The weather is hot and sticky, and leaves me disinclined to do anything at all, including cook dinner. So cold cuts and storebought potato salad are the order of the day.
We have what I think — based on comparison of its noises with sound files on the web — is either a barn owl or a screech owl living in the messed-up soffits of the upstairs gable window.
There is a black bear wandering around town, eating from the garbage cans out back of the Wilderness Restaurant and showing up in people’s back yards — also once in broad daylight at the verge of the school baseball field, while a game was going on. (The kids were taken inside — a case of “game called on account of bear,” I suppose.)
And something knocked down and tore up our front-yard bird feeder last night.
It’s enough to make one peevish, so it is. Herewith, therefore, a peeve to make your day complete:
Past and passed are not the same word. Past-the-noun refers to an earlier point in time (“The past is another country”); past-the-adjective describes something having to do with an earlier point in time (“remembrance of things past”); and past-the-preposition indicates that something is moving from a point either metaphorically or literally behind something to a point forward of it (“a first-past-the-post voting system.” Passed, on the other hand, is the past tense of the verb to pass (“time passed” or “the winner passed the post in record time.”)
Don’t confuse them; it makes the baby copyeditors cry.
And of course, everything is blooming, and the landscape is full of road repair personnel.
This particular winter, which showed up early around here and then overstayed its welcome, and which included a three-week subzero deep freeze, was particularly hard on the local infrastructure. Which is to say, the north country is full of potholed roads and busted-up plumbing; also, porch roofs that were previously merely dilapidated emerged from the snow-time as disaster areas requiring demolition and replacement.
Fortunately, my new desktop computer system is now up and running (16G of RAM! Zoom-swoosh!), and my editor-hat has acquired a spiffy new plume: I’m now a paid-up member of the Editorial Freelancers Association.
But where I am, in far northern New Hampshire, it’s snowing. Again.
We’re under a winter storm warning until 2AM, and it’s been snowing with steady determination since mid-morning. And even after the storm warning has passed, the weather forecast is still calling for snow every day until the weekend.
To which I can only say, “Enough, already!”
This is the sort of weather that takes all of my get-up-and-go and stuffs it into a sack and throws it into a snowbank.
But I have editing jobs to work on, so once more into the breach . . . .
Let us consider, for example, “soffit.” Until I ended up living in a 19th-century wooden house in deep snow country, I had no idea what a soffit was. I may have been in the vicinity of soffits from time to time, but they had by no means impinged upon my consciousness.
But now I know. Per Wikipedia, “in popular use, soffit most often…refers to the material forming a ceiling from the top of an exterior house wall to the outer edge of the roof, i.e., bridging the gap between a home’s siding and the roofline, otherwise known as the eaves.”
Per my own experience, soffits are those rotted bits under the roof of the upstairs gable windows that I’m going to have to get replaced this spring, right after I get the plumbing fixed and the north side of the roof reshingled.
(Old houses always need the plumbing fixed. I think it’s a rule.)
Winter weather up here provides other items of interest for word nuts, as well. Like this idiomatic tidbit, picked up from listening to the local road crews on the radio scanner: “Be careful up on Titus Hill. It’s getting greasy out there.” Translated out of the north woods accent, what this means is that the previously snow-plowed roads, having been lightly rained on for a few hours, are now in the process of freezing again, and have reached a particularly nasty and treacherous state of slickness.
Good weather for staying in and updating one’s blog, in fact.
That tree in the front driveway that I was talking about the other day is now showing its first patch of color. Summer is now officially (for local household values of “official”) transitioning into autumn.
We have also recently taken in our first batch of gift zucchini. Likewise a couple of locally-grown tomatoes, which promptly went into BLT sandwiches. Raising tomatoes up here in northern New England is a triumph of hope over experience every time; they have to be started indoors, and once they’re out in the garden, it’s a race between them and the first frost.
(A harbinger, by the way, was originally a person who went ahead of an army to arrange for lodgings, going back through Old French to Old Saxon to a couple of root words heri and berga – meaning, respectively “army” and “a fortified place.” The latter is the same root that shows up in a lot of place names, since for a long time, historically speaking, “city” and “fortified place” were more or less synonymous.)
Any day now, though, the maple tree by the foot of our driveway will show its first patch of color. August up here is almost as much the start of autumn as it is the last of summer, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I lived for long enough in Texas, where July and August are fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk months; and I spent three and a half years in the literal tropics when my husband/co-author was in the Navy and stationed in Panamá, where you got a choice between hot and rainy and hot and not-rainy (but still humid), six months on and six months off; and believe me, seasons are good, and New England seasons suit me fine.
