Newton


Turkey tracks in snow

Friday was a sleety, stay-at-home day, and yesterday I cleared a crust of snow and freezing rain from our cars early in the day so they would bake clean in the sun. Yesterday, the unshoveled sidewalks in our neighborhood–all the sidewalks, since you can’t shovel freezing rain–were crunchy with a topping of snow over ice, which gave good traction underfoot. This morning, though, even the snow has frozen slick, and we’re expecting rain and temperatures above freezing–melting weather–tomorrow into the week, which will turn everything into a slippery slop.

Welcome to not-quite Spring in Massachusetts.

I’ve lived in New England for three decades now–most of my adult life–and for all that time I’ve said New England doesn’t have a proper spring. Instead, we go straight from snow to mud to heat, without the weeks of temperate weather and wildflowers the Midwest gets in March. In New England, March comes in like a lion then stays, the threat of spring snowstorms lurking into April.

But climate change is affecting this: we get as much rain as snow these days, along with an abundance of bare frozen ground. Last weekend’s storm dumped more than a foot of snow on our backyard: only the second plowable snowfall of the season, and the first accumulation to stay a while.

This coming week’s temperatures in the 40s with rain aren’t quite Spring, but they certainly aren’t winter, either. Sunlight is the cleanest way to melt snow, shrinking it steadily into the dry air. Rain melts snow, too, but in a way that turns streets, sidewalks, and backyards into puddles by day and skating rinks by night.


Unmasked

I’ve lived in New England for decades, but there are two things that will never seem natural to me: how early it gets dark here in winter, and the lack of a proper spring.

Since the time change, it’s dark when I walk Roxy after dinner. She has a light on her collar, and I carry a flashlight, but we are regularly startled by other walkers who dress in somber colors and don’t carry a light, their forms materializing out of the darkness like solid ghosts.

Tonight, it started drizzling just as Roxy and I set out, and after we turned toward home, forked branches of lightning lit the sky, followed by rumbling thunder. Since when, I wondered, do we have thunderstorms in November?

As we approached the house, a flock of roosting turkeys gobbled en masse from the trees across the street, as unsettled by the thunder as I was. You never know what surprises lurk on suburban streets after dark.


Stumped

Today is gray and rainy, which I don’t mind since the leaves are still aglow with November fire. The wind is rattling the windows, and I’m happy to be inside at my desk with a mug of tea, writing.

Free

This morning when I walked Roxy, there was a red upholstered chair on the curb outside a house down the street, its arms worn and torn, but its color reassuringly autumnal. The scent of damp, fallen leaves was ripe in the air, and Roxy insisted on sniffing every decaying pile.


Turning oak

November sunlight is my favorite kind. It angles low through gold and copper leaves, gleaming like light refracted through stained glass.

As the days shorten, November sunlight is precious. The days of December through March are dreary in New England: either too dark or too glaring. November light is bronze and burnished. Knowing what comes next, I soak in as much sunlight as possible, storing it in my heart like a battery against dark days to come.



The morning after

Last night felt almost like the Before Times, with herds of children roaming the streets, in some cases accompanied by attentive and even costumed parents, and in other cases roaming free and unfettered by adult supervision. This morning, the sidewalks are littered with stray candy wrappers, and lawns boast the crumpled remains of inflatable ghosts and monsters, ready to go into hibernation for another year.


Do more of what makes you awesome

This past weekend, J and I walked to our local elementary school and back, then we took my car for a short Sunday drive. Because of the Coronavirus, we’ve been self-isolating at home for more than a week, leaving the house only to take the dogs out and go for a daily walk around the neighborhood, so going for both a walk and a drive, no matter how short, was a welcome relief from our self-imposed quarantine.

At the local elementary school, nobody was around. Normally on a sunny weekend, there would be kids playing on the playground equipment, but signs strictly forbade this: too many touch surfaces. A house across from the school had an encouraging message drawn on the driveway with sidewalk chalk, with no sign of the kids or parents responsible for the message.

I bought a new car nearly a month ago, only to have it sit sadly in our driveway during this period of social distancing. On Sunday, J and I took “Trudy Subaru” for a short drive to keep her engine running, driving past the local hospital then up Route 16 to Commonwealth Avenue and back. The hospital was quiet, with only a handful of cars in the outside lots and no emergency vehicles coming or going. From the outside, it looked like a sleepy Sunday afternoon, with no obvious sign of an impending pandemic.

