# 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.

 

#56 The August Flip

The August Flip.

Sometime, usually by the second week of August, New England has a weather shift signaling that colder air is coming to replace summer’s warmth and ease. Most people I’ve met greet this “flip” with joy. Tired as they are with the heat and humidity, with gleeful anticipation they welcome the feel of crisp, cooler air with its hints of sweaters and cider. 

I am not one of those people. Chronically cold, summer is the only time I have with minimal shivering. Cold equals pain in aging bodies where arthritis has taken residence. I experience “the flip” with dread.

Flips can be fairly benign like the one just felt or they can come like the summer travel day from New Hampshire to Vermont I experienced a number of years ago when I was still tent camping. It was 98 degrees in North Conway  mid-afternoon and my driver’s side window wouldn’t open so I drove to my Vermont destination in the swelter. I set up camp at the state park in Island Pond and finished just before a huge storm appeared on the horizon. The tent was under particularly large trees. I buttoned things up and drove, somewhat terrified, into town, parking in the lee of the IGA to ride out the onslaught. No trees there. It was a ferocious storm with strong winds and even some hail. By the time I returned to the campsite my usually tight as-a- drum tent had water inside on one end with just room enough to escape sleeping in a puddle. I climbed into my sleeping bag and got through the night waking to a 40 degree morning a bit wet and shivering. Now THAT was a flip.

#54 High Summer

High Summer.

Have you ever noticed that the season of our birth seems to creates in us a preference for that season? I’ve held this idea for a long time. Being a child born in the height of summer I relish this time of the year. I love warm nights and soft breezes, the kind that don’t require sweaters. 

I have lived in cold places and in each of these places I have craved the warmth of summer the entire year. This was strongest in the years spent in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom and now here in Maine. High summer days astound me with their sparkle and feeling of abundance. The progression of fruits alone are enough to produce (pun intended) abundant indulgence; strawberries, cherries, raspberries, peaches and nectarines feel like health elixirs, the warmth of the sun still radiating from their juices. Nothing from a freezer’s depths can reproduce that fresh fruit joy.

Another particular joy includes summer storms, the boom and rumbling of thunder, the majesty of black clouds and flashes of light most often appearing on hot, muggy days. Such abrupt weather, sometimes violent, brings us an alive awareness with perhaps a touch of fear. And with luck there are rainbows.

“Swelter”, that overwhelming blanket of heat and humidity, is not as much a trait of summer in far northern climes but that duo arrives even here a few days each year. When the air is thick and the temperatures are hot it feels as if gravity has somehow increased. Summer feels less gentle in the more southern latitudes where’ve I’ve lived. The more southerly locations often had more frequent and more violent storms and oppressive stagnant air that preceeds them, but up north the windows are open to the sounds of birds and the breezes blowing through the house. Each day feels precious, like a lineup of jewels one after another.  There are so very few days of warmth in a year’s progression this far north that even sharing it with the pesky bugs seems worth it.

#50 The Prognosticator

The Prognosticator.

A friend passed along a forecasting tool designed to illustrate future sea level changes in coastal United States. It is a quite interesting interactive map worthy of exploration time. While there is good science behind its making, I don’t think changes that are forthcoming will work out exactly as this tool suggests, even though I think the visualizations that the tool provides may help.

I’ve only been living next to the wild ocean for two and a half years yet in that short expanse of time we’ve had a few storms that suggest to me that predicted changes will not come in an orderly or predictable manner.  It’s my observation that there have been a few storms in my time here that hint of what kind of weather and climate changes might be in store. An October storm produced 70 mph winds out of the SSE, an unusual direction for such ferocity. This storm took down massive trees–oaks and maples–which had withstood many years of storms. My thoughts were that these trees had adapted their defense mechanisms of root and limb growth to the nor’easters and to the prevailing westerly winds of the Northeast. What took these trees down, it seemed to me, was that the fierce winds of the October storm came from a direction that did not normally produce a threat and those strong old trees were not prepared so they went down. It took six days to clear the roads of power lines and debris of tree bodies and parts-of-tree bodies that were everywhere.

A year ago in March New England and many parts of the Northeast experienced four nor’easters on a row. One of them was a particularly nasty storm but I think it was the collective power of storm after storm which did the real damage, both physically and psychologically. As some experts forecast, it is the ferocity of weather which is amping up at the same time  becoming more erratic. As I played with the variations possible with this online coastline change predictor, I visualized storm damage that could alter how we feel about our beloved landscapes, turning what is familiar into an alien landscapes. Places which have been denuded of trees, by fire or tornados for example, alter these landscapes with changes that will last for years or even forever. Such drastic alterations change our personal relationships to the land. Communities are re-formed with loss a constant theme for both those who go and those who stay.

