Posted in Life

The Gift of Spring

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My first iris of 2020

The older I get, the more I hate summer.

That probably surprises you, since I’m a teacher. I do love the freedom and relaxation of summer, and I definitely look forward to the break from work. But the temperature? I am completely over Texas summer heat.

In Austin, the high temps start averaging in the 90s in June. The rain tapers off and the highs steadily climb until, by mid-July, we’re regularly hitting 100 degrees. We average about 20-30 triple digit days a year, unless we have a bad year like 2011 when we hit 100 a total of 90 times. That is not a typo. We had 90 days of sweltering heat, and many of those were well over 100. That was the year we got our puppy, Uno. We had him three months before he saw rain. That was also the year we got a new fence installed in the backyard. It took twice as long as expected because the workers kept having to leave around 3pm for their own safety. The thermometer was reaching 110, 111, 112 degrees every afternoon. It was brutal.

Of course, Texas doesn’t have a monopoly on hot weather. Even in places like New York and Montana, they’ll see temperatures in the nineties during the summer. Also, when I complain about the Texas heat, people like to point out that at least people here have air conditioning everywhere. That’s true, and I’m eternally grateful for it.

Here’s the first problem: I like to be outside. Sitting inside in the AC is not the same thing as sitting outside in a fresh breeze. During the most stifling weeks of the year, even sitting in the shade is too much for me. My body just doesn’t handle the heat like it used to, and I sometimes feel physically ill from being out on Austin afternoons, regardless of shade and hydration. If I could escape it at all, ever, things would be different. But the other (and much larger) problem is this: THERE IS NO ESCAPE.

I’m a natural night owl. Before I was married, I’d often revert to vampire hours for a couple of weeks at the start of summer, but even that isn’t enough of a relief because in Austin, from about mid-July to mid-September, it NEVER COOLS DOWN. In the summer, Hubby and I walk the dog around 10pm because the pup doesn’t like the heat either, and that’s when the temperature will have finally dropped below 95. I could deal with the 110-degree heat during the day if I knew it would be in the 70’s by dawn. But it won’t. It’s the LOWS that kill my soul in the summer. 82, 84, 86… these are temperatures that will greet you if you go outside at 3am in August. That’s just ridiculous.

[Right now, you’re probably thinking, Did I read the title wrong? I thought this post was supposed to be about spring? It is. Sorry. Bear with me. I’m getting there. I didn’t plan on harping on hellish Texas summers for quite this long, but I obviously have a lot of feelings about them. Moving on.]

As much as I love having a couple of months off from teaching every year, I’ve wished for a long time that those months didn’t occur during the summer. If all I’m going to do is stay in the air conditioning anyway, I might as well do it in my classroom. Instead, why not let us out when it’s nice outside?

As bad as Austin summers are, our springs are amazing. We’ve got blue skies and butterflies and birds singing and sun shining, but the weather is never boring. There are plenty of good spring thunderstorms and cool fronts to mix things up. Plus, spring in Texas is bluebonnet season. I never tire of seeing that sea of blue along trails and highways. Every April, I stare out the windows of my classroom, wishing I could spend the day outside. Weekends of walks and hammocks and campfires just aren’t enough.

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Texas bluebonnets

Well, this year, in a very weird way, I finally got my wish. I’ve been given the gift of spring.

Ever since March 13th, when schools were closed due to COVID-19, I’ve been spending so much time outside. I walk myself in the mornings, walk my dog in the afternoons, read in a lawn chair on my driveway in the evenings, and have campfires whenever I want. I’ve even been sleeping on my screened in porch a lot and sometimes participate in my online meetings while sitting on the grass in the front yard. Even when I’m stuck inside, I keep one eye on the squirrels at the window and take brain breaks by watching the birds.

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I would never wish this pandemic on the world. If I could get the coronavirus to go away with a snap of my fingers, I’d do it in an instant. But, among the stresses and sadness and uncertainty of this situation, it’s nice to find something positive. This is my happy thing right now. I’ve been given the gift of springtime, and I’m going to enjoy the heck out of it.

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My coworker taking a much-needed break

What about you? What is your happy thing right now? What unexpected gifts have you been given by this experience?

 

Posted in Poetry

Politics aside

Happy National Poetry Month!

Today I’d like to share a little haiku I wrote that was first published in The Texas Observer in 2015.

Naomi Shihab Nye, who chose the poem for publication, said about my work: “I love Carie Juettner’s understated twist of observational loveliness in this tiny poem. When people in other states ask, as they frequently do, ‘Why do you live in Texas?’ one could simply reply ‘For the flowers’ and be done with it.”

This comment from my favorite poet left me smiling ear-to-ear for several days. I still get a thrill each time I read it and think about her reading my words.

With a big thanks to Naomi and The Texas Observer for giving this haiku its first home, here is “Politics aside”:

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Politics aside,
wildflower season brings out
the blue in Texas

© Carie Juettner, 2015

Posted in Poetry

Ode to Oak Season

Today at school, my sinus headache made me grumpy with my students, even though they hadn’t done anything to make me grumpy. But I don’t think they noticed; they were grumpy too. One boy bravely volunteered answers and completed his work while holding a tissue to his nose the entire class period. One girl had to go to the bathroom due to a bloody nose. In one class, I counted nine sneezes. (Two of them were mine. One came from somewhere in the hallway.) Everyone who wasn’t actively sneezing, sniffling, or coughing stared at me with a vague, foggy expression.

All of this is to say… oak season has descended on Austin.

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This is the big, beautiful, majestic (evil, torturous, sneeze-inducing) oak tree in our front yard and the top of my car, which used to be blue.

Ten days ago, I was writing on patios and taking walks at the Wildflower Center and sleeping in my hammock. Now, it feels like any one of those things could kill me. The pollen count is in the high to extreme-high range, which means every time I go outside for more than two minutes, my eyes start to itch, my sinuses swell up, and I start talking like the albino in The Princess Bride before he cleared his throat.

Ah, spring time.

I wrote a poem about oak allergies, which is in this year’s Texas Poetry Calendar. In honor of oak season and National Poetry Month, wipe off your glasses, put some drops in your eyes, and read “Yellow.” I’m going to go use my neti pot.

*

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We are covered in cowardice,
seeped in a sickly smear
that sticks in crevices
and crow’s feet,
revealing all our lines.

We wade through
fallen sunshine,
track fresh banana footprints
onto faded dandelion floors,
taste gold dust on our tongues.

We yield to the bitter grime
that clogs our nostrils,
clothing our lungs
in warning shades
with each breath.

During oak season,
we view the world
through a margarine haze,
learn how it feels
to be pollinated.

© Carie Juettner