On a Zoom this week there were traveler’s tales of places and experiences to stretch a limited (most always car bound) explorer’s mind. It reminded me that from a distance we cannot truly experience where we have not stood. There is a quality to the air. There are smells we don’t know. There are foods that are far outside of what we think of as consumable. There are customs, and rules, and etiquettes we never knew existed. But primary are the unexpected norms of topography and weather systems. That is the nature of Geography.
Living in an environment which is new to us it often takes us a long time for a sense of knowing. This only becomes a part of our knowledge much later and only if we pay attention.
In a borderline teensy town in Northern Vermont I learned about wind. The geography was a high plateau and I did not expect that wind would be such a huge part of living in that landscape. Winters there brought snowdrifts that reached above the tops of cars, where impassible drifts blocked the one road in to and out of town.
The spring winds jeopardized new garden plants put in the ground after the last frost and they required protection or the wind would kill them in a matter of days. I used what was available—gallon plastic jugs, over a hundred of them, which I dragged to the garden’s edge by attaching them to a long rope and pulling hard. They were awkward to handle but cheap, gathered from friends who bought store milk for their families.
Each plant had its own jug as a sort of mini greenhouse, anchored by soil packed around its base. The jug was not removed until the stalk of the tomato or pepper plant had become strong and the leaves began crowding one another inside the container. Such accommodations were necessary to grow a family’s food supply under harsh conditions.
My mistakes, my ignorance about weather, of wind and geography, of currents and fast moving air was duplicated or compounded when I moved to Maine’s coast many years after living in Vermont. Once more in this new place I underestimated the power of wind and its incessant battering, particularly in the winter months. Tonight, once again the wind slams into the south side of the house, shaking the walls. Ear plugs would be wise but they would also block out warning signals, although that didn’t work because sometime in the last couple of weeks a very large rock slab was tossed on to the lawn along with quite a substantial scattering of shale shards. Despite my usually hyper alert attention to the possibility of such conditions, I missed the wave or waves that threw these rocks onto the lawn. My guess is that it happened in the dark of night. This evidence increases my awareness that, indeed, the house, our belongings, our very bodies could be similarly tossed by a rogue wave or a too high tide with intensely powerful surf. That’s something to think about. (Or not.)
But still, geographic and weather ignorance can be countered by research. Wind and wave are the two major aspects of a coast’s ecosystem. But winds here exceed my previous experience in landlocked Vermont. Routine winds or gusts of 40, 50, 60 mph or more can happen any time although winter is the most likely season for their appearance on the Northeastern Atlantic Coast. I wonder if I had been born here would these winds still agitate me the way they do as one storm follows another?
Today would have been a “reprieve” day as it was in the 40’s after yet another bout of single digit temperatures. Instead the wind rose and pounded the rocks, the ledge, and the houses facing the water for most of the day. Outdoor time was brief or non-existent.
I am weary but the chances of sound sleep will be iffy without those ear plugs.