Seattle’s Darkest Day

Last Friday was a pretty dark day for Seattle.  Literally.

seattle-1In 1996, the University of Washington installed three pyranometers on the roof of one of its facilities in Seattle.  The pyranometers measure the amount of solar radiation (also known as sunshine) that reaches the surface of the earth.  On Friday, the devices registered an output of only a measly 0.37 megajoules of solar radiation per square meter — the lowest recorded daily measurement for the devices since the date of their installation.  The culprits for the dismal results — literally — were the very short day caused by the approaching winter solstice, heavy cloud cover, and heavy rain, too.

I can sympathize with the Seattle residents who cursed the infernal darkness last Friday.  I’m not sure whether we’ve got any pyranometers measuring the solar radiation in Columbus, but if there are, they’d be measuring pitiful amounts these days.  In the Midwest, our winters tend to be pretty gloomy affairs, too.  It’s not that we get a lot of snow — typically, we don’t.  Instead, it’s the unrelenting damp, heavy grayness that makes you feel like you’re living and working under a wet woolen blanket.  When the sun actually shines, all too briefly, it’s a cause for riotous celebration.

There’s a reason so many Midwesterners are snowbirds who head south for the winter.  Sure, they’re searching for warmth, but they’re also on a quest for much-needed sunshine.  Their internal pyranometers are telling them that they need to up their personal exposure to those bright, happy megajoules.

The Swirling Retirement Mists Of Castine

IMG_4548One of the places we visited on our recent trip to Maine was Castine, a pretty little seaside town on the Blue Hill peninsula that is home to the terrific Castine Inn.  During a stop at a local tavern, we heard an interesting tale from a local.

He reported that some years ago a magazine identified Castine as the best retirement community option in Maine — scenic, affordable, friendly.  Locals were happy, and retirees responded to the article by visiting, deciding that the article was onto something, and buying up the houses in the community.  Over time, the influx of retirees affected the Castine community in a number of ways.

The increased demand made housing prices rise.  It was good for the sellers, but it also meant that houses were priced out of the range of workers who would otherwise live in the community.  Because the retirees didn’t have children, school enrollments fell and schools struggled to survive.  And, because many of the retirees were “snowbirds” who love Maine during summers, where temperatures typically stay below the 80s and 90s, but don’t want to endure the tough Maine winters, Castine became a kind of part-time community that shrank greatly during the fall and winter months — which made it difficult for local businesses, like grocery stores, restaurants, and bars, to survive on a year-round basis.

IMG_4537The local said that if it weren’t for the student body and teachers of the Maine Maritime Academy, a school that trains students to serve as engineers and in other capacities aboard ships — and which takes students out on training missions on the State of Maine, the formidable ship pictured above and anchored in Castine’s harbor area, side by side with the school tugboat — Castine might not be able to survive.

For Castine, good publicity about its advantages as a retirement community apparently turned out to be a double-edged sword.  When we left Castine, the fog still shrouded the harbor and the mists swirled around the State of Maine.  It seems to mirror the hazy uncertainty that one local sees about his community’s future.