For the first day of summer 2013: A taste of winter


I like to commemorate special days, and the first day of summer – today, by the calendar – is a special day.



I’ve lived in Rhode Island for almost thirty-five years, but I – a child of the cool foggy Pacific Northwest – still haven’t accustomed myself to the steamy uncomfortable summers here. I suffer (mostly in silence) for about two months, from late June to late August, while we fluctuate between hot / warm / humid / stormy / insufferable.



So here are some photos from last winter’s snow.



I hope you find them refreshing.



See you next January, when the world is cool and quiet again.














The face of winter

old man winter

Springtime is back in Providence, and – I don’t know – it never cheers me up. When spring comes, I almost always feel tired and lethargic. There’s a feeling of: Here we go again. And a feeling of: How many times do we have to do this?



Anyway, I have been a little fatigued lately, and it has affected my usual good looks. I took a glance into the mirror at the office the other day, and I gasped: I looked awful. My graying hair was standing up in all directions, and my complexion was pale, and I was hunched over like an invalid. My god, I thought. I’m Old Man Winter.



It’s awful, because I know inside that my spirit is still young. And then I look into the mirror and see a crouching horrible gargoyle looking back at me.



I just passed the age of fifty-five last year, and it made me thoughtful. Partner and I still have a few years together, I hope, before my bones begin to crumble into sawdust, or before the next asteroid hits.



We will stumble on together for a while, at least, in happiness. Every day together is a blessing.



I only hope Partner can endure seeing the face of Old Man Winter first thing every morning for a few years more.


New England winter

cherry trees in snow

Walking through the parking lot of my office the other day, I noticed that the management company has put up those tall orange sticks again, in the landscaping and along the edges of the sidewalks.

If you live in a temperate climate, you won’t know what those are for. If you live in a place where snow falls heavily, you’ll know that they’re meant for snowplow season.

The sticks are about three or four feet high, so that even if we get a whopper of a snowstorm, the sticks will still be visible above the snow, and the plows can avoid the curbs and the shrubs.

It took me well over twenty years to figure out what the orange sticks were for. The property managers put them in place well before the snow falls, usually, so you don’t really make the connection between stick and snow.

I grew up in a very temperate place: western Washington state. Winters there are dark and rainy and relatively warm, and snow falls only once in a while. We didn’t need orange sticks in our parking lots.

Does it bear repeating that the New England winters are getting less and less snowy, and more and more like those Northwest winters? Here we are in mid-December, when the weather in Rhode Island should be freezing every day, and it was – mm – damp and dark and rainy today. Just like those old rain-foresty temperate winters in western Washington.

Also, there are still those damned cherry trees that bloomed a few weeks ago. It’s been happening with regularity over the past few years: the blooming of those insane (or deluded) trees in mid-winter.

The world is changing, kids, Mayapocalypse or no Mayapocalypse.

There are those who assure us that, even if climate change is happening, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s a Northwest Passage! Saskatchewan and the Dakotas will be like Paradise!

And who needs Florida, or South Carolina, or the Maldive Islands, or cares if they’re swamped completely?

And who cares if the equatorial regions become uninhabitable? No one important lives there, right?

As I’ve said before: I have maybe twenty or thirty years left on earth, if I’m very lucky. I never dreamed I’d say something like this, but: I hope I don’t live to see the worst of it.

I’ve seen cherry trees blooming in New England in December.

That’s bad enough for me.

Northwest winter


You are sick of listening to me moan and groan about the unseasonal weather, and climate change, and all such hippie tree-hugger liberal talk, I know.  So I will zip my lip and say no more.



(Rhode Island has hardly had any snow this winter so far, by the way.  Our winter has been positively balmy.  I walked downtown with no coat – just a sweater – the other day.  The grass is still pretty springy and fresh in most places around Providence, and I’ve seen things blooming.  In January.)



(Oops.  Zip the lip.  Sorry.)



This winter reminds me of the typical Northwest winter: cool, cloudy, dark, often foggy and rainy.  It’s the kind of winter that engenders “cabin fever”: you stay inside with your loved ones, waiting for spring, until you just can’t stand them any longer, and then you get out the shotgun.



Dark foggy weather doesn’t frighten me.  I grew up in the Northwest.  It’s nothin’.  By April, we’ll be tearing off our winter underwear and dancing among the daffodils.  For now –



Well, but still.  You have to make it through the darkness.



A few years ago, Partner and I were driving through rural Oregon.  It was midsummer, and the hills were covered with beautiful firs and pines, and the sky was wonderfully blue.  “I could live here,” Partner said.



