The driver or the machine?

Vanity No. 2 … from JJW’s auto plate archive of when personal expression hits the road.

On thin ice

Contrary to the petroleum-industry pawns in public office, there’s no shortage of evidence of global warming – or climatic instability, to be more precise.

In the 20 years I’ve lived and gardened where I do, we’ve moved a whole growing zone ahead – out of 11. In effect, we’ve gained two full frost-free months.

For perspective, consider a friend who recently moved to town. He took cuttings of one shrub in his new yard to the local nursery and asked what he could do to assure their flowering next year.

Nothing, he was told. Our weather’s now too warm for that species to bloom.

~*~

Which brings me to January.

It’s typically the coldest month of the year, the one where we get subzero temps and freezing water pipes, if we’re not vigilant.

What we’re not supposed to be getting is readings up into the 60s, as we are now. Not 6 or minus 6. Sixty-three, yesterday.

We haven’t even had many single-digit numbers this season. A few in the teens.

It’s scary.

We remember the warm spell a few years ago that killed all that year’s peaches in the Northeast. Or, more accurately, the seasonally appropriate deep cold a few days later did.

~*~

Snowfall is another matter. Usually, much of January is too cold for it to snow. Instead, we got a half-dozen inches after Christmas, then followed by a slow, misty rain, which then froze solid. The white’s still there, but you have to be careful. You walk on top of it and slide, rather than sink inches into it. It’s treacherous.

Or was until yesterday. Our neighbor was out in his shorts and a T-shirt to finish shoveling his driveway, the part that his monster snowblower couldn’t quite handle.

I was able to get out on my cross country skis a few times in December, for the first time in three or four years. But after that I didn’t dare on this stuff, there was no way to control my movement. At my age, a fall could put me in traction. Banish the thought.

Meanwhile, I hear that the ice on our lakes is too thin for the ice fishermen, who usually populate the expanses with their colorful bob houses this time of year. Nope, not so far this one. Look, there’s a whole subculture devoted to that practice, and I’d bet the majority of them keep voting for the villains. It’s insane.

~*~

Well, the prophets of all this were poobahed back in the ’60s when their scientific projections saw it coming. And the self-interests of the oil industry have continued to decry it, shifting their stance along the way from “It’s phony” to “It’s just a normal fluctuation” to “It’s inevitable and we can’t do anything anyway.”

Doesn’t anyone else see how they’re on thin ice, just just as ignorant as the innocent polar bears caught up in their greedy blindness?

And as for the rest of us? I mean, if our temperatures here are running 20 to 40 degrees above normal, I hate to think about summer. How hot would that make it where you live? Maybe they’re hoping to rake in on our increased air-conditioning bills, too.

How about you?

Don’t overlook your guardian angels

In my Freakin’ Free Spirits novels, aunt Nita serves Cassia’s guardian angel.

Earlier, she had played a similar role for Cassia’s future father, from their college years together onward.

In fact, without Nita in the background, the daughter may have never come along at all, as she eventually appreciates in What’s Left.

Reflecting on my own life, I’m now sensing moments when someone stepped in, behind the scenes, to affect a change that opened an opportunity in my life. At the time, I was clueless. One led to a summer job and later part-time employment. Another, to my being able to transfer away to college, rather than continue at a commuter campus.

There were another attempts that were turned away, in my ignorance or incomplete understanding.

But there were also the other, more typical and ethereal guardian angels, the kind that kept me a brush away from death or serious injury, say being hit by a car or bus or finding myself in the deep end of the pool when I could barely swim or maybe even getting sexually involved with the wrong person.

Has someone in your life ever functioned as a guardian angel?

At last, an end to a vexing online shopping experience

Today, a month and eight days after I placed a kitchen-goods online order during a Cyber-Monday sale, I finally have closure on a Christmas present that was never shipped, much less delivered. It was supposed to be here December 9, a date that kept getting pushed back to January 20, as it last stood.

Desperately, when I realized the said item wasn’t going to arrive in time for the gift exchange, contrary to promises, I found other presents to wrap and place under the tree for my beloved. But that didn’t resolve the suspense of the tangled order. Nobody could or would do anything to come through for me, not even cancel the order. I hate feeling helpless. Or, for that matter, idiotic. I was told to stay calm, it would be here on time. Except, of course, it wasn’t.

Now, thanks to a vigilant customer service supervisor who followed up at the end of December on a long call I had made shortly before Christmas, the order is now cancelled. Whew! Inhale deeply. I’m no longer hanging in limbo. The email of confirmation arrived today.

It wasn’t easy. We all hate fighting bureaucracies, whether they’re capitalist corporations or governmental agencies.

