GONZALO GONE

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The upper map shows Hurricane Gonzalo heading northeast, after clouting Bermuda, towards the middle of the right margin. (If you click these maps you can get a less fuzzy version.)

The second map shows that, in the process of a day, Gonzalo sped right off the upper right corner of the map. That is fine with me. We had a meteorological set-up this year that made me nervous, but we escaped without a hurricane hitting New England.

When I was younger I actually wanted to be hit, as it would have been exciting, and also would have supplied me and my chainsaw with a lot of work, and lots of free firewood.  (Hurricane Bob actually kept my family warm one winter, back when I tended to become broke around Christmas,  because I saw my landscaping work dry up after the last leaves were raked.)

Now I’m older and would rather see the leaves stay on the trees as long as possible. The worst hurricanes around here hit when the leaves are green, and trees tip over like sailboats with too much sail aloft. Later hurricanes strip all the colored leaves off the trees in a matter of hours.  If a hurricane hits now we have few leaves left, and our trees can withstand a blast when their branches are bare, just as a sailboat can avoid capsizing when “running before a gale on poles.”

Oddly, often our worst winds occur in non-hurricane nor’easters, which have winds “of hurricane force.”  Our hurricanes, on the other hand, have often weakened and no longer have winds “of hurricane force.”  It makes me think we should coin the phrase, “winds of nor’easter force.”  If you have sailed the North Atlantic, you understand it holds gales that make hurricanes look small, though such gales shriek in places where few live, and get little press.

Nor’easters only get press on this side of the Atlantic when they fail to zip out to sea. Most do, but occasionally a “blocking pattern” causes to them to “stall” just off Cape Cod, or, even more rarely, even further south.  Hurricane Sandy was actually still a warm-core hurricane as it moved ashore, but to verify its own forecast the Hurricane Center “downgraded” Sandy to a nor’easter. Sandy demonstrated how much respect a nor’easter deserves, though there have been worse. A nor’easter in February 1978 gave Cape Cod winds over 100 mph.

I’m getting too old for such nonsense.  I’m in the autumn of my life, and perhaps, just as leaves turn yellow, I’m getting a little yellow myself.

We did have an early frost on September 19, which, as our last frost of the Spring was on May 29, gave us the shortest frost-free period of summer I can remember. However, because I’m old and had other things to do, I failed to weed my garden in late August, and the weeds protected my plants. The weeds got frosted, as my pepper plants beneath were spared.  Since then we have had a second summer, and I actually picked some fine peppers today, on October 18, a month after our first frost.

This is actually a bad omen. I predict a terrible winter, as kindly autumns often hint at cruelty to come.

I make this prediction because I figure I might cause winter to be mild, by predicting bitter cold. It is sheer superstition, sort of like thinking you can make it rain by washing your car.  However the meteorological set-up exists, just as the set-up existed for New England hurricanes, last June.  I can’t recall if I actually predicted hurricanes last June, but if I did, I hexed them all out to sea, according to my superstition. In the same manner I am attempting to hex an awful winter, which seems all too likely to me, clear across the planet into China.

Then I will get to enjoy a kinder and gentler time.  I have really enjoyed the mildness that followed me across that USA when I was on my trip, moving from weather map to weather map.

When I got home I was confronted with a horrible amount of work for a man my age, as an attempt to avoid work backfired. Rather than cutting wood I ordered $900.00 worth, but because I wasn’t home to oversee, 3 of the 4 cords were dumped where my wife parks her car. I had to move three chord (4 feet by 4 feet by 8 feet makes a chord) by loading the  back of my pick up, driving it 100 feet, and unloading it where it should have been unloaded.  Fortunately my son helped, but it also helped that the weather was mild, which kept my old muscles loose. It was actually 67 degrees at dawn last week, which is thirty degrees above normal.

Also I got to be outside and just look around and enjoy the foliage. People come from all over the world to see New Hampshire’s foliage in the fall. I always try to look picturesque, like a character in a Norman Rockwell painting, when an un-tinted bubble-bus of gawking Asians comes lurching down a country that was never intended to hold huge vehicles, and I always think that, if Norman Rockwell was still alive, he would paint a picture capturing the beautiful humor of how I look at them, and they look at me.

It is truly beautiful to live here, even if I am old and it is a sort of end. I am grateful for a final fall when the leaves are slow to drift down, even if it is but a respite before a terrible winter. Life has quite enough hardship as it is, and we should not feel guilty when a quieter and more lovely time ambles by.

When I was walking through the gorgeous landscape, across the rustling carpet of gold and crimson leaves, vivid against the sunlit grass, I entered a sunlit grove of trees where the forest floor was striped with the long shadows of autumn. Besides the long stripes made by shadows there were also long, straight stripes of moss, with a small pile of stones at the southern end of each stripe, with the moss vivid in the sunshine which now invaded a glade that had been shaded and moist all summer long.

I paused to wonder at these odd stripes of green moss, flat against the brown forest floor.  Briefly I wondered what on earth could have made them. Then the Sherlock Holmes in my skull abruptly understood they were toppled trees, with a root-ball of dirt and stone at their ends, that had lain on the ground and grown mossy, and final rotted away to flatness, with only the moss remaining, and only a flat pile of stones to show where the root ball once was. Because the trees that grew up among these fallen trees were now roughly 60 years old, I judged the prior grove was flattened in 1954. Hurricane Carol must have flattened all those trees, back when I was only one year old.

I looked around and tried to envision how the scene must have looked, when Carol roared through and flattened the forest in thirty minutes.  What a mess! All the trees down, south to north, with jumbles of dirt made by root-balls, and the scent of torn, green leaves a stink in the hot sunshine.

When I was young I bewailed the fact we never seemed to get hurricanes in New England any more. Now I understand that, midst the hardship of my life, in some ways I’ve been blessed by luck.   People who came before me knew no such luck, and had to display a fortitude I know little about, after Carol.

Today I took some time to be thankful for the luck I’ve lived through, and also to pray that, should this coming winter ask me to display some fortitude, I can match the fortitude of those who came before.

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