I’m a born and bred Midwesterner, and the hardy survivor of dozens and dozens of Ohio summers. And yet, it didn’t take many COVID-caused summer days in Maine for me to forget just how that brutal combination of heat and moisture made the Midwestern air feel—until I came back to Columbus a few days ago and was smacked in the face by July.
In a Stonington summer, the temperature rarely exceeds 70 degrees, and if it touches 80 it’s a heat wave for the ages. It’s always cool at night, and a gentle, crisp breeze is usually blowing. It makes a walk on a summer morning a pleasant and invigorating experience.
But in the Midwest the steamy summer air descends on you as soon as you leave your air-conditioned space and clings to you like a living thing. It makes even a predawn walk a sweaty, sapping experience, and there’s really nothing you can do about it. Even a severe thunderstorm won’t cool off the air for more than a few moments.
Some refined Midwesterners say things like “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity” when complaining about this kind of broiling summer weather. I always thought the word “muggy” was more apt, though, because the weather is akin to a mugging, where combination of heat and moisture are like a physical assault and rob you of your cool and calm demeanor, leaving you damp and bedraggled.
Midwestern summers are the reason air conditioning was invented.
In seasonal towns like Stonington, many businesses close for the winter. When spring comes, residents start to look for signs of when the businesses will reopen. The businesses reopening sends the welcome message that summer, when Stonington will (we hope) welcome happy and free-spending tourists back to the town, is just around the corner.
Because all of the businesses are locally owned, each one follows its own timetable, which means the town-wide reopening is really a gradual process. Some businesses have partially reopened, some have shown activity that suggests they are getting ready, and others remain dark and shuttered, with no signs of life yet.
I like to look for clues about where things stand during my walks around town. Sometimes the signs of reopening are literal signs, like the hand-lettered notice in the door of one of the shops shown below, and sometimes it is doing the things that get a space ready for business—like painting the gray wooden deck and putting up the signs and the bright red lobster at the Stonington Ice Cream Company stand, above. When the handwritten list of flavors goes up next to the order window, completing the last step in the reopening process, we’ll know that summer is really here.
Today is August 31. It’s viewed as the traditional last day of summer. Mentally, we place June, July and August in the “summer” category, while September, October, and November are pegged into the “autumn” category.
Of course, not everyone agrees with this traditional cultural view of the seasons. The scientists among us would point out respectfully that the fall equinox doesn’t actually arrive until September 22. And in most parts of the country summer is still blazing on in full, shining force. The high today in Columbus will be in the 80s, for example, and down in Austin, Texas they’re still dealing with absurd, extreme “fry an egg on the sidewalk” heat, with the thermometer topping 100 degrees.
Not so in Stonington. Here, autumn seems to have come early. The last few days the morning temperature has been around 50 degrees — which is a bit bracing, candidly — and from the wood smoke smell you can tell that some people are using their fireplaces already. Our daily highs are now in the 60s. Add in a hefty breeze when you take your night-time walk, and you’re definitely in long pants and windbreaker territory. The leaves haven’t started to turn — yet — but there’s definitely that whiff of fall in the air.
For many of us, autumn is a favorite season, and in many parts of the country we bemoan its brevity. Summer heat hangs on into October, autumn passes in the blink of an eye, and then we move directly into the winter doldrums. It seems that things will be different in Maine, where fall’s early arrival suggests that it plans on staying for a while.
In short, if you like autumn, come to Maine. And bring your sweater.
Last night we had fresh corn on the cob as part of our outdoor cookout — and once again I realized just how much I like to eat corn on the cob.
It’s an annual rite of self-discovery. At some point every summer, corn on the cob is on the menu for a cookout, and I chomp through one ear and enjoy it so much I promptly have another. (You can’t stop with just one ear of corn!) And thereafter corn on the cob remains on the summer dinner menu for as long as it is available, and then it vanishes from the plate — forgotten until next summer comes, a new bumper crop of local corn waiting to be shucked hits the stores, and the cycle of food revelation happens all over again.
