PATRICK MCVAY

WRITER

My Musings

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Ballooney

News that China floated a balloon over our great nation to spy on us makes me think that we have become a super paranoid country. Seriously, a balloon? Slowly meandering across the country like a retiree on a pontoon boat?

I thought China had long ago figured out how to send satellites into orbit to spy on us.

Meanwhile, my other country of citizenship (Canada) was apparently asleep when the illegal balloon rocketed across the sky at the speed of, well, a balloon. Canada probably figured that there wasn't much about the north's vast supply of snow that China didn't already know, so just let the portly orb float on by.

Balloon surveillance sounds like nonsense. It's intelligence gathering of yesteryear, or maybe yestercentury. Didn't Benjamin Franklin send balloons into the air in Philadelphia to spy on New Jersey? I think Napoléon used them as well. That the evil balloon was first discovered over Montana makes me wonder if China is spying on our skiers, hoping to gain an edge before the next winter Olympics.

I haven't yet read a word to explain what the real danger was of allowing the puffy floating object to continue on its way, but maybe I'll learn more after the bits and pieces are retrieved from the "relatively shallow waters" of the Atlantic Ocean.

Meanwhile, scientists say that area birds were heard tweeting and cawing in pitches much higher than what is normal for them, after the helium was released from the bubble, causing their bird friends to laugh uncontrollably.

Add "take a hot air balloon ride" to the list of things I must do before I'm shot out of the sky. 

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The Bitters

We in New England suddenly find ourselves in the midst of a rare and shocking cold snap. This may be the warmest winter in recorded history, but don't tell that to this weekend. This weekend is getting in the faces of other weekends and tweeting out "How ya like me now?!" It's strutting and preening and signing autographs because today we're going to see some of the lowest temperatures in something like a hundred thousand years!

What's that? Sorry, my fact-checkers say we were still in an ice age 25,000 years ago.

Whatever. Stop arguing with me. The fact is we've got some bitter air here in New England, bitterer than the international bitterness units (IBUs) in my New England IPA. As someone who worries about just how bad climate change is going to be, I am curious if this is the last time we'll see negative temperature values in Boston

I decide to step outside into the wind-swept night to see what the bitter cold felt like against my supple skin. Would it feel like I had landed on another planet? My daughter joined me outside for about 30 seconds, and both of us nonchalantly declared that it was no big deal. Then went back into our warm house. In truth, we weren't in the wind.

Then, at 1 in the morning, with the wind blowing and the thermometer reading -8 degrees F, I step outside to find a rabbit chilling in the backyard, literally, not seeking the warmth of one of those rabbit holes we all keep talking about going down at work. Maybe this one was relegated to the sofa for the night, rabbit-wise.

This morning the rabbit is gone, presumably not frozen to death, and maybe chased back into a hole by one of our several neighborhood coyotes. Based on how it felt last night, the coyotes did that rabbit a favor. 

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Grassy

Picture of a chairlift at Sugarloaf Mountain with very little snow It's All Natural

My youth is pocked and peppered with tiny bits of memories of something called "grass skiing." Sometimes I wonder if grass skiing was really a thing at all, or if it was just a dream I once had, or maybe something I saw online. Except it was the 1970s and there was no "online." It might have been an ad in a newspaper, in the sports section or maybe metro, a small rectangle in the corner on the page otherwise devoted to department store bras. In my memory, there's a person in shorts and a t-shirt, holding ski poles and smiling on a mountain bluff, wearing bright green ski boots.

At the time, I was a young skier, willing to believe that I could extend the joys of winter by skiing in the summer. But this didn't look quite like the skiing I was used to, where your boots are strapped onto boards that slide along slippery, cold stuff. The grass skiing I imagined from the ad I saw was more like strapping skateboards to your feet and rolling in the weeds helmet-free, a recreational sport seemingly designed to wreck knees and cause heads to make contact with large rocks.

I didn't ever ski on grass. I just remember that you could do it at a mountain I frequented in winter, called Labrador.

A recent trip to Sugarbush mountain in Vermont reminded me of grass skiing because although I was there to ski, many of the slopes were covered in carpets of grass rather than snow. The northeast has never had as reliable snow as the Rockies, even when I was skiing in the 1970s, but snow guns help to fill in where mother nature hasn't. You can ski on this fake snow, though it's not quite the same as skiing on the packed powder that forms after white stuff falls from clouds. But one thing you can't do is make snow when the temps are in the 50s. I'll be honest: warm weather in wintertime depresses me, indicating that climatologists haven't been kidding, and that my favorite recreational activity may not survive in these parts past the mid-21st century.

There is still time for this winter to be rescued. Mother Nature could brew up a storm any day, dumping a foot or two of snow on the hills so that the February break isn't a bust. Two big storms is really all we need this year. But in the future, grass skiing may be our best bet. 

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Ghosts of Christmas Past

When I was a kid, I felt ripped off at Christmastime because I didn't get to wake up on December 25th and tear open presents like all my Catholic school friends were doing. Instead, my family was on the road, spending the holiday in Quebec at my grandparents' house.

I loved my grandparents – they were enormously kind people – but limited space in our Country Squire station wagon and evil Canadian border guards who seemed ready to confiscate our belongings meant that only a few small gifts could be brought with us, to be opened by the relatives.

Bear with me, it gets worse.

While my friends had gone to bed early on Christmas Eve without a complaint, knowing that the sooner they fell asleep the sooner Christmas morning would arrive, my early bedtime had no such rainbow on the other side. Instead, I was cruelly roused out of my slumber at 11:30 and made to march with my sisters in the frigid cold to tiny St. Patrick's church, where I tried to stay awake for Father Boudreau's scintillating celebration of midnight mass.

The reward – an all-night "Reveillon" back at my grandparents – with ham sandwiches, sugar pie, and adults drinking and cackling until daylight while we kids played with the Victrola and watched TV – was no substitute for the excitement that my friends experienced of waking up to piles and piles of presents brought by Santa on a sleigh.

I received little sympathy for this unfathomable injustice: several times I was reminded that not only was I not denied gifts, but actually got to open them early, since we always departed for Canada a few days before Christmas and opened our gifts before we left home. Still, all the great stuff I had received – like the electric football table that vibrated to move the plastic statuettes of players across the field – was out of reach hundreds of miles away due to crazy rules that border guards apply to wreck Christmas for kids like I used to be.

My mom, a wise woman who realized the opportunities that these annual pilgrimages presented, soon implemented a new tradition: when it was time to leave for Canada and we were all piled into the car with no handheld devices to stare at – she would declare that she needed to pee, then disappeared for 10 minutes. This awfully long bio-break was simply a ruse to fill our stockings with gifts, such that when we returned from our grandparents' place, we'd discover that Santa hadn't forgotten us after all.

OK, so maybe my childhood wasn't quite so awful. As Christmas night 2022 turns into the day after Christmas, it occurs to me that what we had back then – grandma and grandpa, plenty of good food, and the part where they shake you awake on a cold night to attend a mass that I despised –was magical in its own special way. 

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J'Biden Era Haikuage

 

People's Arms. That's right!

200 million shots

In 100 days

 

We are good people

But we still have far to go

Repair. Restore. Heal.

 

There's nothing new here

The Affordable Care Act

We're restoring it 

 

America's Day

Democracy is fragile

The world is watching 

 

Strategy is based

On Science, not politics

Truth, not denial

 

 

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