“Yeah,” I said.  “I’m picturing this in mid-December.  You wouldn’t even be able to see those hills, the fog would be so thick.  It’d get light around ten in the morning, and dark again by four in the afternoon.  From November through mid-February.”



Partner regarded me mildly.  He has only ever seen the Northwest in summertime, and I think he has only ever seen it rain there once, one day in Portland.  He doesn’t really believe me.



But oh yes it’s true.



(Oh, did I mention that it’s snowing in Egypt this winter?  Yeah.  Oh, and they’re having a huge and extremely unseasonal windstorm – with hundred-mile-an-hour winds – on the central Oregon coast.)






(Enjoy the future, kids.  It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.)


And suddenly it’s autumn


Partner is sick and tired of hearing me declare that, in Rhode Island, on August 15 (or thereabouts), we change to autumn.



Except that it’s always true.



I mean: I see his point.  Here it is almost two weeks later, and we’re sitting here sweltering with the air conditioners on, waiting for a hurricane to pass over in the next 48 hours.



But the August 15 thing never fails. Never. There’s a slight drop in the temperature and humidity, and a few drops of dew on the grass in the morning. And I hear the crickets, at morning and dusk. And the light is altogether different, for god’s sake! Duskier. More autumnal.



It’s a month after the solstice, so of course there’s bound to be a change. The evenings are definitely darker. No more twilight until nine o’clock; it’s dark, or almost, by eight o’clock now.



None too soon for me, kiddos. I hate the humid unsettled New England summer, all stormclouds and warm fronts. I long for the cool calm sunny weather of September and (better yet) October, which are easily New England’s best months.



But so many New Englanders are summer-worshippers! They hate the thunderstorms and humidity as much as I do, but they love summer. Just because.



Well, I don’t. It’s a pain. I hate sweating through my shirt. I hate looking out the window and seeing a bruise-colored sky. Or brassy angry one-hundred-degree sunshine. Or waiting for another bloody Atlantic hurricane to maybe-or-maybe-not come ashore.



I long for the beautiful colorful New England autumn, and the calm passage into winter.



New England winter itself is a bitch.



But we can talk about that a few months from now, after I’ve fractured my spine by slipping on an icy sidewalk.



Seed-catalog nirvana

It is the worst bit of winter now here in New England. January and February are not bright cheerful months hereabouts; they are a long slow death-slog through snow and cold and ice and mush.  Wednesday’s mini-blizzard dumped about fifteen inches of snow on us. Partner and I both had the day off – the university (wisely) closed preemptively the day before – so we stayed in the house, reading and napping and watching TV and baking. We ducked out for a while in the afternoon to shovel out the car, which took about ten minutes (thank god the building has a guy with a snowblower handy), but that was about it. Oh, and also, I took out the garbage, opened the dumpster, saw something big and furry scooting around, assumed it was a rat, shrieked, threw my garbage at it, realized (too late) that it was just Partner’s favorite neighborhood squirrel, and let the dumpster lid slam down right on the poor little nutmonkey’s kidney. He leapt straight up, landed on the Sno-Cat that was parked next to the dumpster, and disappeared.



I bet he really hates me now.



So it’s time for seed catalogs. I dug out the Gurney’s catalog yesterday evening and spent some time perusing the various fruits and vegetables and flowering plants. I love that they send these things for free. Man, you can just eat those colors! When you read these things, you always end up with huge visions of summertime – squash as big as a human head, ears of corn like torpedoes, tomatoes like volleyballs, a flower garden that looks like Middle-Earth on crack.



Unfortunately, all I have to work with is a concrete parking-lot and a very narrow windowsill.



Partner and I tilled a small plot in the local community garden for a few years. It was fun, but not very productive; everyone there was very competitive. One guy had gigantic steroid-enhanced tomato plants that looked like oak trees; that was the year of the Great Tomato Blight, though, so all the little yellow tomato blossoms dropped off before they set any fruit.



Tee hee.



You see? It turned me into a horrible person. Finally I quit doing it.



I mean, it’s silly to read a seed catalog if you don’t have a garden. It’s like reading a cookbook if you don’t have any food in the house. You’re just going to make yourself hungrier.



But it doesn’t seem to work that way. It’s more like buying a lottery ticket. Yeah, maybe you waste a buck, or a few minutes of your time, but you come away with a beautiful dream, and a smile on your face.



And now, in the dark days of January, with a predatory squirrel on the loose who thirsts for my blood, I can use all the beautiful dreams I can get.




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