Down East 2013 ©
Sometimes you feel the climate of Maine is being controlled by a madman. Other times, the weather settles down into being one thing or another for a long stretch, and you wonder if the madman has fallen asleep on the sofa, or maybe lost the remote.
Then there are pivotal moments — this is one of them — when the gears of the seasons mesh smoothly, great changes happen around you in an orderly fashion, and you entertain, however briefly, the idea that perhaps after all there is an Intelligent Meteorologist up there.
The idea of season in Maine is complicated. It isn't just a question of air temperature or prevailing winds, nor of the changing angle of sunlight (if any) through your windows. Season is Maine is an all-embracing phenomenon, as much an effect of human consciousness as of any particular thing going on in the natural world. It's like love: if you feel autumn, truly feel it, you can't be sure whether the sunshine really is that golden, the breeze really that crisp and pure, or whether you are projecting some of this glorious fall-ishness onto a hapless environment that isn't actually much different this week than last.
This year autumn began — or perhaps I better say, I began to feel it — precisely on Labor Day. I walked down to Lincolnville Beach and it was deserted. On the way home, I bumped into my neighbors Joanne and John, still eager to give away the last of their bounty harvest of wild blackberry — the best year ever, they said. My driveway was littered with acorns, thousands of them, some the size of walnuts. A feeling of calm and quiet, very unlike summer, had crept over everything. It was as though someone — either the Meteorologist or the madman— had clicked a switch and overnight the world was transformed.
Usually it doesn't happen this way. Usually the weather goes back and forth, tourists linger through most of September, and my aster 'Alma Poetschke' sits there flowerless, though in full bud, as though this timid American season doesn't meet her high German standards. This year 'Alma' has deigned to blossom early — an outrageous carmine-pink you wouldn't invite into your living room — and every living tourist has apparently gone to ground in Massachusetts. Or Göttingen.
It reminds me of a funny thing that happened my first year in Maine. Like now, it was just after Labor Day. The routine course of our lives took us frequently up and down the stretch of Route 1 between Camden and Rockland. Even in those days it was a bustling little highway. For months it had been absolutely clogged; my memory is permanently imprinted with a generalized picture of the butt-end of an RV, behind which I always seemed to find myself bumping along at 15 miles per hour. (En passant, where have all the RVs gone? The way of the Hummer, dare one hope?)
Anyway there I was, just past Labor Day, on a highway that, while not exactly deserted, suddenly and mysteriously had transformed itself into just another two-lane road in Maine. I rolled to a stop at the only traffic light for miles — try to imagine that today — and sat there for a while before I realized the light had changed.
The thing was, nobody else had noticed either. I was three cars back from the signal, and neither the drivers ahead of me nor the drivers coming from the other direction seemed to realize that, yes, the light is green, it's okay to go now. If anyone noticed, they were much too polite to honk about it. We sat there for the longest time — I suppose it was only ten seconds or so, but long enough that the whole situation felt kind of surreal. Eventually, one of the drivers up front got hep to the scene, and we all sort of glided through the intersection toward wherever it was that we were obviously in no hurry to arrive.
That's what I mean: season is largely a matter of consciousness. One week earlier, we might have become crabby. What is that fool doing up there? Has everyone but me gone color-blind? But the control mechanism had clicked over; the app called Autumn was running, our collective blood pressure had dropped, and for the next few weeks (madman willing) we would be savoring the not-summerness of it all.
And then things would change again because they always do. But it's nice now and then to forget that — to just, as we used to say, Be Here Now.