#93 Sixty / 60

Sixty / 60.

I’ve come to learn by observation that sixty degrees is the magic temperature that signals summer in Maine. When the thermometer reaches sixty degrees windows fly open and it’s off to the beach. [When the beaches are open that is.]

Temperatures approaching sixty, meaning high forties and middling fifties, gets everyone outside. Walking, running, kayaking, hiking, biking, and bird watching are full throttle. Those with convertibles drive with the tops down.

When winter temperatures approach thirty two degrees or above, that is when shorts are worn, particularly among males. They are often paired with T shirts, maybe long sleeved ones when it is still in the thirties as the short sleeves come out at fifty (maybe at forty seven). Cotton hoodies are the winter coat of choice for both males and females.

I write this in continuous amazement. I grew up on the Canadian border and later lived a good chunk of my life in the NorthEast Kingdom of Vermont with decent altitude, enough to routinely experience minus twenty degree temperatures anytime between December through February. There were occasional bouts of minus thirties in the Vermont years. I don’t remember, in all that time and in all those years, shorts as winter apparel. People back then, and in those particular geographies, certainly made good use of the out of doors with skiing, skating, and ice fishing as fervent cold weather pastimes but they were dressed in parkas, hats, wool socks, and warm pants. It’s true that many, particularly teenagers, wore sneakers year round and if they owned boots they didn’t appear unless blizzard conditions were present and maybe not even then.

Sometimes I question if it is the temperatures that trigger “Maine Summer” behavior. Is the calendar the real instigator? March is early spring, April full spring, and May the beginning of summer. Are the wardrobe choices driven by the calendar month and not by actual weather conditions or temperatures?

I have run into a few natives who actually say they don’t like cold and they don’t like snow. In such cases I think their default for living so far North is that vacationers primarily stay away during the coldest times (at the coast but not in the mountains) which suits those who want the place to themselves. Is tolerating cold the trade-off for having a lot of personal outdoor space?

I don’t suppose there is any geography on earth that has decently warm, not- too-hot temperatures, and few people. We pick our spots and make do as best we can.

# 88 Sound

Sound.

The nights are never truly silent. Even during the most quiet time, when the tide is furthest out and the winds are calm, there is still the constant backdrop of waves colliding with rock. When the fog horn is not sounding, that is as silent as it gets. I would have thought that this sound would fade from constant awareness into backdrop as does a heartbeat or the sound of breath, but that’s not the case. 

These days of early spring are not silent either as the songbirds sing for mates and territory. But it is the absence of other sounds that holds my attention and gives awareness that not all is right in the world. 

The sound of pickup trucks in the driveway, saying soon the nearby restaurant will open for the season, is absent. The sounds of the school bus picking-up or letting-off neighborhood kids is absent as well as the occasional sounds coming from the closest yard when the boys are out there together letting off indoor steam. The sound of planes  in landing lineups overhead, preparing for delivery of their passengers is (nearly) absent. The diesel engine noise of lobster boats pulling traps is also nearly absent. The hearing evidence of human activity has faded to a whisper.

The sound of my own voice is also mostly absent. There are a few phone calls now and then, but not daily. Mostly there is quiet keying on the laptop or the phone, the silent greeting of words to check in with others and to pass along funny internet stuff. I am noticing we seem to fade in and out with one another, wanting to stay in contact yet there are days we seem to collectively withdraw just a little. 

The radio, often a prime source of sound, is only on occasionally; the news is grim and indeterminate, an anathema to the calm and peace possible when focus stays on light and clouds and water, when watching the Eiders transition from the great flock down to pairs as it’s unfolding day by day. There is spring work to be done, a new brood to make and raise and, although I suspect those things are far from silent, the duck sounds do not make it as far as the house. 

I feel a very particular kind of envy watching the birds going about their lives oblivious to our unfathomable human existence. I think of the times human actions have impacted theirs in devastating ways, but now there is only watching their movements while taking solace that the season is changing and (at least some) aspects of the world are still normal.

# 86 Grace

Grace.

Grace is present in our world. Grace does not show off. Grace does not strut, or bellow. Grace is subtle and you need to be paying attention to notice its presence in life’s daily moments.

The air had warmed but I failed to notice. I was busily occupied inside and let slip away the first above 60 degree day since last Fall without any awareness, nary an opened window or door, or a sniff of fresh air. But the night brought rain and the morning’s sun shone through nature-washed windows. The salt crud that had coated the window glass with an unwelcome frosting since last week’s high surf was erased and the morning light made the world fresh again. Stepping out on to the porch to feed the birds was entry into a new season. Yes, there would be more cold and mostly likely even snow, but the air had been gently rinsed and the smell in the day’s early air hinted of mud rather than ice.

