LOCAL VIEW –September Thunder–

September starts the battle between summer and winter that summer is bound to lose, but which is always interesting to watch, as waves of warmth from the south grow progressively weaker, and the north rears up tall and cruel.

So far the cold has remained locked up in Canada, but this just means their snow cover builds up early. On his Weatherbell blog Joseph D’Aleo reported snows are already building to our north.

For a time the Canadian cold was kept in check by a strong Bermuda High, displaced north, which brought us steady imports of tropical air up the coast.  To the south of the high pressure the Trade Winds came further north than usual, bringing balmy ocean breezes to the Carolina coast, and all enjoyed the beaches,  until, like a cork riding in the stream of the Trade Winds, Hurricane Florence approached from the east. Envy turned to pity as over a million fled their vacations.

Florence slammed ashore and then curved north to New England. I had had forgotten that few things feel quite as tropical as a hurricane. In terms of a pity-party, we could not compete with North Carolina, which got over twenty inches of rain and far more wind. Yet I think we, here in southern New Hampshire, deserve pity for not getting pity. We got over five inches, and everyone just ignored us. What’s the use of suffering, if you can’t milk people’s hearts?

The remains of Florence passed over us with the nearest Canadian cold front far to the north, so although the winds had died Florence remained a pure, tropical system. Seldom do we experience such darkness hand in hand with such warmth, this far north. (Our dark summer thunderstorms are usually due to cold fronts, and involve cold downdrafts and even icy hail.) The rain was warm, and the day was deep purple, and I decided such a rare event deserved a sonnet.

Out of breath, with nothing left but rich rain,
The hurricane came north and it grew dark
As December by noon, but heat can’t feign
It’s winter. The rain poured, and my small ark
Was my roof, and my windows looked out on
A steamy world, with leaves still summer green
Yet darkness deepening after dim dawn.
The roar was not wind, but a rain seldom seen
This far north. On and on the torrents poured
And flat streets became lakes and cars were boats
With wakes, and then my watching spirit soared
As happily splashing in bright raincoats
The children came laughing, dancing eyes bright.
Even on dark days there’s always some light.

Even before I put the finishing touches to my sonnet the hurricane had moved out to sea, and its exit dragged down some colder Canadian air that utterly changed the quality of our rainy weather. Abruptly the rain was of the sort that turns an old man’s hands purple. This is actually gave  us far more of a reason for a pity-party than a nice, warm hurricane, for not only does cold rain make it difficult to do summer chores like mowing wet grass, but it makes it hard to face autumnal chores, such as stacking wood. It seemed time to tune up the violins, for a new self-pity was building. Life is hard enough, for even on a sunny day it is not as easy for an old geezer like me to do such chores as it was when I was younger. Oh, woe is me.

And abruptly the nights are longer than the days, and there are more hours of chilling than of warming, and, right on schedule, it cleared just at sunset and the long night gave us our first touch of frost.

Hint FullSizeRender

It was actually a day late, on September 23 when our average first frost is September 22, and it was the sort of touch that only happens in low places and doesn’t kill the tomatoes in the garden, but first frost is a hint, and I’m wise to the ways of winter and can recognize the signs, though the bees may still be humming in the asters.

Hint 2 FullSizeRender

Yet I have discovered something. I cannot take a hint as well as I once could. Years ago autumn shifted me into high gear, and I enjoyed the zest of labor in cool, crisp weather. Now the hinting strikes me as a bit like nagging. Rather than zesty I get grouchy.

These changing seasons really are too much
For a dignified old man to handle.
I deserve respect, and a gentle touch,
But these changes want to snuff out my candle.
I’m ready for heaven, where it’s summer
All of the time, without these shifting gears.
Winter’s a bummer, and nothing’s dumber
Than changes, to an old man of my years.
But here we go, the old sun’s gone lazy
And stars fill the sky when I rise from bed.
I nod at Orion, but think he’s crazy
To fight the good fight and bleed as he’s bled.
Forever he fights, from autumn ’til spring
But if I could, like a duck, I’d take wing.

It seems unfair to me that the sun gets to sleep late while I have to get up early, yet even as I was grumbling and rosining up the bow of my self-pity-violin, a slug of superb summer weather surged north. But then, even before I could put my violin back in its case, Canadian cold came crashing into the warmth.September thunder FullSizeRender

What an awesome evening, with the night lit by brilliant flashes of lightning, and thunder prowling from horizon to horizon! I left work late, and after I turned off the lights I just stood in the parking lot, watching the magnificence. Rain soon budged me, but then driving was a wonder, with flashes lighting the deep dark depths of night forest with crazed shadows, and every raindrop frozen in midair by blinding pink. The rain was erratic, deluging down the street even as I drove in dryness, and when I made it home I could dash to the door between downpours. But once I made it to the sheltered porch I had no desire to go in, and turned to watch the incredible sky. I felt like a mouse under the floorboards, or like I had rented an apartment with gods living upstairs. Yet the odd thing was that though I felt minuscule, I forgot all about my self-pity violin.

