weather


I have barely gotten used to the idea that the leaves on the trees are turning from green to yellow, haven’t even let myself take in the fact that they are going to, you know, FALL OFF the trees and then we’re going to be back in Stick Season again…and then, for no good reason at all, SNOW started pouring from the sky today.

Snow!

And not just a little bit of snow either. Not just snow as a nice decoration. This was BIG. Huge, fat flakes of snow—honestly the size of baseballs—blowing so hard through the air that they flew  sideways. They were mesmerizing, actually: the kind of snowfall that makes you feel you’re looking through a kaleidoscope of changing shapes, with pieces flying in from all over.

It would have been nice, if—hello!–it not been OCTOBER 18th! This is the time of year when a person is still strolling through apple orchards and bringing home a bushel of Macouns to make apple crisp. We’re still supposed to be picking the very last of the really great tomatoes off the vines. In fact, until last week, I was still going to the beach, and calling it nature’s hospital!

I take this kind of weather personally. I’m from Santa Barbara, a place where the weather knows how to behave year-round, where the earth doesn’t ever give you the sense that all of nature has gotten tired and is heading into darkness. In Santa Barbara, you just know that it could always be 72 perfect degrees outside…and that you yourself could stay young and firm with just a little bit of extra effort. It wouldn’t even be that hard, Santa Barbara whispers to you.

But of course that’s not true. Now that I live in the world of seasons, I have gotten used to the idea that things really do change, that life goes through cycles, that the light green of spring has to become the yellow of autumn, and then has to turn back again. You know, the dark and the light. The great circle of life.

Outside the sky is getting darker earlier every day, and the sunsets are brilliant crimson with huge purple streaks. Eight of the trees in our front yard are already bare, while the dogwood tree in the back yard has turned a lovely copper color and is dropping bright red seeds on the ground. The air smells crisp, the evenings are cool. Some nights lately we’ve made a fire in our fire pit, and sat outside looking at the stars, shoving our hands down into our pockets, pulling our hoods a little tighter.

Our lovely next door neighbor died after a summer of illness. My daughter’s college-age friend is battling cancer and has decided to forego further debilitating treatment now that her tumors have recurred. Another friend is in the hospital awaiting the results of tests. He sits in a room overlooking rooftops and tries to make sense of his symptoms.

I stand and watch the snow falling on the still-green leaves, coating the last great tomatoes.

And slowly, slowly I think I might know what the snow is trying to tell me: Pay attention. Hold onto the moments. Breathe deeply. Look around you. Learn to savor.

And try to remember where you put the mittens at the end of the season last year. 

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The sun is out, the grass is greening up, and little bright spots of purple and yellow crocuses dot the landscape.

It’s enough to make one believe once again in things like reliably warm breezes and tulips. Roses, even.

But here’s the thing: the peepers are still silent. And that means that at any moment the sun could go behind the clouds, and by morning there could be an entire foot of snow on the ground. Believe me: I’ve seen this happen.

Winter can’t be fully gone until the peepers declare it so. Peepers are little New England-y frogs who hang out in the little swamps and ditches at the sides of roads, and they sound like a combination of car alarm and horror movie soundtrack. If you were watching a movie with peepers making noises in it, you would just know that the murderer was IN THE HOUSE and about to jump out from behind the curtains and stab the woman who is innocently making a cup of tea, and you would get tense about it.

But for some reason, some great cosmic joke perhaps, these prehistoric-sounding things seem to be in charge of announcing that there is no longer any danger of ice and snow. Apparently it is the peepers who get the first memo from the earth that all that winter stuff is gone. People around here believe that once you have heard the peepers, you can safely put away the snow shovel and get out the garden hoe.

This brings to mind SO many questions.

WHY is it the peepers who are given this info, and not, say, the bobcats or the squirrels–or, hey, here’s an idea–how about the HUMAN BEINGS? Especially those who work at the National Weather Service. THEY might like to know when all danger of freezing is past.

And: do the peepers ever get it wrong? Has it ever happened that this ALL CLEAR memo is given to them by mistake? Or that the lead peeper misreads it and announces that it’s time to get out there and start peeping and three days later an unexpected nor’easter comes barreling through?

And if that ever were to happen, would that spell the end of peepers until next year…or maybe even forever? Would their soft amphibian little bodies turn to ice and then they wouldn’t be able to make new peepers? Is this something that we need to worry about?

