January 16, 2009

Ice Harvest (Sketch #12)

Category: News — Ira @ 6:33 pm


Of their faces I have no memory, or names,
….. I only know
they poled ice floes and huge cakes
with an indifferent touch, that they argued
long hours against the cold, the wind,
and the incessant and desperate need
for sleep, that at -zero degrees they mopped
brows with red kerchiefs large as sails.

Tom Sheehan, “Cutting Ice”

With each January the deep freeze came. Weeks and weeks and weeks of relentless bitter cold. The Lake Erie winds swept in and snow covered the ground. Great drifts lined the hard snow-packed gravel roads, creating a tunneling effect for our daily trudges back and forth to school. The pond froze solidly to a depth of a foot or more. And it was time to cut and store ice for the summer months.

Aylmer in those days didn’t allow kerosene refrigerators. Still don’t, as far as I know. The people fashioned rough ice boxes from old used electric refrigerators and placed a chunk of ice in the top compartment to keep it cool. Pretty primitive. But it works. Somewhat. And it’s a lot better than nothing.

The communal ice house was on our farm, converted from an old pig barn Dad had built after moving to Aylmer. Built into a hill, the north side of the bottom floor half buried in the earth. Dad had some new fangled idea that the barn would heat easier if the bottom story was below ground level. Which was a fine idea, probably ahead of its time, except the barn was always damp, because he didn’t get the foundation sealed properly. Raising pigs was a sporadic activity for him anyway, so in time the barn was used for other things. Its cool, damp interior provided the perfect conditions for storing ice long term.

They spoke of it a week or two before. Wondered if the ice on the pond was thick enough. Dad or one of my older brothers tramped out with an axe and chopped a couple of holes at various spots. Measured for thickness. And then one day it was proclaimed. Anyone who wanted ice the next summer should come to our place on the designated date and help cut and haul the ice blocks.

The men gathered that morning from across the community, driving teams of draft horses hitched to bob sleds. Someone dragged out the mothballed ice cutter, an ingenious contraption on two wood-spoked buggy wheels, with a platform in the middle. On it was mounted a gasoline engine and off to one side a large round wicked saw-tooth blade. Brown and rusted from nonuse. The thing was probably concocted by Levi Slaubaugh, the blacksmith. I don’t know who owned it. It always just showed up on that day.

The teams and sleds were parked off shore, while the men shoveled and cleared snow from large square areas on the ice. Maybe thirty feet by thirty feet. After the first area was cleared, the men started clearing another one close by, while the operator approached with the cutter saw and fired up the engine. The saw blade buzzed viciously, the operator slowly pressured it down through the ice. It made a high clean whine as it sliced through to the cold water below. And slowly the operator pushed the cutter saw back and forth. Cutting through the ice in a large grid, about a foot apart. After cutting all the lines one way, he then started cutting across. And slowly the large blocks were cleanly sawed. Ready now to be heaved out and loaded on the sleds.

The teams and bob sleds pulled up then, and the men approached the large cut area armed with poles and tongs. Gingerly they pushed a few blocks of ice down into the water below the others. So they could grasp the others with their tongs. And then the blocks were pulled out in quick rhythm. As the square cleared of ice, they pushed the distant blocks within reach with their poles. And soon that square was devoid of ice blocks, an empty maw of frigid black water.

It was hard cold brutal work. Bend over, hook the tongs on a block and heave it out. The icy water sloshed on the snow and onto their denim pants, which soon froze stiff. Then lift the block and heave it onto the sled. The blocks were heavy, weighing probably fifty to eighty pounds each. After several layers of blocks were loaded on the sled, the driver slapped the reins and clucked to the team. They jangled off, the bob sled slicing smoothly through the snow. Down the lane on the east side of the pond, toward the road. Then west the few hundred feet to our drive, the sled now and again hitting a patch of gravel or exposed dirt, the horses straining momentarily to pull the abruptly resistant load.

Up to the north side of the old pig barn, there the sled halted. Down below, two men waited in the gloomy interior. A Coleman lantern glowed dimly in the flickering shadows. The blocks were then lifted from the sled and placed on a wooden chute and slid into the darkness below. There the two men stacked them, tamping each layer with several inches of wet brown fine-cut sawdust that we had hauled over months before from Eli C. Miller’s sawmill. The last block slid down the chute and the bob sled driver headed out for another load.

And so it went all day long, cutting, loading, hauling, unloading. A great pile of ice blocks accumulated in the ice house.

They usually harvested the ice from the southern, shallower half of the pond. Just in case. The northern end was deep, deeper than a man. If someone slipped and fell in, he might never come up again.

