“It appears we are in the chaos that churns in between more stable eras.” –Heather Cox Richardson
As an American, I know I have a cheerful reputation to maintain, especially for my blogging friends across the pond. And mostly I am pretty cheerful, no small thing for someone who worries. A lot. But there you are—we all have contradictions, and for the most part, I am a worried optimist.
However, lately events have come together to leave me completely frazzled, worn out. First and foremost, there is politics. Between the Democratic primaries and Trump’s responses, everything is on full screech. What got us to this point has been building over the years and isn’t likely to go away soon, but how I wish this country would regain its footing. Everything feels off-kilter to me, off balance. And oh so ugly.
Therefore, when something like, say, the Coronavirus comes along, it makes everything feel even more unbalanced. I know. The virus isn’t supposed to be that bad, no worse than a usual cold or a mild case of the flu, at least for most people. (Some people have indeed died from it.)
But do I have any faith in the leadership at the top to steer us safely through what will more than likely be a pandemic, however mild it might be? No, I don’t. So I do what I can on a small scale. I have a nice stockpile of supplies, and because I am someone who is, ahem, more than a little food obsessed, this makes me feel secure. Dry milk, cereal, canned pineapple? Check. Green lentils, plenty of chocolate, and eggs? Ditto. If things go to heck in a hand-basket—and I sure hope they don’t—we are well stocked. If things don’t go to heck in a hand-basket, then I won’t have to go grocery shopping for quite a while. No harm in that.
Along with having plenty of food, I also live in a beautiful place. For me, the Maine landscape always provide great solace—the blue of the sky, the trees in every season, even when the branches are bare, the hushed feeling of the winter-white woods, the lush green ferns. Every season brings something different. All I have to do is look out my windows to see it.
So I’ll end with a picture of a tree by the town’s public beach, about a mile from our house. Right now, the tree is stark against the sky, but soon spring will come, and with it buds. Then green leaves to provide shade in the summer followed by a glorious burst of fall colors. The leaves drop, and we are back to dark branches against blue sky. A lovely cycle to console me.
I am happy to report that I’m coming to the end of the umpteenth revision of my YA fantasy novel Out of Time, the third in my Great Library Series. Phew, what a tangle of words a novel becomes when you give it close reading after close reading. My plan is to get Out of Time to the editor by the beginning of March, which is a week away.
This means it’s chop-chop time. Therefore, blog posts will be relatively short and filled with pictures. Lucky for me, Maine is a photogenic place to live.
Readers might recall that at the end of last week, the temperature was below zero.
Here was yesterday’s temperature, and the thermometer is in the shade. Quite the contrast!
A perfect time for a walk. In the last post, I looked down. On yesterday’s walk, I looked up. I think it was the glorious blue of the sky that drew my gaze to all the little things that were either growing on branches or that were still attached.
Now, onward ho! Back to the tangle of words.
Last night was a cold one. When I got up this morning, the house was a chilly 55°F, and outside it was even chillier—dead calm and two below zero.
It was cold enough for a frosty garden on the storm window in my bedroom.
But by the time I went outside to take more pictures—around 10:00 a.m.—the temperature had risen to 18°F. Not balmy, to be sure, but warm enough to take pictures without wearing gloves.
As many readers know, we live in the woods, and in the winter little cones, twigs, leaves, and branches are blown into the snow. Easy to pass by without seeing their modest beauty.
While I love scenic photography as much as the next person, I have always been interested in nature’s small vignettes—the overlooked, the unnoticed, the underappreciated.
Imagine my delight, then, when thanks to John Poole’s piece on NPR, I came across the photographer Janelle Lynch.
At first glance, you might see a jumble of weeds, a thicket of twigs, a heap of dying leaves. You might be inclined to stop looking at this point.
Janelle Lynch invites you to look closer, and slower. She’d want you to see each image as a world in itself — not an accidental grouping of plant matter, but a well-ordered composition created by nature and fixed in time and space by her 8-by-10-inch large-format camera.
Her implicit message is that one needs only to be still, take your time and pay close attention to find the beauty that surrounds you. But, like meditation, this seemingly simple act is often more difficult than it appears.
How I was drawn by Lynch’s exquisite photos, and how I would love to have a bigger camera, which would allow me to take better pictures.
But I have the camera I have, and despite its small size, my wee camera does a pretty good job of capturing nature’s tiny delights. Therefore, out I will go in weather cold, mild, and hot, looking for the overlooked and making do with what I have. After all, that is the Maine way.
