Saturday, March 19, 2011

Place Blog 6

Saturday night was a night of almost. That night, after spending the evening at Cranberry Township at Ichiban and Barnes and Nobles, I went into the backyard with my boyfriend. It was in the upper 40s throughout the day, but around 10:30 p.m. it was right at freezing, and my blue fall/spring jacket wasn’t enough to block the cold. Very quickly, my fingers started to become uncomfortably cold, and I knew they were probably starting to turn red from the first stages of frostbite, but I didn’t care. I wanted to see the moon.
According to a couple articles I saw online, Saturday night showcased the moon at its closest to the Earth in 18 years. And it was noticeable. Thankfully, the night was clear and I could even make out a few stars from ground level. The moon was incredibly bright and almost double the size it would’ve normally been at its zenith and fullest. It shown behind the garage like a still slumbering  sunrise behind a hill, and rivaled the streetlight that is stationed in my neighbor’s yard. I never before described the moon’s light as golden, but that’s what it was tonight compared to the street light next to it. That would make sense, considering the moon has no light of its own; it simply reflects our yellow sun’s light.
As we stood there, shivering, I looked around and noticed that, as expected, nothing had changed. The door was shut again, everything was where it had been before. The only thing out of place was a random green wooden lawn chair that was placed on the land bridge, causing me to blink at it in confusion and step onto my other neighbor’s driveway just to walk around it.
I looked at my boyfriend and said, “So, this is my backyard.”
“I know. I’ve been back here before.”
“You have? When??”
“I don’t know, at some point. I’ve been in the garage, too.”
“You have?? When??!”
“I don’t know!” he whined. “When there was a lot of stuff in it.”
Which narrows it down to at least before winter. I still can’t remember when or under what conditions he had been back there, and certainly can’t remember any moment during my moving into the house that might’ve caused him to walk into the back yard, much less into the garage.
We didn’t stay in the yard for too long. Just long enough for me to soak in the moonlight like the rejuvenating grass and trees around me. Like them, I was waking up and welcoming spring. It wasn’t until the nice weather lasted for a couple days that I realized how much I had missed it. I have no problem with winter, and this one was no different, and usually the turn of the seasons doesn’t affect me too much. But this year, spring is a relief.
Standing on the yard, knowing my boyfriend was fidgeting in anticipation of going inside where it was warmer, I felt as if I was also standing in the space of waiting—waiting for warmth, be it going inside or soaking in the sunlight. Waiting for the movement that would bring warmth. And maybe the moon being closer and golden bright was a sort of like it was saying, “Don’t worry. Almost.”  
Almost there.
On the point of being almost there, I feel I must mention my boyfriend’s birthday. All the talk about spring and warmer weather actually coincides with it because his birthday is on Monday. When we first met and mentioned birthdays, I said, “Oh! It must be great having your birthday on the first day of spring!” Because, when averaging the dates, it usually falls around the 21st. However, lately it’s been the day before or the day after. He mentioned this by saying, “Yeah! It was great! Until the science and the calendar companies took spring away from me.”