We children were usually in school on ice cutting day. Probably just as well, so we wouldn’t get underfoot, or fall into the water. One day, we came home from school to a great buzz of excitement. No one was unloading ice, and all the sleds were parked on the east bank of the pond, empty. Men were running about, lugging large wooden planks and ropes and talking in loud excited voices. We were soon told why, and ran out to see for ourselves.

One of the drivers had allowed his team to get too close to the cutout hole. One horse slipped and slid in, dragging his partner with him. Somehow the sled was unhitched. Now the two horses stood there in chest deep freezing water, shivering and panicked.

I don’t know how they got the team out of that frigid black watery grave, but they did. With planks and a contraption of ropes and pulleys, the men somehow got the horses’ front hooves out over the ice again. And pulled them out with another team. The shivering horses were quickly led into our warm barn and wiped down. They both survived, amazingly.

After a day or two of cutting and hauling and storing, the ice house was full enough. For everyone’s needs in the summer months. The final pile was covered with a foot or more of sawdust. So the ice would actually be there next summer when we needed it.

And it always was. Amazingly well preserved. We dug into the sawdust pile with shovels and pried the blocks loose with sticks, exposing the great frozen chunks from another world. Lugged them outside and washed them with the water hose. For use in the ice box. And for our frequent summer treat, home made ice cream.

Ice harvesting as we knew it exists only in a few locales today. Probably still in Aylmer and a handful of other Amish communities that hold the line. People who obstinately refuse to modernize to kerosene or gas refrigerators. But that’s their choice. And it’s fine. The Amish lifestyle in general preserves a lot of old methods that would otherwise be lost. I hold no strong opinion as to whether that’s a good thing or an indifferent thing. It’s just the way it is.

I feel like a stranger in a strange land. Surrounded by uncouth ruffians, otherwise known as Eagles fans. It ain’t right. Probably not entirely safe, either.

For those out of the loop, the thug Philadelphia Eagles defeated the Giants (as I feared) and now need only one more win to reach the Super Bowl. After the Giants game, I received many inane texts from Eagles fans, mostly repeating the same idiotic phrase, “Fly, Eagles, fly.” You’d think they could come up with something a bit more original. But apparently that’s about the extent of their literary aspirations.

Eagles fans are known worldwide as more akin to English soccer fans than anything else. The roughest, most uncouth fans in the NFL. Some years ago, Santa himself was famously booed at an Eagles game. How childish is that? And once, back in the 1990s, as a Cowboys player lay temporarily paralyzed on the field, seriously injured, the lowlife Eagles fans cheered. Kind of gives you an idea of what I’ve got to deal with every week. And it only gets more intense with each Eagles win.

But they are where they are. The team, I mean. Playing Arizona this Sunday afternoon. I fear for the Arizona players, but remain hopeful they will continue their amazing run and beat the thugs.

I’ve never liked McNabb. Most Eagles fans, in their more honest moments, would agree with me. But even so, I’ve come to grudgingly respect him. He’s an old warrior, a grizzled veteran, on a last desperate quest to win it all. And he may just get it done.

But I hope not. And hope is a precious thing.

My predictions: Arizona and Baltimore in the Super Bowl. Come on, Cardinals. Don’t let me down now.

Before I post again, The One will be crowned King for Life, in the most lavish inauguration ceremony this country has ever seen. The whole world will look on in awe and wonder, as the sycophantic press swoons with breathless accolades. It’s sickening. Not the actual event. He won and deserves some attention as he enters office. And it is a historic thing, our first non-white President. But the orgasmic proclamations of the coming of the Messiah are a bit much. I’m already fed up. Tuned out. Can’t imagine that I’ll watch any of it. Unless it’s grimly, as a solemn witness to the breaking dawn of imminent disaster. Maybe even the end of the world. (Just kidding on that last one).

January 9, 2009

The (False) Prophet’s Song….

Category: News — Ira @ 6:00 pm


Oh, oh people of the earth
Listen to the warning.
The Seer he said
Beware the storm that gathers here.
Listen to the wise man.

Queen, lyrics: The Prophet’s Song

I saw him coming, as he yanked open the door and strode toward the counter at me. A tall imposing figure. Dressed in raggedy jeans and checkered red flannel shirt, his long hair flowing around his face and down his back. Full length stringy graying beard. He wasn’t dirty. Just ragged. I furtively glanced around to see if someone else could take care of him. Nope. I was on the front line, in his sights, the guy who would have to deal with him.

He approached the counter and greeted me, peering at me through bushy eyebrows. He needed a couple of items to finish up a project at his shop. I wrote up the invoice. Took his money. Returned his change. Now if I could only shuffle him on out to the warehouse for his stuff. But no.

