It was 97. That’s what my phone read. East Capitol Street started here, the Capitol at my back, with the Library of Congress across to my right and the Supreme Court to the left. There was a nice breeze off from the north, and it was remarkably dry. D.C. is known for its swampy humidity, so you could almost stand the temperature. First week of October in our nation/s capital and it was nearly 100 degrees.
Four years ago, I had come to D.C. during the other extreme. Having left with the film crew in February, it was zero at 6 a.m. in Chatham. Also a bit breezy. Perhaps more dry. Much more. By the time we got to the Folger Shakespeare Library at 4, it had gotten to maybe 23. Circling back later that week, Washington had also gotten down to zero. No escape from the polar vortex.
It was hard for me not to remark upon all the contrasts, not just extremes in temperature. Before I had driven my Rav4. Now my regular ride is the overnight train from Rhode Island. Previously I had scored great rates at downtown hotels using Priceline. Last week I had found an Air BnB in Old Town Alexandria. And my usual Metro ride has been replaced by a Lyft for the same price and a third of the time.
My preferred method of transport—walking—was similarly diminished. Last time by serious threat of frostbite, and now by possibility of heat stroke. Also, I couldn’t arrive at my next meeting like a load of laundry pulled out of the dryer halfway through the cycle.
Afterwards, sitting in the wood-paneled hall of the Folger, cool and comfortable on a couch, I was able to take stock of my next year as well as how things were going here at home. Late September and early October can be painfully beautiful on the Cape, and especially on the water.
Being trapped in nice clothes in an air conditioned building only made the contrast that much greater. Now, I love libraries and archives like no one else. I would have traveled so much less in my life if not for the need and desire to visit many around the world.
That’s what autumn is for me. Cape Codders typically are too busy working during the summer to go anywhere. Too few dollars to chase during the more pleasant half of the year. But around August, those fare sales often catch our attention. We need to remember why we are knocking ourselves out, on sea, up ladders, carrying trays of dirty dishes. It’s the second half of the year calling.
To recharge, mentally or physically. Or to turn to a pursuit for professional or artistic development. Time in a classroom, studio or workshop. Or library.
In contrast, when I returned late last week, I had to take advantage of the warm weather. This was the remnant of the oppressive heat from D.C., now mediated by the Atlantic here. Seventy-two and sunny was just fine. I walked out on Lighthouse Beach, taking a moment to wade barefoot into the ocean waters, wishing to be further out still.
As I write this, we’re in day three of a nor'easter. That’s seasonally normal by comparison. A way to blow off excess heat, so to be expected. Storms are a response to extremes. Once these October phenomena pass, there are fewer leaves on the trees. The temperature seems to be reset. Fall really is here. Seasonal work drops off. It is a signal.
Regardless of what the calendar created elsewhere says, we are past the midpoint. For me, that means more firewood and wood paneling from now through March.
The high extreme is over, and we must be prepared for the coming lows. They seem to always end up at the same place.