8:00 a.m. Sunday Morning.
Notes: These photographs were not edited.
8:00 a.m. Sunday Morning.
Notes: These photographs were not edited.
There’s a reason older people are stereotyped as folks who repeat themselves. My fear is that my awareness of this trait is not anywhere near the actuality of its frequency but I am less sure that, as I return to topics already discussed, I may not (quite) be returning to the exact place of its first recognition. Thus, I will plow ahead.
From the past perspective of living on the 45th degree parallel (44.9684° N, 72.0027° W) in Northern Vermont there came a day where the feel of summer quickly turned and Fall seemed far closer than expected. I wrote here once of a camping experience that sharply illustrated this “flip”. One other time it appeared in the second week of August when frost killed the tops of the squash ripening in my NEK garden which was always such a challenging place to grow a family’s year round food supply.
This year and further south, The Turn came later when thoughts of it were far from my mind. July had been such a miserably cold month so in August I’d subconsciously thought nature would cut us a break by adding extended warmth to make up for it. We’d had a stretch of humid, hot days where the air was thick and wet. Here the proof of such heat is leaving all the windows open at bedtime because air flow depends on tides but with the house so warm, so sticky, even the usual incoming tidal coolness could only help the situation.
I woke in the middle of the night because I was cold. I got out of bed and closed every window I could reach. By morning yesterday’s 90 degree heat had plummeted to a chill 63 degrees. The Turn had snuck beneath the forecasting presence of Hurricane Henri which stayed south of the Maine coast. Now, with chillier air, I find myself making soup and thinking of hot tea in the morning. Oh yes, it will warm again but it won’t return to those languid, stifling strings of days. Instead, there will be flashes of warm mornings or afternoons but the sun is setting earlier every day taking with it the chances of opened night windows. Dread of the coming winter has already begun to gather in corners along with the spiders.
Postscript: Not one but two (so far): the Hurricane named Ida is still making its way out to sea via the Northeast Coast. I’ve not found a way to incorporate late summer-early fall hurricanes into my concept of “The Turn” when it comes to seasons. As hurricanes originate in the tropics their warmth usually affects the temperatures that were in place before their arrival. These hurricanes are disruptors wherever they appear although their presence is regularly sufficient to be a part of the weather patterns even in the North this time of year. So, buckets of rain (gauged at 3 1/4″ in a friend’s garden) and now rather strong winds have turned this post into somewhat an anomaly. You are, without doubt, familiar with the phrase most often attributed to Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain : “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.”
Note: How embarrassing. The following blog posts followed similar themes: #56 The August Flip 8/16/2019.; #61 Seasonal Adjustments. 9/20/2019.; and #110 The Change. 9/4/2020.
Of all the months the one which seems obviously malicious might be October. It is, after all, the time of witches and Samhain (Halloween). However October is often lovely, maybe giving a hint of cold or flurries, but often balmy (and that “witch” stuff has never been what it seemed). The real unholy month is March when even the thought of Spring entices us into welcoming the month forgetting every single time that March often brings the fiercest storms, the ones that truly test your mettle when you are least wanting to be tested.
Last night the NorthWest wind blew without mercy, passing through the walls of the house as if they were non-existent barriers to the icy cold, sixteen degrees and dropping as I tucked under the covers. Anything exposed under that too faint protection tightened and stiffened, joints of fingers and neck knotting while sleep tried to persist but only on faint and shallow levels. The wind continues today even as the sun shines brightly, all it’s warmth shredded under the onslaught.
It’s hard to write anything at this time without referencing the pandemic, even if that is the last place I want to go, but this year in particular our need for warmth has grown out of proportion given that warmth is how we will be able to break our isolation and to be with friends and family. This process is being powerfully fueled with the parallel availability of vaccinations. Nearly everyone I know has had one shot and is waiting for the second, or is through both and now starting to think of re-entry into a world abandoned in a flash of another March. Despite vaccinations we still need mild days to sit with sun on bare skin, to breathe freely moving air, to move around outdoors without layers and layers of clothing, to let our bodies and psyches come back into allowing flow.
I figured that March this year was going to be hard but that concept pales in the face of a wind like sharp steel. There is no getting to be warm today, inside or out. Every gust that tears at the house tears at my psyche. We are nearly past the halfway mark and we know that each year snow falls on the daffodils of April. How will we summon our strength after a year of unknowns, a year of anxiety and fear of something we cannot see that devastates lives, that turns familiar faces into eyes above coverings so that we don’t recognize old faces and will never be able to recall new ones we’ve met during this time?
