How’s the weather

Fruity snowman

One of the things that sometimes surprises folks who live outside New England is how quickly we dig out from snowstorms here. My mom in Ohio, for instance, will sometimes ask whether we’re still snowed in a week or so after a New England storm that’s grabbed national headlines, and she doesn’t seem to believe me when I insist that even after we’ve gotten a foot or so of snow, life in the greater Boston area typically returns to “winter normal” within a day.

Snowy patio

We got about a foot of dense, heavy snow in our latest storm, and although yesterday was a snow day for local schools, by afternoon, the roads were plowed and J had cleared our sidewalks and driveway. I don’t teach face-to-face classes on Wednesdays, so yesterday was a stay-at-home grading day for me, and the only time I ventured outside was in the morning, before much snow had accumulated, and in the evening, when I shoveled a patch of snow inside the entrance to our backyard dog pen so the dogs wouldn’t face a wall of snow when I opened the gate. By this morning, everything was back to normal, the dogs eagerly clambering into their snowy pen and the main roads being clear down to the pavement. Being “snowed in” for a day is pretty much all we allow ourselves here in New England, with everyone returning to work and their usual routines the morning after.

Snowy seats

I don’t know if there’s a meteorological basis for this, but it’s often brilliantly sunny the day after a snowstorm. This means you’ll be rewarded if you dig out quickly, as today’s sunshine will finish the work you started yesterday. After every snowfall, you’ll see an occasional “Masshole” driving with a foot of snow atop his vehicle, but anyone who isn’t either new to New England or a jerk knows not to inflict their roof-snow on the hapless driver stuck in traffic behind them. If you clear most of the snow from your car, sidewalks, and driveway the afternoon after a snowstorm, the next day those surfaces will be baked bare by the sun, even if it’s an otherwise cold day. But if you let snow accumulate from one snowstorm to the next, heaven help you when you do try to dig yourself out.

Snow topped

This morning I had to scrape about an inch of overnight ice and snow from my car before beginning my morning commute, and when I arrived on campus, I parked in a spot I knew would be sunny in the afternoon. When I return to my car tonight, I won’t have to clean it, and it will be ready for the weekend, when the forecast calls for yet another storm. Here in New England, we don’t take long to dig out from snowstorms because we know the next layer of winter precipitation is never far around the corner.

New England Aquarium

Last semester I taught a student from a tropical climate who asked on our first 20-degree day whether the weather in New England would get any worse. “Oh, yes,” I replied, to my student’s immediate and obvious dismay. “There will be single-digit and below-zero days when 20 degrees feels warm.”

New England Aquarium

I don’t know how that student from a tropical climate is doing now that we’ve entered the frigid days of late January. When I drove to campus this morning, the temperature was in the single-digits, and my brief walk from car to classroom was razor-sharp, the wind cutting through me rather than blowing around. On some days, it’s so cold you can barely catch your breath, the cold knocking the wind out of your lungs like a fist to the chest, and this morning was one of those days.

New England Aquarium

This afternoon, I waited until the temperature rose to 20 degrees to take a short afternoon walk, and even then I only dared to walk around the block, nearly counting the steps back to my warm office. On a cold, brilliantly bright day, it almost hurts to look at the sharply monochromatic landscape, the streets and sidewalks blanched with salt and the snow lacerated with exaggeratedly contrasting shadows. On a cold and brilliantly bright day, everything seems too sharp, and you long for the warmth of bright color and the solace of softly blurred edges.

New England Aquarium

What an excellent opportunity, then, to revisit some of the photos I took when J and I went to the Aquarium on a November day that felt just as bleak and cold as today. “Can New England winters get any worse than this,” I might have wondered then, and my immediate and dismaying response must have been “Yes, they can, and that is why you should take plenty of pictures, saving up shots of warmth and color for a frigid late January day to come.”

The forecast said rain

Today is the first day of spring semester at Framingham State, and we have a snowstorm predicted for this afternoon and evening, with potentially a half foot of snow arriving by tomorrow. That’s how the so-called “spring semester” works in New England: you start in snow, then you end in spring. In between you navigate the bitterly cold days of January, the interminable month of February, and the spring-fever of March, when every ounce of your being longs for sandal-season. When April, May, and the end of the semester come, you feel like you’ve earned every last moment of warmth and light.

