#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.

#72 Observations: Winter Edition

 

Observations: Winter Edition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#70 November

November.

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

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

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

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

 

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


			

# 69 Winds of Change

Winds of Change.

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

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

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

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

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

 

# 68 Winter’s Comin’

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

# 63 Waterfront

 

#63  Waterfront

There are so many different ways to love oceans. Have you experienced the feel of a small, working harbor in the early morning, both moving and moored boats filling in all the “spaces”,  serenity and bustle at the same time?

Do you love coves, tucked or nestled, perhaps just a tad claustrophobic, and almost always sweet? Surely you’ve been in ports, chalked full of sea commerce, definitely not conducive to exploration via kayak.; tankers, container and cruise ships, and the myriad varieties of vessels that hunt for food from the ocean, going in and out of busy, deep channels. 

Beaches are the places loved by most of us, especially those with hard, good-for- walking sand that stretch for miles, our wearied nerves soothed by the rhythmic waves, our eyes forever searching for discarded gems left behind by tides. We dive or walk into the waters, warm or not-so-warm, tingling, always slightly a tad wary, wondering about those things that call the beckoning water home.

Beloved are rocky shores feeling, and sounding, quite different from beaches, the rhythms more pressing and louder, the walking more of a challenge. They, too, hold discarded tidal gems but those are often much harder to get to and almost always far more battered.

And then there are glorious marshes. whose surface seems so placid, the teeming life and death struggles in them more apparent to those long on patience and having magnified lenses. Those beautiful marshes, bulldozed, maligned, abandoned, then filled in, misused and misunderstood by humans for centuries, we humans not knowing them for the sources of life they contain. Houses beside marshland are every bit as in danger as those perched perilously close to shore; the steady, quieter rise of water as capable of tearing houses apart as crashing waves. 

We flock to bays, capes, peninsulas, islands, estuaries, open ocean waters, wanting to feel life by the vastness of water wildness. We are drawn by ocean and the range of experience we find in its proximity. This continues even while we monitor our screens showing videos and photos illustrating its destructive powers. Hurricanes seem to be growing larger, the death tolls rising, the property destruction catastrophic. Will the force of these storms drive us humans away from the solace or retreat we feel or once felt, the pull of life beside ocean waters beaten by the reality of no-way-to survive a Cat Five bearing down on its next location? Ours?

#62 Maliase

Malaise.

*Warning: Familiar Themes repeated here.

Is it because Fall is moving in, the colors everywhere changing to reds and browns and golds, leaving the vibrant greens for too many long months before they return? Fall is the favorite season of so many, but I find the transition–the colder nights, the dying plants, the disappearing birds–disheartening. There are oddities this year: the red and gray squirrels and the chipmunks disappeared a couple of months ago and they have not returned.

Monarch butterflies are on the move, headed south, gathering nectar for sustenance along the route from the last blooming rugosas, sedums, wild asters, and more. I’ve been watching them flutter by, mostly solitary but sometimes with one or two others, their purposeful migratory movements disguised by the way they seem to meander from plant to plant, so unlike hawk migrations. How do such ethereal creatures fly so far? How do they cope with cold nights and the increasing Fall winds?

Darkness arrives early and stays longer, its rapid increase from day to day quite apparent. Sunrise is more spectacular, if I can rise to it before daybreak when it is most vivid. Fall light is edged as the sun rises or sets, the angled light sharply defining rooftops, trees, grasses. Sometimes the light is strongly tinged pink or gold infusing everything it touches. The other evening traveling home as the sun was setting, the porch of a house, geraniums hanging in pots, rockers still in the coming evening, were bathed in strong rose colored light making the ordinary into a vivid, magical place if only for a few fleeting minutes, the whole scene glowing as if someone had pushed an alternate universe button.

I suppose it would help to keep the radio and the social media turned “off” in this time of wind-downs. The air waves are full of malaise, foul stories keep coming in a steady drumbeat, illustrating the lack of Humanity in the human nature of our beings. Fall brings hurricanes, damaging homes near or far, destruction and devastation. These magnificent, destructive, behemoths always felt powerful and dangerous but now, with Climate Change evidence abounding, our vulnerability feels enhanced. What will be destroyed next? What lovely palm-treed place of winter refuge, of tropic promise, will next be forever altered? Refugees, from storms or political upheaval, on the move everywhere. When might you or I be among their numbers?

It feels to me as if the Grifter mentality has spread like a plague, insatiable money hunger accompanied by power dreams, shoving us ordinary folk to the edges of forgotten and unimportant. The media pushes a constant supply of stories of cronies doing wrong and getting caught as the rest of us wonder how so many can gather more than their share of resources now becoming scarcer. So many of us do not care about the accumulations of wealth or power, preferring our lives to be filled with care and love of family, neighbors, friends, just getting by, content to notice what is beautiful in our lives–like sunsets and sunrises, and fleeting wings departing, while we steal off for one or two more moments of beach time., savoring every last moment before the oncoming cold.