In lower latitudes March can try the spirit with its capricious variations of weather. This far north, sitting beside the frigid waters of the Atlantic, it will still be months before there is any softness in the air. While our bodies are working hard responding to vaccinations, building still needed immunities, our spirits need a break, an infusion of gentleness and peace. March is just not going to let up and hand us an easier time of it. Here’s where mettle counts, the breaking point. Can you hang on long enough while all those tensions from months of months of plodding through unknowns has tightened your muscles into knots, the cold aiding the process so efficiently?
The prayer is to get through: this hour, this day, this month, this time. If only we can hang on for that first soft evening of total letting go, body melts into ease which has been forgotten, when windows can be thrown open and fresh air can clean out stale house corners. How I hope I can soon laugh off today’s dire thoughts and words, dismiss them because color and warmth have returned, this time meaning more than they ever have before.
I woke to intense sunlight brightly detailing the carnations I’d bought for myself now sitting on my bureau. Yesterday’s snow and rain had blown the quickly moving storm out to the far open sea leaving behind a clear bright sky with that very welcome intense morning light.
This is a thought dream. It’s not about the science of weather which I too lightly understand, It is about the emotional experience of it of weather, of storms and systems that move along the coast daily. I find myself wondering if storms systems move more freely once over water unlike those memories I have of weather systems hanging on for days over the high hills or valleys in my geographically plunked pasts. What I experience now on an overcast day is far easier to tolerate if there is reasonable certainty the day after will bring back the cheer and warmth of the sun.
If I truly grasped meteorology no doubt I’d understand the movement of fast and slow air in more precise and scientific ways. I would not be relying on my observations and guesses but then again, there is comfort in believing the fairy tale versions of things such as the belief that light follows dark in predictable ways and that, when in the midst of oppressive clouds of gloom or a raging wind, there is certainty in next day relief.
In a far Northeast winter the presence of sunlight is a game changer. Yesterday’s ice storm which coated trees in icy jackets becomes a magical morning fairyland of shimmer as the sun rises. Yesterday’s rain, frozen by overnight temperature dips means black ice will hide in the shadows, unsafe surfaces for cars and legs alike, but such shadows disappear as sun creeps into their recesses. Overnight heavy snows covers everything leaving us to marvel at the transformed landscape. Nature as artist can swirl snowdrifts into sharp peaks and valleys, using violent winds as brushes, creating impossibly beautiful sculptures in mundane places.
Dark times, bad weather, and overcast gloom that moves quickly can be tolerated and brings, by the way of contrast, a particular kind of joy. Lingering, incessant stagnation (of weather and everything else) is a much harder condition, one that challenges us to dig deeply into our psyches to get ourselves through.
So bring on fast air. Let’s rejoice in the movement made possible of air moving fast over water, unrestrained, unsnagged by peaks or valleys, flowing freely, as beacons for the way our spirits want to flow.
Speedy Moonrise and the Reality of Temperature..
After a long trail walk in the winter woods on a beautiful winter’s day, my tired body was restless in the dark night. With weary bones and aching muscles prohibiting sleep, I prowled the house noticing the lights out on the water, pondering the mysteries of buoy lights, some constantly red, some with intermittent bluish flashes, no doubt signaling a clear message to ships in the vicinity that I, a total landlubber, could not read.
On one side of the house there were a few dim lights in the windows of neighboring houses perhaps indicators of sleepless tiny children or night owls preferring the silence and the calm of deep night while I, undetected in the dark, walked with bare feet on cold wooden floors trying to work out the restlessness of my tired legs. Then turning back to the ocean side windows, there suddenly appeared a huge, Sumo sized segment of brilliant orange just above the horizon. Moonrise at one a.m., the vivid illumination was a startlingly unexpected body in the black sky. A sight like that, when the night has, by it self altered reality, momentarily shifts the mind but all too soon it’s rapid upward progress changes it quickly from orange to yellow making a shining path to it on the water’s surface. My restless, exhausted body saw this as a totally unexpected gift, one that could have been so easily slept through as in most other nights.
Looking out on the crisp, clear black sky and the sacred, precious moonrise in the middle of the night also carried a deep chill, my bones feeling the cold in every corner of the house. Why can 62 degrees seem so warm if experienced on an unseasonable winter’s day, a day where a light jacket substitutes for the puffy down one worn the day or two before and after, yet that same 62 degrees on a February night in the quiet dark house feels frigid, the chill nearly unbearable. Such mysteries startle an aging, exhausted human just needing sleep.