(Granted, January and February are a frozen hell, but my theory is that no matter how much you like the climate where you are, there are going to be a couple of months out of the year when you pay for it.)
My favorite seasons, which also happen to be the best ones for writing in as far as I’m concerned†, are spring and fall, both of which proceed up here in a leisurely fashion, with subtle gradations along the way. Fall, for example, goes through early fall and first frost to peak color to waiting for the snow-that-sticks, and runs roughly from mid-August to late November.
Meanwhile, it’s summer, and any day now I expect that the local gardeners will be palming off their excess zucchini (there appears to be no middle ground between no zucchini and too much zucchini) on anyone who will take it, and I will be making lots of zucchini bread.
†Obligatory writing reference!
We’re now well into the time of hot, oppressive days and high pollen counts. The cats, instead of sitting like little furry meatloafs with tails and paws neatly tucked in, are stretched out into longcats, and can be reliably used to find the spots with the best cooling cross-drafts.
Which are no good to the rest of us, because the cats own them.
Summer is not the most enjoyable time for doing work, but work nevertheless must be done (this is where I point, in a discreet parenthesis, to the “Editorial and Critique Services” link up at the top of the page), so I’ll leave you with a handful of links to amuse or interest you during the days when you’re not on vacation at the beach, or in a mountaintop cabin, or in a hermetically sealed and thoroughly air-conditioned hotel room, if such is your pleasure:
First, a clip of Jim Macdonald, my co-author, in his other role as a magician (complete with top hat!)
Next, a good (and funny) explanation of the context rules for the use of bad language, and a report on the discovery of the earliest known use of the f-word in written English.
And finally, a video demonstrating how to put on a set of late 14th-century armor.
Stay cool, and enjoy.
Or, Robert Frost gets it right again.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall….
Tree roots and the freeze-thaw cycle, to be specific.
The freeze-thaw cycle is also responsible for frost heaves, which can give the roads up here a corrugated appearance in late winter and early spring, and likewise for the epic potholes that show up a little later.
In honor of the upcoming (for those who celebrate it) Easter holiday, and because the cold winter just now passing away kept me from starting my customary spring sale in a more timely fashion, I’m taking this opportunity to extend the seasonal special until April 23rd – or Low Sunday, as it’s called in the liturgical traditions. (It’s traditionally the choir’s day off after the intensity of Holy Week, or at least such was the case back when I was a grad student at UPenn and singing in the church choir at St. Mary’s, Hamilton Village – which was also the church I was married in, and I was pleased to see, when I Googled it, that the parish is still going strong and is still active in social justice work after all these years.)
As usual, the seasonal special gets your standard-weight novel (or that of a friend) a line-edit and critique for $1000 instead of the customary $1500, and the purchase can be redeemed either now or later, as the recipient pleases.
Winter Storm Stella came through here yesterday and last night, and left a foot or so of snow behind, a lot of which is going to have to be removed from our driveway. I give thanks for the presence in the household of our younger son, who shovels the driveway so we don’t have to – though what we’ll do when he departs onto the next stage of his Life Journey™, I don’t know. Buy a snow blower, probably, if we can afford one.
At least we didn’t lose power – or haven’t lost it so far, let’s not get cocky, here – which means that writing and editorial work can go on unhindered.
Obligatory writing reference: If you’re from one of the parts of the world where hard winters and deep snow aren’t a thing, do your research before writing about it. And don’t trust film and television for a second, unless maybe you’re watching a Weather Channel documentary or the like; TV and the movies regularly have people running around in deep snow wearing outfits that would get them killed in the real world. To be, however reluctantly, fair to the visual-media people, your actual effective cold-weather garments are about as far from photogenic as it’s possible to get, and nobody wants to turn their high-priced talent into a bunch of down-filled-parka-clad clones – but we toilers of the written word don’t have that problem, or that excuse.
If you don’t live in cold-weather country, and need to write about it, consider visiting some cold weather, if you can. (If you’ve got a local friend, pay attention to what they tell you about what not to do. If you’re a stranger to the area, double-check with the locals you do interact with – the tourist bureau, the waitperson at the diner, the clerk at the 7-11 – and if they say, “I wouldn’t go out there today,” believe them and stay home.) Failing that, read some Jack London (“To Build a Fire” is a classic for a reason), or some Laura Ingalls Wilder (The Hard Winter), and take a moment to listen to the ballad of Frozen Charlotte.