Mid August, How August is the Month of August

This is the time in each year when the unrelieved heat suddenly is relieved, at least once or twice, and more often during the night. This is the time, I note, when those who use air conditioners in their homes comment, Oh, I turned the air conditioner off last night. This is the time when I pull the blanket back over my shoulder. If my husband had his druthers, the first floor of our house would have been far less heavy in the air. But he gives in to me on this, and the sole air conditioner is upstairs in his room/studio. My room here on the first floor, southwest corner shaded by the weeping English birches, relies on cross breezes — as does every room on the first floor; every window on the first floor of the house is open, that is the summer modus operandus. I do not like air conditioning. When we are in the livingroom, he has a fan close at hand, and a hand towel to mop sweat, and sometimes a damp washcloth to cool his neck. I think that’s pretty kind.

Recently, I had a bunch of errands to do, bank, library, post office, hardware store, and when completed at the hardware store, found myself at the foot of a street I didn’t remember pedaling ever. So I took it. It was, as many streets in this city are, a mix of large and small houses on large and small plots, in varying levels of tending and planting. It also was, one of those streets with no street trees. I felt like I was pedaling through a heated tunnel. Each house had multiple air conditioners perched on windowsills, held in tight by closed windows. A couple also had one of those low profile air conditioners the body of which hugs the wall below the window and a small hose opening in its own frame sits beneath the almost closed window, not as aesthetically disruptive on the outside. One house had central air. An urban desert. You hear about it, you read it, and see the maps showing heat zones, all disturbing to imagine. But to see it, to stand at one end of the street in New England, tree abundant New England, and see the unmitigated heat rising from pavement, it makes me sweat just to look. As these years progress, this heat will only be worsening. I won’t argue the cause, you know pretty clearly what I believe about humans, designated stewards serving, instead as excessive users, you may think it is cyclical. No matter! It is hot, getting hotter (and stormy getting stormier, and cold getting colder, and dry getting dryer). Trees are natural coolers, natural air conditioners in the real sense of the word, natural shade, natural. Let’s plant them!! And where they are planted, let’s keep them!!

What is the first tree you remember noticing? For me, a city kid, it was the sycamore. They are determined by arborists to be excellent city trees, as they are particularly efficient in scrubbing the air of carbon dioxide and re-emitting oxygen. That sycamore and its companion trees along the block were taken down years ago in interest of widening the street in front of our apartment and the three other apartment buildings on the block and for about twenty blocks east and west of us to five lanes, plus two parking lanes. The noise that rose into our 3rd floor apartment increased most noticeably. A constant dull roar, punctuated frequently by the wheezing buses pausing at the bus stop below us. Then about 10 years ago, trees were planted again. A small but urgently needed success.

The 10 year old trees (well they were 7 years old in this picture of three years ago), and the bus stop sign, and parked cars, tight to the end of the bus stop, and see to the right, the apartment building itself has planted shrubs and grasses. That happened when the pre-war apartment building was converted to condos (existing residents were grandfathered into their apartments).

Urge your community to plant trees, real trees, shade trees, ones that will grow, breathe, withstand even as they help to diminish the stress. And, this I just learned the other day during a tree identification walk through the local cemetery, make sure that the roots are not totally covered up, not even by dirt, because these roots breathe, and need to not have their noses covered or they will suffocate. I conjecture that this is probably why so many of the trees along Route 3 in Massachusetts , and so many newly installed city trees fail, the roots are buried in dirt, under bricks or grates or concrete–death guaranteed. We need to be mindful of our neighbors including those that keep us breathing. Do you know, even the cracks between concrete blocks of sidewalks benefit the trees’ breathing. Air seeps in however it may, and root noses inhale.

This is a gingko, a female gingko, with the fruit, which becomes stinkbombs (The male gingko does not fruit). These beautiful trees are prehistoric in their origin. This one was I spotted on the cemetery walk. They live despite us.
Sycamore with a nest in it. In Lowell.
Trees growing from a long defunct factory. Thank God for their persistence.

I Sing a Song of …

Here in late-mid July I am at my desk, with the windows in the room flung open. I am shivering, and wearing two layers, but I refuse to close these windows because it is raining and lovely, and because two days ago it was 98 degrees farenheit and at least as humid. For three days that was the weather we had, and it rendered me motionless. How many times have I visited a hot, humid climate (e.g., in my experience–islands like Puerto Rico, Antigua, Margarita, as well as countries such as Costa Rica, Mexico, Morocco) and reveled in that weather — beachside, poolside, barside — inattentive to the resident population, whose life this ennervating weather is?

