Turn on the Waterworks

I don’t own a pool. Poor, poor me. Weep for me, all ye who have any tears to spare. Ha ha! Just kidding!! I’ve never, ever owned—or even felt compelled to own—a swimming pool, actually. I’m much too lazy to want the responsibility of either maintaining a pool or keeping it secure, and even too lumpish to be an avid swimmer. My only claim to fame in the latter regard is that I managed, almost inexplicably, to pass the required lifesaving/pool safety class at my high school, and this I only accomplished because I was stubborn and kind of unsympathetic as a rescuer, having learned some dandy but unfriendly tricks for subduing a panicked person who was struggling ‘uncooperatively’ while drowning.

When the weather gets hot enough, I might turn a slightly more longing eye toward any swimming pool in my vicinity, if only for the cooling of my heels. But I’m too pragmatic in my aversion to labor to indulge in the fantasy for very long. Just until the latest hot flash or external heat wave diminishes a bit, at most.
Digital illo: Turn on the Waterworks

So it’s kind of funny, even to me, how incredibly rejuvenated and rejoiced I am the minute I get to the coast anywhere. I forget, conveniently and blessedly, between times quite what an impact being near open water has on my spirits even though I don’t relish swimming in it and don’t even care especially about wading in it. The tang of the water’s salt and the occasional spritz of mist when a breeze carries it to my cheek, these are the attributes that pull at my heart. The gentle, steady lapping of tidewater as it sweeps back and forth across the scree and sand, this is the soundtrack of my contentment.

You can keep your gently chlorinated, mosaic-spangled, sanitized beauties, all of you pool owners out there. I don’t mind the special occasion of dipping my toe into the temperate, turquoise splendors of such sparkling basins when I can, but I will always lean toward the shore. Call me when your tidepool sports dancing anemones and bold sea stars, your lap pool spontaneously cleans itself with a refreshing swish and spray of tidal movement, and your patio is scattered with shells and sandblasted gems of glass and dried seaweed in graceful bouquets and…well, I guess I’ll see you when I get back from the ocean.

Strange Landscape

Photo: Palm Trees 1No matter what the reasons, the weather is different these days than both what I grew up with (all those centuries ago!) and what the locals in most places call ‘the usual’—really, really different. It’s not that Toronto has suddenly become the center of the tropics or San Salvador is now an iceberg floating along the edge of a glacier, it’s just different. The highs and lows have become both more pronounced and more prolonged in many places, from what I can see.

Where I grew up in Seattle, for example, its mythic status as Rain City and the region’s fame as being constantly wet were exaggerated, much of the truly soaking rain happening on the Olympic Peninsula as a result of the mountains’ effect on traveling clouds, weather fronts, and so forth, and thus less of it eventually reaching Seattle’s sheltered spot on Puget Sound. Instead, there were lots of grey, overcast days and light drizzling ones, but the measurable rain was moderate. In fact, the region generally has had plenty of rain to sustain, in its temperate climate, a stupendous variety of plants year-round, from the great towers of evergreen trees to their tiniest replicas in forest-like carpets of moss.

There were, as anyone anywhere knows, secrets and surprises in this unique climate. In the neighborhood where my grandparents had their apartment when I was young, right next to the shores of the Sound, I was awed by a few yards sporting healthy palm trees. These were not native to the northwest, nor even the slightest bit common—hence, my amazement at their exotic punctuation of the expected landscape—but they grew there without requiring any particular magic, because the microclimate along the West Seattle shoreline has remained remarkably sheltered and coddled by Mother Nature.

Now, it’s a more frequent phenomenon to see all sorts of semitropical plants creeping into the Seattle area landscape, and at the same time, more and more xeric plants. The hot weather of summer does, in reality, get a little hotter and stick around a little longer than it did in years past. It also tends to be drier. The total annual rainfall average hasn’t fallen into a chasm, but it’s creeping lower gradually, and this winter-spring cycle has been a record-setter for low snow pack, sending a fair number of ski resort owners into early and/or even permanent closure and more than a few homeowners into rethinking their home sprinkler systems and dispatching lawns in favor of water-saving raingardens. A few years down the road, it wouldn’t surprise me especially to see yards that look remarkably like the iconic ones of Las Vegas popping up on many northern properties as well.