I would miss their crazy soundtrack of spring, the way it feels to walk out onto the screened porch on an early spring night and hear them barking and croaking and calling out in what I imagine must be pure, unadulterated joy, SPRING IS HERE! THE WORLD HAS COME BACK TO LIFE!

It is, after all, their one job, and they can’t help it that they were given the voice of a police siren to accomplish it. They do what they can.

I’ve spent my whole life thinking I loved summer best…and now it turns out that I’m one of those autumn people. Who knew?

When I was growing up in Florida and Southern California, I didn’t make the true distinction between the seasons–not the way I do now, at least. There were some subtle differences, sure, between summer and fall and between spring and summer, true, but they were just that…subtle. You could ignore them if you wanted. 

Now that I live in Connecticut, I’ve noticed that the seasons tend to slam into each other with transitions that are anything but subtle.

Just now, though, we’ve been having weeks and weeks of glorious, clear weather–bright blue skies, slight breezes, temperatures in the 60s and 70s, day after day after day. You can wear all the odd combinations of clothes that you want to in weather like this: long sleeves and shorts. Sandals and sweaters. Scarves with tank tops.

Best, though, is that the chrysanthemums are in widespread bloom, and the pansies have recovered from their summer swoon and are once more dazzlingly fresh and cool. My purple petunias are sending optimistic vines all across the flower beds, twining themselves around the last of the black-eyed Susans, a little like drunks at closing time. Baby, let’s hook up, the end is upon us. You see the red leaves on that tree? You know what that means, don’t you?

I know all too well what the red leaves mean. A day will come, as it always does, around the middle of November, when I look up and realize that the late-summer, early-fall breeze has turned into a 35-mile per hour prevailing wind, and that it has taken the last of those red leaves with it, and the bright blue sky has turned a leaden gray, and I’m not so interested in wearing my tank top now with my scarf. I want a SWEATER, a woolen one yet, and now instead of going in to fix myself a glass of iced tea, I find myself thinking of firing up the tea kettle. And then I want the furnace on, even though when we first turn it on, it smells awful, like fried dust.

Meanwhile I’m trying to practice living in the moment, just be here with the nice days and not hear the howling wind that is going to come.

Maybe it’s me and not the petunias who are REALLY acting like the drunks at closing time.

(Just looked at the forecast and saw that it’s going to be 80 for the next few days. And humid. Maybe I’ll put away the scarves and the tea kettle and head for the beach.)  

Just the word “summer” has such promise to it, doesn’t it?

When I was a kid, there was no better season. Summer meant buying popsicles from the ice cream truck, and swimming in Mary Anne Westervelt’s built-in pool, and staying up late playing Scrabble and Monopoly, and long, long days at Jacksonville Beach, where we played in the surf for hours on end. It meant trips to the lake to stay with my grandmother, who made boiled peanuts and potato salad and fried chicken, and taught us to catch minnows off the dock, using bread dough as bait, and then let us stay up late in the one-room lake house (a shack over the water, really), watching Johnny Carson in the dark from our beds.

Back then, the word summer conjured up a whole world of tastes and smells and sensations.

I don’t remember when summer started to sound like trouble, when it came to represent bugs, oppressive heat, snakes in the garden, MORE BUGS, unpredictable thunderstorms, overgrown weeds, and sweaty sheets and mosquitoes (yes, bugs). When instead of eating watermelon on the screened porch, summer meant trying to find child care arrangements for my three kids who were out of school while I was needing to go to work. It meant extra traffic, overheated kitchens, humidity-wrecked hair, half-dead houseplants always needing water.

But I am hereby taking a stand against giving in to that kind of thinking. I am going to wring every last summery thing I can out of this season, see it the way I used to. This year I am going to pay attention.

Right now, for instance, I am in summer mode, both good and ill. I am sitting on the couch, sunburned from a foolish day spent at the beach yesterday. (I went to Rhode Island and got so carried away talking that I forgot to put on the sunscreen until it was already too late.) It’s nearly midnight, but I’m on summer hours so it still feels much earlier. (Funny how midnight in the wintertime finds you long in bed, buried under layers of blankets, and probably fast asleep for hours.) The June bugs have taken over the house, and every now and then one dive-bombs itself into my hair and has to be liberated. (What DO June bugs want, really?) An ant is walking next to me on the couch. The ceiling fan is whirling around above me, waving the cobwebs around in the corners. (Summer means more cobwebs, too.) Moths are flinging themselves against the screens, and the air outside is filled with the sounds of fireworks and motorcycles dopplering their way out of town. The dog is lying on the wood floor, panting so loudly that he’s drowning out the sound of the ceiling fan.

