Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Buzz on Snowmobiles

Snowmobiles are great little machines: motorcycles with skis, whose engines sound like something taken out of a model airplane and given too many steroids.

Snowmobilers took advantage of last week's snowfall, whining across lawns, lakes, and fields like deranged hornets.

Until the street department came along.

They're on the streets now, at least in town. There's enough snow left on the pavement for the snowmobiles, but not enough to stop police cars: and Loonfoot Falls has ordinances against using other people's shrubbery as an obstacle course.

It must be exhilarating, careening over the snow with a 90 horsepower engine making sure that everyone around knows you're there.

I did a little checking, and found out that snowmobiles aren't loud at all. In fact, the American Council of Snowmobile Associations assures us that "snowmobiles are barely audible from inside a home." That's assuming that the engine and exhaust system haven't been, ah, enhanced, by a fun-loving owner.

Quite a few of the snowmobiles around here would be "barely audible from inside a home" only if you were playing your favorite Metallica album at full volume.

Then, there's the safety issue. Most of the nine people who got killed, snowmobiling last year, hit an unexpected rock, dock, or tree. Considering how many people ride the things each winter, Minnesotans must be doing pretty well.

I'm not knocking snowmobiling, though. People have driven them for decades without blasting bark off trees or decimating the deer. I think the key is ‘enjoy in moderation.'

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Loonfoot Gets a White Christmas - a Little Early

That's more like it! Loonfoot Falls got it's first winter storm of the season last weekend, trimming the town's Christmas decorations. Also putting off the opening time for school by two hours. Quite a few kids in town used the extra time for old traditions like making snowballs, or newer ones like riding a snowmobile.

My guess is that quite a few of the kids living in the country were like those of some friends of mine. They spent the extra time helping their folks get the lane clear and plow snow away from the barn doors.

Loonfoot Falls got about a half-foot of snow, a respectable amount, but nothing I can't handle. Having a snow-blower helps.

Up on the North Dakota side of the Red River Valley snow depths ranged from zero to I-can't-find-the-car. It isn't that the snow was spotty: They had a blizzard there: it covered most of the state. But, between the wind and land so flat that a rise of five feet is called a "ridge," there's a lot of drifting.

Particularly around anything that sticks above the terrain. Like cars; buildings; and, if they don't move fast enough, people.

Back to snowmobiles: they're not just for fun. One of the plow drivers gets to the garage on a snowmobile in weather like this. Which reminds me: there's another winter storm headed this way, complete with a "Only travel in an emergency. If you must travel... carry a winter survival kit in your vehicle" notice.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

One of Those Christmas Letters

Most Christmas letters are inoffensive updates from one family to another, giving friends and relatives an annual update.

One of the other sort arrived at my house this year. If you've never gotten one like this, count your blessings. Now, so you can see that there are worse things than root canal surgery, here's that letter (the editor made me change the names).

"Well, another year has gone by, Rudolph has gotten another promotion, and we've moved into a new house. We don't really need five bedrooms and a guest house, but the pool had such a lovely view of Avalon that I simply had to have it.

"We went to Cortina d'Ampezzo as usual this year: I think Aspen is so over-rated. We had a very nice time with Leonardo there: such a charming man, and so dedicated to the environment. Of course, we've long since stopped using those old-fashioned plastic water bottles. I just wish more people would follow Mr. diCaprio's example.

"Ursula has already won the regional high school debate tournament, and is considering whether to accept offers from Yale, Harvard, or La Sorbonne. She has such a difficult decision: whether to pursue her interests in applying quantum principles to molar physics; or continue a promising career in the arts and dance.

"Back home, besides organizing the community food shelf, and chairing the historic preservation committee, I've opened another online business: selling hand-sculpted onyx trivets. Two thousand orders in the first month have certainly kept me busy."

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Loonfoot Falls Elementary Christmas Program

Loonfoot Falls' elementary school put on their annual Christmas program last Thursday. The parking lots were full, twenty minutes before the show started. Well, almost full. I found a place within a hundred yards of the nearest door.

It might have been closer than that. Distances expand when it's dark, cold, and windy.

I sat next to a family with two pre-schoolers. Since the audience was mostly the immediate families of the elementary-school kids, the crowd was about evenly divided between adults, teenagers, and kids from a few weeks to about six years.

My hat's off to the parents: there were only a couple of babies who had to be carried out. That's not to say that the kids stayed still through all one hour and fifteen minutes of the program.

A large gap between the main auditorium and two sets of built-in bleacher seating makes a dandy playground. One family, sitting next to the open floor, had two kids, one a bit over three feet tall, the other a little shorter.

About a half-hour into the performance, the shorter one toddled about two-thirds of the way across the open floor, and stopped when he had a good view down an aisle. The taller one followed, but started running in circles when the kids on stage started singing something lively.

Both of them were enjoying the music, I think. And their parents, apart from intercepting them when they got more than about twenty feet away, let the kids be kids.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Computers: Tireless, Dedicated, and Utterly Unimaginative

My apologies. I can't blame this on the Chronicle-Gazette's network.

The thing has been working fine lately.

What happened this week is something that's always been a problem with computers and robots: They do exactly what you tell them to, and nothing that you don't.

Imaginative, they're not.

So, when I didn't set my computer at the office to load this week's column: it didn't. I discovered my error a few minutes ago. Tomorrow, I'll get this week's column posted.

At least, I plan to. We'll see what happens.
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