Some of this change in nature’s attitude toward us is bound to change how we can and should live our lives. The watersheds that once supplied an abundance of cheap, readily available drinking and gardening water and hydroelectric power to wide swaths of the country are shrinking and already being bargained for more aggressively, even disputed. The world is already water-poor, despite newly over-watered and flooding regions, and I wouldn’t be entirely shocked if at some point water becomes the basis of more wars than oil and politico-religious reasons are today. I hope I’m not around to see the day.

Meanwhile, it’s still something of a novelty, never mind those long-ago days of perhaps two or three landmark palm trees in West Seattle, to see what’s happening in the gardens and seasons of this changing world. Never thought I’d see things the way they are, and that’s not just talking about the weather. Maybe I’ll get a grass skirt and celebrate it with a neon-colored summer drink served with its own paper mini-umbrella while it lasts.Photo: Palm Trees 2

Water Babies Athirst

There was a whopper of a rainstorm in Dallas recently. We were at our friends’ home, enjoying a little birthday party, and heard a few low growls of thunder in pauses between the chatting and laughter but had no great confidence rain would follow. It’s been overcast or cloudy often enough lately without granting so much of the hoped-for watering as it seems to promise, so we never take it as a given that we’ll be watered nicely. Not, in this instance at least, until the front door smashed open under the force of sideways gales and blasts of firehose rain. Bashed open once, and closed; then, a second time. And latched tight; the neighborhood was pelted well and truly until just a little before we left for home.
Photo: Drinking-Fountain Fountain

At home, it appears, no rain had come at all. Our gardens and spirits remained thirsty. I’m quite certain that a coastal-born person of my Washington upbringing and Scandinavian roots is a little more water-conscious, if not obsessed, than average. But the hints of rain that do arrive here, whether in sky-splitting gouts that last but an afternoon or in a steady series of lightly sprinkling days as we are sometimes blessed to see, are a fairly universally admired gift. And I find that north Texas is hardly alone in this.
Photo: Swan Like

The traveling we did this summer in Europe had very few rainy days among the many sun-soaked ones, and while we neither regretted the warmth and light of the sunshine nor bemoaned the drizzling times, we saw plenty of people in Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Stockholm, Port Angeles and Seattle who relished their rain-baths and their waterfront or fountain-side relaxation every bit as much as we did. Even the swans, geese, ducks and waterfowl seemed all the more pleased with their daily peregrinations on the days of and after the rains.
Digital illustration from a photo: Falling, Falling

I think that there might be in all of us a certain kind of thirst that mere water only reinforces and reminds us is different from the sense of desire and hope that can fill our spirits. River or fountain, a strong and cleansing rain, ocean or streaming tears of joy, the only water that can quite slake our longing for wholeness and growth and hope is the remembrance that we are primarily made of water ourselves, and as such, will always seek a way to the well or the shore that reassures us we belong.

The Bones of the Beach

I grew up pretty near the Pacific Ocean. It was a matter of a couple of hours to get to its shores from home, and mere minutes’ drive to Puget Sound, and I have always loved any chance to spend time along the water. At home in Texas, it’s not so easy: there are a few man-made lakes within a short drive, with a few public beach spots along the edges of each, most of the time too hot for strolling, and that’s about it. So that recent trip to Puerto Rico was a brief but lovely reminder of what pleasure I find in wandering the beach when I can, absorbing not only a bit of salt water through my happy bare feet and the tangy air through my expanding lungs but also the great sense of history and adventure inherent in all of the findings strewn along the tidal brink.Digital collage: Beachcomber's Trove

