#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.