It's spring break week in Massachusetts. We aren't traveling this year, rather choosing to stay close to home this week. We have a couple day trips planned to Boston, and I'm taking Will and Liam on a two-night trip to New Hampshire late in the week. It will be mostly unplugged. A stressful proposition for me to plan, but I'm hoping once in the remote, non-WiFi locale, we'll assimilate rather quickly.
Today we have plans to go bowling with friends then head to the Institute of Contemporary Art this afternoon, so my normal Tuesday morning writing in the library is now compressed into forty minutes or so. And that's OK, first and foremost I'm Mom... the writer can have her day back next week.
Given that we are still experiencing winter weather, I dug through my journal entries looking for a nugget from a warm summer day. I think I've found just the thing. When we renovated our house in 2012, we had to move out for a good portion of the summer. We found a big, old house to rent in Annisquam, MA, overlooking the tidal river of the same name. The river connected the Annisquam Harbor to the north and the Gloucester Harbor to the south. Both ends of the river lead to open waters of the Atlantic. I hope this warms up those of you still entrapped by winter on this mid-April day.
The house on the Annisquam had the shore’s pulse. A lifetime of that pulse. The vinyled kitchen and dining room floors reflected the hardiness needed to live by the sea. Sand from the river’s beach. Water from a lobster pot. Dirt from the paved street. All of the residue from summer days digging for clams, dining with friends, and walking uphill back from the dock.
That aura sunk into us. Through and through.
We kept the old windows open wide, upstairs and down. The near-ocean breeze was the only coolant in the house. A fact that nearly broke the deal for me. I’m an AC worshipper on hot summer days. Light woolen blankets were on each of the 10 beds. I immediately removed all of those. This was summer in the Northeast!
We ventilated sun-soaked rooms by leaving ceiling fans on every day and throughout every night. I like ceiling fans about as much as I like the heat. But this was the only choice for any comfort. I describe the air in these rooms as if it were always heavy and heated. And that was the norm in that dreaded noon to four portion of the days. But after that, the evenings were capable of great variety.
At the going-to-bed hours when the house held the heat, I surrendered to it. Sheets off. Fan on. Windows open. Our bedroom at the corner of the house faced the river and benefitted from a set of windows on both exterior walls. We kept the bedroom door across the hall from us open, so we had a third source of airflow through that room’s open windows on a third exterior well.
All doors had heavy door weights: seashells. Big and heavy. At first, we kicked them aside; it made opening and closing the doors quicker. Within the first couple days, we had experienced enough gunshots ricocheting through our flesh – created by slamming doors – that we fell into the habit of using the weights.
From my bed, I could see Annisquam Lighthouse. The lighthouse was on a little belly that jutted out into the river, so I was seeing the light from about two miles away from my bedroom window, as the crow flies. On hot, humid nights, I lay still on my right side and watched the light. Lying motionless was more effective than continually tossing to find a cool spot of cotton sheet. The light held my gaze, and I found myself counting seconds between the flash of light. Beacon. Two, three, four, five, six, seven. Beacon on eight. I didn’t lose myself counting innumerable sheep. My eyes drifted shut watching and counting to eight, time after time. I shared my system with Bill. At the end of summer, we were going to miss having that light lull us to sleep.
By morning, the air cooled and was pleasant. The sun woke us and soft breezes blew away the sleep. The house was chipper in the morning. I felt like a cotton sheet that had been aired out overnight on a clothesline. That kind of freshness.
One night, Bill and I flew out of bed with bangs and cracks of a storm that had blown up in the middle of the night. Blowing rain into the windows, the wind was whipping through the bedrooms making the curtains flap with the intensity of a midwestern tornado. With six bedrooms, twenty bedroom windows needed to be dropped to keep the inside dry. The old wooden sash windows fought with us a bit. Original to the house, most raged with character but some had simply given up the fight, forgetting how the weight system worked. This resulted in an occasional slam as accosting as the doors slamming.
One early morning while it was still dark, we woke up to a horrible stench. Something dead outside our window. Despite the heat, we made our way around to the windows and lowered them down. It didn’t help the indoor air much as the odor was thoroughly inside and had the strength of a skunk spraying under an open window: the times you think the skunk MUST have gotten into the house because the scent is so strong. I envisioned a whale – or, most likely, a very large dead fish -- washing up on the shore, but in fact, there were no waves on our little piece of water. It was a river. So it wouldn’t have washed up. More aptly, it would have been left behind with the outgoing tide. By morning, the smell was gone and the tide was high. We would never know what decaying creature, or group of creatures, created that smell of rot.
Another night, we were tucked into our hot, humid beds when a cooling breeze came through. It was gradual at first and felt comfortable, then it was downright cold! The need for those thin woolen blankets suddenly become very apparent.
End of entry.
I'm ready for the heat of the summer sun.