#174 Giving Thanks

(Sometimes this is like the sausage factory. Please try again because WordPress, a slippery piece of software at best, sent an unedited version on 11/22/21)

Giving Thanks.

Winter is approaching. I am realizing it is not just the approach of this particular season but also a metaphor for this part of my life. 

I missed this blog’s publishing date for the first time since this exercise in joy started in August 2018, which is my first clue that something is shifting. Living so close to the powerful Atlantic Ocean is a revelation. We visitors to its shores know the calm joy of a summer beach but I longed to know its winter’s side or what it felt like at 4 a.m. in the dark, or to watch a sunrise with a lobster boat headed out for the day’s work. I’d seen what I thought were big waves from on shore during late summer hurricanes and felt their underlying roar and watched their great green curls. What was not to love?

This is about eternal romance and its clash with reality. The summer vacation solace, also a metaphor, has other sides. A different kind of high tide with violent storms came at us in the form of divisive politics and a raging pandemic. The summer calm of ocean became a raging winter sea, literally and metaphorically. The nor’easters of fall, winter, and spring shredded my peace and made me thoroughly aware of nature’s raw power and its indifference to human desires. The world away from my windows to the sea became alien. Lockdown uncertainty, then fear and confusion touched each of us. I have floundered as have many of you and here, where I most wanted to share tiny bits of shoreline observations, I lost my way. I fell into political fear and anxiety and these things overshadowed my observations of nature.

It is so easy to tumble in the unknown of our present. Earlier I wrote a blog post entitled “Which Way Is Up?” where I rambled on trying to make sense of this week’s craziness. Instead of posting that, I write a mea culpa for having strayed from original intent. The nor’easter of a few weeks ago shook my foundations and, perhaps the foundations of this house as well. The dire predictions of climate change are illusive, terrifying, and likely to bring all kinds of non-imagined challenges. We sense “something big” is coming. More immediately, the King Tides due in early December, if combined with another storm, may threaten this location and bring the ocean up on the lawn or worse or maybe just close, calm water will be the outcome. Like everything else in our current lives we don’t know how things will play out. 

I can say I was not prepared for aging far away from a network of friends and family, and that it has been much harder to restart a life than I understood. Of course the pandemic made everything much harder and aging itself keeps turning up new variations requiring constant alterations and adaptations. The pandemic conditions could not have been foreseen and the isolation and increased awareness of possible dependency oddly seem to match the experience of watching thirty foot waves that are far too close. How I long for loved ones who are far away, and for cohesion and care, for peaceful seas and soft warm days and nights but let’s get real: we are headed into winter, once again, literally and metaphorically. May we at this moment give thanks for what we know, for friends, family, and loved ones in all places, for what we have lived and learned, even if we took the hard route to arrive where we presently find ourselves. May we rest and find blessings and then begin to find our way back to the path of connections and of healing

#170 8:00 a.m. Sunday Morning.

8:00 a.m. Sunday Morning.

Starting the normal routine of the day I glanced out at the water and moved immediately to the porch door. The air held a slight chill, a fall–no longer summer–feel to the morning with the scent of brine traveling to my nostrils holding me, that smell addiction, deep breaths, the whiff that always stops me in my tracks until it’s moved past. A fairly large storm system had moved through during the night and I was watching its remnants move out over the water. Everything was moving. A hole in the clouds let defined light break through to the surface of the water; the uneven clouds, some heavier and darker than others, some moving lightly with grace; a flock of geese or ducks working out their formation on the leg of their journey southward that passed in front of this house. They were black silhouetted forms, individuals juggling positions, flying low over the water just off shore.

A vivid color palette, the contrasts surprising in this hour a result of the changing weather systems. Science explains yet art or mysticism comes as overlays adding dimensions—the grass still bright green shimmering wet from rain, the deep red invasive bittersweet vines winding around dark rocks, the dense clouds dark blue. Looking south edgy tendril clouds playfully thinned out into swirls of pearly grey with a touch of near yellow. Translucent green, that wholly other water green swirled in curls as the waves broke before the rocks and bright white spray soared upward released from the mass body of water below, freed for just an instant. This is not a “one picture is worth a thousand words” morning. There is so much going on I am attempting to hang on to every moment, my human senses all working to feel, smell, see the entirety and yet…

I use the tool at hand to first remind and then to share but the camera lenses can only do so much. All senses open, the human can only take in so much. “Vast” lies beyond mere humanity. This world at the edge of land is big and small at the same time. How can I go about a mundane day after witnessing such spectacle? And yet, that is what happens. What would life mean if we remained caught in such continual awareness?

