Man vs Nature II: The Other Side of Winter


It's a deep burn. SO DEEP.
It’s a deep burn. SO DEEP.

When you think of a lobster, what comes to mind? Bright red shell, right?

Well, now you’re picturing how I looked on Wednesday. My arms were scarlet from wrist to shirtsleeve (the original Farmer’s Tan), my forehead was sending off warning beacons like the lighthouse I got burnt outside of, and worst of all my legs looked like sticks of red licorice.

To be fair, it’s totally my fault. After a few days of overcast, rainy weather, I had jumped at the opportunity a sunny, 63-degree day offered, and took a new friend from away to see her first real Maine lighthouse. There was barely a cloud in the sky and the sea breeze neutralized most of the heat the sun was giving off, so we sat out in the brilliant conditions for a couple of hours chatting and putting away lobster rolls.

But as we got ready to head back to reality, I started noticing that tingle. You know the one. A tiny bit of residual warmth is spreading across your skin even though the breeze off the ocean is still coming. Uh oh.

On the drive home it became painfully apparent that my left arm was radiating enough heat that I was concerned the window glass would melt back into its former state. Forehead was flushed. My companion riding shotgun felt the same way.

By the time I got to the office for work, I looked like someone had poured wax over me to stamp an official seal (wow, that was an obscure long-shot of an analogy). And since I’d worn a T-shirt and shorts to lunch that day – again, taking opportunities where I can – I had the options of a) exposing every one of my crispy limbs to my coworkers or b) uncomfortably covering my arms with a hoodie I’d stashed in the car. I chose the latter, but it still wasn’t enough to mask either my discomfort or my glowing face.

To be perfectly honest, I’m a bit figuratively red-faced as well. Surely Aussies should know how to be a little more sun-smart, right? But therein lies my point I think – it took me three months to adapt to the cold-weather conditions, and now I’ve got to remember everything I’ve already forgotten about nice conditions. After enduring multiple layers of clothing, and becoming sick to death of everything I own that has sleeves and a fleecy lining, I’m busting to get back into shorts and a shirt.

But as one of the classics of modern cinema notes, desperation is a stinky cologne.

And as such, I’ve got to be prepared just as much as I needed to be in winter, when I bought boots and creepers and jackets and ski-masks and all measures of skin-protecting shit. I’m just protecting it from a different element now. I definitely don’t own sunblock yet (note to self), although I do have about a gallon of aloe vera which probably won’t last another week at this rate.

That great big burning ball of gas in the sky isn’t the only thing to worry about, though.

For months since I arrived here, I’ve been hearing all about Maine’s many seasons. Not the four you’re used to though: I’m talking at least eight.

We’ve evidently got winter, pot hole season, mud season, construction season, spring, black fly season, summer (also known as tourist season) and fall (a.k.a. leaf-peeper season). We’re firmly into construction season right now, which is pleasing because it means pot hole season is coming to a close. And since I live in the “city,” all the warnings about mud season basically don’t apply to me. One of my coworkers from Portland told me in January that I can expect to be “knee-deep in mud” by May, but I suspect that’s big-city mentality for you.

With winter, pot holes, mud and construction crossed off, and spring in bloom, that means the one I’m worried about is rushing up fast: the black flies.

I’ve had warnings from coworkers, bartenders, my friend Bonnie, even emails from column readers: these vermin are plague-like in their numbers, they bite and leave welts, and they’re unstoppable. From what I can gather, the season lasts from mid-May (OH SHIT THAT’S THIS WEEK) to early June, but that’s long enough for anyone.

There are ways, of course, to keep them at bay. Temporarily. Insect repellent sounds like it’s a necessary aftershave for those two weeks, and if all else fails there’s a bad-ass, industrial strength chemical repellent called DEET. I’m sure I could use a bunch of hyperbole to explain its potency, but I’ll let one of my seasoned coworkers’ description do the talking.

It probably causes cancer, but when the black flies are swarming, you don’t care about getting cancer.

Oh. Good then.

My overarching point here is yet another thing that I didn’t really consider when moving away from the place I’d lived for the entirety of my 28 years on Earth: how the conditions would affect my body. This might sound obvious, but I don’t think it was. During the winter, I was constantly finding these small (like, the size of a dime or an Australian 5c piece) patches of dry, chapped skin on my chest, arms, sides – always places that were covered with clothing. “Winters” in Brisbane get cool and dry but never to the extent that I required regular moisturizing and a constant state of wondering where the next one would appear.

Besides that, I made it all the way through the winter healthy but the moment the skies started clearing and the temperatures warmed even slightly, I came down with a brutal head cold that lasted a week. I definitely wasn’t expecting that, but everyone who noticed my red nose and difficulty breathing remarked, “ayuh, that’s from the change of seasons”. My boss also cautioned me that I may get some form of spring allergies due to there being different plant life in bloom here than my sinuses are used to.

And obviously the sun is going to be another element to adapt to. Back home we’re right under the yawning chasm in the ozone layer (is that still there, though?) and the sun can peel the skin right off your bones if you’re not careful. LITERALLY. It happened to a friend of a friend of a friend. No, really. But I haven’t spend the summer months in New England before, so I’m still to acclimatize to exactly how much impact overexposure can have.

But for now, I’ve got enough things to worry about. Does anyone know a good place to pick up some fly swatters?


5 thoughts on “Man vs Nature II: The Other Side of Winter

  1. Unfortunately us Brits are the same. We stay locked behind flood gates in several layers of knitted wear for many months at a time that when there is a glimmer of sun shine, we burn to shit as you never know when we might see the sun again. Save – not so much. Vit D deficient – most probably.

  2. Wood ticks, deer ticks, June bugs, horse flies, deer flies, sand flies, black flies, and of course Mosquitos. People think Australia is constantly trying to kill you, but so is a Minnesota summer.

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