Tuesday, May 31, 2011

So Rare

Following on foot the well-worn bicycle-tire tracks of Doug Ramsey, time-and-tidesman of that most excellent blog Rifftides, I offer a sort of current weather report. (Absent Jaco, Joe, and elusive Wayne, I'm filling in.) "Everyone talks about the weather," said Mark Twain, or more likely someone else, "but no one does" (read: can do) "anything about it."

It has been a hellacious Spring all across the Midwest, where tornados of a size and wind-strength not suffered in dozens, maybe hundreds of years, have wreaked total havoc, eradicating whole towns and scything off horrific numbers of lives. Drought, storms, floods, earthquakes... disasters are in fact sweeping the world, though "scouring" might be a more accurate verb. If this isn't climate change or global warming at work, well, we must be experiencing the Wrath of an Angry God, and one can only fear for the Fall ahead.

But here comes June, glorious, sweet-scented June... in times past thought of as a most peaceful month, a time for green growth, lovers and weddings, the warmth of the sun, an easy transition into Summer. And--we vaguely recall--what is so rare as a day in June? (Then, if ever, come perfect days.)

Who wrote that anyway? One of the elder poet Lowells? Nature-besotted Thoreau? Old Will himself? (If you picked the first and added "James Russell," you are correct and--in your identification of the author--possibly "so rare," these days, as a dry 24 hours.)

Yes, June is bustin' out all over, and the voice of the turtle is heard in the land. (That would be a turtle dove and not the silent twerp who won't come out of his shell.) However, if you are a resident of the Pacific Northwest, specifically the region west of the Cascade Mountains, you have long since come to realize that the voice heard and the green seen are illusions, prevarications, because gray clouds and rain will continue, intermittently but too frequently, for another five to six weeks. Summer around here really begins sometime after the 8th or 10th of July; then, usually, the rains stop.

But the interminable grayness of our skies, lasting for two-thirds of the year and more, causes much complaining--all that talk and no action--not to mention lack-of-light clinical depression and too many suicides. Sad people wait out the Winter and the sodden Spring, only to find a wet June and no hope remaining in them. Mark Twain (in his Samuel Clemens, Western reporter days) supposedly also said something like... "The coldest winter I ever spent was one summer on Puget Sound." However, San Francisco too claims to be the locale he insulted so. Young Sam did get around, but faulty attribution is no surer than a Seattle June.

Idly curious, I looked up James Russell Lowell, forgotten poet and cornstalk philospher, in a funky quotations book I got somewhere; turns out that while he was no Emerson or Samuel Johnson (much less Shakespeare) for number of quotable remarks, his 16 selections do put him on a par with Ambrose Bierce and Albert Camus, and ahead of Keats, Thomas Hardy, and hundreds of other quoteworthy persons. And, remarkably (so to speak), Lowell did have more pithy words on seasonal weather. Here are three pertinent examples (impert- maybe):

Take a winter as you find him, and he turns out to be a thoroughly honest fellow with no nonsense in him: and tolerating none in you, which is a great comfort in the long run.

May is a pious fraud of the almanac
A ghastly parody of real Spring
Shaped out of snow and breathed with eastern wind.

There is no good arguing with the inevitable. The only argument available with an east wind is to put on your overcoat.

Weather or not, drenched or dried out, a Western Washington June just doesn't provide any answers or much relief. What is "so rare" around here? June bug beetles? A Juneteenth celebration? A Seattle sports team becoming national champion, in June or any other month? A song performed by Jimmy Dorsey, with insipid lyrics about old champagne, blossoms fair, heaven on earth, and love so rare? (Sorry; nothing there.) And Lowell's poem is no better. It becomes a laundry list, way too lengthy, of the changes June brings to Nature and Man; the lines are mostly forgettable and, indeed, have been forgotten.

But one brief passage--words taken at the flood, you might say--did catch my eye and ear, its current circling back to the opening sentence of this blog post:

Now is the high-tide of the year,
And whatever of life hath ebbed away
Comes flooding back...

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