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Posts tagged: weather

The Sweetest Season: Summer in the Northwest

    I haven’t set the kitchen table in weeks.

    Each morning I wake up, pour a cup of coffee, open the back door and step out onto my patio. Usually it is cool enough to wear a robe or the heavy man’s denim work shirt I sometimes slip over my gown when I'm too impatient.

     Lunch might be a salad while I work at the big table on the patio or idle in the shaded corner of my backyard. Dinner is eaten late, on the patio again, just as the sun slips behind the trees on the horizon. After the meal I leash the dog and walk to Manito Park to take a stroll around the gardens, where it is always at least five degrees cooler and the air is thick with the heady perfume of flowers. Then, at night, after the dishes are done and the dog and the cats have been fed, I slip out the back door again for a few more minutes. I sit on the glider, pushing myself back and forth with my toes against concrete that still holds the warmth of the sun, and I mark the end of another day.

    This time of year, my living area is always turned inside out. I eat, read, relax, work and daydream outdoors. When my children were all still at home, before we moved out of the big house in the country and into the cottage in town, I set up a daybed on the patio. During the day they would sprawl over it, reading for hours, surrounded by newspaper comics, crossword puzzles, Barbie dolls, Breyer horses and empty Popsicle wrappers. At night, after dinner, after the last bit of daylight had faded, my youngest and I would lie down together on the summer bed. Often her sisters and her brother would join us and we would lie there like puppies in a basket, gazing up, watching the stars come out and the Milky Way spread like spilled paint across the black night sky. We pointed out the Big Dipper and called out when shooting stars streaked across overhead. We counted satellites. Sometimes we spotted the flash of the Space Station’s solar panels as it orbited, and once an owl startled us as it flew low and silently over the backyard.

    Eventually the others would wander off and the youngest would drift off to sleep in my arms. But I would always lie there a bit longer, breathing the shampoo-and-green-grass fragrance of her hair, reluctant to let her go.

    Finally, around midnight, I would rouse her and help her stumble up to her bed and then climb into my own.

    Anyone who has ever lived where the humidity chases the temperature up the thermometer and the mid-summer air—day or night—is as uncomfortable and heavy as a damp blanket, will understand the way I delight in the season here. I grew up in the South. Summer could be long and cruel. But here in the Northwest, where the season is short and sweet, mornings are deliciously cool, afternoons are hot and bright and the twilight is long and slow and luxurious.

    I can’t bear to waste a minute so I take my cup of coffee out to meet the sun and I’m there to watch the moon rise. And one by one these beautiful days go by while I sit and watch, and think of children whose hair smelled of green grass and lavender shampoo.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

The Solitude of Snow

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

 

 

The winter’s first real snowfall blankets the city, with more predicted, and for a moment the flakes have stopped falling. A window in the weather has opened and the time is right.

I pick up the snow shovel that is kept beside the back door this time of year and it doesn’t take long to find a rhythm. As I work my way down the driveway, the shovel slides cleanly over the concrete, scooping up mounds of the fresh white powder. Up and down the street other people have come outside, moving like dark shadows against the brightness of the snow. A few call out to a neighbor but most, like me, work silently.

The city’s big plows push up the main street, scraping against the asphalt as they clear the streets for the morning commute. I catch a glimpse of the flashing yellow lights as they speed past at the corner and then the quiet returns.

When shoveling snow, when working or exercising in any way, it’s hard not to marvel at the intricate mechanics of the human body. The heart pumps , the mind directs, the muscles obey, the bones bear weight and the process repeats so quickly and smoothly we forget that we are, at our core, a living machine. Built to work.

The cold air bites at my face and my fingers begin to ache so I stop and pull off my gloves, tucking my hands under my coat, pressing them against my stomach.  My body, warmed by the exercise, comforts itself and soon I am back at work and my mind plays over people and projects and problems as I push forward, and, as always seems to happen when my hands are busy and my mind is free, there is a clarity that too often escape me indoors. I am startled when an answer, a solution or simple resolution that has been eluding me, pops suddenly into my head.

The snow sparkles like diamonds scattered over the ground in front of me, catching the reflection of the single lightbulb that hangs over the garage and I am reminded that with each shovelful I am lifting and tossing away more tiny, singular, crystals than I could ever count. But it is only the ones that catch the light for an instant and glint in the night that stand out.

It is, when you think about it, the same with ideas and and memories and shooting stars. There are more around and within us than we can ever imagine and yet we only glimpse the precious few that streak through the deep quiet of solitude and, without warning, light up the dark.

  

(See more of my work at my CAMera photo/travel blog)

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons  and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Leipzig: Back to Bach

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

 

 

 

The day before I left Spokane and caught an early flight to Germany, the weather was wet and cold. More like late winter than late spring. Everywhere I went people were grumbling about the rain.