Yet tonight for supper we had fresh native tomatoes and corn on the cob from our favorite farm stand, potato salad I’d made a few days ago, and fresh sugar snap peas, and we ate out on the screened porch and watched the cardinals and the black-capped chickadees getting ready for night as the sun went down. This morning I ate fresh blueberries that were so sweet each one seemed like a present. Right now my back is tired from weeding the garden earlier today, during which time I was getting buzzed by insects and was afraid a garter snake was going to startle me under the next weed. But none did. I didn’t even get any bites from insects. I sweated out there in the sunshine, and my sunburned skin felt tight. When I look in the mirror now, the face that looks back at me is tanned and brown, and my hair has gotten bleached out, even straw-like, and all that in just a few hours. I can’t stand to wear anything but my khaki shorts and a tank top. I can tell it’s going to be my uniform for the rest of the summer.

But so what?

Tonight I’ll fall asleep to the whirring of the fan and the loud chirping of crickets outside. I’ll sleep just under my cotton sheet, and no doubt in the night, I’ll wake up and turn over to find a cool place in the sheet to put my feet. And tomorrow morning the birds will wake me up at about five, cackling and cawing and calling to each other outside the window, exuberant to find themselves in a whole new day.

It’s summer, after all.

I’ve been writing about my mom’s cancer for so many days–and thinking about this just about every single second, too–that it is a pleasure to remember that there’s a lot of other things going on in the world.

Global warming, for instance.

And crazy people.

Today my friend Nancy sent me the text of a letter that was printed in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, on April 16, 2007. As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up.

You may have noticed that March of this year was particularly hot. As a matter of fact, I understand that it was the hottest March since the beginning of the last century. The trees were fully leafed out and legions of bugs and snakes were crawling around during a time in Arkansas, when, on a normal year, we might see a snowflake or two.

This should come as no surprise to any reasonable person. As you know, Daylight Saving Time started almost a month early this year. You would think that members of Congress would have considered the warming effect that an extra hour of daylight would have on our climate. Or did they?

Perhaps this is another plot by a liberal Congress to make us believe that global warming is a real threat. Perhaps next time there should be serious studies performed before Congress passes laws with such far-reaching effects.

 

 

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I know it’s spring because that yellow stuff that you see in the background is the forsythia that usually blooms in early April, but is just now getting around to it. Today, in fact. Yesterday the whole back yard looked like a crop of sticks growing out of mud–but today there’s a cloudy mass of yellow that can only mean one thing: someday other things might be encouraged to bloom, too.

And–well, that diagonal line through the center of the picture of our woods is a giant old maple tree that decided to fall down in last week’s nor’easter, narrowly missing a shed that can’t be seen in the picture. Instead, it landed softly on top of another tree, which appears to be cradling it sympathetically, just like an old friend.

Also, what better sign of spring (or summer) than that it got to be 80 degrees here today, or so says the weatherbug? The populace naturally went mad, baring skin and trading last week’s boots for flipflops, cars for motorcycles. I even took my trusty old laptop out on the screened porch and wrote for hours, listening to the sounds of birds and insects, and of course the ringing of the axe as my husband worked on breaking up the tree trunk before it really does slide off the other tree and do some damage.

 In another month those woods get so filled in with leaves that they’re deep and shadowy and cool, but for now they look sort of exposed and naked.

Tomorrow I start a week-long visit with The Writer’s Life Author Talk Groups, which can be found at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/TWLAuthorTalks/. I am looking forward to this so much! Other writers and readers can ask me questions, and I get to think up answers. I’m awed and humbled by the knowledge that the previous authors on there have about publishing–but I’ll try to hold up my end. Be gentle with me, if you go over there and think up questions.

It’s spring, after all.

 

 

Where I was raised, April was considered one of the summer months. For my April birthday each year, I received bathing suits and flip flops; my birthday parties were held at the beach, and if you didn’t have your hair in a ponytail you would get so hot from hair on your neck that you would very nearly come close to experiencing internal combustion.

But then I moved to New England as an adult, of my own free will, and came face to face with the fact that April is one of the most indecisive and maddening months that you are going to find in a calendar. It is really a whole month that asks waaaay too much of people: patience and gratitude for such measly small things, like the petal of one yellow crocus poking through a pile of brown leaves so frozen you could stub your toe on it.