If only.

 





Notes: These photographs were not edited.

# 169 Control

Control.

Do you feel that you are in control of your life? Long ago I came to the conclusion that “control” means the choice of how I react to other people’s actions which has been about the only real control there has been in my life. From medical procedures to the roof over your head there is often very little you can do if you don’t like the way things are going other than to suck it up, figure it out, and keep going.

Gardeners often learn quite early in their efforts that no matter how much we do or how much we know, we will only be able to affect what comes of our efforts in accordance with what Nature brings each growing season. Precipitation, temperature, insects and wildlife appetites all determine what will thrive and what will not. Gardening is a wonderful way to learn that control only goes just so far.

While Control has always been an issue in human lives, current issues of Control underlie daily media stories from pandemic masking issues to political actions and viewpoints. The public actions of some get louder and increasingly dangerous which seems to me to illustrate continued beliefs by many that Control is possible. Is it really possible to live an entire lifetime not ever learning that Control is at best something with very confined limitations but mostly it is a fantasy residing inside of your head?

Childhood is a time of no control despite tantrums and other small protests and so too, is aging. No matter how strongly you built your body through a lifetime of nutrition and physical activity it is likely if you live long enough you will experience some type of breakdown. Rather than seeing this through fear, think of it as an opportunity for grace for grace is the counterpoint of Control; it is bending in the force of the gale; it is learning that you are part of a whole which you may never see nor understand. Inside grace there is an entire world of trust, something often lacking in the desperate longing for Control.

I watched the ocean for a long time one recently unexpectedly blessed October day when the warmth of summer returned as a gift. Blue green waves rolled toward the rocks in intervals, breaking before they hit the shoreline. It was the iconic vision of ocean in its rhythmic beauty, the vast power of water seemingly tame but winter ocean is just ahead and that is the ocean which rarely lets you forget that you are not in charge nor will you ever be. This is nature’s hand, the disguise of the iron fist inside of the velvet glove, the reminder for all of the other part of our lives.

# 168 Reprieve

Reprieve.

Summer’s gone but October has given those of us in the Northeast a few days of blessed summer-like weather. It has been wonderful. I’m wondering about all the things that people have squeezed into this reprieve. I used it to wash the ocean side windows, always a foolish task as the first high tide with accompanying rough water will send the salt spray back on to the glass but still, it is satisfying to clean windows on a bright and sunny day when there is instant gratification from the now clearer sparkle on the water. I also washed the screens, a chore I usually leave until spring, but there were many seeds and plant matter lodged firmly in the grids, particularly from the thistles that produced a bumper crop this year. I know the thistle plant (outside of Scotland) is often considered a noxious weed but there’s a flock of resident goldfinches who live out here year round who particularly love thistle seed. Without doubt my guess is that they prefer to dine on them au natural as opposed to eating them from the hanging porch thistle feeder in the freezing winter months.

After washing,a few screens went back up in case the reprieve lingers or (hopehopehope) returns before the first snowfall. Removing the screens improves the amount of light by 50% which really counts in darkest December.

Early this afternoon I looked up to see this lobster boat checking traps in front of the house. Not that much lobstering happened out there this past summer although the tourist traffic was heavy. My guess is there were many vacationers’ bellies containing lobster after heading to “shacks” either here or elsewhere on the coast. Despite the going rate of $69 per pound for picked lobster meat—-that’s even above the usual winter’s elevated cost—-those classic rolls were still selling to those who wanted this “Maine experience”. Ordering four lobster rolls, one each for Mom, Dad, Buddy, and Sis, set a family back over $100 without extras including drinks.