The moon climbs steadily over the water offering no warmth but it’s light draws the eye and satisfies a weary soul.
While on a Zoom class on a Blurday afternoon I found myself looking away from the screen and out the windows. The ocean was heaving, rising swells crashing on rocks, whomping like it had been doing since the night before. “It’s a presence”, I thought, “a living breathing presence”, but that is as far as I could get with metaphors.
The ocean is so close, yet it’s not a neighbor with an unpredictable temper prone to occasional bouts of drink and rage. It’s not a relative, or friend, or housemate and its moods cannot always be forecast by NOAA. The ocean is such a vast unfathomable there there. Yet it is constant motion, water as wildly unpredictable as its cohorts earth, fire, and air. Oceans, like other components of planet earth, like mountains, like vast forests, like endless prairie, remind those in proximity of our own puniness. We are not a drop in the bucket of such energy and this alone is a compelling reason to live on such edges. Vastness keeps one humble, keeps us within the lines of our own coloring book as we fill in each day’s spaces.
Recently I have been thinking of how both great and small water is, endlessly responsive and never resistant, the slightest energy shift of anything can cause variations of movement ranging from nearly placid to as close to unhinged fury as I’m ever going to experience unless I put myself in a boat on its surface. (Not likely. That I leave to braver souls.)
I started writing this blog in an attempt to use words and corresponding images to try to give a glimpse into what daily, year round proximity to the ocean felt like, to expand awareness of “ocean”. I was gifted the opportunity to live out my wildest dream with a front row seat yet four years into this experience and I have barely nudged my own comprehension. It is beyond addiction. It is like tethering oneself to an out of control force field. It is exhilarating but often exhausting, in winter especially. Sometimes after days of pounding my psyche feels bruised, my head wants quiet, my sketchy sleep wants oblivion but that’s not part of this. The ocean teaches absolutely that it is not, and never will be, about me.
Looking Forward, Looking Back.
Glasses raised, a toast is made welcoming the New Year at a Solstice party hosted by my daughter’s friend at my daughter’s house in San Francisco. Good riddance to 2019 which hadn’t been a great year for most of us there, friends and strangers gathered together and expressing hope for the year to come: 2020.
This memory gives me caution as I read and listen (via Zoom) the hopes expressed for this horrid year’s ending and the turn to 2021. I stay silent, as I’ve played Debbie Downer one too many times since last March. I won’t list here my causes for concern, my awareness of astrological transits that hint broadly of more immediate troubles to come.
My focus at this moment concerns the range and extremity of recent storms. Since October there has been a string of destructive weather, particularly in the form of high wind damage. A wide spread nor’easter dumped a lot of snow and, out here by the water, there were totally bare patches of ground just feet away from a five foot snow drift that engulfed the outdoor staircase to the house. The driveway was blown clean, my car didn’t not require even a mitten’s worth of brushing, yet at the place where the driveway meets the road the snow piled deep into a concrete consistency that held fast to all four tires of my housemate’s SUV. It took the substantial truck of the plow guy to free it.
A couple of weeks later a storm blew up from the south, the 3rd, 4th, 5th (?) storm since late September to come from that direction. On Christmas Day it was 55 degrees with torrential rain bands, and 65 mph wind gusts. When it was over the snow had vanished. Bits of green grass could be seen in the mud. Beside where that staircase pile of snow had been there were pale green day lily nubs protruding from the ground looking like they were waiting for a spring rain.
Every one of us can share examples of extremes of climate and their effects on our lives. Like so much of what we have been going through we understand that now, nothing is predictable. Human behavior has altered what we once knew and took for granted. Now we are beginning to understand that Nature is reacting and we are not (as if we ever were) in control.
So much has needed our attention, injustices gone untended, the distribution and accumulation of wealth and poverty showing unprecedented ranges, divisions by class, gender, and politics pushing beyond any sense of reason or logic. I have much faith in the rectification of such dire ills. I don’t expect to live to see the eventual outcomes, the long range benefits of our current disruptions, but I am certain they will come. In the meantime we are, literally and figuratively, going to be in rough seas. My future hope is far stronger than my past rage. Divisional politics has run out of time. Our only choice is to pull together to find ways to meet each challenge as it comes. Much will be lost but there is much to be gained.