Despite being so much a water-baby at heart, I’ve never so much loved open water swimming—after all, my people are the pale, easily fried folk of Norway who transplanted to the familiarly brisk spank of the coastal waters to fish and farm and forest-hunt as they’d done back in the old country. But I’m drawn all the same to explore the tide-pools and comb through the heaps of hidden-and-revealed treasure that line the beach, sucking deep breaths of sea breeze happily right down to my soul. I love to see all of the bits of shell and bone and stone piled up and intermingled with molted feathers, ship detritus and the petrified lace of corals and seaweed. Every tiny piece seems to hold such a storied past that I can stare and sift and dream endlessly.Photos: Beach Bones

What caused that lone shoe to wash up here from unknown shores? Why are those pieces of sea-soaked driftwood burnt but not in the fire pit, rather appearing like a dragon-singed skeleton in a distant heap down the shore? How did so many colors of ghostly and sandblasted beach glass come to bejewel the line of the tide together? Who were the creatures that fished the shore and left bleached fish bones here, a crab shell there? When did the storms kick up such a foment of foam that the inland side of mean high tide has a gloss of it lacquered firmly across the surface of its sand? Where are the children whose sandcastle ruins are still tucked behind the biggest boulders on the beach, waving flags of leaf and kelp from their stunted battlements? And most importantly, when can I return to the beach to stroll and dream of such things again?

No Man is an Island, and Sometimes Going to an Island is a Good Reminder

photoWe had this adventure, my man and I. Went to an island. A lovely one called Puerto Rico. We spent a week on that beautiful piece of Caribbean land and enjoyed the break from our everyday Real Life, the immersion in nature and its marvelous native birds and insects and flora and the wash of its rolling waves on luxuriant green shores.

The quiet was exceedingly welcome.

But our reason for the trip wasn’t isolation and retreat. We went for the wedding of dear friends. And the wedding of a Puerto Rican woman with a big, loving family and a lot of friends to a North American man bringing his own contingent of supporters from Canada and the US is not a place to go and lie low with the covers pulled up over one’s head.

As if it weren’t already too warm and humid to be curled up under a duvet.

So we had the fantastic experience of being drawn into this jolly, joyous gathering and treated like more members of the extended family, and along with our enjoyment of being on that wonderful island, we had the perfect reminder of what’s so great about being surrounded by dear and tremendous people and how the pleasures of the place, the travel, the newness and beauties not previously experienced, all are enhanced so richly by the good company.

It’s why I spend so much time in the good company of my blogging and blog-reading companions, of course, but as always, it takes a change of scenery to remind me of what I should already know. It’s good to be home, and all the more so when I’ve been away. Here, I am once again awash in a sea of friends and loved ones, and I am doubly glad.

Foodie Tuesday: Drinks are on Me

CafeculturaWhy is it that it often takes getting together with friends to remind me what a welcome refreshment it is to spend even a short time sitting down for a break with a drink in good company? It matters little whether the liquid in question is a glass of water, a cup of tea or coffee or cocoa, icy soda or lemonade, vintage wine or a crisp cocktail. The venue isn’t the most important factor either, though I’ll readily admit that I think sitting in a gleaming Art Nouveau patisserie over cafe au lait et un petit morceau de gateau beats the Ouefs a la Neige out of drinking a cuppa Joe in the kitchen over a back issue of Home Plumber magazine. The length of the interval isn’t entirely the deciding factor, for that matter, though the stretchier it can be, the better the chance of full recovery from what ails me, whether it’s a minor moment of annoyance or full-on encroaching grouch-itude. Clearly, different occasions require different libations, too.

The primary determinant of the break’s quality and value, not to mention its memorability, is the company in which the break-with-a-sip is taken. No one I know would argue against the existence of occasions wherein the best (even the only acceptable) company is one’s own. But often, even when I think I desire nothing so much as to be alone, I discover that the finest of respite is found in the sharing of a drink in good company. So whenever you and I find ourselves coming together in the same place at the same time, let’s sit down for a moment or two and savor life over the liquid renewer of choice, if you please. Good for the corporeal fluid levels; better for the soul.Enjoy Cafecultura

If You don’t Like the Weather, Wait a Minute

photoHave you ever seen a pigeon flying backward? I did today. This phenomenal occurrence was not because I spotted a mutant genius helicopter pigeon; that really might be a matter for tales of magic and fantasy, given the modern pigeon’s brain.