I will, of course, also take pictures that are broader in scope, to give readers a sense of what central Maine is like. But Lynch has inspired me to continue following my inclination for the small.
Yesterday was a lovely snowy day. Unlike freezing rain or sleet, this is exactly the sort of weather Maine should get in February. Before eating a breakfast of oatmeal and dried cranberries, I grabbed my wee camera and tried to get some pictures of the falling snow. While easy for the human eye to see, snowflakes are not easy for my camera to catch. (When I was a child, I remember tipping my head back, opening my mouth to the sky and letting the snow sprinkle my tongue.)
Can you spot the snow as it falls against Sparky, our red Honda Fit?
The snow is easier to see here, against the brown of the tree trunks and the red of our little shed and wheelbarrow. With all the red we have around our place, including on our house, you might think red is my favorite color. But it isn’t. Instead, blue is. Go figure.
Here again, the falling snow is visible against the tree trunks in the woods in our backyard.
I couldn’t resist taking a picture of our clothesline, which hasn’t had anything hanging on it since fall. Well, it has something now.
Early afternoon, it stopped snowing, and Clif went out with Little Green to clean the driveway and the walkway.
And what did we have for “suppah,” as we Mainers call it? A vegan beefy stew with Quorn Meatless Grounds and umami-ed with veggie Better Than Bouillon and nutritional yeast. Clif and I might be vegetarians, but we still like that rich gravy taste, and this soup gives us just what we want. I also made biscuits with oat milk to go with the soup.
My Yankee husband’s response? Pretty darned good. And the best thing about this soup is that as the flavors mingle, it’s even better on the second and third day.
No freezing rain. Soup and biscuits for supper. Who could ask for anything more?
This morning, when I asked my husband Clif to describe the weather outside, he said, “Miserable.” Clif got it exactly right. The weather—a mix of sleet and freezing rain—is indeed miserable, and it’s supposed to continue until late afternoon.
The thermometer indicates that the temperature is at that exact sweet spot for continued freezing rain.
And here’s a photo of our front steps before Clif put salt on them.
My indicator for ice accumulation is this bush outside my window.
So far, not too bad, but we have many more hours of this weather to go.
Naturally, we are prepared for a power outage. A full bucket of water sits in the tub—for us, no power means no water—and there is a fire in our wood furnace. We have turned up the electric heat to the point where the house is warmer than it has been since early fall. Better to start out with a warm house if the power goes out.
Fingers (and toes) crossed that we keep our power.
By Maine standards, we are having an extremely mild winter. While we have had a cold day here and there, for the most part the weather has been in the 30s and 40s, not at all typical for Maine in January and now February.
We haven’t had much snow, either, and in sunny spots in town, the snow is pretty much gone. Because we live in the woods, we still have some snow, but it has pulled away from the road, and it seems that we are in late March rather than February.
Readers, it is just plain weird to have weather like this in Maine in mid-winter.
Here is a picture of our road taken in February of last year.
Here is a picture taken yesterday when Clif and I went on a Sunday walk up the road.
As you can see, there is quite a difference. Now, for those who live in a warmer climate, it might seem strange to complain about weather that is still chilly but is warmer than usual for this time of year. And to mourn the lack of snow.
But I was born in Maine and have lived here for most of my sixty-two years. To me, winter means snow and cold, and it feels wrong to have it otherwise. One mild winter by itself would not be a cause for concern, but I am old enough to remember when we did not have ticks, Japanese Beetles, cardinals, or red-bellied woodpeckers. Lots of changes in sixty years.
There are some good things about a mild winter. The ice on the sidewalks and driveways is mostly gone, and it is easier to get around. Warmer weather also makes it less expensive to heat the house, and this is a blessing for those of us who live on a tight budget
On one hand, on the other hand. We humans love to weigh things and make comparisons, to note the bad and the good.
But some of us wonder what it will be like ten years from now, in Maine and around the world.
In central Maine, today is a perfect example of the exquisite beauty of winter’s light. On Saturday, we had seven more inches of snow, but on Sunday the weather cleared, and now the skies are an impossible blue. Only in January and February, with the cold weather, do we get this kind of piercing clarity.
After going to a Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast at the local Catholic church, we stopped by the lake to take pictures of the sky and the snow and the trees. And, of course, the ice-fishing shacks.
Some people have their own kind of piercing clarity, and surely Martin Luther King Jr. was one such man. It seems appropriate, then, to end with a few of his quotations:
There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.
There comes a time when silence is betrayal.
Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.