The past is over. There is only the present moment headed into the future of Now.
When darkness comes.
After the time change in November the already fading daylight quickens leaving most all of us complaining about the onslaught of night long before we are ready, as early as 3:30 in the afternoon in the farther north regions of the lower forty eight.
What’s less often mentioned is the early beginning of daylight. I find myself restlessly awakening at 5 or even 4 a.m. as first light shows in the sky above the Atlantic Ocean. The house is cold at this hour, reflecting the deep chill seeping through the walls and windows. It’s far too early to rise from the bed, far too early to crank up the heat. It’s so much cheaper and more energy efficient to confine the heating to the bed itself, to stay tucked and toasty in that tiny space for as long as possible. Staying in bed of course is possible in retirement, when not only do I not have to go to work but I also can set appointments for later in the day.
You’d think that staying tucked under the covers would be delightful but the truth is that the situation involves tight cocooning, the air is so chilled an arm attempting to hold a book or an iPhone means a really cold appendage.
Restless under the covers I watch the light play among whatever clouds are on the horizon, first in black and grays, and as the sun nears the horizon the first color begins to show, the intensity of it most dramatic in the earliest stages of rising. Sometimes in that early darkness the lights of a boat headed out to sea resembles an illuminated ball without detail. How cold is it out there moving across the water?
Almost every morning seascape is a vast horizontal painting, a 180 degree view, but the thought of warm feet hitting the icy floor keeps me watching wrapped in blankets. The camera sits on the desk neglected and chilled.
My childhood memory is the porch of my aunt’s house, the common long, narrow space that served as the house’s entrance filled with a variety of seating that had been around for a very long time. At the far end of that space there were a couple of chairs that had made it through the depression, the time when anything past fixing was saved regardless, so as a kid on visiting Sundays, when the porch filled up with family and friends, I was going to end plopped on angular, poking springs. Anything was worth it to get to listen in to the stories told and the laughter shared. My favorite seat was the swing settee piled with layers of my aunt’s multicolored, crocheted afgans, a softer seat than the cold metal frame underneath. This Sun porch meant long, slow conversations as the afternoon sun’s light and warmth and my beloved aunt’s talk filled the space.
My second sun porch recall is sitting in the warmth of a sun porch in Holland, VT twenty years later. I was visiting an older friend and down-the-road neighbor, Mildred Goodall who was in her 90’s and still active, still driving, still doing for others in that strong, indomitable New England farm woman way. The truth of her driving was measurable by the wide berth town residents gave her recognizable car. Things like that seemed a naturally easy accommodation in such a tiny rural, community, especially for a woman who had earned her place through a lifetime of good deeds through tough times. It was a February afternoon and her birthday, and the rural New England version of party where a succession of neighbors, family, and friends dropped by—long enough for a warm beverage and short enough so as not to be a nuisance . Her sun porch was a plain, unadorned front of the house afterthought, a wind protective space with those old time cheapish, aluminum framed, double hung windows, a long, narrow, utilitarian space with sparsely straight backed chairs and no afgans but being able to sit in the warmth of the winter’s sun in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont in the dead of winter to was a coveted experience, especially in the company of a woman who knew how to thread years of stories and knowledge in and out of her conversation.
In all the years since then I had not lived in a house with a sun porch, fancy or plain. Unheated sun porches no longer matched transitioning architectures or lifestyles. They were an unaffordable, unusable space, blocked off as soon as the cold days of late Fall moved in.
The house where I now live has a glorious sun porch but the house was built in the late 1970’s before radiant heat or zoned heating systems so it, too, is unheated, but the windows are big and face south-south east (the cardinal necessity of all sun porches) which allows the porch to zoom into balmy temperature ranges in the Fall and Spring. How lovely to bask in sun’s warmth after the first freeze, and by early afternoon I was setting up a jigsaw puzzle in a 78 degree space. To be able to get back to working on that puzzle I will have to bide my time, holding out for other days with morning sun breaking early over the ocean without the wind that moves the cold in the porch’s direction. It will probably take a long time to finish the puzzle, but I’ll wait it out. Puzzles have a way of clearing thoughts, making a meditative space with only the awareness of colors and shapes filling the mind. I never understood how my mother could waste so much time on such a silly pursuit until I happened across a nice image on the box of a puzzle in the cheapo do-dad store.
My mother had kept quiet about the amazing sense of peace and solace that working on a puzzle brings. She also did not have sun porch warmth, the added blessing I now wish I could share.
