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Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Warm Hearth in the Valley…

Bless the hearth a’blazing there,

With smoke ascending like a prayer;…

Song: “Bless this House

Got gulls

The recent seige of temperatures in the low teens has passed, and the news folk have led their nightly news with the same old stories of woe: split pipes have thawed and many homeowners in the area are “freakin’,” and on the phone with an urgent 911 call to the plumbers, their homes a’ flood with unplanned, unwanted water features. This news, like the first snowfall in the area, is Pete and repeat. But even old news is news and must be given its due, I guess.

Water expands when it freezes. We all know that and accept the physics we are dealt, but regardless, all of us in these northern climes have had experience with frozen and burst pipes. I know I have: a flash fountain in the garage (and two geysers, I’m ashamed to admit), a pump pressure gauge frozen, the shower drain ice-seized. We soon learn our home’s vulnerable spots and this time of year hasten to protect them. One of the many things my dad taught me there on the river where we had some dreadful cold snaps was to disconnect and drain the garden hoses. “Drag ‘em over a tree branch,” Dad advised. And I’ve done that ever since we’ve lived in the Valley. According to the evening news there are many folks who turned a deaf ear to Dad’s advice—and now they’re on the phone with the plumber.

But there’s another weather-related bit of news much more disturbing than a busted pipe and a plumbing bill. This news out of the Bellingham area where authorities found the body of a homeless person in a sleeping bag under a bridge. Apparently neither the bridge nor the bag was protection enough against the single digit night temperatures. The cause of death was never mentioned; as so often happens with the news, there was no follow-up information. Just that someone’s body was found in a sleeping bag under a bridge. That’s all. Considering the victim, I suppose the COD could have been any number of things, but given the three days of “arctic blast,” a death by freezing seemed quite possible. Not a very pleasant way to exit life: to freeze to death in a sleeping bag under a bridge somewhere--alone.

As I walk the Valley this morning all bundled up, looking pretty much like an ambulatory cocoon, Jack Frost not only nipping at my nose but pinching it, too, I think about that homeless person. I’m sorry, but I simply can’t wrap my mind around being homeless. It’s inconceivable to me how a human being could live that way during our northern latitude winters. Think of the countless amenities our homes provide. And many are just that—amenities. But the basics: protection from the weather, a safe, dry place to live and sleep—and most of all the comfort of warmth during these days and nights of frost. One wonders what unfortunate turn of events could make all that  disappear, precipitating a descent into homelessness with little protection other than a bridge over one’s head and a flimsy sleeping bag to call home.

On my outward trek it is comforting to note smoke drifting from so many chimneys: the de Vries’s, Martys’, homes on the High Rock hillside.  



Hillside warmth

And I look east, locate our big walnut tree, then past the honey shed—and finally to our roof and chimney, smoke curling softly northward. I know Thanksgiving is past, but you shouldn’t need a special day to be grateful. And very thankful, too, I am this time of year for our woodstove, a woodshed full of dry firewood and the warmth they provide. Be it ever so humble, home is the place where you hang your hat; home is what you go home to; home is where the home fires burn. But for me, home is where the hearth is.

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