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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Steamy Skies Over the Northeast

It's the first day of summer, but it's felt kind of summer-ish, in the Northeast for a while now, at least a few weeks. But it's that freakish new kind of summer I'm still not used to.

We are cautioned not to confuse weather with climate, but for going on three years, what I have been seeing, May through August—in Central Massachusetts!—when I look up in the sky is. . . steam.

Yeah, I get that clouds are steam, but this looks different to me.

Ed Koch, who was mayor of New York City for a seemingly interminable period of time (was it only three terms? It felt like more) was famous, among other things for the locution, “I am not a. . .” and you can put almost anything you want in the blank.

It was a “not that I am qualified to comment on this. . . but let me tell you what I think” intro.

“I am not a quantum physicist, but let me talk to you a little about Schrodinger's cat.”

Which is a long winded way of saying: I am not a climatologist, but Massachusetts (and much of the rest of the American Northeast) is beginning to feel tropical to me.

Gray sky full of roiling clouds for days on end—I am a migraineur, and I could write volumes about the pain of barometric pressure—it rains buckets for an hour, the sun pops out for twenty minutes to steam the water off the streets, then we're back in the gray for another 22+ hours and around we go again.

The 21st of June is a three-fer this year: the first day of summer, Father's Day (the 100th anniversary of Father's Day, in fact), and the second day of the annual Clearwater Festival. And the festival itself has its own triple celebration going on: (1) forty years since, now (2) 90 year-old, Pete Seeger (he's that pink blob on the stage) founded a music festival in support of cleaning up the Hudson River—this year (3) 400 years old.

I grew up sailing on the Hudson, in a fourteen foot sloop that my father built, and I've been going to Clearwater since I was a child. India-print skirts, Birkenstocks, and patchouli oil aside, it always feels to me like an annually reconstituted Utopian village.

The Sloop: Clearwater

I can't say what role the Clearwater festival has played in my interest in the formative function of how we name things, but the festival was an early redoubt of “intentional language.” Volunteers working security have “Peacekeeping” on the backs of their t-shirts; those providing assistance to handicapped attendees or musicians sport the tag “Access.” In a related vein, Clearwater was the first place I saw sign language interpreters made a mandatory adjunct to every concert stage.

Perhaps more relevant to what I usually blather about in this space, the festival has been generating (all of) its own (green) electricity for years; they've been separating and recycling the waste from the festival back into the 1970s dark ages of I-have-to-put-my-can-where? and there's something very moving about seeing Pete Seeger tooling around Croton Point Park in his (solar charged) electric pick-up truck.

(A few years back, I was able to intercept him as he left one of the stages and ask how "All of my brothers" had changed to "my brothers and my sisters" in "The Hammer Song." Little piece of Clearwater in my doctoral dissertation--out in readable form from Temple University Press. . . perhaps next spring.)

Hell or high water, we'll be at Clearwater on Father's Day.

How long we stay is a bit of an open question. I've been watching all week as the chance of rain on that day (like on every other gray steamy day this week) keeps climbing. As of Saturday, it was at 70% and rising. . .

Steam-on-Hudson, 6/21/09

Welcome to summer in the tropical Northeast. Don't forget your malaria prophylaxis.


Diggitt said...

So, did you get to Clearwater? It was such an on-again-off-again day, turning gorgeous at four in the afternoon (when my daughter arrived at LaGuardia) then returning to gray rain within the hour. As it has remained. I'm not sure it's tropical so much as it's the doldrums.

Hydrocarbonaholic said...

Had pre-purchased tix for Sunday, so it seemed like dropping in made sense--nothing to lose. Stayed 12-5 (took the pix that I added).

Diggitt said...

Sorry to leave another comment but I don't see an email address for you, and I note you use

Here's my post for today

Just FYI.