Along the coast of New England the demarcation between Summer and Winter is often the closing of businesses related to the seasonal tourist trade. The same holds true for the transition in the other direction, from Winter into Summer, except that the ever cold Spring in which businesses begin to open is a longer warming process which seems to take forever. The Northeast Atlantic Ocean holds the Summer’s warmth for a long time but it takes an long stretch before the turn from cold back into something that tourists might want to even consider.
Usually businesses begin to close after the October 12th long weekend but there are exceptions where the fried fish, clam and lobster shacks often stay open stretching their final few weeks a bit longer because they know that is when the locals will find their way to eating the last of the season favorites, the beloved food they forgo while the tourist traffic is still heavy. I live in a house connected to such a business and the transition from “Open” to “Closed for the Season” is a clean break: the cars from the young staff workers who stay the season cease roaring into the parking lot; the metal sculptures that spin in the wind come down, tucked away in storage, not meant for icy blasts with frozen blades. Winter seas are fierce things to behold. Paint peels off buildings especially on corners facing prevailing winds. Anything that can be covered or battened down will be a part of the closing process, anything left out and uncovered will not be suitable come Spring.
This pandemic year was a particularly tough challenge but these eating places made out better than most when their real estate involved lots of outside tables and ocean air. People felt safer eating in such environments. As this was a drought summer and fall there was lots of sunshine with few rainy days in which there was no shelter for keeping french fries warm and dry. Those were the days when diners stayed away.
The last still open day comes and is then followed by the next day flurry of thorough cleaning, wrapping stove vents in tarps anchored by bungees or rope. Picnic tables are tilted and stacked. The parking lot feels vast and lonely and the fishy-potatoey smell of grease ceases to be carried on the wind. The gulls continue to hang out until they realize there will be no more dropped food, then only a few of the strongest stalwarts stay to fish from the sea to fill their bellies in the sparse season. The feel of the place drastically alters. Emptiness seeps around the corners and a sense of isolation descends. It’s like being the last person standing, thinking that finally, you have the place to yourself, but the feeling is more hollow than you remembered. The faint whiff of abandonment is in the now colder, saltier air as the winds blow more fiercely from the North.
Another summer has come and gone, with winter to be faced without a clue as to how cold or how wild or snowy it will get and whether the inevitable nor’easters will do real damage. Spring is a very long way away.
Surfers and Other Observations.
My first encounter with real time surfers was in the late 1980’s, probably 1987. I’d gone out to California for the first time to visit my daughter who was researching her Senior Thesis with the (oxymoron-ish) subject on the homeless of Santa Barbara. She was staying for the summer in a nearby beach town, Isla Vista, and it was there that I learned the best time of day to walk down to the beach was before sunset as that is when the surfers were flocking to the water. The thing that struck me most was that they never failed to greet me with variations of “Hello” as well as making eye contact with an accompanying smile. I was middle aged, dumpy, woman and the fact that these young Californians would acknowledge my presence amazed me as I’d never had such exchanges on the East Coast. Perhaps those greetings had to do with the unifying commonality which beach and ocean lovers share. I could never come to a satisfactory conclusion but I never forgot the sheer joy of those brief encounters.
Now that I am truly old I still love to go down on the beach near sunset. Even in Maine that is the time the surfers carry their boards to the water. Logically this would be as soon as the work day ended. Now there are a fair numbers of women among the men and the age range spans from chrome domes and paunchy hold-ons to those particularly water-hardened slender bodies, long haired, prime-of-young-life beings. They, East Coast residents all, still do not greet (nor smile at) strangers.
I’ve found another kind of athlete on the beach at sunset. Nondescript, mostly black, dogs race on the hard sand like sprinters chasing after balls sent airborne with those ball launcher devices made of plastic (Chuckits). There is sheer joy on the faces of these dogs moving flat out until they capture their usually round and orange prey. Of course purebreds and other mixtures show up at the end of day, all eager in one way or another, particularly the ones who get to run, walk, and wander, off lead. I imagine the sense of freedom they feel, released–finally–to go where their noses take them without having to drag their keeper along at the end of the ever too short lead. I find parallels between these exploring, running free, canines and the happy beach children showing the same sense of unbounded joy in directing their bodies where they, not their parents, want to go.
