Tag Archives: weather

Spring Snow

We certainly did not suffer the weight of snow dumped on the upper midwest yesterday, but T.S. Eliot’s weighty observation that April is the cruelest month seemed particularly apt when we woke up to white: and it seemed more like ice than snow! It might be aesthetically pleasing to see newly-sprouted grass and flowers frosted with white, but it does make you fear for your garden. Mother Nature is indeed a cruel master to tempt plants out of the protective earth with a warm weekend, and then slam them with an arctic frost! It was so warm a few days ago that I finally switched out the evergreen shrub in my front stoop pot with a tender purple-flowered variety, and now its leaves are black and curled. The same cats which frolicked in the back yard a few days ago are now back on their radiator perches, looking at me with suspicion.

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iPad version of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922), with really neat annotations.



Endless Winter

I promised to embrace winter at the beginning of this year but it is only mid-February and I am willing to let go! This particular winter has had a Chinese water torture quality; we’ve had more snow in the past but this year it seems like it is always snowing–just enough to make a mess and disrupt everything. Winter can be tough in the city, and even though Salem is a small city it is still most definitely a city. The momentarily-pristine snow soon turns brown (and other colors) quite quickly and you are dependent on your neighbors and fellow residents to shovel their sidewalks–and often they let you down. Right now we have compacted ice under the latest coat of snow on the sidewalks. Parking has been a nightmare. Whenever the city declares a snow emergency (every other day it seems) all cars must be removed from the streets:  we’re lucky to have parking but I feel terribly for my tenant–whose car has been consigned to a public parking lot on Gallow’s Hill on more than one occasion (there are only two public garages). On another note, I must admit to smiling just a bit when the annoying Accura that has been continually parked in front of our house was towed away during our last snow emergency……see how mean Winter has made me!

Chilly scenes of winter…the view from my bedroom window during last Saturday’s storm, and from my office window Tuesday afternoon:

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Walking around town, very carefully:

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Skating on Thick Ice

I have been collecting skating images from the sixteenth century onwards for some time, but one thing was eluding me:  a picture of a pair of animal-bone skates, which were commonly used in the medieval and early modern eras. I finally found one (along with a nice little blog post) at a great source for the material culture images: the Museum of London. These are from the 11th century, but the practice of strapping the lower-limb bones of horses or cattle to one’s feet during the skating season lasted for centuries.


I couldn’t find an image from the era of these skates, but after the appearance of printing they become far more plentiful, beginning with the wonderful images from the Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus of Olaus Magnus, which was first printed in Rome in 1555. Scandinavia is depicted as a winter wonderland, with people (and animals) cavorting about on skis, sleds, snowshoes, and skates. Magnus’s skaters navigate the ice with long poles, making them resemble paddleboarders.

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Skating scenes become more common in southern Europe in the sixteenth century as well, most especially in the printing and paintings of Flanders and the Netherlands, where it was embraced in both reality and imagery:  the Dutch seemed to have lived on the ice in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, celebrating it more than merely tolerating it–and their blades appear to be evolved from bone to iron by this time.

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Pieter van der Borcht, The Large Skating Festival at Malines, 1559; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Hendrick Avercamp, Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters, 1608; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Different climate, different skating culture: for the most part, with the exception of those wondrous winters in the later 17th and 18th centuries when the Thames froze over and “frost fairs” ensued, ice skating appears as more of a sideline/ background activity for the English, symbolizing the seasons or the months on their periodical prints and providing lots of opportunities for caricatures in the early nineteenth century:  they satirized the Dutch, and were in turn mocked by the French for their “Skating Dandies”.

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“A Wonderful Fair or a Fair of Wonders”, 1684, British Library; Robert Dighton, “January” watercolour, c. 1785, British Library; Thomas Heath, “Dutch Steamers on the Frozen Zuyder Zee”, c. 1822-40 & “Les patineurs Anglais”, published by Paul André Basset, c. 1814-18, both © British Museum.

Just around this time what is generally acknowledged to be the first entire manual devoted to figure skating was published: Le Vrai Patineur (The True Skater) by Jean Garcin, which features eight engraved plates as well as detailed instructions for what would soon become standardized movements (you can read more about it here). While this text might mark skating’s transformation from pastime to sport, the majority of images for the rest of that century and well into the next depict the activity in a more leisurely and social manner. I particularly like the  “skating chairs” that I spotted in several 19th century images; they seem to have disappeared by 1900.

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A page from Le Vrai Patineur, 1813; Johann Adam Klein, “Woman in Sled with an Officer on Skates (Der Eisschlitten), 1824, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Snow Showers

I really grasped the term snow showers yesterday afternoon when we had a flurry with the softest, biggest, snowflakes that I have ever seen. It seemed too warm for snow, but snow it did, for several hours in the early afternoon. Huge snowflakes fell, melting almost as soon as they hit the ground, yet we still managed some accumulation of the white stuff and this morning it is snowing again. All is calm, and white.

