Archives for category: contrasts

WEATHER

Mark Twain observed: “Everyone complains about the weather, but no one ever does anything about it.” Well, I did something. I moved from New Jersey to North Carolina, thus sparing myself what I found to be the disheartening, life-sucking, soul-crushing tedium of a relatively northern climate.

Now, I don’t experience the gloominess that afflicted me in late October, each year, when I began to count down the days until spring. Rather, I embrace the short, two month “winter” that provides my new home with 1-2 inches of snow, three or four days below freezing, and the glorious opportunity to see daffodils begin to flower in early February.

Yet, things are not perfect here. Yesterday marked the twelfth consecutive day of measurable rainfall, a record not seen here since record keeping began, in 1867. My solar panels recorded their twelfth consecutive day of near-zero production. And my lawn is no longer sod; it is sodden.

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I don’t remember complaining much about cold weather when I was a child. There were several glorious “snow days,” when sleds transplanted school. And I recall rooting for enough cold weather to freeze the skating pond across the street.

In our house the clanking of the radiators comforted me, along with their hissing. It made the house seem a living, breathing thing, though it probably only indicated a deficiency or over-abundance of air or water in the system. I recall my father fiddling with the furnace. He added water or subtracted water; I could never figure out which. I recall him making sounds like “Ecch” and “Unnh” and “Sehrgehadit” while he tramped around in the fetid furnace room.

I looked forward to the spring primarily so that I could play baseball outside and scan the major league box scores in the newspaper. But the cold didn’t prevent me from throwing a ball against the wall all winter in an effort to perfect my accuracy. Now that I think about it, most of my friends refused to join me for baseball activities in freezing weather. But more than a few times, I shoveled snow and ice off the driveway so I could more easily play by myself. No problem.

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My father detested snow. He disliked it for the usual adult reasons, like the difficulty of driving or the necessity of shoveling. But I wonder now if he’d had some awful childhood experience pertaining to snow. He saw no joy in it, no beauty, no redeeming characteristics at all. He didn’t ski, sled or build snowmen. For his men’s clothing store, a snowstorm meant dead, unprofitable days.

Cold weather, without precipitation, was different; it served a purpose for my father. It meant people needed gloves and sweaters as gift items and for themselves. It meant outdoor workers needed long underwear and sweatshirts. It meant frugal people who had hoped to get through winter with a light, short jacket, needed overcoats.

I vividly recall standing in front of Lou Sanders Men’s Shop one December 24 when the temperature soared to sixty-five. People walked around in tee shirts and shorts; the radio reported people strolling on the beach in Atlantic City. Once they accepted the impossibility of a White Christmas, the public mood was exultant. My father was crestfallen. He shook his head like a man regarding a disaster site, as he gazed at piles of winter inventory and lamented the ruin of his year.

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Once I reached adulthood, I found myself increasingly sharing my father’s viewpoint, though not to the same fervent degree. Like my father, I saw the problem with snow as an economic one. It made me shovel the walkways and required me to pay to have my driveway plowed, by the inch, no less! Imagine, a three-inch storm cost about $75, a seven-inch storm about $150. Snow prevented people from shopping for houses and, therefore, cost me some clients in my real estate law practice.

Unlike my father, I expressed appreciation for the majesty of a beautiful snowfall. Though skeptical, when I denied the accuracy of forecasted accumulations, it was with the hope that they were exaggerated. When my father heard “five to seven inches are likely,” and he declared: “It’s going to miss us completely,” his tone suggested he believed he could actually affect the outcome.

Now that I live in a warm climate, inclement weather, whether warm or cold, is viewed primarily as a temporary limit on outdoor activities. No longer one who throws balls against a wall, I rely upon tennis or walking to stay active. I accept that bad weather cannot be wished away. By moving south, something I don’t believe my father would have considered, I’ve vastly improved my chances to avoid weather-related misery. My entire outlook is better. If the forecast threatens a few days in the forties this winter in Chapel Hill, I’ll say, with bravado: “Bring it on!”

