On the Trail: 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 turn around my frigid Upper Meadows home? I’d call what unfolded interesting and eventful, all of it not necessarily good.
I guess the most fascinating occurrence took place out back on Hinsdale or Fiske Mill Brook, a Green River tributary that rises from a muddy Patten District bog and marks my property’s northern boundary. First, the stream froze thick and hard, presenting the most enticing, almost florescent gray/green hue, with small, manhole-sized holes erupting here and there as the flow emitted a soft, soothing, muffled gurgle that could remind a man of oozing emotional pain we sometimes hide under protective inner membranes.
By the time Sunday’s rains had left the roads sloppy with hydroplane puddles and salty, splashy slush, the adjacent meadows wearing a precious-metal glow, the 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 feet, a phenomenon confirmed the next morning upon closer daylight inspection 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, with temperature in free fall, the roads and landscape treacherous. Then, upon returning to the scene just before midnight, steadied by a walking stick to prevent an icy spill, I immediately recognized a change. From the front of the barn, I clearly heard that familiar, joyous springtime roar of rushing water signaling a dramatic backyard change. And, yes, as I approached the small barn-red cook-shed, my lawn 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 on the glazed stream-side snow. Although I didn’t have the necessary light or energy to investigate thoroughly, even with a small flashlight in my wool vest’s left hand-warmer pocket, I knew something powerful had transpired. What, I was not sure. But I’d figure it out. Tomorrow was another day.
Sure enough, upon returning to the scene with the dogs under bright Tuesday-morning sunlight, I identified the snow-top debris I had deciphered the night before: brown leaves driven asunder off the steep, frozen stream bank. Accompanying them and identifying a violent flood path were many triangular, plate-sized ice shards grouped here, scattered there as far as 10 feet inland, several settled in icy, channel-like earthen depressions along a row of sugar maples. Wow! Nature had unleashed one powerful event. The water pressure under that thick, light-green ice must have first raised then, aided by warming temperatures to soften the ice, broken through and smashed it open with a fury only nature can muster, likely creating temporary upright ice-dams that could cut you in half to force the torrent to the side and over the eight-foot bank through slight dips. I had seen this only one other time since moving to the old tavern nestled into Greenfield’s northwest corner 16 years ago. 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, though there are exceptions, one of which I’ll now describe.
As it turned out, the sub-zero deep-freeze delivered by that lovable old wench Mother Nature wasn’t so forgiving to another occasional home-front trouble spot in the cabinet below my kitchen sink. Situated along the 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 now feeding the sink and dishwasher opposite a cold, shaded, outside nook. Never a problem when temperatures stay in the positive realm, I have learned to take special precautions when the thermometer plummets below zero, simply by opening the cupboard doors, then the one-armed-bandit faucet above, just enough to create a steady lukewarm drip.
When I wake to feed the woodstove in the wee, chilly hours, I discipline myself to the sink, open the tap, and run hot and cold water to full flow before turning it back down to a warm overnight drip and snuggling into bed. Even then, in extreme cold, I have temporarily lost my hot- or cold-water feed by morning, a problem that has always been easily remedied by applying the direct heat of an electric hair dryer to the affected pipe. Less often, the thin copper dishwater line will freeze in severe cold, but even that I’ve always been able to solve with the hair dryer. Not this time. No sir. These days, with the kids out of the house and us eating differently, the dishwasher runs less frequently, which can tempt the cold-weather fates.
On Sunday, there were no signs of trouble until around 3 p.m. Watching a football game with the start of a new work week a couple of hours away, I had risen from my La-Z-Boy to feed the stove and heard what sounded like loud running water. In the kitchen, I found the noise emanating from inside the dishwasher, not the kitchen sink. I tried to turn the appliance off for closer inspection and it refused to cooperate. I opened the door, noticed few dishes in the trays and no soap in the reservoir and I yelled in to my wife two rooms away, inquiring when she had turned it on. She hadn’t. That’s when 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 was in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Her husband as with her. She gave me his cell-phone number. I rang. He answered, diagnosing the problem, and informing me that trusty longtime repairman Fritz from B&J Appliance, also in South Deerfield, was retired. Uh-oh! In an emergency, I had to find a new man.
I remembered the pleasant guy who’s repaired my washing machine on Home Depot warranty a couple of times, called, got no answer and left a message. The call was returned when I was at work. My wife answered, called me at work, informed me he’d be at our house the next day and would call first. She didn’t think he was who I thought he was, but he was coming. When he arrived the next day around noon, I didn’t recognize him and discovered he was the son of the man I was seeking. They own separate businesses headquartered in same West County hilltown. No problem. Proceed.
The ordeal is now behind me, sort of. My new repairman, probably in his 40s, replaced a frozen valve, tested it by turning the water on and discovered that its thin copper water feed had burst. He could do the job but didn’t have the parts with him, so would have to return in a day or two. He hadn’t returned through Wednesday, but I trust he’ll be back.
As for the job done, 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 brings home $150 a day? If so, how can they whack a man 160 bucks for a half-hour? It doesn’t add up in this market. But hey, what are you going to do? It’s America, land of the free, home of the brave in indebted. They’ve got overhead, too.
Anyway, my new man assured me that on his return visit he’ll only charge for parts and labor. I can hardly wait. What can a man do? You win some, you lose some. I knew that slim, sly Wolf Moon was a portent of something bad. Then, lo, my backyard brook got hit, and I took one upside the head, with yet another wallop on the way.
Some will blame the rare polar vortex. Not me. I call it Dire Wolf.
Recorder sports editor Gary Sanderson is a longtime member of the outdoor-writers associations of America and New England. Blog: www.tavernfare.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.