Despite all the blather of lost jobs and pandemic-related economic hardship, these calamities seemed not to include those flocks of folks in out of state cars streaming into Maine from earliest April through September. There are signs the season is finally slowing and it will be more evident after the leaf-peeping on Indigenous People’s weekend. Businesses have had a tough season with pandemic numbers soaring and being incredibly short-staffed. Many have been directly affected by losing workers and operation time because of spreading infections. I suspect this may also be the case for lobster men and women who choose to sit this season out or figured out how to make money in an less strenuous job.

But that boat and that lobsterman came close enough for me to see a smile on the face of a hardworking man out on the water on this unexpectedly gorgeous day. It certainly looked like summer out there.

# 167 Limits of Our Knowing

Limits of Our Knowing.

Early in the day there were periodic rumblings of which I could make little sense. It was as much of a vibration as it was a sound. It went on for quite a long time. Finally, it dawned on me that the rhythms most felt like thunder although there weren’t any signs of an approaching storm.

One of the weather apps (WeatherBug:  the one with the lightning reporting system) showed storms offshore,–out over the ocean–where the intensity of the vibrations and sound was being magnified by traveling over the water. Because the storm had not passed overhead, and because in the gray of the morning there we no visible flashes of light, the thought of thunderstorms did not occur to me.

This continuing experience of not paying attention to things “outside of my realm” was explained in another way a bit later as I listened to a podcast interview with Sy Montgomery,  author of The Soul of an Octopus. We self- centered humans have been excruciatingly slow in recognizing not only the intelligence of animals but of their rich, emotional lives and, especially, of their relationship to the planet that is theirs. Ever so slowly we are beginning to learn and incorporate that we have vastly underestimated that other planetary creatures have as much as an intrinsic right to be here. We have also vastly overestimated our right to the same thing.

This is not going to slide into a PETA Animal Rights diatribe nor a superiority laced case for vegetarian/vegan eating. I cannot ignore that many of the animals on the planet view most other species (sometimes including their own) as food. To me to declare that humans have the ability to not eat animals places us in a similar position of being superior to other species that do and I am not willing to goo there. You have or will make your own choices out of what makes sense to you.

My present awareness is that it is humans who seem to believe they are at the top of the food chain is what entitles us to do with the planet’s resources as we damn well please. Our profound self-centeredness is what is putting the planet in environmental jeopardy and we are directly responsible for the continuing loss of other species. What we did not know, and refused to consider, means the last laugh will not be ours.

“How Octopuses Upend What We Know About Ourselves”

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/13/opinion/ezra-klein-podcast-sy-montgomery.html?referringSource=articleShare

#163 The Turn

#163 The Turn

The Turn.

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.

#155 What Was. What Isn’t. What Is. (Rev. Ed.)

What Was. What Isn’t. What Is. 

Darkness was falling before I remembered a storm is coming. It is not unusual for the tail end of a hurricane to hit the Northeast. Often it is a welcome relief to what had been a building summer drought. Out in front of the house there are flowers in pots with less than ideal drainage. There are flowers in pots that could easily be damaged by even moderate winds. There are multiple wind chimes hanging from the trees and the remaining bird feeder, the one for the finches whose fledglings are still feasting on the last of the seed, is still hanging from the porch. It is not unusual to need to move summer outdoor-living items to shelter for safety during an oncoming storm but as I began to move the pots I was struck by the realization it is July. July. And there is a former hurricane moving out to sea over New England. This usually happens in late August or September when the bedraggled plants are showing signs of the end of the growing season. The flowers in these current pots are just beginning their growth spurts after June’s transplanting. A drought was declared for most of the state in June. The temperatures in June moved like a yo-yo from 50’s to 90’s and back again and again even into the beginning of July. 

Flower pots, wind chimes, bird feeders all were headed to the porch where they were joining two overly large houseplants which are still trying to adapt to being outside. Hopefully the wind will be moderate. The rainfall amounts are still not forecast as the track of  where the storm will move out to sea isn’t quite clear. There could be 2” of rain or just enough to end this June-declared drought. Or we could flood. 