What I haven’t yet told you is that tonight’s beach foray is in mid-October, an unexpected beach time, but understood if you’ve experienced how the Atlantic is as slow to cool in the Fall as it is slow to warm in the Spring. East Coast Spring beach walks are for hardy folk able to tolerate fierce cold wind coming off frigid water–it is late July before the air or the water becomes reasonable but the Fall is often glorious, especially after the tourists have bailed. There is a sense of giddy reclamation, especially on surprisingly warm days, as if some joy slipped through the bounds of seasonal rules. “It’s warm and it’s all ours.”
About the only measurement of time that makes any sense to me any more is the cycle of high and low tides. I need my online calendar, and now the added assist of the phone’s alarm clock, to be prompt for Zoom meetings. I have to check every morning to see if I need to be someplace (rarely) or get the Zoom software up and running to not be a rude late comer and then I set multiple alarms for multiple Zooms if that is called for, otherwise the days blend into one another like puddles. Sometimes I’m focused on the day of the week but mostly I’m not. In a few cases I’ve not been where I needed to be or I’ve missed something important because the hours meld into one another and when I come out of the trance / space out / meditative involvement in whatever it was that drew me in, I’ve missed the deadline. It’s impolite at best and more than rude at worst.
The awareness of tide is reasonably easy by glancing out the windows but, best of all, I love to drive over to the beach where the surfers gather. High or low tide is very evident and I particularly love the sound of the surf flowing in and out on the hard sand beach. This week we’ve had a day or two of particularly high/low tides which means either zero beach for walking or a vast expanse for wandering. The crowds kept my immune-compromised being away for the duration of the warm months. In true Mainer fashion the locals need to wait for spring or fall chill for decent spacing, to experience the solace they find in nature. The tourists really did seem oblivious to masking and I find myself wondering if that was because they thought Maine was safer in terms of the number of COVID cases and deaths. Is there no awareness we each could carry or import the virus?
Not having beach walked for months, the beautiful evening along with a light breeze and gorgeous setting sun light, enticed me to walk too far and for too long. It felt so good to be out in that air with so much space. I was hobbling by the time I got back to the car and I needed headlights to drive back to the house. Two days later I was limping badly but I’m hoping it will pass soon so I can do it again.
There’s a little spot not that far away from my house where I frequently visit. It is particularly inviting on weekdays just after normal working hours, even during this pandemic time. Individuals, couples, and families find their way there carrying picnic containers, take out bags, or (most commonly) pizza boxes. It’s an accessible spot to eat together outdoors and linger at the end of the day. There are often dogs although during the summer months they aren’t allowed on the beach. Tonight there’s a Siberian Husky puppy, little enough to look slightly bewildered, yet obviously enjoying all the sniffing as well as the attention being given by ooo-ing onlookers.
Many of the beach and lawn chairs carried to this spit of land by the water are turned towards the direction of the sun as it slowly glides downward. This is entertainment Maine style on a late summer evening. The beach goers have departed; there’s a real chill in the air which is fresh, leaning towards crisp, the scent of brine lingering in the late day hours. A few Cormorants are perched on their usual favorite rocks, wings now dry and anticipating going wherever it is they retreat to in the dark hours which are fast approaching.
The moored lobster boats are nearly still as this evening’s ocean is barely a ripple. Two late paddle boarders seem content not to be going far as they meander around the boats in movement rather in tune with of a couple of ducks paddling nearby, it’s only the paddles that seem different not the intent or the motion.
The sounds blend and mingle: soft laughter, a distant gull’s cry, murmuring muted voices with the higher pitcher voices of children like vocal exclamation points, and the more distant sound of a rougher ocean out past the shoal.
Cameras of all ilk are pointed at a striated bluepinkyellow sky with swirly white clouds, mare’s tails that promise good weather. The pastel sky will soon give way to stronger hues and be replaced by oranges and streaks of charcoal. Phone cameras, small cameras, even multiple cameras with hefty long lenses are slung over shoulders and a tripod or two at the ready are appearing. Here is a picturesque spot, essential Maine, subtle beauty preferred by quieter folk content to have their drama in this peaceful form of sunsets and changing sky.
I’ve spent many evenings at this place in all seasons watching people watching the day’s sun disappear below the horizon and the frequent explosion of color that comes just after it disappears. On a few occasions, more likely in winter, I’ve been the lone car in the parking lot. This never tires. I think it is the modesty of this place, the quiet beauty, unadorned, this place with nothing to prove yet offering the essence of Maine on a peaceful evening. May it forever be.