It was that windy. The pigeon was making a valiant effort to take off from the edge of a roof and, blown instead straight backward, finally saw the same edge directly under him and came right back in for a landing. What’re you gonna do?

The wind is giving us a good whack here in north Texas today. Two days ago, it was over 80°F/27°C, brilliantly sunny, and calm as a sleeping cat. Tonight, we’re told, we can expect freezing temperatures and should cover all of our tender plants in the garden. A couple of days before our balmy pseudo-summer day, we had a storm pass through. Parts of our town had a little thunder and lightning and a fair amount of rain with a little bit of hail mixed in it, but nothing extravagant by local standards. Our house was in that lucky sector, and so was our car while we drove home in The Weather. Just across town, others were not so fortunate: some had hail the size of golf balls or larger, and tornado-like gusts, and among the downed trees and limbs there were homes where the roofs were destroyed or caved in, cars were damaged or totaled by metal-dimpling all over and glass smashed through, and interiors soaked with the rain and debris thrown in through the broken windows.

We’re torn, in more ways than strictly the physical, around here.

We crave every drop of H2O that we can squeeze out of the sky; even after a relatively mild number of months, our lake levels continue to be well below their norms, some still fully in drought status. It’s not considered a plus if you can drive directly to where your boat is moored, in case anyone wondered. All the same, if the moisture is dumped all at once as though shot through giant firehoses, it doesn’t always stay where it’s needed but instead causes flash floods, undermines foundations, uproots vegetation and breaks down buildings and roads left and right.

Doesn’t matter what you call it—climate change, global warming, a thirty-year cycle, or evil pixies run amok—the weather all around this wonderful, messy planet is more extreme than it had been for much of recent history. The extremes are more extreme, the heat and cold, the wind and dead stillness, the flooding and droughts. Only the inconsistency of the weather seems to be more, well, consistent.

All somewhat amusing, if the worst one experiences is the occasional sighting of a pigeon flying backward. But of course, that’s the least of it. Ask our neighbors who sustained major damage to house, car and property all at once last week. Ask the people—the peoples—displaced by tornado and typhoon, those who have lost home and family to the floods and famines that massacre everyone in their paths throughout whole regions.

I don’t much care about whether we’re partly to blame for the seeming extra intensity of nature’s capriciousness and fury at this point. It’s not all that different, in my mind, from all of the displacements, distortions and destruction in history that we can absolutely attribute to human invasion, conquest, greed, prejudice, ignorance and evil. As horrible as that stuff all, genuinely, is, it is: it exists, already. What matters is what we do now in order not to perpetuate the ills, and better yet, to mitigate them as best we can. We can’t undo history, and we can’t control nature. But we can and should change our attitudes, practices and beliefs (and the governing processes needed to support those societal improvements appropriately) in whatever ways will support a far better world, one where wars, rape, murder, slavery, thievery, violence and all sorts of other horrible human actions are not only universally condemned but undesirable to enact.

And, since we expect that we, and those generations who succeed us, will continue to need to live on this specific planet and its resources, hadn’t we better think up some less selfish and more practical ways of easing the effects of nature just as much as our effects on it? We won’t likely figure out how to stop the wind from blowing with great intensity, floods from filling valleys, hail from pelting like rocks out of the sky, or lightning from searing and exploding whatever it can lay its fiery fingertip on, but if we put our minds to it, maybe we can think up some reasonable ways to protect more people, and care for those who are affected, better.

I didn’t really start out with the intent of rambling on about this stuff, but it’s on my mind. Probably not so different from the pigeon’s reaction when he discovered his original flight plan wasn’t viable. Can I fly backward? I don’t know. But I’ll bet it’s worth trying, if I find myself needing to make an emergency landing. No matter how the wind is blowing.photo