The Silver Lining of Maine's Rain, According to Shakespeare
As a species, it would seem, we are of two minds about terrible weather.
On the one hand, we hate it. Here in Maine about two-thirds of our casual chit-chat is spent lamenting the latest Arctic blast or Biblical downpour or scorching heat wave or freak tsunami. We've developed and field-tested an elaborate range of weapons, both technical and pharmacological, to cope with such things, or at least mitigate their worst effects.
At the same time, there seems to lurk in our collective consciousness the vague thought that every cloud has a cash-back coupon. Record-breaking snow brings joy to every man with a plow truck, and to children spared the drudgery of education. A heat wave right now would come as a godsend to Main Street merchants, to little girls with lemonade stands, and to my young friend Pat, who has a summer job delivering bags of ice to convenience stores. (Farmers, I expect, would be less than thrilled.)
Shakespeare captured our bipolar attitude toward bad weather in one of his most often misquoted lines, delivered by a walk-on character in Henry VI, Part 3: "Ill blows the wind that profits nobody." Or to wit: one man's nor'easter is another's chance to find cool stuff washed up on the beach. (A fop in an earlier play had gotten this wrong-way-round, as do many folks who miss the point today, invoking "the ill wind which blows no man to good.")
All of which is to say that the unbelievably awful, gloomy, gray, monotonous, mold-inducing weather that has prevailed almost all summer, with only a couple of breaks suspiciously timed to coincide with Memorial Day and the 4th of July — coincidence? — may not, after all, have been a total disaster in the garden.
Yes, it's true that slugs and snails, between them, have consumed roughly one metric ton of green matter from the immediate surrounds of my woodland cottage. I've mounted a token resistance, but really, why waste perfectly good beer? Those plants whose tattered living remnants may be discerned have lately — with a couple of days' sunlight to encourage them — put out heartening new growth. Woodland natives, from ferns to creeping dogwoods, are looking downright springy. Best of all, the many little transplants and divisions that I set out earlier this summer are all nicely settled in and growing with conviction. Compare that to a normal year (i.e. one lacking a proper monsoon season), when some would have died outright from shock — such is the bitter truth of reproduction — and others would be, as we neonatal horticulturists like to say, failing to thrive.
There's no denying the countryside has taken on a lush, green look. I've heard comments about this from people who, I suspect, don't ordinarily pay much attention. That in itself is auspicious. Anything that makes people take note of their natural surroundings — even if it's the arrival of enough rain to refloat the sunken economy — can only redound to the greater good, in the long run. Tony Hillerman, the late mystery writer, once spoke of how ordinary, middle-aged Native Americans would stop and marvel at a view of the countryside — the same countryside they'd been looking at every day of their lives. I think we could profit from doing more of that ourselves.
I sometimes fear that we Mainers, living amidst rare natural beauty, too often come to take it as a given — a perfectly ordinary thing, not a living miracle. We may even come to suspect that the whole concept of environmental endangerment is a political fabrication. How can the climate be changing when we're freezing our butts off? How can we worry about rampant development when we have to brake for wild turkeys on the drive to the post office? But then of course the economy sinks further, we move to Delaware seeking employment, and the adjective "rampant" takes on a whole new resonance.
The ill wind and rain this summer have obliged me to give some thought to problems in the yard I would have preferred to ignore — e.g., poor drainage in the subsoil under my new herb garden; a habit of squeezing sun-loving plants into spots where, even on the brightest days, there is precious little sun. Perhaps — at the risk of pushing the analogy — ill winds in the economy will blow us toward a saner place of sustainable, innovative, earth-friendly ways for ordinary Mainers to make a living.