In the last week of August I noticed color change in some tree tops on the ride to the dump. In New England early tree color has always been attributed to “tree stress” primarily due to lack of sufficient rain. This summer there was day after day of bright sunny skies and heat, too much heat for most. Lawns facing south turned crisply brown and garden watering was a must. We craved rain even as the remnants of a passing hurricane turned inland, far away from the coastline, giving us a lot of wind but barely a smattering of water. A drying hurricane? So very odd.
Things change. As we ease into September, cloud cover days move in, the gloomy skies come with downpours or drizzles, not yet “enough” but the hoses can stay coiled. The temperatures drop, especially at night, and the air movement begins to have a bit of an edge. More than anything else I hear the change in the night as the ocean shifts from the calm ebb and flow of summer to rock pounding. There may be a few more days of warmth but the nights are already less hospitable for sky watching, beach sitting, or leisurely late strolls. Fall starts to feel like there is business that needs attending, maintenance chores that need doing, as the need arises to button up before the onslaught of serious cold.
Many relish this change as the heat and accompanying humidity of summer air is too hard on blood-thickened Northern New England bodies. With pure joy Fall is welcome as the favorite season of each year. Gradually the tourist traffic thins and once again it will be possible to find an ocean side parking spot.
This begins my season of mourning. There are far too many months of cold at this latitude for my increasingly arthritic bones and the first hints of the change fill me with dread. This pandemic year brings new challenges: we could socially distance in the warmth even if many were reluctant to do so. Approaching cold means additional isolation. I feel this in the vibrations of the pounding surf in the night’s midst. The unknowns and uncertainties of the coming months hold hints of further trouble. May a few more mild, soft days give us hope.
A Maine beach, the slanted setting sun’s rays highlighting parts of the shoreline as it lowers in the western sky. The last hours of the daylight fading, the tanned bodies holding out, still savoring the last moments of the day at the beach. Picnics eaten, the last games of catch being played, the dogs romping in the water (only allowed at day’s beginning and day’s end) their owners relieved hoping all that running and playing means settled, sleep-filled nights.
Many couples walk at sunset along the hard packed sand, their pace a stroll at this hour unlike their earlier workouts. Skateboarders are still out on the road working their way around cars moving slowly, drivers gazing at the water, and surfers catch the last waves while they still have enough light to see them coming.
The gulls flap and circle looking for snacks before dark, hoping for discards, sandwich parts or soggy chips. Junk food addiction effects more than humans.
Mostly, the little ones have been gathered, packed up and now fed, clean and sleepy, safely tucked in beds in rented spaces early enough to ensure tomorrow’s daybreak awakening. Is there anything more wonderful than watching children playing endlessly on a beach?
Arms flap trying to swat bugs away as the sun sinks and mosquitoes actively search for blood now the heat has backed off. Beach chairs, backpacks, water bottles and slogan covered, chocked-full bags of every description, soaked and gritty, draped over departing beach goer bodies. By tomorrow those wretched looking bags will be dry and ready to be filled, to head out again, each day repeating the pattern until departure day. The memories of sand and sun and water, laughter and sunblock, ocean dunks, salty water swallowed, and boogie board triumphs, these are the things we remember, what we hold close to our hearts.: vacation. Many months of photos and reminiscing ahead, the knowledge of icy cold sand, horizontally blowing snow, and sparse, hungry birds remain unknown. Winter beaches are south not north, the feel slightly similar yet there is always something extra when it’s summer.
I wake to the stark reality of this house.
I wake to the sound of the ocean, the vast water capable of absorbing all of my tears yet never once softening–
That’s not the purpose of the ocean.
I wake to the stark reality of hard surfaces, of wood and glass that reverberate sound without absorption–
That’s not the purpose of wood nor glass.
I wake to the stark awareness of yet another day spent in my own company, another day with my thoughts as companions when I long for the warmth and comfort of friends or family–
That’s not the purpose of aloneness.
I wake to the stark hardness of political messaging that uses division and hate that tears at the fabric of my understanding of humanity–
That is not the purpose of humanity.
I wake to another day of stark being and hard reality as I long for the embrace of compassion, first for myself then radiating to all others, each of us waking to yet another day of trying to stay safe while struggling with isolation and wanting connections–
That is the purpose of compassion.
Large and Small.
Mid-July afternoon. Ocean calm, waves as close to lapping the rocks as it’s ever going to get. Three kayakers offshore, not paddling, sitting still in the water. A few fishermen casting from the rocks. No working boats out on the water. Perfect conditions all.
