Winter Left Behind and Pictures 12, 13, 14 and 15

It looks like we might not have a winter this year in Alabama.  Not that I’m sure exactly what winter here looks or feels like.

For the past few days, we’ve been swaddled in a warm wet blanket of air.  The heat’s been off for days, and this weekend we both wore shorts around the house.  Today at work, not one but two people told me they had to turn their air-conditioning on.  (“Had to” does not actually mean compelled to, e.g. by force or imminent heat stroke.)  While driving my boss to dinner on Thursday, he asked if the car had AC. Mr. NYer and I have been sleeping with the window open. And today, someone in the office pointed out the window and said, “What’s with those trees?”  They appeared to be in bloom, two months too early.

You get the picture.  Climate change has come to Montgomery, and gone are the winters of yore.  But I never saw them here, so it’s hard to know what I’m missing.

But I do know what I’m not missing.  Snow. Wind. Bitter cold. Even if we were to have an unusual and extreme weather event here in Montgomery, it might mean — at worst — some ice and maybe an inch of snow.  That melts immediately.  Nothing like the snows in these pictures from 2003 and 2006.

One car is being cleared; there's another under the pile on the right.

One car is being cleared; there’s another under the pile on the right.

MrNyer shovels the sidewalk even in mid-snowfall.

MrNYer shovels the sidewalk before the snow stops falling.

Only wet and heavy snow sticks like this.

Only wet and heavy snow sticks like this.

Snow piled up on the deck outside the kitchen.

Snow piled up on the deck outside the very very cold kitchen.

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Things Change — Here’s Proof and Picture #4

Ice floated in the harbor and the twin towers were under construction.

Ice floated in the harbor and the twin towers were under construction. (Photo: Lifelongnewyorker)

freedom tower

The Freedom Tower today. (Photo credit: waltermonkey)

I bought my first camera — a 35mm Konica rangefinder — in the summer of 1970, between my freshman and sophomore years of high school.  It cost about $75 — pretty much what I earned in one week in my first summer job as a filing clerk in an office on 17 Battery Place.

About a year later, a friend gave me an SLR, an Edixa Prismaflex.  A German camera that posed no threat to Leica, still, it served me well for 15 years.

This photo was taken in winter 1971, from the deck of the Staten Island ferry. Ice floes in the harbor testify to the coldness of that winter; every winter seemed frigid in those days.  The buildings under construction are the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

Construction workers had been out in full force during the summer I worked in lower Manhattan.  In those days, they joined guys working on the exchanges to line the streets at lunch hour, eat their hero sandwiches and leer and make lewd comments directed at the women passing by. Really.

That summer, the WTC site was a giant hole through which ran the Hudson Tubes (now the PATH trains),  supported by a combination of trusses and hangars that didn’t look all that secure. In my memory, the tunnel was more or less suspended in midair.  From the 23rd-story windows in the office, meanwhile, I could look out and watch trucks dump fill from the WTC excavation to create Battery Park City out of a sectioned-off arm of the Hudson River.

Today, of course, another tower is rising from the WTC site.  And recently the river tried to reclaim Battery Park City during Hurricane Sandy.  And when were ice floes last seen in the harbor, I wonder?

Lifelongnewyorker Catches Up

Consider this a round-up of odds and ends from the uncharacteristically silent (of late) Lifelongnewyorker.

Weather.  Is delightful, thank you.  Today, October 24, it’s 81 degrees and dry.  I’m still hanging around in shorts and t-shirts, the windows are open and a delightful breeze stirs the white linen curtains.  I will enjoy what my mother called “good sleeping weather” later at the nighttime temps drop into the 50s.  Despite the evening chill, though, we’ve decided it’s still too soon to switch to our winter bedding.  Turns out we’re in a drought, which partially explains the unending series of bright summer days.  But the reality is hard to hate: since March, it’s been warm and pleasant.  Gorgeous spring, hot summer, and lovely fall.  Expecting a few days of winter at some point.

Diet.  We’ve already discussed the fact that fears of food deprivation in the South were wildly overstated.   The fine array of foods, coupled with car reliance, led Lifelongnewyorker to gain a few (more than five) pounds since arriving in Montgomery.  With the arrival of September, Lifelongnewyorker is proud to say, she started a diet and has now lost all of the weight that was added.  Mr. NYer has been most helpful, preparing diet-friendly lunches and dinners, and sacrificing his own nightly glasses of wine in solidarity, even though he doesn’t have to.  (Actually, the diet has been even more effective for him, which was not exactly a desired outcome).  The diet led to something that I haven’t experienced since 6th grade:

Going home for lunch.  One day last week, I realized I’d left my lunch in the refrigerator at home, so I got into my car, drove home, ate lunch at my kitchen table, visited for a while with the cats, read the mail, got back into the car, and arrived back at the office 45 minutes after I’d left.  Try that in NYC.