“Sorry you have to be out in this,” the usually-cheerful student at the coffee-shop told me. I just shrugged. I’ve given up trying to convince people I don’t mind the rain. There are times, in fact, like when I travel, that I prefer it.

Rain changes the landscape. Especially in a beautiful old city. Colors fade and stone buildings settle into shades of gray like an old black and white photograph. Cobblestones are more pronounced, glossed by the moisture.

When the sun shines we lose our focus. We squint and turn our faces up to the sky. We are tourists, even in our own cities; driven to get out and play. We wilt in the heat and fret about the crowd and the irritations of too many people in tight quarters.

Rainy days set a mood. In the right light, the scene could be set in any time. Old and new blend and blur. It’s easy to imagine things that would, in the bright light of sunshine, be implausible.


I arrived in Leipzig, Germany,  the city of Bach and Schumann and Wagner and Mendelssohn, just as an unseasonable rainy spell set in. Skies would pour, then clear, then pour again. Rain fell off and on as I wandered around the city.  As they went about their day, people huddled under umbrellas, heads down, until the sun came out again.

Leipzig is the place where Johann Sebastian Bach spent the last 25 years of his life. Where he raised a family and lived his life as both busy academic and musician.
The sun was out when I toured the Bach museum and in a darkened “treasure room” looked down on a cantata written in his own hand. I saw the house where his family’s closest friends lived, the place where the only remaining organ played by Bach is housed. Where a chest decorated with his family crest is on display.
I looked down on his grave - or, what scholars are reasonably certain is his grave - in St. Thomas Church. I studied the statue and all the artifacts, but it wasn’t until the skies clouded again that I felt like had found the man.

In the spell cast by the rain, I could imagine him, worried, distracted, his mind on everyday irritations and ordinary concerns, barreling down the same narrow streets or striding across the square. It wasn’t hard to picture him dodging puddles as he walked, turning over in his mind all the worry and aggravation of work and home, lost in thought, focusing on numbers, budgets, a choir of rowdy  boys; juggling the burden of a large family or the purchase of instruments for the orchestra or consumed by the composition of a cantata.

I ducked into one of the small shops looking for chocolates to bring home.  The clerk, realizing I was an American, apologized for the weather.
“Yesterday was so much more beautiful,” she told me. “Perhaps tomorrow will be better.”

 “Oh, no, today was perfect” I said, taking the shopping bag full of sweet souvenirs for my family back home. “I saw exactly what I was hoping to see.”



Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Tornadoes Assault in Every Direction

April in the South is peak tornado season. Yesterday, killer storms swept through Alabama killing dozens, destroying lives and wiping out entire communities.

 

   It’s mid-April. The big forsythia I planted in my back yard is finally blooming. Jonquils have pushed up through the chilly soil.

   Spring comes quietly to the Northwest. In other parts of the country it is the prettiest time of the year, but there is a darker side to the season.

   Killer storms.

   If you’ve ever spent a spring or summer in the central and southern states, the region known as the Tornado Belt, you’ve probably experienced the dramatic clash of cold air sweeping down from the north and warm, moist air rising up from the Gulf of Mexico.

   You’ve been in tornado country.

   I grew up in the South and the first thing one learns about tornadoes is that they aren’t a single sensory experience. They overwhelm, assaulting from every direction.

   First, you can see bad weather coming. The sky lowers. Dark clouds build overhead and everything takes on a greenish cast. The breeze disappears and the tallest trees are still. Even the birds fall silent.

   Flickering television screens show anxious forecasters pointing to ominous radar images and tracing the path of the storm.

   You can feel the storm before it arrives. The air hangs over you, heavy and oppressive. The humidity is smothering.

   Tornados have a strange perfume. They are scented with ozone, a trace of flowering shrubs and other odors trapped in the wind. Tornadoes smell like the basement, the bathroom or the closet. Wherever you’ve run for shelter.

   A tornado has a voice. The sound begins with the sudden, piercing wail of sirens that send a warning across town. It’s a terrifying, nerve-shattering sound, loud enough to wake you; to get your attention and make you look up from your desk at work; to be heard over the car radio or the television in the den. Loud enough to make you move. Fast.

   Twisters bring the sound of rain lashing against the roof; wind whipping through the leaves, stripping them from the branches. They bring the sharp stinging sound of pine needles striking like javelins. The thudding of your pulse as you gather up the children, snatching blankets and teddy bears and sippy cups of juice to see you through the wait.

   They are a whirlwind of crashing, banging and shattering sounds.

   Survivors always say that the tornado, when it arrives, sounds like a freight train passing overheard.

   Tornados taste like fear.