Two thoughts then occurred to me. The first was that the Senate Hearings about the Supreme Court nominee have somehow degenerated from a job interview into a massive pity-party. The second was that pity is pretty useless when nature is displaying her might, and a hurricane has dumped two feet of rain and the rising river is pouring through your front door; then you don’t want pity; you want a rowboat.

Sometimes pity is absurdly impractical. Self-pity is not merely self-centered, but also ungodly, for among all His infinite attributes God is infinitely practical.

Already the north is whitened by snows
But still the sunny, stubborn south stays strong.
My fate depends on which way the wind blows;
You can tell the weather by my songs.
In ways I’m just a flute played by the breath
Of powers far, far greater than I am.
I’m battered and flattered nearly to death
By forces I deem do not give a damn
About puny mortals as mousy as me.
Tonight God’s gods played with fire in the sky
As south fought north, and vision could see,
As thunder slammed, just how weakly I try
To befriend the Truth who made sky’s berserkers.
Seek God, or else you’re just grist for his workers.

Advertisements

LOCAL VIEW –First Frost–

We have had a summery fall, with a few summer-like waves of refreshing Canadian air, welcome because they push out the heat and humidity, but the southern warmth quickly pushed back north, hot and muggy but usually dry, until at long last a southern surge  brought us some rain, which our parched landscape accepted with a deep sigh of gratitude.

20160919-radar-hfd

That single band of warm rain, bececting the southern border of New Hampshire, gave us more rain than we’d received in the entire month before. It was slightly less than three inches. So parched was our landscape that the brooks didn’t even rise. The land sucked it up like a sponge. The drought wasn’t ended. But at least the woods didn’t crisply crunch as I walked through them, after that extended torrent (between 4:00 and 8:00 AM), and I wasn’t searching the historical records for evidence of state-wide forest fires any more. Instead I worried southwards, about hurricanes. (Notice, in the map below, the ex-tropical storm off the Carolina coast.)

20160919-satsfc As the welcome wall of moisture swept north, a flimsy, poor-excuse-for-a-cold-front basically faded away over us, as we sank back into a tropical flow from the south. Up in that flow came a poor-excuse-for-a-hurricane. It had no rain, and no wind, but wonderfully strange skies. They were hurricane skies, without the hurricane.

frost-1-fullsizerender

When it really became obvious the skies were different was when the skies gave way to a hurricane sunset. When I was young, old-timers warned me to be wary of sunsets that were not just red in the west, but crimson wall-to-wall, from west all the way overhead and down to the east, especially at the time of the “line storm” (when the sun crosses the equator).  “Red at night, sailor’s delight” was not true for the “blood sun”.

frost-2-fullsizerender

In a sense it was as if a atmospheric gap passed over us with a sign on it, “This Space Is Reserved For A Hurricane”, but no hurricane chose to utilize its reservation.  I found it odd. It seemed especially odd because several tropical storms have milled about over warm waters without showing the slightest inclination towards the explosive development that sailors once dreaded. In like manner fronts have approached New England this summer, and had signs on them, “This Space Reserved For Severe Thunderstorms”, and we got not even a sprinkle nor a grumble.

Only a true Alarmist would gnaw their nails about no hurricanes and no severe thunderstorms. It is a blessing, (though we could have used a little more light rain). However I thought it was wonderful that, even though we did not get a “line storm” right at the solstice, (the time the terrible 1938 Hurricane passed though New England, completely changing the landscape in three hours), a sort of Space-reserved-for-hurricane passed over at the right time, with a hurricane sunset. It made the old-timers I once listened to seem less out-dated.

When I was knee high to a grasshopper, the old-timers I annoyed were all born in the 1800’s, and could remember when sailing ships were still common. Right up into the Great Depression men in New England made decent money shipping cargo up and down the coast on schooners. They lived lives Insurance Companies would now frown upon, and endured the whims of the weather, and therefore knew things about what the winds do that we have forgotten, now that we use satellites in outer space to tell us which ways the winds blow, and seldom step outside and wet a finger.

Now I’m the old-timer, but even though I’ve lived much more of my life outdoors than most modern people do, I’m not as smart as those old sailors were. Also, when it comes to satellites, I’m not as smart as the young. At times I think I epitomize the worst of both worlds. However perhaps I am a bridge between the two worlds.

One thing the old-timers knew about, back when more than half of all Americans lived on farms,  was that when the nights get longer the Canadian air-masses, so welcome during the summer, when the nights are too short to do damage, gain power. It is the power of longer nights, leading to frost. Frost does great damage to the productivity of a garden, and the old-timers would anxiously sniff the air on cool nights, even in August. By September they expected frost, and this was especially true when conditions were dry, (because moister and lusher foliage has a power to resist frost which drier foliage lacks.) Around here the first frost was expected around the solstice, and any extension of the growing season was deemed good luck.