All day the sun played out on the water ducking in and out behind the clouds. When it was out the water looked green, that wonderful gray-green with the iridescent sea-foam green sparkle as the top of each wave tipped over onto itself, the color I think is the most beautiful color on the planet. When the sun tucked behind the lofty, floating cloud puffs the water turned blue-gray, the color painters most often choose for seascapes. All day the cloud forms changed in dips and swirls and, later, gathering into small masses looking like mini storms  approaching, not serious but as teasers saying “but I could if I wanted to…”

Such a simple day suggesting in-between season possibilities, a day of grace and beauty disguised as ordinary.

# 82 Out There

Out there.

When I meet people and the question about where I live comes up the inevitable words “I love it out there!” is the most likely response. Last night driving home after dark from a rare evening out I, too, felt like I was driving “out there” along the only route that passes through town, in then out again, turning a few miles later onto the road that runs out when you get to the sea. A map, Google or printed, shows a jut of land water to the left and in front of you. Aerial photos show the dark blue ocean with a brown-grey mass of rock trimming the edges, and a somewhat small cluster of houses set just back from the rocks.

I woke from a dream where I was traveling to where I lived before I came here. I opened my eyes to my current life, seeing the vivid horizontal streak of sky orange before sunrise and with it an underlayer of cherry red that only occasionally appears. I could feel the change from my dream-body to the waking present where a jagged dancing energy flowed just under the skin of my chest, realizing that feel is a near constant presence when I am here. I wonder about that red, the color of alarm, danger, excitement, passion. It seems to pair with that jagged edgy feel inside me.

The first moments I spent in this house I sensed the possibility of a vast presence. It remains to this day, as unnamed now as it was then, sometimes feeling like a challenge and sometimes, a mere unsettled sense, of nearly constant unease, perhaps and ebb and flow of a rhythm that matches the intensity of the waves and the wind.

I imagine living on a pleasant street in a tidy neighborhood thinking there I would not feel this underlying red, this unsettledness that is so constant. I am not referring to life’s ups or downs, the troubled times or restful ones. I am attempting to describe an existential energy present, I believe, where the vastness of the ocean pushes its might up against solid rock, opposing forces giving off energy release that is palpable even if all seems calm, or as calm as the ocean ever gets.

What images form in your mind when you think of the word “retirement”? I had thought it would be a time of rest, of unstressed  activity with time to savor. Instead, I landed in an energy vortex where beauty is a constant but ease is not. This is a stark awareness on a minute-by-minute basis. I am not attempting to describe emotions or feelings. The backdrop roar of even a fairly calm low tide is in my ears as I write. It is the constant presence of releasing energy. This truly is “out there”.

# 80 The Range of Beauty

The Range of Beauty.

Many of us in cold climates grumble about January: it’s long, it’s cold, it’s dark, and worst of all, it is a very long way from spring.

First there was an odd warm spell followed by a falling-in-clumps day of unserious snow, one of those pretty snows like the lazy flakes depicted on holiday cards. By afternoon the glop was present most everywhere with cleaned up roadways and good going. Then the wind picked up in late afternoon and by nightfall the temperatures plummeted and the glop froze solidly into ice ruts. By morning it was 11 degrees with 40 mph wind gusts. It became one of those winter trials where something–the car, the house–something, will break down because that is just the way it works when weather goes to extremes. There were repair trucks in driveways fixing the (most likely) expensive problems.

In a very typical New England winter weather pattern the cold was broken a day or so later when a snowstorm moved through, warming the air and dumping ten or so inches of pristine white over everything. The sun rose brilliantly in the early morning, the storm having moved north. The colors of the ocean and the sky and the light were exquisite and constantly shifting  the whole day.

Silvers, blues, traces of pink here and there, with tinges of green as the waves gently broke on shore, and a shining band of light on the horizon, like a magic highlighter pulling your eyes to the dancing light of that line of shimmer.

My thoughts turned to the beautiful summer houses on the shores of the Atlantic, empty, their owners far away in warmer climes. The measurement of abode when one has choices are often based on “climate” usually meaning temperature. We humans don’t care for being cold (many of us but not all.) But today’s winter beauty was every bit as glorious as a peak summer’s day. It might have even exceeded it, in the stark light and sparkling white. A gull lifted off the rocks, just as it would do in the summer, only the backdrop to the flight was gray and black and white, the colors of the bird itself.  The symmetry was precise and cause for a gasp of recognition and elation. This exquisite day was missed by those who were elsewhere.

I sat on the porch warmed to 70 degrees by the sun, my heavy wool sweater discarded temporarily on the floor. When the sun slides down under the horizon at day’s end the sweater will be needed again, but for this afternoon of light and beauty there is only “Thanks”.

# 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.

# 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.