   The thing about tornadoes is that, like so many of the things that scare us the most, they are random. They strike, skip, strike and skip again. There’s no way to predict where they will land or who will be in harm’s way.

   And when they swarm, you can’t fight them. You can only hide and hope for the best.

   It’s easy to find fault with the place where you live. And Spokane is no exception. Everyone has his or her own list of what would make this a better place to be.

   But we should be grateful for at least one thing. Springtime in this part of the country may be slow to arrive, but it is relatively meek when it gets here. We don’t have to search the sky with anxious eyes, or listen for the sound of danger. We can go to sleep at night without worrying that the roof will blow away and trees will be uprooted.

   Sure, storms come. And then they pass. At best, the grass is a little greener. At worst the creek is a little higher.

   But our homes, the places that shelter us, are still standing.

   And when the sun comes up, we’re still here.

 

This essay was adapted from an earlier column. Cheryl-Anne Millsap's essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

March Flies on Chilly Wings

    The car swooped down on the empty parking spot like a bird of prey, flying the length of one car, then reversing and capturing the open space with one maneuver. The driver’s door opened and a woman stepped out, taking care not to dip her high heels in the oily puddle left from melting snow and the morning’s rain.


    She stepped up onto the curb, snapping open a pocket umbrella against the blustery wind, and peered down at the face of the parking meter.


    March, the lion’s month, played with the woman, pushing back the edge of her umbrella like the brim of a hat, threatening to take it away and toss it down the rain-slick sidewalk, teasing open her raincoat, stinging her stockinged legs with tiny pellets of frozen rain.


    With one hand she dug deeply into her purse, searching for coins, the fee for holding her place, a tax for standing still for exactly one and one half hours. The soft brown leather bulged where she felt for change, pushed out here, then there, in side pockets and deep into the corners where a quarter might hide under pens and pencils, receipts and breath mints.


    One by one, she found what she needed and out came the woman’s hand to feed the meter little bites of time. The last coin slipped out of her fingers and fell to the ground. Dancing a jig of frustration, she shifted her purse, tucking it under the arm that held the umbrella that threatened to escape, and picked up the coin with cold fingers.

    Paid in full, she reached into her pocket and found her keys and aimed the remote at the car. “Stay,” she seemed to be telling the vehicle as she pushed the lock button. The car chirped its reply.
As she turned to walk away, the fickle wind turned as well. Now, instead of teasing, flipping her umbrella and snapping at the hem of her coat, tossing her scarf into her face, it snuck up from behind her, pushing her down the sidewalk blowing her hair into her eyes and tucking her raincoat between her legs as she rounded the corner.

    The car – perched like a bird on a wire, off duty and at rest - waited, engine cooling, wipers idled and lights off. The meter, the master of everything between two white lines painted on asphalt, waited too. Ticking away the seconds until the woman returned.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Ready for what is to come

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

 

 

   This winter, if ominous predictions can be trusted, is going to be a big one. That’s what the forecasters say. That’s what was printed in the newspaper. That’s what I keep hearing on the radio.
    They say this winter the wind is going to blow, the temperatures are going to plunge and stay down and the snow is going to fall. And fall. And fall.
    All close friend who skis is celebrating, she’s looking forward to a season of constant powder on the slopes and endless fun on the mountaintops. But I’m chewing my lip.
    I love winter, too. I really do. It’s incredibly beautiful here in the Northwest. The way the evergreen trees catch snowflakes and hold them until their limbs are flocked and heavy is a sight that always arrests me and holds my attention. There is nothing quite as peaceful as the deep silence of a snowy night, as though a blanket of white has been thrown over our heads muffling the noise of the world.
    I love the sting of the wind on my face and the taste of icy air as I lift each snowshoe, following a quiet path in the forest. As I drive around town, I notice the way the snow fills the areas that are normally in shadow, changing the landscape, upending the way we see things on a summer day. Looking out over the valley and across to the mountain tops in the distance, my eye follows hedgerows and fence lines, roads, rivers and streams, lighting on points I never noticed when the grass was green and the leafy trees hid the view.
    I love the winter holidays and the way they make ordinary things decorative; red and green traffic lights and a string of rush-hour traffic headlights on the highway are suddenly beautiful.
    But there is that other side of winter. The icy streets, treacherous roads and unpredictable mountain passes. The slush that turns gray and dirty too quickly, soaking through the toes of my shoes and making the hem of my jeans grimy. The chaotic parking lots and the sodden boots littering the floor by the back door. There’s the worry of frozen pipes and snow load on the roof. Will they close the hill before I make it home? Do I have chains in the car?
    “Oh, that’s just a bunch of little headaches,” my friend said when I brought up the darker side of winter, sweeping away my pedestrian winter worries with a flick of her wrist. “I say let the snow fall so we can go out and play.”


Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

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Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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