Humans continue to build housing along our shorelines as close to the water as they can, which is understandable considering how many of us are pulled toward water and especially oceans. If the magnitude of destructive storms and resulting financial loss ramps up it it is possible that our what has been our deep attraction may evolve into fear. What happens when places we thought of as  safe havens become highly dangerous?  What happens to us after we experience the imaginable? Think Hurricane Sandy and NY/NJ. Think Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico. Think Paradise, CA.

Let me pile on one with another one of  my possibly hair-brained theories, this one particularly anecdotal. Many years ago when living in Northeastern Vermont, I noticed there seemed to be to be a correlation between fierce weather (particularly in the form of wild winter snowstorms) and surges of psychologically/emotionally negative outbursts among friends and family. One winter in particular seemed filled with extremes on both weather and psychological fronts and I felt there was a link between the internal and external storms. Did emotional and physical climates mirror each other? Correlation? Causation? There is zero science here but if my long ago observation has any validity, the  current pitched emotional climate in this country (and in the world) might mean that we could be in for a truly rough and unprecedented ride in our coming weather conditions, thus confirming the worst of our climate change fears.

Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding Predictor:

https://coast.noaa.gov/slr/#/layer/slr/2/-12212072.495643146/1663119.5452652262/4/satellite/none/0.8/2050/interHigh/midAccretion

#44 Sun Kind of Wonderful

Sun Kind of Wonderful.

Spring on this northern coast is a long, tough haul that tears at my spirit and vexes my body, both desperate for sunlight and warmth. Inland the brown earth warms but in northern coastal latitudes such as Maine’s the vast cold ocean warms more slowly than land. Where contrasting temperatures-land versus water-are greatest-fog rolls in day after endless day. Getting through winter seems easier than slogging through March, April, May, June. 

Every February I fall for my false internal dialogue telling me warmth is coming in a land where spring is (literally) painful or as someone said to me: “…non-existent. We don’t have spring in Maine.”  Elsewhere, temperatures rise, flowers bloom, trees burst out in leaves, but out beside the cold ocean the gray clouds hang in clumps. There are endless days and nights of pounding surf and days of longing for sunlight on bare skin. Mysteriously, brown grass eventually turn green, flowering things bloom, trees get leaves but all of this happens without much warming. When the temperature hits 60 people in shorts and tank tops pop up like human tulips. I get it, 60 degrees means it’s summer. 

Let me grumble. I wasn’t raised in this climate and I brought my memories and expectations of orchards in bloom and soft spring warmth with me when I moved here. Getting through spring’s four months, my former favorite months of the year, is anything but easy. Then again, when the swelter hits farther south, when there is barely breath to be found in the heat and humidity, I’ll be reaching for a sweatshirt as the mid-day tide rolls in, nature’s air conditioning bringing incredibly refreshing air. The ocean cools as slowly as it warms and that blessed warmth lasts late into Fall.

It’s just getting through spring that’s the hard part.

# 42 Evidence

Evidence.

Mornings after a storm can offer yet another layer of beauty. The dark cloud bank is receding, moving east over the water, the lines of breaking clouds allowing sun through forming scattered shimmering patches of water.

This morning’s delight is the evidence of shoals, whose locations are marked by breaking white waves far out on the water, waves as white highlighters marking where the underlying seabed rises. Large waves break over these shallows but only when the tide is just right, the moving ebb or flow changing the volume of water over the sea bed lying closer to the surface.

Such large breaking waves, standing out so clearly from the rest of the rolling gray mass, may only be evident in terms of minutes, because tides are constantly moving and the wave break has to be just right. The breaking white lines dance there, not there, then back again, then gone.

The gray sea close to shore is bringing occasional breakers showing off shinning iridescent greens as the waves collapse. Up and down, sound and sight, in irregular rhythms as the biggest waves crash fiercely onto prominent rock outcroppings. The vibrations of the crash shake the house built on the same rock ledge.

It is a morning filled with light, color, and sound with fleeting glimpses of fury. A reason to be up early,

 

Wikipedia entry for “Shoal”:  

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oceanography 

Wikipedia: Wave Shoaling:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wave_shoaling

#37 Astronomical High Tide

Astronomical High Tide.

The first questions to ask:  How big is the passing storm system?  What is its timing in relationship to the full moon?

Follow with: Checking the National Weather Service / NOAA forecasting website which provides detailed information on predicted wind direction and speed (in knots), and sea heights.