Cat intelligence.  Harpo, our older and friendly cat, had long been in the habit of taking “constitutionals” in our Staten Island backyard.  Mr. NYer would let him out and instruct him to stay in the yard.  After a certain period of time — usually 20 minutes or so — Harpo would wander away.  Mr. NYer would fetch him and bring him inside.  More than once, though, the cat slithered under the deck or wandered farther afield and couldn’t be found, and then I’d be enlisted in the effort to get him.  Simon, the younger cat, is skittish and fast.  We have never let him out.  When we moved into the Alabama house, Harpo had spent about a month in a second-floor apartment where going out was not a possibility.  Warned about the ferocity of the local flea population, we decided that Harpo was now going to be an exclusively indoor cat.  

Now, what you need to know is that the Island excursions turned him into a howling pest.  He would stand at the sliding screen door and cry to go out.  Frequently the cry worked, and Mr. NYer would let him go.  Here in Alabama, Harpo’s voice has been raised only in anticipation of food, or when he hauls one of his toys around.  He has never asked to go outside, and has never made any kind of dash when the French door to the patio is opened. 

Until Saturday, when somehow he dislodged the window screen while sunning himself on the sill.  I was roused from bed by Mr. NYer calling me urgently; by the time I emerged from the bedroom, he already had Harpo in arms, in the living room.  But Harpo had discovered that Alabama had an outside, too, just like Staten Island.  And he’s been standing at the French doors, howling, since then.

It’s safe to go out again.  Sort of weather-related, but we’ve been striking off exploring a bit again.  Last weekend, we went to the Kentuck Folk Art festival in Northport, just across a river from Tuscaloosa, home to the University of Alabama.  We decided to avoid Saturday, the day of the Alabama game (Roll Tide!), because filling a stadium with 102,000 people leads to a certain amount of traffic.  The festival was great, with a combination of artisans (pottery, textile, jewelry, etc) and real, honest-to-goodness folk artists who often worked with found and discarded objects.  Music played from one of two stages, and it was good.  Every aging hippie, young hipster, and countercultural person in Alabama was there.  It was  a great vibe, and we bought a nice pottery vase, a pottery earring bowl, and some jewelry. 

Inspired, we took at chance at a closer-in craft fair in Prattville, the next town.  This time the entertainment was provided by a succession of dancing school troupes — one set of little girls in costume after another.  There were hula skirts, bumble bees, lady bugs, princesses.  We were astonished that Prattville had such a concentration of children to maintain this unending supply of dancers.  No boys.  They were all at peewee football practice. 

We didn’t stay too long.  Although there were a few wonderful quilters and one potter, most of the crafts were homemade and followed one of two themes: religion or football.  Seriously, I had no idea the Christian cross could be affixed to so many objects, including folk-art rustic birdhouses.  Nor that there were so many ways to wear or display your allegiance to Auburn football (Go Tigers!).

We stopped in the center of Prattville, a tidy and well maintained downtown.  The Autauga Creek runs next to Main Street, and nineteenth century mills sit just north of the downtown area.  Strolling along the beflowered Creekside walk, we saw a father and son fly-fishing in a rocky part.  Upstream just a bit was a dam with water pouring over.  Very picturesque. 

Meanwhile, an antique store/cafe beckoned on Main St, and we wandered  its aisles for a while.  Leaving, we peeked into the windows of the Red Arrow hardware store, a going concern that outdid the antique store for old-timey curiosities.  This hardware store looks like it hasn’t been in any way since perhaps 1945.  Wood floors, deep and dark, and inventory that, well, it’s hard to believe they’ll be able to restock it anytime soon.

Yes, there were modern things for sale, including an open rack with guns (“Do not handle guns”), garden hoses, screws and nails and paints.  But there was also a huge selection of cast iron cookware, galvanized steel tubs, porcelain-on-metal basins (my mother’s favorite for all sorts of chores, including washing of babies), and crockery.  Crockery like you’d put moonshine in.  There were butter  churns.  Farther along, there were replacement glass tops for coffee pots, as in stove top percolators.  Remember those?  Then there were flyswatters with whippable metal handles, not plastic.  You could buy a brand new Radio Flyer wagon, or a brand new metal Radio Flyer tricycle, just like the kind I had as a kid.  I wanted a jug, a wagon, a stove top percolator … but we left just happy to have stumbled into this place out of time.

Autumn? In Alabama?

Lifelongnewyorker is confused.  It’s  September 20, school has resumed, people are wearing fall colors.

But it’s 97 degrees at noon.  What season is it, anyway?

According to the weather–and to the calendar–it’s still summer.  But Labor Day is past, and with it went the sense of summer. 

For one thing, it’s getting darker earlier, and we’ve sometimes been emboldened to cut the air conditioning in the evenings and open windows as the nighttime temps dip into the low 70s, or even the high 60s.

Leaves are drying up and dropping off trees, with no sign that there will be a change of color (other than the fade-out to yellow/brown).  We went kayaking on the Coosa yesterday, with temperatures near 100, but saw plenty of brown leaves floating along as well. 