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Embracing Winter

What a difference a day makes: while we woke up to a rather brown and barren streetscape on New Year’s Day, yesterday we emerged from sleep into a winter wonderland. I love the day after a big snowstorm because everything looks so pristine, before the cars (and the dogs) make things less white. Because it was (and remains) so cold, this particular storm produced a light, fluffy, crystalline snow that was easy to shovel, so we were done in no time (plus a really nice guy came by with a bobcat and opened up our little driveway for us). As you can see from the pictures below, it was very grey in the morning but got progressively brighter throughout the day, creating some beautiful contrasts and shadows.

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I’m determined to embrace winter this year: my snowshoes and skates are by the door. Why shouldn’t I? I can walk to work (when I have to; our university cancels classes at the drop of a hat) and everywhere I need to go. For those that can bear the cold–and I’d much rather be too cold than too hot–winter is only a hassle if commuting by car is involved. Our preoccupation with–and anxiety over–winter storms seems to have intensified so much over my adult life; when I was a kid I associated winter with fun. And since I don’t have to brave the challenges of commuting by planes, trains and cars on a daily basis I should be able to approach winter with a sense of wonder, if I can ignore my heating bills.

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Houses on Chestnut and Broad Streets on a bright winter’s day in Salem: I love the way this last house–the colonial revival Wheatland-Phillips House designed by John P. Benson, marine artist and brother of Frank Benson–looks in the winter. Built in 1896, it is actually one of the newest houses on Chestnut Street.

Sunrise, Sunset

Before the park and the rusticators, there were the painters, most notably those identified as belonging to the Hudson River School who seem to have been similarly inspired by Mount Desert Island. I’m leafing through this lovely book by John Wilmerding, The Artist’s Mount Desert. American Painters on the Maine Coast (1995), and am particularly drawn to the paintings of Frederic Edwin Church, who came to the island in the 1850s after Alvan Fisher and Thomas Cole “discovered” it for the artistic community in the 1830s and 1840s. Church captures the drama and the contrast of the island’s terrain, and its weather. On Mount Desert, it’s not “wait a minute” for the weather to change as in the rest of New England, but “wait a second” for the fog to roll in (on little cat feet).


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Frederic Edwin Church, Fog off Mount Desert (Collection of John Wilmerding), 1850, and Coast Scene,Mount Desert (Sunrise off the Maine Coast) Wadsworth Athenaeum, 1863.

We had great weather during our trip but it was foggy most mornings and evenings. One day I traveled from a very sunny, almost hot Southwest Harbor to a very foggy (northeast) Bar Harbor in the space of a half-hour. The fog does amazing things to the island’s mountains, coast, and offshore islands, which you can see by the sequence of photographs below, particularly those taken from the deck of the Margaret Todd, a replica cargo schooner moored in Bar Harbor, on which we took a sunset cruise. There’s also a few buildings below, but not many; I’ve got to go back to Mount Desert for houses and gardens without (most of) my camping companions. I would not presume to characterize the (remaining) architectural landscape of  Bar Harbor, for three reasons: 1) there was a devastating fire in 1947 which leveled much of downtown (67 summer cottages, five hotels, 170 year-round homes); 2) I didn’t really have enough time for an assessment, due to the demands of camping; and 3) this is the territory of the Downeast DilettanteHowever, I will say that it’s a little sad to walk along the Shore Path and see only one Gilded Era “cottage”, the Breakwater or Atlantique estate of John Innes Kane, great-grandson of John Jacob Astor. I grew up along a similar path far to the south but still in Maine, lined with many similar contemporary cottages.

Breakwater from the Shore Path and the deck of the Margaret Todd, a Seal Harbor chapel and cottage, houses and bridge in Somesville:

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And now for the fog:  rolling into various Mount Desert harbors, and engulfing one of the Porcupine (I think it’s Bald Porcupine) islands in Bar Harbor in a matter of moments. And then it dissipated just as quickly.

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And then sunset, a few more moments later.

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Surviving Summer

Like much of the country, last week was hot and humid, with nearly every day in the 90s: it was hazy, still, and repressive. On Friday it reached 100 degrees. By Saturday I had almost lost the will to live, but on Sunday we woke up to a “cool” and clear morning in the 70s, and this week is forecast with more typical New England summer weather. I’m not really a summer person anyway and triple H weather generally drives me inside, but as it was an event-filled week and I was determined to save my garden (every single day the weather report indicated “chance of thunderstorms” but there was not a single drop of rain all week) I spent considerable time outside. What got me through the week: a bedroom air conditioner, garden hoses, sunscreen, bug spray, soft Splendid tee shirts, Witch Hazel, gin & tonics, tents (see below), movie theaters, the Accuweather extended forecast which gave me hope for the future.

With daily watering, the garden survived, despite this bug, which is eating a lot of the larger-leaved plants. Fewer slugs, though, and my lacecap hydrangea has bloomed for the first time in years.

