25 February 2013

Snow Fact No. 24d

Thank heavens the Atlantic coast did what she does best and turned most if not all of this weekend's predicted snowfall into rain. In doing so, she averted the 6+ inches we were meant to receive, and also removed quite a bit of what was left from previous storms. That's the good news.  The bad new is that as innocent as the sugar-dusting of snow may have looked this morning, there was Narnian-like witchcraft afoot (quite literally!) and what seemed innocuous and picturesque was really a treacherous sheet of ice. After an aborted attempt to leave the house (which resulted in an embarrassing interpretive dance in the middle of my driveway) I remembered my fall-back plan.



In the absence of Sherpa DNA, either of these run a close second.
Highly recommended for navigating black ice that is
cleverly masked by a morning coating of alleged snow.*

* Best if donned before you leave the house, to avoid false starts and discomposure

22 February 2013

Cottage Capers... or, a post-blizzard update

The capriciousness of New England weather is notorious. In fact, Mark Twain is said to be responsible for the infamous quote: "If you don't like the weather in New England, just wait a minute." 

Which is why I am genuinely impressed that for the past two weekends, the weather casters have had it exactly right, from the timing of the snowfalls to the amounts.  A remarakble feat for anyone who tries to predict any kind of weather in this part of the world with even a slim sense of accuracy.
When "Nemo" arrived it began with a light snowfall at 7am Friday (as predicted) and didn't depart until four o'clock Saturday afternoon (as predicted). There was a parking ban, a driving ban, nearly 200,000 people were without power, and our area of New England came to a complete halt for nearly four days.  Also as predicted. 

Fearful of losing power, I made a huge vat of Tomato soup as soon as I awoke on Friday, followed by a less practical but equally comforting batch of walnut brownies.  I then spent an hour or so bringing logs and kindling into the house, preparing the grate with paper knots and bracken and then piling enough logs on the hearth and in the back hallway to keep a good fire going in case the worst happened and there was no heat. 
By mid-afternoon Friday, the snowfall had picked up, falling an inch per hour. (As predicted.) By nightfall, the branches of my hemlock were touching earth, crowned with huge globs of wet snow, and my rose arbor was nearly face down on the front walkway. Throwing a long raincoat over my nightdress and donning my wellies I spent three quarters of an hour in face-stinging snow waving the business end of a shovel at the hemlock branches, the cherry tree, and the rose hedge, trying to release them back into their natural shapes before they snapped in two.  Then it was back inside for a ball of jute and kitchen shears so I could haul the rose arbor back on its legs and lash it to the old iron gate near the front flower bed.  By the time I came indoors I must have had at least 10 pounds of sleet inside my clothes.  Very bracing at nine o'clock at night. 

The wind howled throughout the evening but other than a few flickers now and then the cottage never lost power and I fell asleep to the sound of what they'd promised could be one of the top five snow storms we'd ever experienced.
Early Saturday morning the snow continued to fall, with blustering eddies swirling drifts up to four feet high. I tried to venture out the back door to see how the trees had fared but it was sealed shut by nearly two feet of snow and try as I may I could not push it openOpening the front door, I was greeted by a slightly smaller pile of snow as it tumbled onto my slippers. Absolutely everything was blanketed in white. In fact, any evidence of my having been outside the night before, to-ing and fro-ing and trying to save tree branches and arbors, was covered now by at least another foot of snow. 

As the sun moved higher in the sky, more people ventured outdoors, but it wasn't until late morning that the sound of shovels and snowblowers filled the air, in counterpoint with the voices of children pushing their rubber tires and sleds along the road.

I love the silent camaraderie that evolves when you are locked in the same chore with people, aware of one another but not speaking and simply going about your business.  This happens in the summer when I pick berries at a local farm with a friend or family member. Bent at the waist, we concentrate our efforts on the bushes, picking the best fruits and letting them drop into our baskets as our minds wander into what I like to call a "picker's high". Occasionally one of us will look up to see how far down the row the other person is, as bees buzz languidly around our skirts and heads. The same quiet fellowship occurs when neighbors find themselves shovelling their way out of their homes. 