Commonwealth Avenue, on the other hand, was bustling with families, couples, and singles out walking, jogging, pushing strollers, and escorting happy dogs, each person or group keeping the requisite six feet between themselves and others. On Monday morning, Governor Baker would announce a stay-at-home advisory that closes nonessential businesses but still allows people to go outside and enjoy the fresh air, and on Sunday it was clear folks were relishing the right to be Healthy and Happy on a brisk and bright March day.

I always describe April’s Marathon as being Massachusetts’ unofficial celebration of spring, with folks and families coming out to socialize while watching a race that is in some ways just an excuse to go outside and let down the usual New England reserve. This year, the Marathon has been postponed until September, an unimaginably distant time, so it made sense that this weekend, after a long week of social distancing, our neighbors were doing exactly what they’d do on Marathon Monday, minus the actual race.

On Sunday, J and I took a drive for the car’s sake, but it was just as good for us to get out of the house and rev our inner engines.

Budding forsythia

After spending much of yesterday afternoon going to multiple stores to do the weekly grocery shopping I’d usually do at one, today it was a relief to stay home. Instead of walking to lunch as we normally do, J and I took a sunny afternoon walk around the neighborhood, and we weren’t the only ones. With museums and libraries closed, concerts and sporting events canceled, and store shelves emptied of goods, walking in the open air is one of the few things we can still safely do.

Lilac leaves

The irony of this weird and unsettling week is this: the weather has been beautiful, the lilacs are starting to leaf, and the forsythias are almost ready to burst into bloom. Outside, March is settling into spring; inside, we stay glued to devices that deliver a constant stream of bad and worrying news.

When J and I went walking this afternoon, it was a pleasant relief to stop at a nearby intersection, stand in the street, and talk to a handful of neighbors who, like us, were shaking off a weekend case of pandemic-inspired cabin fever. As we traded stories of grocery lines and plans for telecommuting, we stood in a wide circle with the prescribed six feet between us: a brief spot of socializing in the age of social distancing.

Holly berries

I used to wait until after Thanksgiving to start listening to Christmas music, but in recent years I’ve loosened my own rule. During the light of day, I don’t yearn for holiday music, but last night while I was running Friday afternoon-into-evening errands, I switched from the news on NPR to Sting’s “If On a Winter’s Night,” a CD that is perennially appropriate in late autumn-into-winter.

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the pagan nature of Christmas: a holiday of light at the darkest time of year. Years ago when I taught in New Hampshire during the week and spent my long weekends in Massachusetts, there were many weeks when my Thursday night commute was brightened by isolated houses on lonely roads that had colorful Christmas lights. Those lights guided my way like beacons in a storm.

These days, my commute is significantly shorter, but I dread the darkness of winter more than the cold. Even a short commute feels long when the way is dark, so while I don’t need the cheer of Christmas carols when the sun shines, after dark I appreciate the company of songs designed for the longest nights of the year.

Reflected

Several weeks ago, on my way home from a medical appointment in Chestnut Hill, I stopped at Hammond Pond to snap a few pictures of the mute swans there. Hammond Pond sits directly behind a busy shopping complex and directly abuts a parking lot. The mute swans don’t seem to care, however. They just mind their own business, paddling and dabbling in the calm water while busy humans like me zip and hurry past.

November

The past two months have passed in a blur. I’ve been teaching a double-load this semester, so even before my Dad died in mid-September, I’ve been preoccupied with the juggling acts of teaching, tending the house and pets, and simply staying upright. At the end of most teaching days, I arrive home completely tapped, wondering where I’ll find the energy to do it all again tomorrow. But somehow, the days, weeks, and months pass, and I’m still standing, still juggling, still trudging forward.

Every day this year I’ve made a point to take at least one picture, a continuation of the 365 photo challenge I’ve done in past years. Some days, I post my daily picture on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter; other days, I post it only on Flickr, where I keep an album of days. At the end of the year, I like to scroll through my year at a glance. I feel a small sense of accomplishment knowing I did at least one creative thing every day, even in the face of daunting deadlines and to-do lists.

At some point, I set the expectation that my blog is where I post longer essays: entries that are longer than my simple picture-and-caption social media posts. That means that during semesters like this one, my blog grows cold. Every month, I promise myself to write daily and post to my blog more often, but busy days without writing turn into busy weeks, busy months, and busy years.

In past years, I’ve participated in NaBloPoMo by committing to blog daily during the month of November. I don’t know if I can realistically post something every single day this month, but I want to at least try to post more frequent “postcard posts”: just a photo and a couple sentences, a brief note to check in with myself and say “wish you were here.”

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