The dorsal fin appears briefly, its dark presence coming out of the water, just fractional seconds of black movement, then quickly sliding beneath the water’s surface. A few moments later a longer glide, the fin followed by the arching back, higher out of the water this time, more seconds of dark, sleek, and smooth rising then quickly disappearing under the water. The excited catch in the throat, my first whale sighting of the year and the return of that wondrous affirmation of presence. The whales come close at low tide, Minke and human fishermen both are seeking to fill their bellies from the the silver schools of fish who seem drawn to the just offshore water warmed now by a few days of Maine heat. The kayakers keep a respectful distance. What it is like to witness a whale from such a small craft at water’s level?
Two days ago I spotted the first Monarch butterflies flitting about the plants along the shore. Beautiful milkweed, the monarchs’ food of choice, has been bloomIng these past two weeks, enticing the butterflies. Conscientious gardeners have sown seeds as naturally occurring swath habitat has been gobbled up by humans not thinking of butterfly needs. How can anyone not long for the familiar black and orange wings looking like tiny, moving, lead glass church windows?
The fleeting presence of these beautiful creatures so large, so small, watched for by searching eyes yet so easily missed by others close enough to see, yet remaining unaware. Moments of high summer swiftly passing, so ethereal, a shimmer of presence, then vanishing. Butterflies float, seemingly meandering from flower to flower, impossibly light creatures of air while the huge water world gliders, the dark shapes part the vast blue liquid then disappear into the depths. Each is a quick presence, a fleeting glimpse of other ways of being.
Summer on the edge of a vast ocean tugs at our spirit of mystery and wonder. What do we see? What do we miss seeing?
Blonde Curls bouncing in the sparkling sun, a young man walks towards the waves, his body encased in black neoprene, a multicolored long board carried in capable arms, and at his side a lovely young woman similarly clad carries a plain white board walks with just a tad less swagger of confidence although her face is beaming the joy of beach promise on an early June afternoon.
The Lilacs are a bit past peak with the Bridal Veil Spirea coming into full flower. The beach roses started to bloom a few days ago, Rosa Rugosa, apparently an invasive species which sweetens the air. Close your eyes and sniff. You will know it is June by only your senses–the air with just a bit of chill even at low tide, the wafts of rose perfume edged with brine. I’ve been feeling the rhythms of air and warmth each day: an early morning high tide without a north wind will be the warmest part of the day right at water’s edge. As the tide moves in the breeze shifts, the result being a quick drop in air temperature and a reach for outerwear. The early June ocean measures in the 50’s and an onshore breeze moving across the water means extra layers. In town or just a few miles inland, the sun bakes cars and people. A hot day! But out by the water mid- afternoon is often chilly especially at high tide.
June is the promise month, the month partners choose to mark a new life beginning in celebrations with family and friends. June also brings the contrasts in air and water temperature that creates the “marine layer”, i.e., fog. The chill and gloom of it near to the ground while just above there is haze and above that sun and warmth a just cause for running errands or an excuse to drive into town to get hot for a bit so to as to alter perspective when you return to the cool grayness. No air conditioning needed. It is possible to go through an entire June day wrapped in fog swirls. Dark horizon trees fade and turn pale in the almost-gloom. When the fog horn starts blowing, it’s intervals either comfort or get on your nerves. So many visitors love this briny mist, the images on paint or paper or screens carried with love back home perhaps to hang on walls as far away reminders of a particular early coastal summer’s beauty.
Visitors return more timidly this June. Some beach houses stand empty and waiting. The Governor’s visitor’s requirement of a 14 day quarantine is still in effect. Some pay heed, others defy, some pretend this place is the same as always even when it’s not. The local’s askance views of out of state license plates speak volumes: there is fear in the air mingled with nature’s June-ness. What might lurk in cars headed north besides happy tourists and their dollars?
Don’t we all want to escape to the beach, to shiver in the cold water, and fill our shoes with gritty sand? What we most seek is happy oblivion, a break from unknowns, laughter and sharing, ice cream and hugs, wet towels and fried seafood. This June everything is tinged with worry. Only the beach dogs raise their tails in joy, chase their balls on hard sand, loving you and this, the ocean at the beginning of summer, filled with promise and hope.
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.
I am a Maine writer.
Word & Picture Musings.
Word & Picture Musings.
Simple, practical tips and exercises to help you get organized
Behind, between, and on the streets of Portland, Maine