Kids have gone back to school, but that happened ages ago.   I wonder if the school buses are air-conditioned?  They must be.

Meanwhile, though, certain changes have been noted in the office.  Fewer women are wearing sandals, and some have checked the calendar and donned pumps.  Fall colors are proliferating, along with fewer shorts and sundresses. 

Lifelongnewyorker really wants to wear those white jeans she purchased on sale during the last week of August, but fears breaking the “no-white-after-Labor Day” rule.  And anyway, it really doesn’t feel right.

Actually, nothing about this season feels right.  In September we should still be enjoying the annuals in the garden, the vine-ripe tomatoes, but ours are long since fried and exhausted.  The days should be glorious, dry and in the 70s, and the nights crisp, but it’s still too hot for me to walk three blocks at lunchtime and register to vote.  It should feel like the first month of school did when I was a student and then a teacher, but it does not.  And I should be thinking about clearing out my summer clothes from the closet, but why?

Instead, our garden long since dessicated, it’s yet too hot to plant either pansies or mums.  I’m wondering if one day I’ll wake up and all the leaves will have dropped.  And when should I start plan to wear suede and corduroy?

Update for y’all

People have wondered, I know, what has happened to Lifelongnewyorker.  Has she been so busy with her new life as a southerner that she has abandoned her old friends?  Perhaps just too cranked up with work?  Maybe she has a new hobby, like binge drinking.

No, none of the above.  Just got into a rut, that’s all.  But it’s time to catch up.

We’ve had about four solid weeks now of temperatures above 90, and I’ve been advised that it will stay this way until October.  It is different from New York heat in some crucial ways:

  • There is no equivalent to the blast furnaces otherwise called subway stations.
  • It’s humid and hot, but the sky is blue, the clouds fluffy, and the air clean.
  • The sun is definitely stronger here.
  • Pools turn into baths.
  • There’s not a lot of fun stuff to do outdoors unless it involves rivers. 

Like all places with hot weather, t-storms roll across the landscape regularly. They are intense, and local.  We might be lashed with rain from all four directions for 20 minutes at the office, and yet not a drop will fall four miles away at the house.  Driving, a storm rushes up to the car, engulfs it in blinding sheets of water in volumes that just don’t happen up north.  You’re in white-knuckle territory, as surely as you’d be in a snowstorm, because hydroplaning comes with the weather.   And then you drive out of it, and the road is bone dry.  In 15 minutes, you roll into it again.

Lightning is thrust from the clouds straight down to the ground in spectacular displays of brilliance.  The first time we hit heavy rain on the road, a bolt of fire landed on the highway about 25 feet in front of us, and the road smoked.  During a good storm, the cats hide under the bed and Mr. NYer plunks himself  down on the floor in front of the french doors to enjoy the show.  

Like I said, it’s really too hot to do much outdoors.  When the Abandoned One came down for a visit in mid-May we went white-water kayaking on the Coosa, just a short 30-minute drive away.  We didn’t realize that the Whitewater Festival was happening that day and, to provide the best rapids possible, the maximum amount of water had been released from the Jordan Dam, upriver.  The Abandoned One went under once, but we all lived and will return to kayak another day.

When we decided to move here, we vowed that we would take excursions every weekend, visiting interesting places nearby.  In the spring, we were busy getting into the house.  Now that it’s summer, it’s just too damn hot.  But still we have gone a few places.

Highlights were our annual trip to New Orleans for Jazzfest, and a Memorial Day weekend trip to Pensacola Beach (since ruined by oil).  Not-quite-highlights included drives to Tuskeegee National Forest, to the city of Anniston, to Talledega National Forest (and the highest point in Alabama), and to various state parks. 

One phenomenon we’ve noted, sadly, is the same story across the country: the abandoned downtown.  Montgomery has one, with blocks upon blocks of once-thriving commercial district now filled with empty storefronts and office buildings.  Ditto Selma, Anniston, Wetumpka and Tuskegee.  They all have interesting late nineteenth and early twentieth century architecture.  They all have attempted a downtown revival, complete with civic websites that lure you to the “shops, art galleries and restaurants” in the heart of town. 

Lies, all lies.

Three out of four storefronts are empty; the fourth is always closed on Saturdays and Sundays (actually, most everything is closed on Sundays–people are at church).  A dismal assortment of discount furniture stores, insurance offices and goodwill outlets would not lure us in, even were they open.

So, we’ve driven up and through state parks and national forests, emerging briefly from our air-conditioned car to take a short stroll and remark that “this might be a nice place to come back to in the fall.”  When you can stand to be outside for more than five minutes.

Summer in the South

It may be too early for this list to be definitive, especially as it’s not yet summer, but here are a few things I’ve learned:

1. It IS the humidity.

2. There is nearly always a hazardous weather warning for my area.

3. Hydroplaning is a lot more common south of the Mason-Dixon line.

4. After a while, jasmine smells kind of overripe.