Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Stepping Into Solitude

My favorite season is always the one just emerging. I’m a New Englander and grateful that my homeland has four distinct seasons so I can feel that pleasant sense of expectation quarterly. Spring can be short some years — rarely because summer arrives early, and usually because winter lingers long. Sometimes it lasts only two or three weeks but it always makes an appearance. Right now winter is coming. I see it, smell it, feel it, and pleasurably remember all the sixty-plus times I’ve experienced this.
The remembrances are not specific. Rather, they’re generalized sensations most often triggered by smell. Every evening before going up to bed, I like to step outside in the dark, breathe the air, look at the lights, listen to the night sounds, and feel that I’m the only one out there. When I’m in the city where there’s a lot of ambient light, I stand in the shadows. A few windows in each of the houses surrounding ours are lit up. Parts of TV screens are visible. Occasionally people walk by on the sidewalk unaware of my watching. Then I wonder what other creatures may have heard me come out, themselves in deeper shadow and knowing I’ve joined them. Sometimes I see a gray fox making his rounds, always plodding the same path. Sometimes a raccoon is out exploring. Occasionally a jet comes over low. There’s a cell phone tower behind our house and pilots use it as a marker sometimes to approach the Portland Jetport a few miles away.
Stepping outside our Lovell house at night, noises and lights are nearly all natural, except some far-off lights on hillsides in neighboring Chatham, New Hampshire. If I’m out long enough, I’ll hear barred owls call to each other. There are usually two or three within earshot on a quiet night and sometimes one will perch on a limb overlooking our back field. A coyote pack prowls the swamp at the bottom of the hill and sometimes they’re on the hunt, howling away. Other times I hear only one yelping at the night.
If there’s no moon, it takes longer for my pupils to dilate enough to see even vaguely what’s around me. Night creatures in Lovell are more aware of me than I of them. I’ll hear deer snort and jump into the woods as soon as I step out. Other, smaller creatures stay still a long time, usually until I go back inside. Sometimes a fox, a raccoon, or a coyote will make its way across the back field. I see jets, but they’re miles high and silent. All I can make out are their lights moving from star to star. I imagine rows of people seated in coach sleeping, reading, or talking. I wonder if any are looking out the window in my direction. If so, they may see lights from the village a mile down the hill, but not my house or me outside staring up.
I have the same habit in the morning — if I don’t have to hurry off somewhere. I’m an early riser. After showering and exercising, I get dressed and go down to make coffee. Then I’ll step outside and stand quietly. Morning smells are different from night smells and change with the season. I smell a season coming before I see it or feel it. I think animals do too and even more acutely, as they must prepare more to survive the coming winter. In late fall I smell the sweet odor of decaying vegetation, but that goes away when everything freezes. After standing still a while, I may walk around. It’s usually dark when I’m out there this time of year, but sometimes the day is just starting to fill with light.
When the kids were little, I’d invite one or two to accompany me on my evening walkouts. When we had animals, they had to be fed and watered, then we’d just stand in the dark and quietly take it all in. I might point out the stars in the Milky Way, describe how many there were, how wondrous it all was, and Who created it. I remember those moments fondly.
For a while we had an outside hot tub. My wife and I would soak in it winter evenings. I especially liked it when the heater/pump cycled off and I could hear the night sounds. I’d savor the odd sensation of being suspended in hot water while feeling frigid Maine air on my head and shoulders.
Such solitary outside moments seem fitting ways to both begin and end each day, standing there until the cold penetrates to my skin, then stepping back inside a warm house, grateful to have it.


Peter said...

As another lover of Winter, evening and nighttime walks, and all the noises and scents that come with them, I really enjoyed your column. It makes me think that people everywhere across this country should be looking for the beautiful things they have in common, and not for differences that so divide us.

Anonymous said...

After a dozen winters spent in So. Florida, it's time to again spend the winters in Maine where home is always home.

Bruce Robert Coffin said...

Love this blog, Tom! Right there with you.

Anonymous said...

I too love all the wondrous nature that Maine has to offer, which is one of the main reasons the election made me nervous. The following is from the Portland Free Press a few days ago:

The impact on land conservation and outdoor recreation in Maine with Donald Trump in the White House and Republicans controlling Congress is likely to be dramatic, with hundreds of millions of dollars in federal investments are now at risk.

in the past several years, Republicans have proposed slashing or eliminating the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Forest Legacy Program, the Endangered Species Act and other programs that have benefited Maine tremendously. Some of the most egregious proposals have been thwarted or tempered by President Obama, but now that Republicans have the reins of the executive, legislative and judicial branches, watch for an orgy of anti-conservation activity.

As a state with a large land base, a small population, and a shrinking resource extraction economy, Maine has long been dependent on federal subsidies from taxpayers in the rest of the country. Now that voters have put in charge a cadre of officials who have promised to work against our interests, we will have to live with the ramifications. One of the impacts could be a catastrophic loss of federal funds for land and wildlife conservation initiatives in Maine.

Maine citizens cherish our lands, waters and wildlife. I believe that President-elect Trump, Gov. LePage, narrow interest groups and anyone else who tries to drag us backward will find that people from across Maine will come together to defend and expand our conservation gains.


Anonymous said...

Trump certainly places “Business” before the environment,

After saying we don’t need the EPA to protect the environment he said
“We'll be fine with the environment. We can leave a little bit, but you can't destroy businesses.”

A little bit…yea!

Anonymous said...

Ah yes winter.
6-8 inches of new snow at 3:30-5:00 AM.
Just me and the Bobcat. You can barely hear the growl with all that new snow.
The GOOD thing is no radio, cup holder, and a heater that works...FAIRLY well....eventually.
Nobody else (in their right mind) is on the roads.
I usually hold conversations, and strategy games with the snow, where it IS, and where it's gonna' go.
SOlitude indeed. I could live without the flashy light on top, but then the State Road folks wouldn't know when I'm done with the drives so they can come along and insert a brand new snow bank across it.
Meh. I just wave the bucket, or flash the lights, in appreciation that they're doing THEIR job.
I ALREADY have the spot to put the spore THEY leave behind, and my sippy cup (OK, travel mug) keeps coffee warm for at LEAST "long enough".

Tom McLaughlin said...

I hope you're not talking about tonight Captain.

Peter said...

What beautiful photographs! My heart aches with the thought that we will soon have a president who places ever expanding corporate profits at a higher value. Who would tear down these wonderful spots in the name of increased profit. I would much rather live in a world in which nature is vast, and held in the highest regard. Sure, business is also important. But it does not always need to endlessly grow, to expand with no end. It needs to make a profit that allows us to live happily, comfortably, but why the endless need for more, more, more? When is enough enough? Give me bountiful, bountiful nature and I will be fine. Hunting, farming, small local business. Trump seems to be the archvillian of this sentiment of mine.I feel out of touch...I just don't get it.