However the modern forecasters, parked indoors by their computer screens, were completely blind-sided by our first frost this year, on September 26. This sort of surprised me, because usually those fellows will use the slightest excuse to puff their self-importance, setting off wailing warnings on weather-radios, and many’s the time I’ve been awoken at three AM by my weather-radio warning of the slight possibility of frost in mountains fifty miles north of here. This year there was no warning. Low temperatures were predicted to be around 40°F (+4.4°C).

frost-3-img_3952

If people with gardens actually depended on the government, they might be pissed off, because with adequate warning a sprinkler can be set out in the garden, and a slight spray of water can extend the growing season. (Not that things grow much more, as the sun gets lower and weaker. One year, close to the water on the coast of Maine, I managed to protect my garden nearly to Thanksgiving in November, and what amazed me was how stunted the growth was. It was nice to have things fresh from the garden, but I recall the Swiss Chard grew short, squat leaves, like triangles.)

The small scale farmers around here don’t need the government to tell them to expect frost in late September. Either they protected their tomatoes,  or else they said, “the heck with it.” When the frost came without an official warning, the really angry people, I expect, were the little old ladies who had their hot-house plants out on the patio, and saw them killed, because the weathermen didn’t warn them. And it is such ladies, and not farmers, that the weathermen should kowtow to, for such ladies have the big bucks and donate to PBS and the meteorology departments of colleges.

Me? I wasn’t angry. I expected frost. It happens. Heck if a change of government will change the date of the first frost. It happens. It really seems primitive and savage to me that some think anyone but the Creator controls the weather. I see little difference between savages who think throwing a virgin into a volcano can control nature, and those who think buying curly light-bulbs and separating green bottles from brown bottles can control nature.

I mean, if you believe in such stuff, shouldn’t you just go to the Creator, and say, “Begging your pardon, Creator, but could you please make it snow this Christmas, after folk have finished their shopping?” Isn’t it a little bit insulting to the Creator to think you can control Him? “Your attention please, Creator, I have purchased curly light bulbs, and henceforth You will do as I say!”

I was part of a generation that felt it could boss the Creator absurdly. “Your attention please, Creator, I have purchased a tablet of LSD, and henceforth you will expand my consciousness as I say!” (What a fiasco!) Therefore, now that I am an old-timer, I am less inclined to tell the Creator how to run the universe.

I am more inclined to attempt to emulate Abraham Lincoln. When asked if he wanted the Creator to be on “our side”, his polite, considerate (and, by modern standards, politically incorrect,) response was, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”

In order to be like that, one has to be humble. One has to be able to confess they are not in control of all things. In such a situation one should heed little children, because they have no control whatsoever. Call it Karma or whatever-you-will, they have no control of the situation they are born into.

There actually was a Child-care philosophy that was all the rage, a while back,  that focused on giving children more of a sense they were “in control.” Rather than saying, “Get in the car”, you were suppose to say, “Would you like to get in the car?” The aim was to stimulate a child’s creativity (as if they needed any help with that!) The fear was that, by bossing children around, you were crushing their talents. What was discovered was that too much freedom made children feel abandoned. Walls were not seen by the child as being like a prison’s, but instead walls sponsored a cozy sense of safety. A child did not want the deep responsibility of being in control of everything. They wanted to trust those details to the grown-ups.  

The trust of children is quite amazing to witness, in cases where the parents have serious problems, and you might think a child would prefer foster care. Even when parents are heroin addicts and both are in jail, a little child will prefer them to  saintly foster care. Parents are a “given”, just as weather is a “given”.  Just as we don’t control the weather, children don’t control their fate, yet they are a heck of a lot more optimistic and cheerful than most adults. Like the captains of old schooners, they sail through situations that would turn an insurance adjuster a deathly shade of green. Therefore I watch children carefully, to see how they respond to a first frost.

 

frost-4-fullsizerender

Is that young man cursing Big Oil, or Big Green? Is he cursing Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton? Or is he not cursing anyone at all, and instead just filled with wonder?

As I get older I get younger. Maybe it is because I have to deal with kids so much, or perhaps senility is creeping in. Increasingly, cursing seems stupid. Increasingly, wonder seems wise.

When I think back to the old-timers I knew in my youth, it seems they were less troubled by not being in control. Just think how anguished a modern insurance agent would be about a cargo vessel with no engine, dependent on the whims of the wind. Yet the old-timers simply accepted the whims of the wind as a given, and worked like mad responding. In like manner, a first frost got everyone working like crazy to save what they could from the garden.

Perhaps it is working with computers so much that makes people think they are in control. People have the sense that they only need to rewrite the program, and any glitch will be fixed. Before you know it people are attempting to create a reality that is “risk free”.

That is not how the Creator made the world. A “risk free” environment is a bed you can hide beneath, and even there you are mortal, and, after hiding for seventy years, you die.  At some point one wants to come out, and face the sky, and maybe even sail.

frost-8-fullsizerender

 

Now stand back, all you bankers of men’s hearts,
For I am going to stay the wheels of time
And command leaves stay green, when first frost starts
To spill paints across the hills. I’ll climb
The clouds and yank the slumping sun back north.
My hair will turn dark again, without dye.
I’ll again gush ardor, (whatever that’s worth),
And make fall’s maudlin poems be a lie.
I’m tired of autumn songs being so weepy
So I’ll derange the seasons with tulips
And wake poor bears just when they’re sleepy.
The only frost will involve my mint juleps.
And then, when asked why I’ve altered Creation,
I’ll just explain it’s my standing ovation.