I found my rhythm, shifting direction now and then and taking care not to bury my rose hedge in the heavy wet snow as I did one year.  (It took them nearly the entire summer to bend back to their proper height and I felt a terrible guilt each time I looked at their misshapen branches.) Clearing a small path from the front door to the sidewalk I made my way down the pavement to the neighbor's boundary. Retracing my steps, I made a path from the front of the house around to the side door.  All that remained now was a path down the driveway and out to the street, but this would involve shoveling my way through a pile of snow that reached nearly to my shoulders, left behind by the plows.  Fatigue and hunger drove me inside for a change of clothes and a bowl of soup, but within the hour I was outside again, determined to tackle the mountain of white that remained.  At that moment my neighbor came over and met me halfway with his snowblower, clearing the last of my front walk and pushing his way through the enormous heap the plows had deposited there.  "Shall we drive a golden spike in?" he joked as the pathway opened.

Despite hefty fines for not shovelling, the sheer volume of snow meant that many people were unable to fulfill their civic duty. And so throughout the week I was met by maddening, labyrinthian walkways that ended, like an unkept promise, in 6 foot snowdrifts, forcing me to retrace my steps and exit onto the road. Hazards awaited me there, as well, since the plows had been unable to clear parking lanes, and pedestrians were forced to share the travelling lanes with buses, cars, SUVs and large trucks. It was hair-raising, to say the least.   

 By the end of the week, a few sunny days and a little overnight rain had melted a bit of the snow, making the paths (and their attendant piles) more manageable for those who didn't possess Sherpa DNA.  And then Sunday arrived with another four inches of snow. (As predicted.)  The wind and snow encircled the house, leaving more hazardous walking in its wake. But compared to Nemo, winter storm Pluto's punch was a weak one, merely adding insult to injury in so few days.

And now we await Q, the Bondian titled storm that has wreaked havoc in the Plains states, but may meet its match when it comes up against the coastal waters of New England, which are famous for taking snow and turning it into sleet and freezing rain.

Witches are sometimes called 'casters'.... which makes me believe that weathercasting is less about science and more about spell-binding and wizardry.  How else to explain such colossally misdiagnosed hits, misses, and near misses?  But now that they are two-for-two, it remains to be seen if this third storm will leave us more wet than white. As predicted.

Oh for the love of Pete

"A storm bringing up to a couple of feet of snow over the Plains will reorganize on the East Coast this weekend and will deliver heavy snow to part of New England by Sunday. It will be the third weekend in a row that a snowstorm will have an impact on parts of the region. Heavy snow is a possibility from Connecticut and Rhode Island to Boston and southern Maine." 

The weather wizards originally said we'd be getting 10 inches of snow.
Now they say we'll only be getting four inches of snow.
A much improved and welcome report!
With luck, it will all turn to rain and the snow from our last two storms
will be entirely melted away by Monday morning.

Fingers cross't...

15 February 2013

Love Letters...

I sat in the old wing chair last night, poring through three volumes.
I take them out each year at this time and marvel
at the ways and means people have said  
"I love you..." to one another.

Love Letters: An Anthology of Passion
With facsimiles of real letters and quotations from
lovers' correspondence throughout the ages
[Michelle Lovric — Shooting Star Press]

 Each page is beautifully illustrated with ephemera,
and most have a facsimile letter folded into a tiny envelope,
or sealed with wax, waiting to be opened.... 
Sir Richard Steele to Mary Scurlock 1707

There are declarations of felicity and love from Shelley, Keats,
Dylan Thomas, Pushkin, Balzac... Hawthorne...

Nathaniel Hawthorne to Sophia Peabody 1839

...and revelations from Isadora Duncan...

Isadora Duncan to Gordon Craig 1905
The illustrations and typeface are like a Victorian collage,
whirling with romance and capturing your heart with every turn of the page.

Even the endpapers are luscious!

A beautiful book to leaf through and make new discoveries.
And its companion volume is equally evocative...

Passionate Love Letters: An Anthology of Desire
With facsimiles of real letters and quotations from
lovers' correspondence throughout the ages
[Michelle Lovric — Shooting Star Press]

The illustrations are more sensuous, and full of promise...

... with chapter headings like Breathless, Beguiled, Intoxicated...

  Sacrificial, Tormented, Penitent, Ravished..


 With letters from Brontë, Wordsworth, Proust and Flaubert... and Shelley...

Percy Bysshe Shelley to Mary Godwin 1814

Poets and playwrights, dukes and novelists...

George Bernard Shaw to Beatrice Campbell 1913

 even Kings...

Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn 1529

 And for those letters too difficult to read,
the editor provides transcripts for the facsimiles.

The endpapers are whirls of passion, emissaries of what you'll find inside.

 The third volume stands on its own and was compiled
by one of my favorite historians, Antonia Fraser.

There are fewer illustrations...

merely photos, etchings, paintings or drawings of the lovers.

Because the words—and the feelings behind, around and within them—
are the most important feature in this book.  

Do you have a box of love letters, tied with a ribbon,
saved in a wooden chest or siken box?
. . .
Have you picked up a pen lately
and written down words of love to someone?
. . .
If your love letters were found, years from now,
would they warrant being included in books like these?

Here's to rapturous, beguiling Valentine Days....
and to expressing yourself.

14 February 2013

Miss Howland's Valentines

Valentine’s Day came to America through imitation fueled by growing Anglophilia in the mid-1800s, and Yankee merchants who also wanted to profit from the day.  The romanticism and sentimentality that marked 19th century society certainly provided a fertile field for these observances to take root and grow.  By the 1840s, cards and gift books of love poetry like The Belle’s Valentine Writer were available in larger towns and cities.  Not everyone approved of the strange new practice, however.  On February 14, 1848 student Emily Dickinson wrote her brother from Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, “Monday afternoon Mistress Lyon arose in the hall and forbade our sending any of those foolish notes called valentines.”  

Esther Allen Howland (1828-1904) of Worcester, Massachusetts graduated from Mount Holyoke in 1847 and was thus spared Mistress Lyon’s ban on sending Valentines.  Miss Howland went on to play a large role in popularizing the holiday… and making it profitable.   Her father, Southworth Howland, was proprietor of a large stationery store and bookshop at 135 Main Street in Worcester.  Esther admired the handful of ornate, English-made Valentine’s greetings for sale in her father’s shop.  Confident that she could design and make even nicer fancy cards, in 1848 she asked her father to order high quality paper and lithographs from England and New York.  Her brother then showed samples of the cards she made to stationery customers on his sales trips both to Boston and the hinterland, and returned with over $5,000 worth of orders!  Working out of the family home on Summer Street, Esther hired girls to help cut and paste together her elaborate cards, decorated with ribbons and paper lace.  These small works of art sold for up to ten dollars apiece, better than two week’s wages for a farm hand!  Yet demand increased in the boom years of the mid-1800s, and the entire third floor of the house became a card factory.  By 1850 Esther Howland advertised her cards in the (Worcester) Daily Spy newspaper.  She was selling between $50,000 and $100,000 worth of cards annually by the 1860s.  (Old Sturbridge Village has a handful of Valentine’s cards and letters, all dating from the 1850s, but alas, none seem to be by Esther Howland.)

Although Valentine’s Day was nothing special in New England before the 1840s, what is now the second-biggest day for greeting card sales is largely the legacy of a young woman from central Massachusetts.   

— from the archives of "Old Sturbridge Village"

13 February 2013

The aged trees peer at me
with a bewildered nursing home gaze.
Eyelids crusted with snow.
They seem to have forgotten, 
in their senility,
that winter descends upon them
each year at this time.

07 February 2013

Finding Nemo

Two storms converging over New England
Here on the coast they're saying we could get anywhere from 18 inches to 2 feet of snow over a period of 31 hours.  Considering the last few snowfalls could be brushed away with a broom, and were usually melted after an hour of sunlight, this is going to be a shock to a New England mindset  that has been numbed by global warming and uncharacteristically mild weather for the past two winters. 

And so the rush for "bread and milk" is on at all the stores and people have already signed out vacation time so they can stay home during the 2-inches-per-hour snowfall and hurricane force gusts. 

There is a BLIZZARD WATCH from 7am Friday until 4pm Saturday and the meteorologists are bandying about terms like "historic", "crippling", and "severe", and likening it to the "Blizzard of '78".  Power outages are likely along with limited visibility, or "whiteouts". 

Further along the coast ('Down East') they could get as much as 3 feet of snow, while further inland 12-18 inches is being predicted.

As for me, I am optimistically hoping for the best of both worlds:  a big enough storm to appeal to the child in me who wants to be snowbound for a few days, but not so terrible as to cause any real damage and throw my homeowner anxiety into overdrive. 