The forecast said rain

Whereas fall semester starts when New England is at her prettiest, spring semester begins in the dreary, dismal days of midwinter, when everything already feels worn and tired. Both the semester and the year are new, but everything else feels like a trudging slog. It’s easy in September to get your fresh-faced students excited about new ideas and new beginnings: everyone has new outfits, new school supplies, and a new resolve, and simply stepping outside into the brisk autumnal air is refreshing and invigorating. Serving up the same inspiration and energy on a cold and dreary midwinter day is much more challenging.

The forecast said rain

On Saturday morning, before the first fat snowflakes of what had been forecast as rain began to fall, I went into our front yard to look for snowdrops. Last week was unseasonably warm, and I’d heard rumors that snowdrops were blooming early elsewhere…and indeed, there were a few grayish-green shoots poking out of the earth beneath our eaves: the first hint of (eventual) spring flowers. Now, of course, those tentative sprouts are buried under snow and more snow: it will be a while, it seems, before our snowdrops emerge from the snowdrifts and bloom in sun. What starts in snow needs to continue in snow for a few months more.

Leaf bags and snow flurries

…you can shoot a single photo showing snow flurries (which appear here as blurry white streaks) falling on a curbside arrangement of brimming-full leaf bags.

Reddened hydrangea leaves

Late November is a challenging time for photographers. Most of the leaves have fallen and been bagged, leaving both the trees and ground bare. Most of the color has drained from the landscape, and there isn’t yet any snow to brighten the scene. The sun is well on its way toward setting in the late afternoon, leaving us to contemplate long, cold nights.

Although I usually rail against Christmas displays that appear before Thanksgiving, in the darkening days of November, I make an exception for Christmas lights. When the days are gray and the nights are long, any source of extra light is appreciated, especially if it is accompanied by a spirit of festive good cheer.

This is my Day 26 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

As above, so below

Today has been unseasonably warm and humid, a day that seems almost eerily out of step with the natural order of things. Many of the remaining leaves came down in last night’s wind and rain, which means the ground is carpeted with a fresh layer of leaves that are nearly as colorful as those still clinging to the trees: as above, so below.

This is my Day 18 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Autumn berries and leaves

The sun has been playing hide-and-seek all day, occasionally appearing with gold-gleaming splendor, then retreating behind a stern brow of cloud.

Autumn berries and leaves

Earlier this afternoon when the neighborhood was bright and glowing, J and I set out to walk to lunch, and by the time we’d reached the end of our street, the day had slipped into an ominous gloom. There was a pelting of raindrops and a scatter of sleet before the sun reappeared as if nothing had happened. In “now what” November, you can expect any sort of meteorological mood swing, and that’s exactly what you’ll get.

This is my Day 8 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Fountain and Story Chapel

This past week has been blistering hot in New England, with a string of 90-degree days. Although I don’t mind walking in rain, snow, or freezing cold, hot and humid days sap both my energy and resolve. Although my spirit longs to be walking, my body craves coolness, so I tend to lie low during heat waves, spending too much time inside, all but imprisoned in the two rooms where we have window air conditioners: a self-imposed exile.

Beloved daughter Maria

On Wednesday evening, however, I ventured out in search of shade, meeting a friend at Mount Auburn Cemetery for a sketch-stroll. Sketching is a slow, sedentary activity that works well on hot days, at least once you’ve found a shady spot with a breeze. In a woodsy cemetery like Mount Auburn, there are plenty of trees and quiet, secluded nooks where you can sit and serenely sweat. With no hurry to be much of anywhere, you can walk slowly, staring at stones and eschewing sunny spots. With nothing but a pencil, sketchbook, and random snippets of quiet conversation to entertain you, you can slow and sooth your heat-addled senses.

Celtic cross

After sitting for about an hour with our sketchbooks, my friend and I headed back to the cemetery gate, walking slowly. I had left a bottle of water in my car, but I knew it would be hot by the time we got there, so when one of Mount Auburn’s security guards drove by in his truck and offered ice-cold bottles of spring water—leftover refreshments from an early evening tree walk—I was happy to accept. At the still-hot end of a sweltering day, the only thing more refreshing than sitting a spell in the shade is gulping down a bottle of ice-cold goodness.

Click here for a photo-set from Wednesday’s cemetery stroll, including snapshots of the three sketches I made. Enjoy!

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