#72 Observations: Winter Edition

 

Observations: Winter Edition.

I’ve been musing about oddities tucked into daily life. I’d like to add yours to my somewhat wacky list:

*The old  and humorous adage “You can’t get there from here” is often actually true on the Internet.

*My friend Sue pointed out a vexing problem with bedding. Why aren’t sheets and blankets clearly size labeled so you can tell a Queen size from a Full size easily without struggling to make the bed only to discover that it’s the wrong size for the mattress.

*Why would any clothing company offer a sweater for sale with 3/4 sleeves? Aren’t sweaters for keeping you warm and doesn’t that include your lower arms?

*Why do suppliers located in northern climates (think L.L. Bean or Land’s End) no longer carry wool sweaters? It isn’t that “Climate Change” means that snow, ice, and frigid cold are no longer issues in those geographies. Cheaper polyester or acrylic fabrics do not breathe, holding in heat that forms moisture which chills, not ideal conditions for body temperature control. But the polyester exercise clothing that is designed to keep you warm only does so because it wicks away that moisture. Try sitting in a cold room in even dry exercise clothing and see how warm you stay.

Corollary: What happened to wool? What happened to sheep?

Corollary: Why have 100% cotton nightgowns and PJ’s  disappeared from local (affordable) stores? Now they only show up in speciality catalogs priced into the stratosphere. A short nightgown for $79.95? For sleeping in a rumpled bed?

Corollary: Why are local affordable stores disappearing? Do you really want to order a replacement screw or a burned out lightbulb from amazon.com where shipping costs and packaging excesses exceeds every tolerable range?

*Why are current men’s suits made so that every man who wears them resembles a little kid who grew out of his clothes but can’t afford to buy new ones that fit?  Too tight shoulders, sleeves not quite long enough to cover  wrists, pants barely making it to the ankles, a jacket button that can’t hold if a man sits down? Men’s bodies sitting on talk show furniture fidget in ways that suggest they are being constrained by what they are wearing. Shouldn’t clothes have sufficient fabric to let bodies move?

*Have you seen recent versions of flannel shirts? Old time flannel, thick and warmly inviting, is now so thin as to be suitable for summer afternoons when the tide rolls in. What happened to the “toasty” factor that made them so inviting to wear under one of those disappeared wool sweaters?

*Why do garments that used to be called “tunics” now end just below the waist? Didn’t tunics used to reach far enough to cover one’s behind? Current versions are now shorter than an old-fashioned sweatshirt.

*Am I the only one who thinks the current fashion designs are ways for suppliers to make more money by scrimping on materials? “Fashion Forward”? Yeah, right.

*Corollary: current home heating costs have not made warm, affordable winter garments unnecessary.

*Corollary: When did genetic coding switch to producing humans who no longer get cold? In Portland Maine on any 32 degree (or above) winter day shorts are THE clothing choice for males. And even some sensible  (?) females.

Please write back with your observations. They will joyfully be added to this list.

# 71 Elemental

Elemental.

If you witness the sun rising over the ocean at daybreak and see it only as “pretty” you are missing something vitally important.

The pulse of the world is elemental. It can be experienced beside vast water, at the base of tall trees, viewing distant blue-gray mountains, in meadows of sweet grasses and wildflowers, with birds flying overhead.

It might well be what moves fire before a great wind or nestled in the parched landscape waiting for rain.

Faint or pounding our earth breathes, it’s heartbeat present in the smallest of moments whether or not you are aware.

The fishes know it, so too, the bears and the deer and coyote moves by it, always.

The animals we dismiss as lesser beings than ourselves, live inside it. We humans mostly pretend. We pretend we are masters of this world, our cars and our electricity and, oh Lordy, those distracting computers and cell phones and gadgets, bent heads holding our gaze so absolutely unable to know it.

We make our games, our talk-talk, in our flimsy shells deceiving ourselves about the nature of our lives, ironic for how far from Nature we have come.

We occupy frail bodies, even those focused on muscle and prowess; one snap and we are reduced to howling.