For now, my emergency list looks something like this:
  • Knitting needles.  Check
  • Yarn. Check
  • Books. Check
  • Tea. Check
  • Milk. Check
  • Firewood. Check
  • Batteries. Check
  • Candles. Check

Judging from this latest satellite photo,
we won't have to search for Nemo.  He will find us.

Be careful out there.

06 February 2013

It seemed like a good idea at the time

French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette 1873-1954
So I've been thinking more about ideas.  Bad ones and good ones.  And those in between ones that start off seeming good but can turn bad on a dime.  (Or as a friend of mine used to drawl, "It was a good dog but it had fleas...")

Like choosing a sapphire blue dress to wear out, mincing in front of the mirror and judging it a 'good choice', but then realizing that it rides up beyond all modest areas of your body under the coat you're wearing, forcing you to execute a subtle but rigorous mambo as your date removes your wrap so the other dinner patrons won't get a glimpse of your good china.

Or wearing a pair of hose that have a tiny pull at the top, thinking it will hold, and then ending up with a two inch ragged ladder down your outer leg that's so horrific the only thing that will save you is putting a quick safety pin through your left nostril and saying you sing on Tuesday nights with The Death Rattles.

Young people are great at being utterly indifferent when good ideas go bad. They backpack in foreign countries without money and yet in all their photographs they have enormous "Best Day EVER" smiles on their faces. They move to a new city without a job, without an apartment, but the Good Idea/Bad Idea fairy smiles down on them and it somehow turns out okay.  Oh, and their response to either one of those fashion faux pas above? A healthy bout of hilarity. I love those people! I envy those people!  I was one of those people, once upon a time.  Now, not so much.

This devil may care attitude is hard-wired into a young person's DNA. Good idea turns bad?  So what! Consider it an ADVENTURE!  But embracing good ideas gone wrong can turn to hand-wringing when a person nears his or her fifties.  (Earlier if they have a child, buy a house, or get a pet... then the line from insouciance to worry-wart is crossed in anywhere from five minutes to a year from the time you leave the delivery room, lawyer's office, or shelter, respectively.) 

I've been on both sides of the line.  Before owning a house I would run out on the porch where I lived and grin wildly at the hurricane winds sheering down the road (while my landlord was no doubt hunkered down by candlelight studying his insurance waiver for the house).  And even the ear infection I contracted whilst sleeping outside at Stonehenge one summer didn't dim the sheer crazy joy of the experience.  Now?  Now I stand on my own verandah, wincing as I watch the merest gale-force wind blow through the maples that overshadow my new roof.  And although I am game to sleep on all manner of floors, daybeds, couches and even upright in chairs at night, my sleeping-on-the-ground days are over, I'm afraid.  It would seem fun, so much so that I might even consider it in the right circumstances and with the right people, but it would give new meaning to a good idea turned terribly, terribly wrong.

It's shame we can't maintain some of that "OH WELL" attitude in our middle to twilight years and take more risks and be more whimsical and learn to distinguish between what should worry us and what we should flick off our minds like a piece of lint on our shoulder.  Sometimes it takes a life event to make us realize that everything isn't really a crisis. That we can make mistakes, have good ideas go wrong, take risks, and laugh instead of cry when things don't turn out the way we'd hoped. And that, my friend, is a true silver lining playbook.

I am not one for making conscious resolutions, but I'm convinved that as the years pass by, it's a sign of wisdom to try to regain that sense of mischief I had as a younger person. To laugh at myself more when I become the victim of my own (or others') bad ideas. To splash through a few of life's puddles more often knowing there's always a dry pair of socks waiting at home.  To embrace ideas that might be slightly hair-brained without worrying so much about the outcome. 

Home perms and dye jobs are the possible exception.... although you never know.  Looking like an aging Colette might be fun. For awhile, anyway.

01 February 2013

Favorite Thing No. 36g (for Garden)

It's no secret that one of my favorite things is my garden. 

I take such pleasure in waiting for it all Winter,

 in cleaning and tidying it in the Spring,

in tending it (and relaxing in it!) all Summer,

 and in putting it to bed in Autumn. 

Often there are visitors.

Sometimes they come to see me.

But most of the time they come to try the Catmint.

It's always exciting to watch things grow and climb.

By day there is always so much color.

By night, the faeries come out of their house to play.

If you come down the path on a summer's day
 and knock at the door and there's no answer....

 ...you'll know where I am.

Knock on Claudia's door and join the party