Thursday, October 27, 2011

Maine, in gray.

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the moldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall [. . .]
-- Longfellow

And suddenly, the weather has turned. The sky is as heavy steel and there is a freezing drizzle making everything miserable, cold, damp and generally icky. Not the best day, perhaps, to take a walk, but with Blueberry and Buttercup nearly crawling up the walls, (well, Buttercup's version is simply to whine incessantly, whereas Blueberry nearly shakes the house down), I pack up the car full of stroller, child, baby and snacks, and venture down the road to one of our favorite little villages. The passersby in their cozy cars (ok, trucks, as it is mostly lobsterfolk), must think we are a bit crazy, bundled and trundling down the road pushing Buttercup's bright red stroller; a brazen and conspicuous sight we must be in the gray, dark Maine day.

(I confess, she is impossibly cute, despite her somber look here)

Close to Halloween, there is something ethereally spooky about a cold day in an old Maine village. The girls and I are shivering, not just from the cold. This is why Stephen King can write such epically creepy stories. There is something a wee bit haunted about Maine in the off-season, especially here on the coast where we go from bustling to dead in the space of a month or two.

There's also something Puritanical about days like this. Everything seems stark at the end of October, stark and bare and necessary, somehow. Without the ornament of sun or full-flowering vegetation, the world seems like it's plodding home from church after sitting in straight-backed and freezing pews, huddled against in the wind in plain gray woolens, careful not to let its ankles or wrists show, as if, once a brazen summer hussy, it has repented its beauty and become sparse, practical, and recalcitrant.

The mood affects us. It's not unpleasant, exactly, but I think we feel it as we trudge a bit faster than usual. When you're outside in this weather, it's hurrying weather. Hurry, don't dawdle. Hurry, little ones, hurry home to your holes and caves, burrows and bracken-hidden dens. There's nothing to see here, the wind seems to say. Even the usually effervescent Blueberry seems a little somber, focused.

Still, we keep our eyes open for the beauty. The earth's new found autumnal modesty is still unable to hide the remnants of past glory. We keep our eyes open for our "news of the little world," as we always do, and it is still there.

In the last of the ancient variety of green apples clinging to the gray branches.

In the golden pine needle and leaf-strewn puddle, allowing the rain to ripple its dark surface.

In the gentle show of wild rose-hips, a reminder of the roses that were boisterously blossoming throughout the hedges. It is there. It was the sort of beauty you don't notice. Not showy, not full or ripe or obvious.

Longfellow's poem goes on to say that we must have days like this. Gray and gloom there must be.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

Without these days, how could we even see the sun? How could we appreciate its warmth on our skin unless we had felt the bite of cold? Longfellow was a true New Englander. He understood the austere beauty of it, its contrast of seasons. He would have approved of our walk.

The afternoon is passing as the old year is. I've been teaching Blueberry about rhythms lately. The day has a pattern as rhythmic as music, as poetry. It's time to return home - the beat of the day calls for it, as much as Buttercup cries to be nursed. Home now, as the rain comes colder, the wind freshens and the steel sky turns to lead.

i am singing the cold rain
i am singing the winter dawn
i am turning in the gray morning
of my life
toward home
---Lance Henderson, translated from Cheyenne by the author

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