I don’t have that kind of patience. I didn’t get the gene for weather gratitude. After five long months of cold weather, I feel I am owed some sunshine and some green grass, at the very least. I need an end to what my friend Diane calls “stick season.” Never mind being grateful for the fact that it is no longer threatening to snow every single day, just on occasion now–I NEED LEAVES.

But this year I have noticed something has changed for me. Last night my husband and I were driving along after dark, and there came that noise that either means you have stumbled into the soundtrack of a science fiction movie, or else…the peepers are out. I grabbed his cell phone and started calling friends up to report the news, while he stared at me in disbelief.

“THE PEEPERS ARE HERE! THE PEEPERS ARE HERE!”

Peepers turn out to be little frogs that nobody ever sees because they only come out at night, and it is hard to describe the sound that peepers make if you haven’t ever heard it. It isn’t a peeping, exactly, or even a croaking. No noise you would ever ascribe to frogginess. It sounds almost ominous, like anxious chirrrrping–loud and off-key. A bunch of crickets out on a rampage, perhaps–with some horror movie suspense music thrown in. You expect to see Alfred Hitchcock stepping out from behind a tree. 

But when you have about had it with the fact that the grass everywhere you look is the color of hay, and that there is still a pile of stubborn brown speckled ice near the mailbox, the sound of the peepers can make you want to drop and kiss the ground.

Because–this is very important–my friend Karen told me that PEEPERS WILL NOT COME OUT UNTIL THERE IS NO MORE CHANCE OF FROST.

Peepers know. They are not dumb, nor are they suicidal. And if they have ventured out of hybernation, winter is done for. You can take that to the bank, Karen said.

Sure enough, by this afternoon, it was 50 degrees and the yard was already beginning to turn just the lightest shade of green. You had to look hard to see it, but I noticed it was definitely greener than it had been the day before. Buds are coming out on some of the sticks growing here and there. The forsythia has little yellow bits of promise on it.

Okay, so it’s MONTHS until bathing suits and flip flops…but today, just seeing the little bits of green and knowing that it won’t freeze again, I thought for a fleeting moment that this may be the first year I can be patient through the changes. Maybe, with the peepers’ reassurance, I can wait this month out without stomping around and wanting to throw things. I’m willing this year to try…

But the weather report I just listened to predicted snow for the end of the week. So here’s what I need to now know: Take a good look at that guy in the picture. Can he and five billion of his friends possibly be wrong about spring? 

Somehow I didn’t get the memo about winter coming back. This nor’easter caught me completely by surprise, especially since we’d been having what you might have to call the first stirrings of spring. Until now, that is. Spring has been run right out of town, in favor of 24 hours of snow and sleet and ice and freezing rain, with more on the way.

But this is good for people who aren’t supposed to be outside anyway. We can put a pot of tea on, light the candles, and write.

Today I found this on Distraction No. 99, and I decided I’d like to play, too.

Turn to page 123 in your work-in-progress. (If you haven’t gotten to page 123 yet, then turn to page 23. If you haven’t gotten there yet, then get busy and write page 23.) Count down four sentences and then instead of just the fifth sentence, give us the whole paragraph.

So here goes: Page 123 of my novel, the paragraph with the fifth sentence in it. (I’d love to see everybody’s page 123!)

He thought about it for a moment, and she could see, in that transparent way of children, how he was working hard to pull himself together. He knew now that she couldn’t save him, that she was useless—even worse than useless. She was somebody that he had to work to save, to allow her her little delusions that things were going to be all right. She saw it in his eyes, that he had resolutely decided to go along with the cheerful tone. He kept hold of her thumb and ran his hand in circles around it, just like where a ring would go. Then he swallowed—that swallow nearly killed her—and said in the bravest voice he had, “Well, are you going to stay here with me until I have to go on the airplane?”

Want to see some other page 123’s? There are a lot of sites doing this, and they’re all wonderful. Visit Counterbalance and Loud Solitude

and Edward Champion.

I’ve always felt there’s a reason they don’t let February have as many days as other months. It  misbehaves so badly that we just have to get through it as quickly as possible, and get on with March, when at least there are daffodils.

We have had a February of crises, both minor and major, involving all the deep inevitabilities of life: death, taxes, water, wind, ice, blood and fire. It has been a little like being in an epic movie. There was a point when my husband looked over at me and said, “We’ve had so many bad things lately that we think we’re having a good day when there are only one or two horrible things that happen.”