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Our summer camp at Winter Island, a very packed harbor, and the reenacting Redcoats’ camp at Derby Wharf early Sunday morning.

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Thunder Month

In his annual almanac, the seventeenth-century astrologer John Gadbury calls July the Thunder Month, [when] it was customary at Malmsbury-Abbey, to ring the great bell call’d St. Adam’s Bell, to drive away the THUNDER AND LIGHTNING. If the last week of June is any indication of things to come, his characterization will prove correct for July 2013. We’ve had rain pretty much every day over the past week, and it is raining again today. A bit of thunder and lightning, but nothing too dramatic…yet.*** It’s quite humid so the feeling is more tropical than New England, but the garden is thriving.



John Gadbury, Ephemeris, or a Diary Astronomical, Astrological and Meteorological for the Year of our Lord 1696; a Strobridge Lithograph Company calendar for July 1901, which could also work for July 2013, New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

Other texts from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries–astrological, agricultural, and “medical”–predict: if the first of July be rainy weather, ’twill rain more or less for four weeks together, which wouldn’t bother me at all. They also offer the following prescriptions for July:  don’t eat “strong”, substantive or spicy foods, nor any “muddy” fish, green fruits, or beets, drink but a little wine, eat sage and rue on a bit of bread every morning, and take as much “verjuyce” as possible, as it cools and refreshes the body (and the mind). Verjuice is a juice made of crushed and strained sour (unripe, green) grapes or apples mixed with a variety of herbs, and it appears to be experiencing a bit of a comeback at the moment, so maybe my early modern experts were right.


***Tornado watch later in the day: very unusual for New England.

Wait a Minute

There is an oft-quoted saying attributed to Mark Twain: if you don’t like the weather in New England, wait a minute.  Like most oft-quoted sayings, this is a paraphrase of his more long-winded observation, made before the annual meeting of the New England Society in December, 1876:  I reverently believe that the Maker who made us all makes everything in New England but the weather.  I don’t know who makes that, but I think it must be raw apprentices in the weather-clerk’s factory who experiment and learn how, in New England, for board and clothes, and then are promoted to make weather for countries that require a good article, and will take their custom elsewhere if they don’t get it.  There is a sumptuous variety about the New England weather that compels the stranger’s admiration — and regret.  The weather is always doing something there; always attending strictly to business; always getting up new designs and trying them on the people to see how they will go.  But it gets through more business in SPRING [emphasis mine] than in any other season.  In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of four-and-twenty hours…

March is certainly the cruelest month in terms of changeability, and to make my case I’ve got a series of photographs taken on Wednesday and Friday last week: a rather sleepless night was rewarded with a beautiful sunrise over Chestnut Street at midweek, and then two days later an unexpected (at least by me) storm dumped 14 inches of wet snow on the same landscape. As I’m writing this several days later, it is 50 degrees out and much of the snow is gone. And what will tomorrow bring?  Rain, of course!

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Snow, Ice & Swans

Well, it wasn’t the most beautiful day in Salem yesterday but there were lots of interesting things to see while walking around town. Slushy snow fell from the grey sky onto the wet streets, but there was contrast in the form of ice sculptures from the annual Salems So Sweet midwinter festival, the architecture and shop windows, and a tranquil pair of swans at Pickering Wharf. As much as I love my native New England, this time of year can be rough; for me the urban environment provides a bit of relief from the starkness.

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Salem Apothecaries window

Derby Wharf and The Friendship yesterday, the Custom House, and the windows of  the Modern Millie vintage clothing store on Central Street and Witch City Consignment on Essex Street.

The Salem’s So Sweet festival, focusing on chocolate and ice, is an initiative of Salem Main Streets and the Salem Chamber of Commerce; there is a very popular wine and chocolate tasting event followed by a weekend installation of ice sculptures sponsored by local businesses and institutions. Everything has been delayed a week this year because of last weekend’s blizzard, but yesterday morning all the sculptures were on the streets of Salem. There was a beautiful sculpture of the Friendship at Pickering Wharf, which my camera somehow did not capture, and the Peabody Essex Museum’s Taj Mahal (which the sculptors were still working on) and a snowy owl sponsored by a consortium of Salem businesses (Pamplemousse, Modern Millie, Mighty Aphrodite, the Salem Trolley and Trolley Depot) and were my other favorites.

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The Peabody Essex Museum has enhanced the rather bleak landscape of Essex Street (all the shuttered tacky witchcraft-related shops are depressing even on a bright sunny day, much less a grey one, and the perpetually misspelled Witch Tee’s sign never fails to annoy me) not only with its Taj Mahal sculpture (to complement its current exhibition, Midnight to the Boom:  Painting in India after Independence) but also with colorful placards on the construction fence surrounding its latest phase of expansion.  Images of the coming year’s exhibitions work as street art for me.

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And then there were these amazing swans at Pickering Wharf, gliding around (with their big webbed feet) in the company of rather less majestic ducks, very close to the dock. They were a pair, of course.

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