“What do those graphics on your hoodie represent?” he asked conversationally.

I groaned inside. Oh, boy. Here we go. Nothing I could do to stop it.

“Have no idea. Some Coat of Arms, I guess.” I mumbled. “I just picked it up off the clearance rack. Got it for next to nothing.”

“Hmmm.” Conspiratorially, now. “Maybe you should check it out.”

“Yes, yes,” I was desperate. “Now if you head out that door to the warehouse, the guys will get your stuff.”

But it was no use. He had me trapped and was not about to be denied. Just getting warmed up, in fact. He leaned up against the counter and settled in. The words erupted from him like a torrent of wind. A lead-in question or two first. Without waiting for the answer, which wasn’t forthcoming anyway, he launched. A mishmash of scripture and interpretation. Whore of Babylon. Revelations. Book of Daniel. Obama. Sarah Palin. The numerological equivalents of their names. Abraham’s second wife, Katurah. A jumble of numbers, facts, all tied together. End times. Coming soon. America. Cursed. America will fall. The world will end in blood and fire.

I bit my tongue until I just couldn’t take it anymore. Bristled a little.

“Seems to me,” I finally interrupted the flowing torrent of words, “that it’s a little arrogant to assume that biblical prophecies apply specifically to our time and our country. That stuff was written thousands of years ago. The world could be here for thousands more. Civilizations rise and fall, always have. If this one falls, as it surely will some day, why is that the end of the world?”

My words whooshed over his head, it was like I’d never spoken. He blinked his bushy brows, mildly startled at my blatant blasphemy, then decided to ignore it. On and on he rambled, spewing ever more esoteric and obscure facts and connections. Until I finally stepped from behind the counter, opened the warehouse door, firmly escorted him in the general direction he needed to go, and shooshed him out. Last I saw, he was assaulting one of my poor warehouse guys, waving his arms, the great stream of words flowing uninterrupted.

And I never did get to hear his interpretation of the graphics on my hoodie. Just as well, I suppose. No doubt it would have been something sinister pertaining to these deceiving times.

I don’t know his name. He’s the local prophet. Or wacko. Take your pick. A kindly enough man. A sincere Christian, I have no doubt. But boy, does he ever wear out his welcome. Wherever he goes. Because that’s all he can talk about, his vast and complex interpretations of biblical prophecies. Everything else is just a prelude. He exists in another dimension. It’s weird. And gets old fast.

Some guys, when you talk to them, exude energy. Not him. He drains it from you. You get exhausted just listening to him.

“Prophets” like him exist in about every local community. And they all sing the same old song. Different verses, same tune. Not quite hermits, they periodically emerge to spout their wild-eyed declarations of gloom and destruction. All of it just ahead, just around the next bend, coming in the next year. For sure in the next five.

Overall, I have no problem with such prophets, except when they assault and entrap me and won’t leave me alone. They’re free to believe what they want. And it doesn’t hurt us to hear the stuff they say. Might make us think a little more somberly, instead of blithely going about our business as usual.

But I’m extremely suspicious of all modern day prophets, from the local loon to “prophecy scholars,” who crank out another volume about end time events with each new Middle Eastern crisis. Somehow they all think they’ve got a handle on future events. They don’t. And never have. Same goes for end time preachers. Some are decent guys, just misled. The worst are knaves. Charlatans. And in their blind determination to connect biblical prophecy to the importance of their own times, they’ve done a tremendous amount of damage over the years.

Since the first century, soon after Christ imparted His final words to the apostles, people have fervently longed for His return. Every century since then, groups have emerged, their leaders proclaiming the imminent end. They’ve banded together, assembled on mountain tops, sold or given away all their goods in a frenzy of faith and anticipation.

All were wrong. Fools, really. Led by false shepherds, they were desperate flocks, living in hard desperate times, hungry for a better afterlife. They reached the afterlife soon enough, just not as they’d planned. The world still stands. In my opinion, it will stand for many, many more centuries. Millennia, even. One day I will die. And that will be the “end of the world” for me. As it was for them when they died.

Sadly, the frenzied proclamations of Christ’s imminent return have not diminished much over the years. Such preaching is quite prevalent in Christian circles, especially conservatives. At Bob Jones University, where I attended for two years in the early 1990s, it was quite common to hear bombastic sermons on how Christ would return soon, perhaps that very day yet. The last great hyped expectation that failed was “Eighty-Eight Reasons Christ will Return in 1988.” Twenty-one years ago. Some sold or gave away all they owned. Eagerly waited. Of course, 1988 came and went. And we all know what happened. Nothing. Not much has changed from centuries ago, when crowds assembled on the mountain tops.