February, I said to him. It’s like this every year.

But–dare I say this?–life has momentarily stopped throwing hardballs at us. The heater is fixed, the toilet works again, the taxes are done, the driveway ice has been chipped away, and the dog’s bloody paw has healed.

We even have water again in our well, which is lovely–it only occasionally now throws a whole handful of sediment into our bathtub, and, frankly, we’re learning to appreciate the exfoliating properties of gravel, which are often overlooked. Our skin is going to be so soft come springtime.

I do have to say, though, as nice as it is to take a bath at home, it was sort of companionly and fun going to friends’ houses to shower. How often, after all, do you get to go visit people before they leave for work in the morning? You really get to appreciate how organized your friends are when you see them first thing in the morning. I find morning mostly to be the time of day when I am at my most harried and forgetful, but I have vowed to turn over a new leaf. I have learned this week that there are people who do not every day run out of the door sloshing their tea all over themselves, then running back because they can’t find their keys, or they just remembered they need to get a phone number off the caller ID, or they realized their shoes don’t match.

I’ve actually seen people leave for work who have not only eaten breakfast, but they’ve done the breakfast dishes, swept the floor, done a load of laundry–and I can’t be sure of this, but I do believe they’d even put out food to thaw for dinner.  

Anyway, February is on the run. Yesterday ice stopped falling from the sky, and the sun came out. My editor called to say that the paperback of A Piece of Normal has been selected by Target as one of their Bookmarked books and will appear in a special rack in the store. A website for working moms, called Work It, linked to my blog, which made me so happy because their stuff is so funny and so necessary out there in the world. And my blogosphere friend, BlogLily, is well again and has even learned how to do a podcast, in which she reads a wonderful Billy Collins poem and her child sings a song about elephants in French. And oh yes–she recommended my book! I was over the moon.

And–I’ve gone back to work on my novel, in earnest now–my characters understand that there is to be no more fooling around and no more procrastination…and well, spring is going to be great.

Okay, this has to be quick because it’s about 20 degrees in this house while I’m typing this, and my fingers are going to stop moving soon. The furnace thinks it is time for everybody to be in bed and so it has given up heating the house anymore. I would think that maybe it’s broken, except that things happened today that let me know that we’re not in that life anymore. Our luck has officially changed.

Yesterday I wrote about our well giving up, and my many troubles and phone calls and the pitiful begging I did, trying to find someone to help, but only hearing person after person tell me it was: (a) going to be more expensive to fix than the war in Iraq, (b) probably impossible to dig into the frozen ground, and (c) nobody would ever be able to find the well anyway, since the “site map” we had been given by the town looked as if it had been drawn on the back of a cocktail napkin by a couple of drunks after last call.

Naturally I woke up today feeling dread.

But then the optimistic man with the backhoe came over, walked the property, shook his head over the fact that there were no visible outward clues of where a well might be, and then said, “Well, I’ll need to get a dowser. See you later!”

I believe my exact words were, “Oh. My. God.”

If you google the word “dowser,” you will see nothing good. Dowsing–also known as “water witching,” has been discredited since the 3rd century, I believe. People through the centuries have been jailed for dowsing. My friend Nancy said her crazy Tennesee relatives used to do it with sticks from the blooming fruit trees–and no one ever figured out how.

So I didn’t hold out a lot of hope. I pictured my entire one-acre yard being turned into a compost heap, frankly.

But, sure enough, an hour later, he was back with a couple who got out of their truck, walked around the property holding some weird sticks–and one minute later, they were back in the truck, and I was running out to the driveway to see what had taken place.

“What do you mean? She found the well,” the backhoe man said, pointing to a woman who looked a little bit like she had walked over from some mountain community early this morning. She just nodded.

“So I’ll be back to dig up the yard in a bit,” he said.

I had to leave home to go do an interview for a story, but when I got back a few hours later–there was a big hole in the yard, and by God, there was a well in that hole! I was stunned.

It’s not where you’d think a person would put a well either. For one thing, it’s about four inches from an addition that was put on this house before we moved in. And it’s huge. And far away from the pipe that leads to the well pump.

No one in their right mind could have anticipated the well would be there.

So tomorrow, other men will come and pull out whatever has gone bad in this well and put in a newer, shinier whatever-it-is, and this time tomorrow, I will be all new and shiny myself. Clean, even.

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