How’s the weather


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!

Peony-to-be

Every April-into-May while I’m preoccupied with the long, uphill push that invariably marks the end of the semester, something sly and subtle happens. While I’m busy with paper-piles and end-term grading, Spring somehow slips into Summer.

Honeysuckle - April 12 / Day 132

I know that the summer solstice doesn’t come until June, but I’m never fooled by what the calendar says. Something has shifted in the last week or so, with spring-green leaves ripening into a darker summer hue. The nights are warm rather than chilly now, and we sleep with the windows open. Already the leaves on our backyard hostas are tattered where rabbits have nibbled them, and our backyard tulips have dropped their petals, spent.

Wisteria

Already, in an instant, the neighborhood wisteria are hanging heavy with an abundance of blossoms, and the year no longer feels like a coil that is tightly wound, ready to spring. Instead, the season has sprung, and only a ripening of days stands between us and the fullness of summer: a transition so subtle, you’ll miss it if you blink.

Flowering magnolia

Once spring decides to arrive in New England, it often does so in a dramatic fashion. Yesterday afternoon was warm and sunny, and today is even lovelier, with temperatures in the 70s and plenty of sun. Yesterday was Opening Day at Fenway Park, and at home we celebrated the occasion by opening our bedroom windows for the first time this year, thereby giving our indoor cats their first sniff of fresh air in months. It’s an annual ritual that’s felt long overdue.

Magnolia blossoms

Every spring always features a welcome series of firsts. Yesterday was the first time I wore sandals and capris, for instance, and today is the first time I wore flats rather than knee-high boots to campus. It’s funny how a simple change in shoes is enough to buoy your spirits: after spending months lumbering around in boots and a bulky coat, my body feels significantly lighter and more energetic in sandals and shirtsleeves.

Fuzzy flowers

The landscape itself seems lighter and more joyful, a proverbial spring in its step. At Framingham State, the magnolia behind Hemenway Hall is blooming, along with pussy willows and another kind of fuzzy-flowered tree. After waiting so long for spring to finally arrive, it seem we’ve reached the proverbial tipping point, with flowers blooming and students peeling off winter layers. It’s a welcome relief to see flowers, tree buds, and winter-pale skin after so many months of ice, snow, and thick layers of clothing. Once spring finally arrives, you can’t imagine how you ever survived so long without it.

Yellowing - April 6 / Day 96

Already, less than a full week into it, this April has been odd. It’s unseasonably cold: although the snowdrops, crocuses, and glory-of-the-snow have already appeared, the trees haven’t begun to leaf, and I haven’t dared open the windows much less venture outside in shorts or sandals. The past few nights have been below freezing, we still have piles of snow lingering in shady spots, and the lawn looks like it’s forgotten what it means to be green.

New growth

Yesterday, the temperature soared into the 50s—not warm by usual April standards, but warmer than it has been—and at least one pair of intrepid young entrepreneurs set up the first lemonade stand of the season even though a hot chocolate stand would have been more appropriate. Spring might be a long time coming this year, but kids nevertheless will go about the business of being kids, weather anomalies notwithstanding.

Daffodil bud - April 1 / Day 91

Although the temperatures this week have said “March,” the angle and intensity of the sun nevertheless says “April.” In February I lamented the glaringly harsh sunlight of late winter, when white-bright light falls on nothing but gray. Now in April, the sunlight has warmed, mellowed, and yellowed, as if it were intended to fall on tender, spring-green leaf buds and blooming daffodils. In the absence of these, the golden light of an April afternoon falls instead on gilded willow twigs and the almost-blooming buds of forsythia. “Almost, almost, almost” this golden light seems to intimate; “not yet, not yet, not yet” these swelling buds respond.

New shoots - April 5 / Day 95

This year, we’ve not been starved for light, but I do find myself craving color: anything, please, besides this dead, dull gray! “April is the cruelest month,” T.S. Eliot claimed, “breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing / Memory and desire, stirring / Dull roots with spring rain.” Right now in this early, odd April, I don’t dare dream of lilacs, only leaves: before we can handle pale purple blooms, let us cut our tender teeth on spring green. Right now in this early, reluctant spring, anything other than gray would be a welcome novelty.

Budding

We’ve reached that time of year when I find myself compulsively checking my photos and blog posts from last year, wondering when spring will really arrive in New England. We’ve had a smattering of signs: snowdrops and crocuses, the first soaring turkey vultures and singing red-winged blackbirds. But the trees haven’t begun to sprout leaves, as they had this time last year, so the landscape is largely gray and barren. Spring is coming, slowly, but it seems to be taking its sweet time.