Friday, March 18, 2011

Prompt Blog 6

During my high school years and throughout my undergraduate years, my grandparents’ farmhouse became a place of sanctuary. I lived there for about six and a half years. It was the typical two-story, 200-year-old white house that happened to be situated on a potato farm in the Butler County countryside. The foundation bowed, the house was heated by hot water pipes that banged and creaked every night, there were two doors (we rarely used the nicer front-facing one adjacent to a busy route, opting inside for the smaller mudroom entrance beside the driveway), its well water smelled like rotten eggs, its paint peeled, and it was slightly haunted.  During high school, my sanctuary started in a large room my grandparents designated for me on the second floor above a long set of steep stairs. Friends and family experiencing the stairs for the first time would look up in wonder and slight fear, and I’d always remember the first feeling I got when going up those stairs: slight panic that I would tip backwards and fall to my doom.
In that room, I could curl up, secure in the knowledge that I was away from my home troubles, that my grandparents respected me (what a novel concept) enough to knock and wait for permission to enter because they knew that space was mine, and that I was trusted to be on the computer as late as I wanted and not download porn or viruses. They let me sleep in as late as I wanted without yelling at me or making me feel guilty. Winter always came with a natural guilt when I’d sleep til 2 p.m. and only have two hours of daylight remaining. The room became a place of significant paranormal activity. I saw many things while there: shadowy men, red electric faeries, orbs, demons, animals, ect. They always traveled diagonally from the corner of my room past the tv toward the head of my bed. For a long time I thought the house was situation on a pathway, and it wasn't until I moved in with my best friend in New Castle and still experienced oddities that I began to consider that maybe it wasn't the house that was haunted, so much as me. The activity that happens now only occurs in my room. But my grandparents experienced a number of situations at the farmhouse: shadowy, hooded figures like grim reapers that watched from corners; a wafting scent of peanutbutter toast at 2 a.m.; and cigar and cigarette smoke when none of us smoked. Even if I'm haunted, there were still presences in that house.
A unique marker of the place was its Y-shaped driveway--a paved U-driveway with a curving tail. That tail was a miniature valley, and even the farmer landlord didn’t mind that I rollerbladed along it during every visit. Rollerblading there was like the walks I would take at home. I put on headphones that covered my ears, and--rain or snow or shine--I would fall into my own world as I surged up and down along the cracked pavement, swerving out of the way to avoid incoming cars or farming equipment and stepping to the side when people needed the driveway. There was an unspoken boundary and etiquette on that driveway. As long as I stayed out of the way, and got out of the way, I was free to come and go.
The driveway was flanked by a single-car garage, next to which was an equipment garage with rolling doors in the front and back. From the tail’s connection point was a steep offshoot that lead to a white barn. Cattycorner from the house was the large red shed and office. I could never understand why it was called a storage shed because it stretched the length of the house, two garages and barn combined, including all the spaces between. Everything else was farmland, from the small field/back yard beside the house and shed, to the rolling fields of hay  (or straw, still haven’t learned which it was) and potatoes. Behind the barn and clearly visible from the tail, like looking out a floor-to-ceiling wall of windows, was a small pond with two giant trees beside it. I ended up painting a winter scene of that for my senior project.
I experienced many weather conditions on that driveway and, between it and walking around my home’s neighborhood, I learned to gauge when a storm would break or the incremental strength of the rain. I would stand in my rollerblades with my back to the wind and let it push me around the driveway or give helpful boosts to make me go faster. I also learned about black ice there, and willingly shoveled when my legs screamed to rollerblade. Back with my parents, I couldn’t stand to shovel, but had no problem doing it at my grandparents’ house.
I moved in with them halfway through my senior year of high school. Finally my sanctuary was complete because I didn’t have to leave it anymore. It steadily became the closest thing I’ve had to a home. I was welcome there, because the farm was so open to nature that I could marvel at it from the side yards or driveway. I could walk around the equipment garage, away from the light pole, and see the sky open above me. A few times, we saw satellites floating past on very clear nights. For a couple years, my best friend and I would take fresh fruit, fresh bread, and sparkling grape juice during our walks along the fields in order to celebrate Midsummer. And every night, my grandfather would take his cocker spaniel for a walk in the same area, and I would watch them from where I stood on the driveway in my rollerblades—watching his stride, watching the dog’s energy or lack thereof, watching him stumble or pause to regard something or wait for his dog. It still felt slightly voyeuristic even in such an open place.
My grandfather taught me how to drive along those fields. He took me back to the picnic area behind a line of trees in order to teach me about parallel parking, how to make three-point turns, and how to anticipate and adjust to shifting terrains. He also asked me to mow the side field for him when he was too tired. When he returned from work every day, he was usually too tired to mow the lawn, let alone mow it and the small field next to it. And I wasn’t doing any chores during the day (an agreement my grandparents suggested), so I had the time. A filial duty was awakened in me then and I wanted to help, so I would don my bathing suit during the summer and ride around in rectangular patterns until the lines overlapped and I went in circles.
From watching him, feeling the acceptance from my grandmother, and being able to stand on the driveway with open nature in full force all around me, I matured, gained a sense of decency and responsibility that my parents could never teach me by forcing it upon me and screaming at me when I did something wrong. My grandparents and their house provided a quiet support system, first to help me heal, and then to guide me. Thinking about various places along the farm pulls forth different memories and all the emotions that went with those times. And now that I’m away from it, my heart twinges with each memory. The side field is gilded with a summer glitter, the pond is steeped in the deep blue of midnight with a silvery sheen from the moon. The rolling fields are auburn from the setting sun, pink from the rising sun, and waving green during late spring. I never had to worry about working in the suburbs or being indoors at school all the time, because I could come home to nature and loving grandparents.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Prompt Blog 5

