, looking at the different sources on the phone, nothing but 57, or 58 on the car thermometer.  Misty, dark, and not picnic weather, but apparently considered by the Heavenly Father to be just right for working in attics.  

Greetings to All!  If you don’t know who I am, please write and we’ll figure it out.