Corn on the cob is one of those seasonal foods that is so closely associated with its season they are almost synonymous. You can’t really imagine eating ears of corn when it’s 10 degrees outside and there is snow up to your kneecaps. Corn on the cob demands to be eaten outside on a summer’s day, so you don’t have to fret about the flying debris that is produced as you bite and bite and bite again, in staccato fashion, moving down the rows of corn like the ear is an old typewriter carriage, until your mouth is filled with juicy sweetness and your lips are slathered with butter. It’s just a fun thing to eat, and you can’t help but feel a bit like a kid again when you’re doing it.
It’s been dry up here — so dry that even the most taciturn Mainers have actually remarked on it. We might get the light spritz from the morning fog, or a very heavy dew, but real rain has been rare over the past weeks.
Until yesterday, that is. Yesterday, we got one of those long, soaking rains, where the clouds seem to be especially low to the ground and just hover overhead, content to drop their watery contents onto the ground below. It was the kind of incessant, day-long rain that knocks a few leaves from the trees and produces big puddles on rocks and gravel driveways. And today and tomorrow we are supposed to get more of the same.
You can’t overstate the value of a good soaking for the plants. Watering is nice, and even essential when it has been especially dry, but it is a limited form of relief from the dryness. The best thing about a good soak is the continuous nature of the rainfall, with the earlier rain moistening the soil and making it more receptive to the raindrops to come. That’s why a good soak always leaves the plants looking better than a passing thunderstorm that might deposit a lot of rain that simply sluices off the hard-baked ground. With a good soak, you know the rain is really reaching the deeper ground and plant roots.
And another good thing about a good soak is that it means there’s no need for repeatedly filling up the watering can and hauling it to those remote places that are beyond the reach of your hose.
As a kid, I hated the good soak days, which seemed to unfairly cut into summer vacation. Now, as somebody who’s just working from home anyway and is interested in seeing some plants do well, I welcome the good soaking days. I’ll be interested in seeing how the plants have fared when the rainfalls end and the sun comes out again.
If you’re ever going to visit Maine during the summer, especially if you’re going to head up north of the southern coastal areas, plan on checking your smartphone weather app regularly.
In fact, plan on consciously rooting for specific weather developments — like increases in the daily high and low temperatures — even though you are well aware that puny humans have no ability to change the weather that’s heading your way. You’ll be hoping to see temperatures in the sixties and seventies (S and S) rather than temperatures in the forties and fifties (F and F).
You would think that, by the middle of June, the F and F squad would have been chased off the field, but you would be wrong. Even now, when the Midwest is getting slapped with temperatures that are in the upper 80s and even hitting 90, the low temperatures in Stonington on many days stubbornly remain in the 40s, and it’s a desperate, furious battle to get the high temperature out of the 50s. Even now, looking at the weather app and its forecast for the next 10 days, we still see only one day where the high temperature is in the upper 60s. (Brace yourself: a week from tomorrow the temperature is supposed to reach a scalding 66.) And days in the 70s in June in Stonington are apparently as rare as hen’s teeth.
It’s weird to pay so much attention to your weather app, but there’s a significant difference between temperatures in the 40s and 50s versus 60s and 70s. In the 40s and 50s, you’re still donning coats and sweaters. When you reach the upper 60s and — God forbid! — the 70s, the air has that sultry, summer feel that is simply absent when the F and F squad is in command.
None of this is a surprise. In fact, many people come to Maine specifically to escape the broiling summer heat — and Maine doesn’t disappoint in that regard. The temperature will warm up, and we’ll be in the toasty 70s when the rest of the country is groaning about the intense heat. It will be nice to the S and S team prevail.
The Schiller Park gardeners have done a fine job this year, and the flowerbeds around the gates to the park are particularly splendid. The beds are colorful and vibrant and are one of the things that make Schiller such a great ornament for the German Village community.
