Tag Archives: weather

Peak Season

My garden is a bit of a wild tangle right now, as usual, but I love it; I’ve finally got the layers that I have been seeking for some time, along with the right mix of leaves and flowers and textures. And the mix of colors is good–I have gradually weeded out annoying colors like red (I actually love red indoors but passionately dislike it out-of-doors, even to the extent of red roses. Not sure why).  It’s pretty much at peak; I knew I was going to be in class all week so I took some pictures this past weekend when the weather was absolutely beautiful: sunny and not too humid or hot. Now it’s muggy and rainy, and all the flowers are water-logged and a bit past their prime. The roses look very spotty so I’m not showing them here. Next week will be vicious deadheading week; I always leave the Lady’s Mantle flowers too long because I love them so much, so it’s going to be a big job to cut them back. Yes there are red berries on the thriving baneberry but that is my exception–it’s a great plant and you really don’t want berries to be any other color (its flowers are white). I absolutely love, love, love the fuschia flower of the bee balm in the last picture–wish I could remember its varietal name!

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The Drunken Saint

I am looking out on my garden this foggy morning thinking it is definitely going to rain–which would be momentous for it is Saint Swithun’s Day, and according to lore and legend: St Swithun’s Day if thou dost rain/for forty days it will remain/St. Swithun’s Day, if you be fair/for forty days ’twill raine nae mair. I wouldn’t mind a little rain every day for the next month and a half, typically a very dry time in our parts. Swithun was a ninth-century Bishop who became the Patron Saint of Winchester Cathedral in England after his remains were translated from outside the cathedral walls to a new shrine within it in 971–on this very day. He is sometimes fondly referred to as the “drunken saint” not for his propensity to imbibe but rather because of his stated preference for the exterior grave site, where his earthly remains would be exposed to the “drippings” of water–but he became too important to remain without. His Winchester shrine by smashed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries (which I’m talking about in class today), but it has been (somewhat) reconstituted within the Cathedral–and there’s a very lovely rose named for him as well.

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Saint Swithun, Bishop of Winchester, c. 1930, Isabel Florrie Saul, Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum; the reconstituted shrine at Winchester Cathedral; David Austin St Swithun climbing rose (I have one; but it doesn’t look like this now!)


Bright white May Days

Beautiful weather here, at long last. Yesterday, Mother’s Day, was nothing short of spectacular. Everyone was in a blissful mood. I’ve been running, literally, around town, trying to ramp up my endurance but I always take my camera with me so I suppose I’m not really that serious about it. I don’t want to miss anything: blooming bleeding hearts, turtles in Greenlawn cemetery (they always seem to line up on the same fallen branch in order of weight and size), unusual houses (the two white ones are hard to pin down in terms of style and period: would be grateful for more informed opinions), groundhogs (couldn’t get the picture, sorry), bubbles. My garden came to life almost overnight: last week I was in despair, but now it looks like the jacks-in-the-pulpit and lady’s slippers are about to bust out of the ground along with most (not all, but most) of my perennials. I’m going to fill in some of the holes that I do have in the shade garden with brunnera macrophylla (with purple flowers below), which has proved itself to be both pretty and hardy.

Salem (and bubbles in Concord):

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Yesterday afternoon we went up to New Castle, New Hampshire to have brunch with my family at Wentworth by the Sea, built as the Hotel Wentworth in 1872, abandoned a century and a decade later, and “restored” (rebuilt?) ten years ago. It was a big part of my early life and even though it’s not the most sensitive of restorations it was nice to see it full of smiling happy people yesterday. I’ve included a photograph of its dark days in the 1990s for contrast. We drove home past long lines at each and every ice cream stand along the way–although in New England, you see that in February.

New Castle, New Hampshire:

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A Scary Map of the World, with no London or Amsterdam or……Salem

On this Earth Day, it seems appropriate to feature the scary but beautiful map of the world with unfrozen polar caps created by Slovakian student/graphic artist/cartographer Martin Vargic. At first glance, the map looks like a traditional nineteenth-century decorative map of the hemispheres, but then you look closer (just click on it) and see that many unshaded coastal areas are “missing” and that new seas and lakes have opened up in the midst of continental interiors: there is an Amazon Sea in the middle of South America and a new “Artesian Sea” in Australia. The map presents a rather radical vision with sea levels 260 feet higher than today (most scientists seem to project a 3 foot rise by 2100), and consequently all the coastal cities of the eastern seaboard in North America are gone (including Salem, of course), along with those of the Gulf Coast and what looks like the entire state of Florida. Across the Atlantic, London is gone, along with Amsterdam, and DenmarkVargic, whose work can also be found here, seems to have one-upped his earlier map of the internet, which went viral earlier this year.

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Map Images © Martin Vargic @ Halcyon Maps

Appendix: Climate maps are nothing new, although predictive ones certainly are. Those from the 17th through the 19th centuries seem to be more of the recording or empirical nature, like the circular map of London’s annual temperature cycle below. Things get a little bit more subjective later in the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, when “scientific racism” (and environmental determinism) tried to assert “rational” explanations for the industrial progress (and supposed superiority) of the West. The 1924 map below seems to be doing just that.

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Map from Luke Howard, The Climate of London, deduced from meteorological observations, made in the Metropolis, and at various places around it…(London, 1833),Wellcome Library; and map from Ellsworth Huntingdon, Civilization and Climate (London, 1924), Wellcome Library.

 

 

 

 


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.

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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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