You’d think we’d learn. Not to be so gullible. But we don’t. We run hither and yon like children, itching to have our ears tickled with the latest fashionable end-time dooms-day scenarios. And with the meteoric rise of every new charismatic leader, we hear whispers, “Could he be the Anti-Christ? Will this trigger the Rapture?” Those whispers are rampant about Obama right now.

It’s silliness, is what it is. And it hurts the true cause of Christ.

To those who consider my viewpoint blasphemous, one basic scriptural foundation. Among many. Not that it will make much difference. Or change many minds. I don’t want to get entangled in theological mud slinging. But in His Word, God promised to those who kept His commandments a blessing to a thousand generations. That’s forty thousand years. Was God joking? Didn’t He mean what He said, what He promised?

But that’s just my opinion. I won’t pour any concrete around it. In the meantime, I don’t plan to fret excessively about it. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong.

I’m not saying we can’t know many things by seeing. And making rational deductions. I believe that in the next few years, this country and the world will endure social and economic upheaval unlike anything ever seen by anyone alive. Including those who lived through the Great Depression and WWII. I don’t know this will happen, but I believe it to be true, from my own analysis of current events. But if it does come to pass, that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world.

And I know that a country that murders four million unborn children each year will be judged. And eventually come to destruction. The blood of innocents cries from the earth as piercingly today as it did in Cain’s time. The Lord will hold us collectively to account. I don’t know how. And I don’t know when. But it will happen. And it doesn’t take a prophet to know that.

But when inevitable judgment comes, that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world.

Seems to me that we should stop being so freaked out about “end times” and concentrate instead on the long-term advancement of Christ’s kingdom.

So the next time you hear someone expound on the end times and the ascent of some fresh new Anti-Christ, whether it’s the local loony “prophet” or some respected end times preacher, receive their words through a filter of healthy skepticism. Don’t believe what they say, just because they’re saying it. If we judged them all as the biblical prophets were judged, they would need to be one hundred percent accurate. One hundred percent. Anything less would expose them for what they really may be.

False prophets.

I’d gained a few pounds over the holidays. That much I knew. But I was shocked when I finally got my nerve up and stepped on the scales last Saturday at the gym. Two hundred eleven pounds. Shocking. Haven’t weighed 211 since, well since I weighed that much back when I was shedding the pounds three years ago.

So this week, it’s crunch time. I got serious. No more “holiday” excuses. No more jolly times. Hit the gym as often as possible. Grimly. Only one cookie for breakfast, not two. Small salad for lunch. Sensible supper and NO dessert. And no more ice cream.

The New Yorker, which I mentioned a few weeks back, hasn’t given up on me yet. The Urgent mailed reminders diminished to a trickle. Ah, I figured, finally got rid of them. But then one night last week, a desperate phone call from an 800 number. I usually don’t answer, but irritated, I decided to see who it was so I could tell them off. The young gentleman never got to spin his spiel, because as soon as I heard “New Yorker,” I firmly told him I’m not interested and to stop calling me immediately. Hopefully that does it. We’ll see.

In politics, Minnesota has now joined the ranks of the third world Banana Republics. The despicable Al Franken has stolen the Senate seat. They kept recounting until he had the votes, then immediately certified the results. Like I called it back in November after the election. It wasn’t a prophecy. Just a keen knowledge of the corrupt nature of the Democratic Party. Win at all costs, voters be (bleeped). And so it was written, and so it is.

That such a reprehensible shred of human debris could actually steal a Senate seat and get away with it is deeply troubling. Nothing good will ever come of it. If you live in Minnesota, get out.

In football, the Iowa Hawkeyes remain the only Big Ten team to have won their Bowl game. Ohio State put up a pretty valiant effort against Texas on Monday night, but allowed a touchdown in the last 16 seconds, to lose again. At least they can hold their heads high. It wasn’t a blowout like it’s been the last two years. And yes, I was rooting for them. Like I never would for Penn State.

Congratulations to the Florida Gators for defeating Oklahoma for the national championship last night.

Post season continues in the Pros. The thug Eagles demolished Minnesota like I figured. But Arizona pulled off a win, surprisingly. It’ll be an interesting weekend. My predictions to win, and no these are not prophecies: The Giants over the Eagles, Baltimore over Tennessee, the Steelers over the Chargers and Carolina over Arizona.

If the Eagles beat the Giants, and they have a very good shot, they will be serious contenders for the Super Bowl. Five years ago, I bet a co-worker a fairly tidy little sum that Donavan McNabb would NEVER win a Super Bowl. Another Eagles win, and it’s going to be nail-biting time for me.