Now, if we could just get the few thoughtless jerks to stop littering . . . .
While we were up in Maine I spent a lot of time outside working in the yard. As a result, I became a feast for the neighborhood mosquito and biting fly squadrons, and also got a good coating from the sun.
By the end of my visit, I was covered in bug bites and was a bit sunburned to boot. As I debated whether to scratch the hell out of the itchy bug bites (and, of course, ultimately doing so because I just couldn’t help it) and felt the warm tingle from the sunburned areas, I found myself thinking that the combination of sensations felt distantly familiar — and then I realized that I was re-experiencing conditions from my childhood summers. In those days, Mom would kick us out of the house after breakfast and we would pretty much be outside all day until dinner — and then again after dinner, to play freeze tag or catch lightning bugs until it was full dark. When you’re outside all day, a good slathering of Off! can only do so much — so my summers inevitably were accompanied by bug bites, mild sunburns, and the colossal itchiness that that combination brings.
When I realized that my condition was recreating a common experience from childhood, I felt a certain wistfulness that it had been so long since I’d felt that unique combination of bug bites and sun. You don’t fully realize how much of an indoor, office-bound person you’ve become until you spend a good chunk of time outdoors on summer days and then deal with the consequences. So, even though I’m still working away at a few of the especially itchy spots, I was glad for the bites and the burn and their reminder of the sunny days of yore when spending hours outside was just how the world worked.
Want to feel like a kid again? Spend a lot of time outside, and the bugs and sunshine will help to remind you.
It was clear it was going to rain this morning. Knowing that, you can go inside, shut the door, and watch TV.
Or, you can sit outside on your porch, drinking your morning coffee and listening to the thunderstorm approach from the west. You watch the sky over the neighboring houses grow dark and roiled, illuminated by the occasional flash of distant lightning, and listen to the booms and cracks grow steadily louder.
I prefer the latter course. Thunderstorms make a lot of interesting sounds — ultimately ending in the patter of sheets of rain striking roofs and patio umbrellas and the leaves on overhanging trees. And it’s interesting, too, how the birds respect the storm — they hold their chirps when growling sky puts on its performance, fit a little snippet of song in between the rolls of thunder, and then find a quiet, sheltered spot when the rain ultimately comes.
I find the sounds of thunderstorms comforting. It’s a set of sounds that really hasn’t changed much since I was a kid. To this native Midwesterner, thunderstorms mean . . . Summer is finally here!
We’re doing a long-distance drive today and — wouldn’t you know it! — mid-trip the air conditioning has gone on the fritz. No matter how longingly I look at the vent, hoping for the arctic blast to which I’m accustomed, only warm, moist air emanates. And, of course, it had to happen on a warm, humid day.
What is this — the ’50s? Time to roll down the windows and hope for a rain shower and a cool breeze.
A truly glorious sunrise over Stonington Harbor this morning, as a cool breeze blows and a rooster crows in the distance. This is a pretty little corner of the world, and one with moderate summer temperatures, too.
It’s been beastly hot in Columbus over the past few weeks, with temperatures in the 90s and very little rain. You might aptly describe the weather as broiling — but that’s July in Ohio for you.
We’ve been gone for a few days during this torrid period. That’s been good for us, because we were enjoying much cooler weather, but for the plants in our front flower pots? Not so much. When I got home they were dried out and teetering on the edge of death. I’ve been watering them in the morning and again at night in hopes of saving them and am seeing some hopeful green signs, but it’s obvious the hot weather combined with lack of watering knocked them for a severe loop. The flowers and plants in our beds, on the other hand, seem to have survived the hot dry weather just fine.
It makes me question whether having flower pots during a midwestern summer makes any sense at all — unless you are going to be around on a daily basis to water them. Since we’re on the road regularly, I’m thinking that next year we might forgo the cruelty to the poor potted plants and the guilt that comes from seeing desiccated brown leaves.