Blacktop Rain

…and other secret joys

A Sense of Place: New England

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Most days we go for our daily constitutional. It’s just a short, half hour walk up the Rail Trail to Broadmeadow and back again. It is an unseasonable winter. There has been no snow and there is no promise of snow. It is the winter that never was. On the radio the other day I caught a snippet of a man talking about mild winters: A mild winter is like going to hike a mountain only to discover there is a tram to the top and a McDonalds up there.

It doesn’t feel like winter to me either, not because of the lack of snow, but because of a lack of rain. I haven’t seen a single rain drop since I got here, whereas the winters back home tend to be wet, windy, and cold. Everyday we have had sunshine and clear, blue skies. We tend to take our walk in the late afternoon, when the sun is low in the sky and it shines in our eyes. The walk takes us past white, wooden houses. I like looking at the houses here because they are all different in some way, unlike back home where you get street after street of identical houses, mirror imaging one another. Here, they stand in different directions, each a unique thing.

The Rail Trail passes wooded areas, swamps, and meadows of dead grass. I like the colour of the dead grass, it is a sandy colour that seems to intensify the blue of the sky. The grass back home survives the winter because the ground doesn’t freeze, but here it hibernates through the cold months. It is these small things, the things you overlook that become a place in memory.

When I think of St Andrews in the autumn I think of leaves in the sea. I remember the first time I noticed them, one cold, November morning as I was walking along the pier. It seems so obvious, of course there are going to be leaves in the sea in the autumn, but it would never have occurred to me had I not seen it. It was a moment that made me feel at home and like less of a tourist. So, New England in the winter is dead grass.

One Sunday, when the thermometer is below 0, we carry our walk on along the Rail Trail, instead of cutting back down Broadmeadow. We are the only people on the trail, besides two joggers who pass us by. We are bundled up in layers, but it is still cold in the wind. So cold my teeth hurt when I try to talk and my face feels numb. We stop by a frozen pond and spend a while just throwing rocks at the ice, trying to break it. We play bocce ball too, I lose.

I sit down on the shore and listen to the strange echo of the rocks on the ice, a sound that reminds me of a toy gun being fired. I lie back on the shore, my feet resting on the ice. Behind us is the trail, in front, an expanse of frozen water and across the water, an apple orchard and blue skies. I want to find a way to tell you about the colour of the sky. But I honestly can’t think of anything like it. There is nothing as blue as this sky. It is a living blue. A thing that shines with an inner quality.

We walk back along the road, the sun in our eyes, so we squint against the light. Blue skies turn to night, dead grass becomes shadow.

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Author: Naomi Racz

I am a nature writer, with a particular interest in urban nature. I also write about social media and work in communications with an NGO.

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