Just a flash ago, Lytton, British Columbia set an all time record heat of 121 degrees. Elsa is a record setting July hurricane.* The animals and the plants, the fruits and the vegetables that we’ve known all of our lives cannot adapt to such rapidly changing climate conditions. We humans who are opposed to genetic modification, we humans who plant only heirloom varieties, will either have to move or accept that, even if science can work at warp speed to provide for the rapidly changing environment, home grown food is going to be a very real problem. Local agriculture everywhere is going to be a very real problem. Pray for the survival of bees. Be prepared to alter your lifestyles. 

What was, is no longer.

What is, is unknown.

What will be, baffles us all.

There’s the tail end of a hurricane out there and it’s July. 

*https://bmcnoldy.blogspot.com/2021/07/elsas-extraordinary-place-in-history.html    

Apologies for the first two posts fro July 9, 2021 that you may have received in your inbox. Once again I fought with the WordPress software and lost. This is a reposting in, hopefully, the right format.    

# 142 Time Out.

Marsh

Time Out.

The long process of moving from Winter to Spring, runs the reverse course from the Fall transition into Winter only the Spring transition feels so much harder. For a few weeks now I have been sliding down into myself, removing myself from most communications, growing increasingly silent, wanting the depths of whatever was happening to replace being in the shallows where I’ve been for far too long. This began spontaneously, unfolding with no plan, just a slow movement into this different space/time experience. I’ve sought silence, wanting to sink into feeling my way through whatever has been happening.

What is the experience of matted salt marsh grass, the thick layers of brown thatch looking like a dense, impenetrable barrier for the tender green shoots lying underneath seeking light? It takes so long for the green to overtake the brown, months where living stalks push upward through the deadened mass above them.

What determined force sends out exploratory shoots of not-yet-green from inside the heart of a bulb buried deeply enough under dark soil to have kept the frozen layers above from killing the life lying at the center of that firm and rounded bit of brown?

What allows the winged creatures, large and small, to persevere though the cold, the sleet, the wind blown heaps of frozen white?  What life force encased in feathers and down gets them through months of impossibly harsh weather only to face sparse food supplies in the long stretch when those who fled to warmth return to compete for what little food remains? 

 What is our common ground, the force that gets us from impossible waiting to breaking through to life’s full warmth when nothing else matters but just being?  Science may explain some of these how’s but getting to pure joy remains within the experience itself, without whys: “Is-ness” exploding into being. 

It’s yellow season. Daffodils and forsythia blossoms are popping up in yards and patches. Star magnolias trees are just beginning to blossom, so unlike the pink magnolias I knew further south. But this year nothing seems particularly spectacular. Maybe it is still a bit early or maybe we are still weary, still tenuously facing unknowns. There are bits of grace here and there and while we wait for Spring’s full new life we remain uncertain and, perhaps, still a bit afraid.

Our longing is to burst into joy. Do we yet dare?

 

#139 Unholy

Unholy.

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.

#137 Fast Air

Fast air.

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.


			

# 130 Presence

Presence.

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. 

#118 Transition

Transition.

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.

 

 

#117 Surfers and Other Observations

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.”

# 110 The Change

The Change.

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.

#109 Wet or Dry?


  • Wet or Dry?

Another set of thunderstorms rolled through late in the afternoon and, as has happened so many times in this dry summer, there was rain both north and south leaving us sandwiched in the middle with the barest trace of rain. I gathered the hose to water the now late summer hodgepodge of overgrown perennials and the too densely packed herbs I’d transplanted into the closest ground I could reach. The only stars of this jumble of what once must have been a landscape of joy are the older established hydrangea and the brand new one planted by a friend at the beginning of the summer. The newest one, plopped under tree cover for hydrangea loving shade, had barely received a drop of precipitation.

Meanwhile, the western states are in the midst of an unnaturally early fire season. Colorado, Montana, and especially beleaguered California, are in the midst of raging infernos. In coastal California a mass of dry thunderstorms (different from this hit or miss business on the northeast Atlantic coast) set off more that 500 blazes at a time of pandemic shortage of firefighting personnel. Homeowners have ignored mandatory evacuations, staying put in hopes of saving their homes and communities from ember-caused losses. There are many sleepless nights in near and far away geographies where loved ones worry as friends and relatives are putting themselves in potential danger—in August—when fire season usually starts in October.