From other interactions regarding the order, I have the feeling the supervisor was swimming upstream through company policy to finally arrive at a solution, and for that I’m appreciative. Perhaps she was able to identify a breakdown in the bigger system and get something fixed. These actions reflect the kind of dedication that deserves promotion. I’ll always root for the underdog.

In many ways, this was a no-win situation. Who knows how much they spent processing the order or parrying my calls and emails, the ones before she emailed me out of the blue, noting that she had been checking her records and saw that nothing had happened yet. I asked (again) that the order be cancelled, and two days later she came through. All in all, it probably adds up to as much as I would have spent on the product and negatively impacted on the bottom line. Admittedly, I’m now unlikely to ever again buy from the company. At least not until she winds up as CEO.

Still, it’s reassuring to know somebody cared and knows what it means to be doing the real job.

A case of real life intersecting fiction

One of the many things I like about using the DuckDuckGo search engine as an alternative to Google is that its home page includes Pocket, an informative selection of intelligent, substantive articles, many drawn from magazine archives, rather than fluff about celebrities and sports.

This morning’s Pocket, for example, included a 2015 Narratively article by Lilly Dancyger, “Planning My Father-Daughter Dance Without My Dad.”

What especially caught my attention was the ways Lilly’s experience intersected with my novel, What’s Left.

Like Cassia in the book, Lilly lost her father to death when she was 11, and like Cassia, she dressed largely in black for years afterward. (Whew! Confirmation I had that part right.)

Unlike my novel’s character, though, Lilly dropped out of high school, sought relief in alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, and embraced a dim future. The homeless were some of her favorite companions.

In contrast, Cassia had a large extended family that stayed with her, even when she kept pushing them away. Yes, she had struggles with her mother much like Lilly’s, and she skirted some of the self-destructive behavior, but each of the three aunts on her mother’s side of the family found ways during her difficult teen years to break through to her, as did several of her first-cousins. In today’s world, few are so fortunate, not with our fractured nuclear households.

Moreover, through her aunt Nita, Cassia also had her father’s trove of his professional photography to sift through, each shot reflecting his thoughts and feelings.

What Lilly presents – and I didn’t – is the workings of guilt within a survivor. As she declares, it merely “isn’t just about feeling unjustly lucky to have lived while someone else died; it’s guilt for going on without them, guilt for changing and growing and becoming a person they never knew. Any milestone is tinged with their absence, any joy feels like a betrayal, like you’ve forgotten them, if only for long enough to laugh at a good joke or enjoy a good meal. But as long as you’re in mourning, your life is still about them, and in that way, they’re still there.”

Lilly’s experience came to a head in planning for her wedding and trying to decide who would walk her down the aisle, if anyone, and who would share that first dance with her at the reception.

That wasn’t the case with Cassia, who instead chose to remain single. But Lilly’s words burn, all the same, as they point to another dimension my novel might have developed.

How many seasons do you have?

I’ve already written of my sense of having eight seasons a year where I live, created by blending the four solar-seasons with the equinox- and solstice-based calendar seasons. (To wit: Solar spring begins around February 2, while the calendar season begins on the equinox six weeks later. Thus, the “six more weeks of winter” the groundhog gets blamed for. And so on.)

But we get a slew of other seasons, too. Here’s a sampling.

  1. Sports seasons. As in baseball season, football season, or basketball season. In professional sports, there’s a lot of overlap. Throw in skiing or hockey in my part of the world.
  2. Indian summer, technically after the first killing frost. It can greatly extend our short, six-week summer.
  3. Freezin’ season. Here in New England, that can run five months, from early November into April. One variation is heating season, which can start in early October and run into June, eight months.
  4. Mud season. Rural New Englanders who live along unpaved roads know this one well. When the ground thaws, their cars are soon thoroughly splattered with mud – and a trip on foot can do the same to their clothing.
  5. Black fly season. Follows mud season. The swarms of these tiny, nearly invisible ravenous insects are truly nasty, making mosquitos seem nearly benign.
  6. Waves of flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Ours start with asparagus and end up with apples. In large parts of Maine, blueberries or potatoes are big markers.
  7. Fall foliage. Generally, the month of October. As the landscape goes Day-Glo, the highways, restaurants, and motels are crowded with tourists, all before we’re plunged into November and its dreary clock change into Eastern Standard Time.
  8. The so-called holiday season. Or, more accurately, shopping season. Nowadays, it starts with the Halloween buildup and runs through New Year’s Day.
  9. Allergies season. For some, it’s the whole year.
  10. Campaign season. In New Hampshire, the big one comes every four years. Like right now.

~*~

What would you add to the list? Hunting and fishing, perchance?