The earth endures our attempts at destruction, bears the scars, bides it’s time. When it’s had enough it will “shake us off” (as someone I knew once said) “like fleas” and it will go on breathing, our opportunities for witness gone.

#70 November

November.

November has come like an 19th Century taskmaster in an unforgiving boarding school. Cold awakened me at 3 a.m. seeping through the walls. The full moon light outside the windows looked and felt icy, the light shaded a faint pale blue rather than the usual soft glow of yellow. The first snow came as a thin blanket, not enough to help insulate the herbs I’d hoped to keep going a little longer. With this temperature plummet they may not survive at all and Spring, a damn long way from now, will mean tiny bedding plants rather than strong wintered-over stock. Such is life in northern climbs, only now the proof of erratic weather conditions predicted by climate change scientists feels more true each day. How easy it is to forget September and October were glorious and often warm; what feels like an abrupt plunge may be that the natural order of things is restored and this cold is appropriate. No. I don’t believe that either.

I went to hear a speaker, a young immigrant man who told his miraculous story of winning the Diversity Immigrant Green Card Visa lottery, a program targeted for elimination by the current administration. Twenty million people apply for this lottery worldwide and one hundred and twenty thousand are initially selected then whittled down to half that. This was the number of immigrants and refugees who actually got to come to this country five years ago when he won his chance to fulfill his coming-to-America dream.  I am one of we oddly faceted humans, dimly aware of and feeling awful about, the plight of a million refugees and still don’t DO anything, yet a singular story told in person holds me (and those in the room) in attentive awe, the story opening our hearts to the plight of many. A young man stood at a podium describing situations we’d never imagined,  our consciousness awakening in tingling shock, our taken-for-granted richness, our privileged lives in contrast, hanging in the large room, an audience touched–at least for the moment–by more than a little shame. Did we not know? Yet our lack is not as much evidence of our guilt but rather more his telling of his joy, courage, and determination in being here, his brother permanently denied the same path, his mother never to come, leaving him without family, braving the uphill climb to adaptation, education and earning money as a translator to send money back to help feed a village of others.

Is this not a November story? Thanksgiving is not a holiday in a land frequented by drought and killing hunger yet the concept of the holiday alone is proof of American bounty. His is the story of stressed possibility, amazement at his good fortune, a continuance of joy despite hardship, of thanks through adversity, survival, and what comes after.

Later, snuggled under blankets in the dark night of winter’s first plunge, I wonder about one part of his story, of coming from a hot, dry climate and landing is such a frigid one, one more hurdle in rebuilding a life out of impossible odds.

 

To read his story:  Abdi Nor Iftin [with Max Alexander]. Call Me American: A Memoir. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2018.


			

# 69 Winds of Change

Winds of Change.

There was little sleep. They tore at the house relentlessly the entire night, shaking the wall above my head, teeth rattling south winds 50 mph and more. They came, piling on, after a recent nor’easter took down trees and cut our power. Dirtied yellow mounds of ocean foam packed into rock crevices, evidence of the fierceness of the wind. In the morning one of the shutters on the south house wall lay on the lawn beside a torn window screen, each ripped from their moorings in the wild night.

Across the country the winds in California built to 100 mph in places tearing across brittle, dry landscapes, the flight from north to south, fears growing, memories triggered. Fire. Terrifying, relentless fire raging through beautiful terrain, vineyards, ranch land, farms, or houses no match for its raw power. The people who live this land can only flee from its path, their hopes and prayers for safety intertwined with the fiercely unpredictable winds.

In both East and West damage is increasing, the elemental dangers of fire and water driven by winds rising in frequency and strength. We hunker down, we evacuate, we deal with the aftermath one way or another. The scars remain, seen in the charred landscape or unseen in the psyche, each taking toll on what has been touched. Torched. Places we love are forever linked with the knowledge of danger. Electricity cruising through wires above, the power that enables clean—fed—informed—safe now seen as fragile or threat. Nothing seems certain other than more danger, more damage, our future carrying awareness of the tentative nature of our lives.