Around Pittsburgh, PA, we get strong winters. The average rainfall from January through March is anywhere between 6.48 cm and 9.5 cm., with a yearly rainfall around 8.75 cm. Ironically, the rainy season seems to occur between May and September. The average low between January through March is 22 to 31 degrees Fahrenheit, with the average highs between 37 to 50 degrees. The rainfall, of course, doesn’t take into account the snowfall, which can range anywhere between a couple inches to nearly a foot. Some winters we get hardly anything—they’re mild with little snowfall or ice, just blistering cold. Other winters have massive snowstorms. There is something sublime when you look up and realize that the cloud cover you’re seeing stretches undisturbed from Maine to Texas. But this wide variation of weather patterns causes people to forget the trials of winter, and so they don’t prepare for it as well as they should.
But economy has a lot to do with how we interact with winter. If the city or county doesn’t have enough money to invest in salt, or enough workers to man the salt trucks, then back roads are typically left for last with the main thoroughfares, routes, and highways being plowed or salted first. This is what happened in New Castle this year. Often, accidents don’t occur on the major highways, but on the side streets when trying to get to or from the highways. Many times, people come in late to work because they’ve offered to help plow roads with their own pickup trucks that have plows attached to them.
This year in particular was horrible because of the lack of salt and manpower for the salt trucks and snow plows. I have great respect for the drivers now, because they’re out all night in every weather condition that we hate. They have to go slowly in order to not get into accidents themselves, and they have to maneuver those huge trucks around cars parked along side streets or abandoned on roads and highways. New York had a problem with this when that monstrous snow storm hit, because people abandoned their cars and the snow trucks couldn’t get through without colliding with the cars, so they weren’t sent through and the streets went unplowed for hours, or even days. Luckily, New Castle and Butler County didn’t have that problem. But many of the side roads went untouched for a long time, and I learned the meaning of the word “treacherous.”
People cannot predict what the weather will do a fiscal year in advance, but I’m amazed that state and local officials don’t better prepare themselves for inclement weather if they’re located in northern states. It seems to me that hiring seasonal drivers for salt trucks and snowplows would help people find jobs, especially if those people are allowed to use their own pickup trucks. I’ve seen a number of pickups with a strange contraption in their beds that hangs over the end of the truck. The first time I saw it, it took a few minutes for me to realize that the contraption was a salt dispenser. There are many people in an area who are willing to step up and help for the good of the community, and I have no idea if they’re financially compensated, especially if their work interferes with getting to their everyday job on time. It’s a shame that officials can’t receive a higher budget for inclement weather, or that more people don’t step up to help communities when the back roads aren’t yet plowed, or won’t be because of lack of salt, trucks, and/or manpower.

Place Blog 5

Saturday evening I was finally able to walk into the backyard. I had wanted to go out during midnight to explore the darkest time of my place, to close my eyes and immerse myself in total darkness as I listened to the rain. Instead, I went out during twilight, with my hood up in order to keep the rain off my freshly showered head. I was happy that it was still light out around 6:30 p.m, but that happiness was short lived as the emotional chaos that haunted me all week washed over me again. I walked into the Blue Hour, a photographer’s dream time when the last few rays of sunlight bend through the atmosphere and turn everything blue. It causes structures in the distance to appear like silhouettes, even trees that are seven houses down. All the streetlights, house lights, and car headlights glow like candles and bonfires while the sky still illuminates the world enough to see clearly. The pictures taken during this hour are beautiful, and it’s a fitting world to walk into after a rough week.
When I stepped into the yard, it felt soggier than the land bridge. My boots sunk into the ground with each step. I looked around and noticed two long wooden beams that were discarded after the fence had been built last summer. The poles were laying in wait for when the project was to be taken up again. The garden beside them was a miniature swamp. I continued to scan the periphery and noticed that this time the garage door was wide open. It was windy, and perhaps the door played to the wind’s fancy. As I continued to turn, I was struck by the brilliancy of a single streetlight that burned like fire in the middle of the church’s parking lot and glistened like sparks frozen in time off my house that was seven lawns down. After I made my full circle, I lowered my furry hood and closed my eyes.
To either side of me, the rain pattered against tiles of the garage and the house, and when I opened my eyes to find where a trickle of a waterfall was located, the dim light wouldn’t reveal it to me. And all around me was a rushing sound of water like I was standing next to a stream or river. Except nothing like that was nearby. Instead, what I was hearing was the sound of tires rolling over wet roads. The wind picked up and wrapped about my shoulders like a shawl. Every once in a while, it seemed to put its arms around me; as if nature was soothing my troubles away and hushing me with the rain. Even standing there, I thought back to Abbey’s self-inflicted predicament of anthropomorphizing nature, and I realized that sometimes we might need to give nature a human’s touch. Sometimes our emotions may pull from nature what we aren’t receiving otherwise. Sure, it may be temporary, and we know there isn’t a spirit going out of its way just to lend a hug as it sweeps past. But sometimes it’s nice to imagine, and it helps.