Budding and blooming

My body, too, is being uncooperative, last week’s chest cold becoming bronchitis. I’ve faced enough colds-become-bronchitis to know you simply have to wait until your lungs clear, your strength returns, and your ribs stop aching from frequent coughing. But in the meantime, I find myself losing patience: why can’t my body be better, now, and why can’t it also be warmer, greener, and more colorful?

If the name of the month is any indication, March should be a season of motion, the year marching and even springing forward. This year, however, March is more about waiting and lagging, both the landscape and my body reminding me that everything comes in its own due time, and no sooner. I want to be outside and walking, my body light and carefree in short-sleeves and sandals: instead, even modest walks leave me winded, a member (once again) of the walking wounded. I’ll be better—and the landscape will be greener—soon enough. In the meantime, both the earth and my body keep whispering “Not yet.”

Deja view

So far, our latest dose of snow and sleet looks a bit like our last winter storm

Buried, and still coming down

…which in turn looked a bit like the blizzard before that.

Guess we won't be eating outside any time soon - Feb 9 / Day 40

Snow to go - March 9 / Day 68

We ended up getting 16 inches of snow in our latest storm, but I don’t think it will stay around for long. On Friday afternoon, after the flakes stopped falling, J and I kicked into our usual snow-removal drill, with J plying the snow-blower and roof rake while I shook snow from buried shrubs and trees, cleaned off my car, and shoveled the entrance to our backyard dog pen.

Snow-sculpted

It’s a routine J and I have perfected after a series of big snowfalls, and after about two hours of work, we both were sopped with snow and sweat, with the reward of a clean driveway, clear sidewalks, and trees and shrubs that were standing upright rather than bent double under heavy snow. We’ve learned that the sun often shines bright after big snowstorms, so the sooner you can dig out, the sooner the sun will finish the job for you, melting away the remnants of snow you left behind.

Drive to the basket

Late Saturday morning, J and I parked our car in Newton Centre then walked the rest of the way to Boston College, where we had tickets for the last men’s basketball game of the season. The sidewalks on Beacon Street were un-shoveled for most of the way (as they had been after last month’s blizzard), forcing us to walk the edge of the berm/bike lane while cars zoomed past. The basketball game was a thrillingly close, come-from-behind victory, and by the time we walked back to Newton Centre, the city had plowed the sidewalks on Beacon Street–our tax dollars at work–and in places where the sidewalks had been plowed bare, they’d already baked dry in the March sun.

By the time we got home, our backyard Gorby, who had been buried the day before…

Buried again

….was already bareheaded in the sun.

After the snowstorm

I don’t think we’ll be ready for snowdrops and sandals by March 13, as we were last year…but a ten-day forecast filled with daytime temperatures above freezing means we won’t be blanketed in snow for long. In March, we take our snow to go.

Witch hazel in March snow - March 7 / Day 66

All day on campus today, I found myself smiling at random passersby, even though the day was gray and blustery, with snow-globe flakes that swirled continually without much accumulation. We’re at that point of the year when many New Englanders are sick of snow, but I feel something different in my bones: a deep-settled sense that spring is here, or coming, and that any snow the sky chooses to throw at us is the last desperate struggle of a season on the way out. Goodbye, winter. Is this the best you can muster for your grand finale?

Tulip shoots in March snow

It’s supposed to snow all night, with up to six inches of accumulation expected by morning, and perhaps a few additional inches during the day tomorrow. Even if a waning winter decides to dump a foot on us overnight, though, we’ve already weathered worse. I find myself scanning the weather forecast with the swagger of a well-weathered wrestler who has faced this opponent before:

There comes a moment every year when, after looking Old Man Winter in the eye long enough, I see him blink. Yes, there have been times this season when a particular storm has pinned me to the mat, an icy knee planted on my back. Yes, there have been times when I’ve been ready to tap my surrender. But then I remember that although my opponent is strong, I’ve always outlasted him.

Ready for sandal season - March 6 / Day 65

The flakes may fall and the wind may blow…but the weekend promises to be warm, and every snowstorm we weather brings us one day closer to No More Snow. Tomorrow we’ll shovel and snow-blow, but soon enough, we’ll be done with boots, hats, and coats. All day on campus today, I found myself smiling at random passersby because in my bones, I know it: we’re just around the corner from Sandal Season.

Guess we won't be eating outside any time soon

I guess we won’t be eating outside any time soon. (Click here for more photos from the morning after winter storm Nemo.)

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