Followed by: Tide/Tidal search for the closest coastal near your location. (a few miles of coast line can make a difference) giving high/low tide times.

To complete the picture: The National Data Center Buoy App, real time measurements from instruments on that buoy you can see from shore giving exact wind speed and direction, wave height, wave  frequency and more.

Living on the edge of open ocean the dangers are obvious.  But the loveliness of marsh, the serene grasses and placid waters, can become swollen masses altering contours of wildlife refuges, tidal rivers, house distances from rising waters along marsh roadways. Serious business all.

Mostly, day-to-day life goes on. But ears or eyes stay alert for two phrases in proximity: “Astronomical High Tide” and the dreaded “Nor’easter”.

Together they scream “Watch Out!”. That’s when specific information becomes critical.

Note. For more information on astronomical high tides: https://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/restles4.html

# 35 Orange Is the New Black

Orange Is the New Black.

The moon is one orange segment, tipped, hanging so low in the sky it looks like an exclusive lantern hanging above the lone fishing boat whose presence is known only by its lights of the exact same hue out on black water at 3 a.m.

Orange, the fruit readily available in winter so useful for providing the vitamin much needed by the body in the non-growing months in cold climates.

Orange, the political symbol of troubled times and sharp divisions.

Orange, the color streaking horizontally across the sky at dawn.

Winter has gotten to me. A day and evening of a thirty degree downpour has been followed by day after day of bitter cold. Demon winds sent flying anything not firmly tied down, driving the cold past shingles and through bones. Snow, which has fallen so deeply inland, is mostly present as discarded lumps of ice and concrete-hard mounds formed from plowing.

Longing for warmth and release from layers of fleece, wool, down, my skin itches then aches, craving sunlight and air and moisture. Spirits sink along with the downward diving digits on the thermometer.

What comes from long winter days and longer nights, when brief orange flashes stand in for day long yellow blooms and growing green and the blue skies of spring?

#28 Storm’s Coming

 

Storm’s Coming.

What did it feel like as a storm arrived in times before advanced weather forecasting? As the wind howled and the snow started to pile up against buildings the ferocity and duration of the storm would have been unknown. Did the folk knowledge of the times give them accurate indicators of what was coming? How long a storm would last? How fierce it would be? How did they read the signs and how did they prepare for what was coming?

Thinking about weather seems to be a primary human concern.
In modern life I think there may have been times or places where inhabitants of say, San Diego, felt they were living in a weather paradise but I doubt that now there are many—any—such places remaining without at least cyclical weather concerns. Drought, fires, mudslides, flooding affects all and now the Golden State itself is a prime weather worry.

New Englanders historically prided themselves in how they faced the tough and varied weather conditions of their region. I think of this as mostly winter centered but those on the coast had to deal with storms that raged in all seasons. I wonder about about Florida or Texas for example, and if they had their own folklore centering on hurricane or tropical storm survival that they told about themselves. 

There are occupational categories where weather is a primary determinant of success or failure; farmers, so dependent on the abundance or lack of water, or fishermen dependent on being able to get out in their boats are two obvious examples.

I find myself wondering about our regional and collective histories regarding weather. The stories of the Dust Bowl era may be experienced most intensely through the stories written about them, think Grapes Of Wrath. A lesser known book, Issac’s Storm by Erik Larson, tells of the 1908 Hurricane that hit Galveston at a time before much was known about the formation and patterns of such storms. Weather has come a long way. While technology has developed as a highly accurate predictor we are as far away as ever in terms of controlling it. I believe humans thought they would someday be able to do that but as climate change awareness spreads the magnitude of weather systems counter such thoughts Fire has become huge and not just in California and the American West. Hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods in various singularities and combinations are gaining strength and dominance. Each of us, whatever our environs, need to pay total attention to weather conditions at least some of the time.  

A storm is coming. Even if I hadn’t heard this news on the media, my body felt the air pressure change, the odd oppressive feel of it, alerting me. Such awareness has always been a part of animal life. Grocery store behaviors begin to intensify as soon as a major storm is predicted and, if you are an adrenaline junkie, you can go take part in the frenetic feel of crowded stores and emptying shelves in the few days leading up to what’s coming. I thought of this today feeling and hearing this energy in Trader Joe’s while I also thought that the stuff being taking to checkout may well be endangered if the power goes down. We often don’t incorporate that factor and for many it feels unnecessary as they also stock up on generator fuel. Just how prepared we can get depends on the size and duration of the storm, think Hurricane Katrina or Maria. We are reaching back and at the same time, ahead, to places and times when the unknown of storms was predominant. Back to the Future.