Which brings me to the question–who among us, anywhere in the world, of any social or economic stratum, has enough information about anywhere else in the world, to make an informed judgment? An opinion, I think, can be made with less than full information, but never concreted into a judgment until “walking in their shoes”. And I fear we are very, very quickly expressing judgments these days because we are so inundated with information, subjective information. (I think we probably often make judgments, aka, first impressions, fast, but used to express them a bit more slowly as we had to work more to find means.) May I realize my ignorance and willingly research, study, learn before I opine and, by technologically enhanced capability, judge.

I am thinking, access to a “mouthpiece” is so available, and use of said mouthpieces so second-nature, that perhaps we do not even remember that words of judgment spoken via fingertips to keys are in fact often broadly cast, whether by ourselves or by share-happy recipients. In fact, I find myself flinching at the word share. It is losing any modicum it may still have held of relationship to the idea of generosity.

And, speaking of words losing aspects of themselves, I slide over to another, and I think related topic, loss of words, themselves. A book written a couple of years ago by Robert McFarlane and illustrated by Jackie Moss talks about words that have been removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary. Robert McFarlane has written numerous books about usually difficult-to-access places; written about these places to note, share, and preserve at least in words, their singleness, their beauty, their very presence. Until his latest book, published this year, they were about places on the surface, at all different topographies, often quite high and treacherous. His book, out this year is Underland and is about just that-deep places, caves, tunnels. Always at work in his writing is the value, the generosity of these places, and always understood in reading them and being alive in this day and age, is the usually human threat to their health, even presence. His book about words, called The Lost Words, notes the loss of:

many words that denote/describe things of nature–some of them relatively common words, still, and relatively common things, such as: acorn; bluebell; ivy; fern; dandelion.

ferns along the local rail trail in spring
violets in the backyard in spring

As we shrink our personal contact with what is outside of ourselves, and rely more and more on immediate (both locationally and time-based) electronic transmission, will munificence be lost? Oh, I pray not.

And now July

This morning, bicycling to share an early breakfast with a very good friend I was a few minutes early, so I pedaled along a probably 2/10ths of a mile section of a rail trail in downtown Lowell. Just off of Merrimack Street, the major downtown transecting urban way. On the roof of an abandoned, I think former auto dealer, just along the entry to this mini trail a high trill beckoned me, her song beautiful as the Sirens’ who called to Odysseus, enticed me to veer from my entry to the trail to pedal on the broken pavement, up a granite curb, between links of a rusting chainlink fence, and to stand in 6:50 AM sun looking for the best way to see, and yet still hear. I lost sight of her briefly, but her song, more a breath than a voice, kept me close. I don’t know what she was. Small, no more than 5 inches, light brown head, but I could not see below her neck, nor could I see whether her eyes were ringed or not. Was she a warbler, vireo, sparrow? Among each of them are sweet voiced singers, but whisperers, breathers? I am mystified as much as I was enchanted.

She sat back, and was now out of sight, so I returned to my intended river hugging route of two tenths of a mile. I saw red wing blackbirds, grackles, yellow warblers, a mallard flying overhead, then a slew of mallards or maybe black ducks congregating at an eddy in the Concord River below me, near the Middlesex Fall. I saw a robin. I saw a warbler. I was just about at the end of the path, and happy, when whoosh a long grey wing sliced the air below to me and to my left. I turned full face toward that disturbance in my sight line. Ahh, a great blue heron rising silently from the rocks and rushing waters directly below me. I was happy, and as she began to move beyond my viewshed and I began to continue my way,whoosh, a second great blue rises across the river, invisible in her stillness and grayness against the granite stone and drooping willows, until opening her wings and rising this slender study in blue, grey, green, white, struck by orange beak and calves. There was no time nor dexterity nor desire to find and wield my phonecamera. I just sighed with delight.

The greys of these birds like the rocks among which they stand for hours, the touch of blue like the sky reflected in the waters in which they are vigil, the green waters of their feathers, tse orange sun bringing life to the green algae, leaves, grasses, shoots, stems, all which breathe out refreshed what they had inhaled, and send to Merrimack Street, and Davidson Street, and Central and Bridge Streets, and the adjacent commercial buildings, manufacturing buildings, educational buildings, residences, fresh air, fresh, fresh air. The waterfalls and rapids so audible on hand, auditorially absent 20 feet along Merrimack Street, yet not personally absent, only no longer heard among horns, rubber tires coursing asphalt pavement, humans and their burdens pursuing our lives, able to because the water runs, the trees leaf, the grasses feed, the air thermals up and dives down and moves along–each pushing, transforming, transporting, removing particles upon particles left in our wake. Enabling us to be awake and not waked, for another day, and another.

I am waxing and I am waning as I write this post. I am hearing that small brown bird. I am shivering at the two great blue herons. I am remembering the five turkey vultures I watched group mid air and then swoop down and roost on a barn roof in Westport, Massachusetts, and the twelve turkey vultures swooping to behind a Provincetown sand bluff and congregating and conversing and then swooping up and away again, one at a time each in her own direction some over the sea and some overhead and some toward the bay, and, this past weekend up on a small beach on a small lake in New Hampshire, seven ducklings (oh, maybe teenage ducks) preening and chortling while we watched. I am remembering a three hour conversation with my friend this morning wandering across all the places our lives range this year, this month, these days, wandering with gratitude that there is never nothing to learn.