At this same time hurricanes move into the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico dropping more rain than can possibly be absorbed by saturated soils (souls?). These opposite forces of nature seem oddly parallel with the divisive people politics raging at the same time. For years I have linked dire external weather and internal emotional upheavals (both individual and societal). In this time of changing climates this observation seems more accurate than ever but what I lack is the “why” so, like everyone else caught in these storms, I spin and stew looking for answers and solutions, and I come up baffled.

 

 

Continue reading “#109 Wet or Dry?”

#108 Clouds: A Photographic Essay

Clouds: A Photographic Essay.

Clouds are backdrops on beautiful summer days or clouds can threaten. Clouds are indicators of incoming or departing weather. Clouds can trigger fear or danger or joy. We notice them. Sometimes. Not always. Their presence can stop us in our tracks if we remember to stop and look upward.

Just a few days ago I watched the outer cloud bands from the tail end of Hurricane Isaias race northward. My location was far from the center of the storm so there were occasional small openings in the gray trails speeding overhead and patches of blue could be seen through those openings, reminders that this storm was not going to linger. Watching this weather and feeling the fierce wind pushing against the glass of the porch door on which I was leaning felt like a great privilege and echoed something I’ve heard from many: “I love storms.” I think that also translates as “I love clouds.” They come in so many shapes, sizes, and with such purpose.

Out from Two Lights, Cape Elizabeth, Maine

Over the Catskill Mountains, NY

Over Isabel Segunda, Vieques, Puerto Rico

Over Vieques, Puerto Rico on the road to Red Beach.

Over San Francisco

Over Acadia National Park, Maine at Sunset

 

Over the California Coast near the  Elkhorn Slough

Over the Pacific Ocean near Pescadero, California

Over Kettle Cove, Cape Elizabeth, Maine

Over the South Hills Mall, Poughkeepsie, NY

Over Grand Isle, Vermont and Lake Champlain

Another over Grand Isle, Vermont and Lake Champlain

Over Mouth of Casco Bay, Maine at Sunrise

 

Over the Ashokan Reservoir, Catskill Mountains, NY


			

#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.

# 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”.

# 75 December

December.

For most of my adulthood December has been the most difficult month. I made good use of the cold for much of my life; both ice skating and skiing were passions at least until motherhood happened. With it came an awareness of responsibility that made flying down mountains with abandon not quite as much fun. That happens to some of us and not to others. My early years were spent in very cold places, mostly along the Canadian border of NY and VT where -20 and -30 were normal. After I left VT my blood started thinning and I started getting really cold even when it was way warmer than that.

December’s emphasis on Christmas was often fraught, manifesting through various layers and reasons. I’d separated from my Christian routes before college had ended. Losing my married family then later, my parents, sealed the difficulties that Christmas held. I always wanted Christmas to hold the magic it did in childhood. One year when I was around ten, a stuffed poodle  with a collar and chain leash was left between the front doors of our house. I was too old to believe in Santa by then but a bit of magic returned as I never learned who gave me that toy. I still want magic to happen. Don’t you?

I continue to be more than a little surprised that I now live in Maine, a place I link to cold far more intensely than I did in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. But this is southern Maine and that is the remote north of Vermont which implies a compensation that I don’t actually feel.

Now my belief is the cold is actually less of a problem than December’s darkness, that long going-into-the-tunnel feel which begins in November and doesn’t let up until the longer, deeper shadows of the trees become noticeable in February, proof the sun’s coming back.

I’ve heard grumbles about December’s “holidays” from many others, about the “It’s over” sigh of relief which comes on January 2nd. After that it’s a matter of hunkering down and making the best of it until spring is actually felt. Up here that can happen around the end of June, if we’re lucky, or July, if we aren’t. The cold ocean keeps warmth at bay in Spring (but whoopee for those October days joyously–unexpectedly–balmy).

If I could stay focused, which is damn hard while constantly shivering, I’d realize how much I appreciate winter’s quieter rhythms, its long stretches of silence and peace, the days of tea and books stereotypes which ARE real but fleeting when old bones sit hard in cold ache. But the blue-white days, the sparkles of fresh snow, watching the Eiders, and the shore rocks empty of walkers, with these come balance and reminders to stay present and grateful.