The balance of humans over nature is reversing. Nature’s had enough of our human destruction, our blatant disregard of the obvious. We’ve fouled our waters. We’ve discarded plastics, chemicals, scattering them on the land and seas. We’ve polluted our streams, ponds, marshes, lakes, oceans. Every place on our planet is affected and changing. The chips are being called in, driven by air moving at great speed and with great force. Ice is melting, the exponential warmth causing additional melt. The water rises in some places and disappears in others.

We knew this was coming. We may have thought we’d be gone by the time it hit. We were wrong.

 

# 68 Winter’s Comin’

 Winter’s Comin’.
The signs of winter are everywhere except in the warmish 50 degree temperatures soon to succumb to the plunge below freezing. Snow is in the forecast for the end of the week. Most all the leaves have been ripped from their hosts; the clam and lobster shacks are cleaned and buttoned up.  The charming, tradition-soaked inns with their fading verandas and wicker settees tucked in lovely spots by the sea , have been emptied, the last hangers-on gone until next season. 
 
Dead and dying flowers and herbs have been dumped from their pots, frost already having browned their edges. The sad, salt-air-damaged porch chairs have been stuffed into bags and bungeed together on the porch, the last of summer things tucked under while snow shovels now lean against the porch wall sprung from summer banishment in the back corner of the garage. The fireplace, newly repaired, has a full tank of propane. [Note to self: never, ever, let a tank run dry nor let the pilot light go out.] The whopping repair bill’s now paid, the “ouch” a learning tool.
 
Summer’s storms, no match for the gales that blow come Fall, have passed and the beginnings of winter surf rises and pounds. The first seasonal nor’easter, come and gone, the tree death evident on every road, limbs and branches piled in front of houses awaiting town pickup. Fresh chainsaw tracks on stumps of ancient trees, their exposed rotting cores announce clearly why they went down in the ferocious wind.
 
Gloom sets in, clouds and fog hanging low for days. It’s a fight to keep emotions from matching the skies. The hard, red flu shot site on my upper arm  has softened and stopped hurting. Long ago an earlier me anticipated winter with glee. Now cold means aching joints and shivers.
 
This season’s shift comes with force where subtlety would do. Winter barges in shoving Fall aside like an overblown bully. We can batten down the hatches or leave the stuff outside to see if it makes it through. My  attempts for order over chaos don’t represent my mindset, so filled with dread for what lies ahead.

#67 Before Sunrise

Before Sunrise.

To have risen at seven this morning you would have awakened to a pale blue-gray sky, striated clouds with glints of soft yellow light peeking through, the water moving from the north, a dark steely-blue palate of shiver.

More than an hour before, the entire sky was a rage of color, not a strip or streak but the entire sky pulsing with an intensity of Tutankhamun gold and yellows. The stretched horizontal clouds over the water were nearly black, further emphasizing the brilliant gold of the sky, the water not yet illuminated enough to be even noticed. There was no room for thought, only my still body and my astonished eyes moving back and forth across the expanse. Nothing but color flooding all other senses.

The movement of the sun still below the horizon means light changes measured by seconds, layers of light folding over itself. Just above the horizon, a long wide ribbon of cranberry appears. Not red. Precisely cranberry, a cranberry specifically distinct like out of a Crayola box. Then ever so slowly the cranberry becomes cherry, then morphs into pink and orange, blending like the sounds of flutes and oboes rising beneath a symphony dominated by strings.

The sun moves up to the horizon, its rise dissipating the intensity of colors as the strength of its pinpoint light washes the sky. Where earlier the colors of the entire sky had throbbed now the me-me-me of the sun’s round dominance overtakes everything.

There is no photograph. Limitations of the camera could not capture the scale, vibratory color, mass, or intensity. A photograph would allow the “Oh, a sunrise” to replace the beyond-belief presence of that sky, the colors still permeating my bones, my soul.

# 66 Higgins Beach: A Photo Essay

 

Higgins Beach.

A nor’easter moved off Cape Cod never reaching Maine while the surf from the storm pounded the more northern shores for three days. The waves, not large enough to be frightening, delighted visitors and residents alike and the surfers on Higgins Beach finally got some long rides. As the light on day four left the sky, all was right in the world.