I am outside with a spray nozzle in my hand, watering the bulbs, the sun mimosa, bananas, ly chi and carambola trees. The sun has just gone below the Indian River, just below the spit of land past it; into the Atlantic Ocean. It is dark except for the moon, full yesterday but now with a small missing crescent, reflecting the distant daylight brightly in the moist air and grass. In the dark everything glows.
The sprinklers blow the wellwater misted across the small bit of the world in my full care and the air is atomized night-jasmine and sulfur perfume. The entire world smells like it is drinking water from a garden hose.
The temperature is in the sixties. In just two days the temperature has dropped. In just two days my world has gone from hot and wet to cool and dry, from shut tight and air conditioned to a fan in the open windows and the uninhibited sound of the train in the distance.
In just two days my energy has risen and I think of moving to Alaska. My brother-in-law tells me all about it now that they live there. I think of it seriously. Whenever the temperature drops I think of the joy of living in The North. Whenever the temperature rises again, I think of the joy of moving to The North.
Living in Florida, The North is not far. Those not living in Florida might think The North is actually quite removed from the land of flowers, as far spacially as psychologically, but it doesn’t take long to get there. One needn’t go far to find cooler temperatures for more of the year, coloured leaves, even snow. In a car, it takes only ten hours for the temperature to drop twenty or more degrees in the Autumn, in the Winter, in the Spring.
Last Winter, in the time between Christmas and New Years, early in the near dawn, we left Ft. Lauderdale in a Saturn Ion, my wife and I, dressed in dungarees and t-shirts. We drove North through Florida five hours to Jacksonville and changed into a long-sleeved shirt. Three hours later, in South Carolina we broke out the jackets. Two hours, in Virginia, we needed them. An hour and a half later, in Maryland, as we exited the car at a service plaza, we shivered and put the jackets away and out came the leather coats. An hour later, in Delaware I wondered where my long johns had been packed, I found my hat and it was more than a casual Winter. In the gray sky white flakes began to drift. It was the evening of the same day.
In one half a day, from warm weather to a woolen sweater. Amazing. And it left me wanting more as the grip of this new Autumn’s surrounding chill wakes me, moves me and leaves me perpetually wanting to embrace Winter.
Often, when the sky is gray with clouds spanning westerly over the coast, I look up and expect it to be cold. Regardless the time of year I expect the air to be cold, the wind to chill, the ground to be cooling and I am always surprised. I am astonished to walk outside and find the air warm. It is wrong. It feels wrong inside me and the outside world does not match what I know, in my heart, in my muscles, it should be.
This last Summer, early June, I find myself in Milwaukee. At night the air is dipping into the forties. During the day it is dry and warms slowly only to drop again, soon, with the dipping sun. The air is filled with lilac and, well before ever seeing one, I recognize the scent. It is the smell of childhood: lilac, lily of the valley and apple blossoms. It is of flowers in the cool morning air, in the cooling evening.
Becca has just called. They have been in Kentucky for three days now. Bowling Green. Upon their arrival she, Kayla and Richard immediately took off their shoes and walked into the first patch of lawn. Real grass, Becca tells us. Not like in Florida. It is soft, a pliant cushion under the feet. Sometimes the grass tilts up and sometimes it tilts down. Hills. Actual hills. She had nearly forgotten. It is evening as I say my goodby and the temperature is dropping into the forties.
Ohio. June. Outside Gallipolis. I am camping. In the daytime it is reaching the eighties and the people around me, not from Florida, are complaining of the heat. It is nothing. At night the temperature drops into the forties. It is splendid. Truly wonderful and truly comfortable.
Redlick, Kentucky. June again. My friend Lisa and I stumble upon a sign in the road pointing toward a bluegrass festival. It is the late afternoon and, after a glorious attempt to score moonshine from a potter in a hollow like thousands of others among these mud-bucket-pie mountains, we drive the one-lane county track eastward into the forest in search of music.
Lisa and I lay side by side on our blanket, beneath the sky and in front of the stage. Beneath us the grass moistens and around us the air is quickly cooling in the creeping eventide. Three hours later we are soaked with dew. It all feels right. It all feels normal.
North Carolina. Saxapahaw. Winter and an outdoor hot tub with the great-grandson of James Joyce, named James Joyce. He lives in Yadkin County and teaches English at the community college there. I remember him so clearly because he is so much better read than I. His accent is very different than his great-grandfather’s. Also there is Starr, who went with me to get my TB test when my wife could not, who understood the terror of an unfounded fear is greater than that of one built on a real foundation. Allison, of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans from the Triad CUUPs of Greensboro UU, Paul and assorted people from a group called The Lunatic Fringe. The steam rises from the fog veil hovering between the water and the air, around our too many bodies and not a bathing suit in sight. The difference in temperature is vivid, palpable, glorious.
Earlier that night, on a rise above the Haw River, we celebrated a full moon. Walking into the group a tall, gangly man named Bill, distinctive enough I could recognize him anywhere. I knew him in Gainesville and how could he be here? His daughter lives in Durham and he is friends of the ladies in this group. We shared some very unpleasant experiences in Gainesville have an understanding of what it means to belong. We embrace out of surprise as much a friendship. It is February, it is cold and it is a very small world. Just as it should be.
It is January. I am driving through Philadelphia to attend Sunday services at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in the Mt. Airy area of this city. Philadelphia is built like a berry with a common center but mostly composed of multiple small, individual small-town feeling areas, different sizes and shapes, all together which make up the great city. Driving on Roosevelt Parkway, we found ourselves on a cut-though section between forty-foot rising rockwalls rife with frozen-in-motion spits of water stopped in mid-cascade, beneath the elegance of gigantic skeletal trees making an over-arching finger-bone tunnel. In the middle of a city, we were in the ninety-two thousand acre Fairmount Park, one of the largest urban parks in the world and an area which comprises ten percent of the total land of Philadelphia.
That afternoon, in the Byrn Mawr section, gloved, scarved and capped, I went for a three hour walk in the sub-freezing air, careful on the ice, past delis and art museums, past my own breath coalescing in the air before me, trailing past me. I am alive and quick. My face feels red and I am smiling. I am smiling.
Three days have passed since I wrote the first words here. It is mid October. Today the temperature is eighty-eight degrees. The world is not right. This is wrong. This is just wrong.