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REPORT FROM THE COAST

I grew up in the “Go Down the Shore” city of Philadelphia and now live in the “Go to the Beach” state of North Carolina. Last week, we visited the “Drive up the Coast” state of California. It all amounts to the same thing, in one sense; an escape to sand and surf. But in my imagination, each implies very different things, namely: The Jersey Shore is people-dominated, rough and tumble, the stuff of reality television, with boardwalks, tattoos, fudge and criminality just around the corner, real or implied.

North Carolina is mellow, with soft sunshine beating down on vast white sand, gentle waves, with coeds seeking boys and retirees seeking shells. Fishing boats bob in the near distance, patiently gathering the next meal to be eaten off paper plates beachside, in a wooden establishment inevitably called “Fish Shack” or “Shrimp Shack.” The implication is that the nearby water, as warm as bath water in the Carolinas, is a harmless neighbor, hurricanes notwithstanding.

In contrast, California’s coast, with waves crashing upon its craggy rocks, is dramatic.   We may delude ourselves into thinking we control the Atlantic Ocean, with dunes and jetties, but the Pacific shows the futility of even trying. It’s epic. It’s massive. It’s awesome.

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A wedding enticed us to San Francisco last week. We decided to extend our stay beyond the event and drove north, first to Fairfax, Santa Rosa and Healdsburg in the wine country, then “up the coast” to Point Reyes. After a day there, we traveled the famous Route 1 North two more hours to Mendocino.

I’d approached the trip with several misconceptions. First, I thought all B & B’s implied bed AND breakfast. But I soon learned, in three out of four instances, we had B-Bed, but no B-Breakfast. We survived, and it allowed us to see several additional establishments, but seriously? B & B’s without the second B? I digress.

Mendocino, in particular, is a town I pictured (admittedly without any basis whatsoever) as sparkling, pristine and pretty. For better or worse, I imagined the wealth of Newport, Rhode Island fused with the brilliant sunshine and modern architecture of South Beach, Miami. I imagined BMW’s, Mercedes’s and an occasional Tesla pulling up to valet parkers in uniforms astride wine bars clothed in earthquake proof glass. What I got was gravel roads, old wooden structures and a whole lot of aging hippies.

I’m told the weekend crowd is closer to what I pictured, escaping from the city for fresh air and open spaces. But during a Tuesday-Thursday visit, our humble rented Chevy fit right in. Some shops sparkle with hints of opulence but much of Mendocino falls several levels below “hippie chic.” One speculates endlessly about which grey-ponytailed painters and potters are “real artists” and which just subsist on family trust funds.   Coffee and sandwich shops abound, and shelter employees and customers who live in the world’s largest remaining collection of psychedelically painted Volkswagen buses.

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I have nothing against the hippie culture. Though too young to have experienced the bulk of “The Sixties” and disinclined to partake of the remnants, my sympathies for the era are bona fide. “Hair” is among my favorite musicals.   Eugene McCarthy was my first political hero. And I’m happier listening to “Whiter Shade of Pale” than almost anything written since, though I STILL have no idea what the lyrics mean. Did the singer?

I’ve concluded that the beauty of Mendocino has little to do with its people. It’s about nature. The thrilling drive through redwood forests gives way to the Pacific Ocean. It alternately glistens or is bathed in fog. Wind howls as though a storm is coming, then switches to perfect calm.  My eyes are drawn to the ocean and I can’t pull them away.

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Another misconception of mine concerns cattle. Before our visit, if I took a word association test that said “milk,” I’d respond “Wisconsin” or “Iowa.” How many people know that California leads national milk production? If that same test included “ranches,” I’d respond “Oklahoma” or “Texas.” California is actually fourth in beef production, and second in total cows. To my surprise, there are cows on hills and cows on mountains. There are cows throughout wine country, looking as comfortable as connoisseurs, though presumably not partaking. In Point Reyes, there were cows on the beach! Seriously, how many readers knew of California’s bovine bounty?

In conclusion, I enjoyed seeing a part of the country I’d never seen before. If given the chance, everyone should see the northern California coast. Perhaps, someday, I’ll learn to either do more research before a trip, or squelch the tendency to reach conclusions without any basis. And, as concerns Airbnb, I’ll check the fine print.