What do you think?

Yesterday was a beauty, and so I took the orange Fuji Absolute bicycle and pedaled. How could I not? I took the easy route, the local rail trail end to end. Never does its grade elevate steeper than 1%, in fact, I doubt it ever gets that steep. The breeze was light, the air was light in that it was quite dry. For a Monday mid-morning, the path was a bit more populated than soloist I would have liked, but we say, nod, or smile hello to each other in passing and it’s nice. The frowners always briefly chill me, but why? There are no requirements that a walker must also be some level of friendly. We all have legs and feet, and all will benefit from using them and keeping them operable, even if we don’t smile while we do.

However, one event: off trail — towards the end of the current trail, at around milepost 11.00 a small shopping mall backs up to the right of way. I got off the trail to explore what stores were there. There was a grocery store. I decided I was hungry for a snack, so I went and selected a mocha chip muffin. I brought it to the register, and the clerk’s frown was so deep as to be permanently carved. I handed her the bagged muffin. “What is it?” she barked, before I could say. “It’s a muffin.” I tried to say it lightly. I knew the item was listed as costing $1.89, so I had $2.00 ready to hand to her. “$2.02′” she growled. “Oh!” I had to dig into my backpack to find change. She tapped the register counter. She tapped the register counter. She tapped the register counter. It took me probably 10 seconds to find and hand over the change. She handed me back the bag. I thanked her. “Have a nice day,” she countered, and frowned me out.

So, this darkened my day. I am not readily thrown by others’ anger, frustration, mis-humor turned toward me, but that moment, yesterday I was. Now I reasoned, hers is not a high paying, highly regarded job, and the grocery store interior was surprisingly dim in its style and decor, not derelict in any way, but dark, in stark contrast to the sunlight streaming in through the windows, and I obviously was out playing, not working for a living on that day. As I returned to my bicycle, I simultaneously muttered about her and felt bad for her. Then I found myself wondering, worrying, if while I was in the store, had someone possibly stolen my bicycle, or knocked it over? Were the chocolate chips in my muffin going to melt and be a mess before I got to eat it? Would one of the wheels spring a flat? Would I slide on the gravel alongside the trail and fall? There was no joy in Kate’s bicycleville.

What do you think? How can our jobs be made satisfying? How can our jobs do something other than provide a paycheck, regardless of what our jobs are? Why is there so much that makes one unhappy? Why, when there is so much that is beautiful? And, is most of the first human-made, and most of the second not? Yet humans can make much that is beautiful, and can be so. Why not just such?

On this rail trail, especially on the second phase, which was completed last year, there are quite a few wetlands. They are wonderful sites for bird song listening and bird flitting, perching, and flight watching. I paused before one such and counted red-wing blackbirds, swamp sparrows, and yellow warblers and a baltimore oriole while I enjoyed what turned out to be a really, really delicious mocha chip muffin.

Baltimore Oriole

June — just shy of summer solstice

Hello!

I have missed you. Even more so because I wrote in May, honest, but, with a few inexplicable exceptions, my post did not leave the postbox. It was most frustrating. So after trying for two weeks to get assistance from Google’s blogger help and, failing that, via the blogger community, I asked Mark for help setting up a wordpress blog account. And, as you can see, it is from wordpress that I now transmit.

You know, I won’t comment on weather over the past couple of months, because I forget weather the second it has passed. I know only this, it is much more favorable here in New England than anywhere else in this country, and conceivably outside this country too. I am grateful for what we have; I feel for those enduring life, livelihood, and home threatening weather systems everywhere else.

Plants grew abundantly and vibrantly because (I do remember this) days in May and June have been alternating between soaking rain and brilliant sun, in just the right order and just enough. In fact, I have been having backyard greens salads for a month now. Oh the beauty of arugula, sage, lettuce and, most recently, basil, plucked, carried into the house, and eaten. Fresh is a flavor all of its own. There is no other descriptor necessary. You can taste it, and you delight.

The bees swarmed! They overwintered well and so healthily that they made a new queen and a quorum swarmed into the arborvitae about 25-30 feet up. We collected them by perching on the shed roof and, well, you can see from the three photos below.

You can see I have missed doing these posts, because I seem unable to stop talking, even the captions are verbose.

So I will stop for now.

I will just add this excerpt from an Emily Dickinson poem (from The Single Hound no. XXXIV)

Nature is what we see,
The Hill, the Afternoon-
Squirrel, Eclipse, the Bumble-bee,
Nay–Nature is Heaven