By Jim McCloskey
I wouldn’t have thought that a bit of Thanksgiving travel could teach me so much about the regional differences among watershapes, but what now seems obvious came as something of a jolt to me.
My youngest daughter has a new job in Philadelphia and couldn’t get away. Someone suggested we should just rent a big house in her vicinity and celebrate there for a change. After some research and lots of discussion, we settled on a place near Fort Washington, Pa., about 20 minutes from her apartment in downtown Philadelphia, and moved from a reliably temperate California environment to one settling in for a long winter.
Once we’d made our decision to go, things snowballed: Two of my sisters, both east coasters, decided to join us with their spouses, then came a couple local cousins, my brother and his wife – and before long there were 17 of us on the guest list, ready to go. I love a good party, and while I was a tad petrified by the thought of cooking a 17-pound turkey in an unfamiliar oven and preparing the necessary appetizers, side dishes and desserts in a kitchen with unknown plates and knives and service amenities, I jumped in and did my best not to put any constraints on the menu.
I arrived at the house early in the afternoon the day before the feast – a good three hours before anyone else arrived – and had a careful look around. I spent enough time in the kitchen to satisfy myself that what we were planning would be feasible, then started exploring what turned out to be a fairly substantial estate set on a promontory overlooking a small river. There was a huge yard with immense porches and deck areas as well as a big swimming pool, and I began wishing almost immediately that it was late spring or early fall so we could all take advantage of the opportunities for indoor/outdoor activities.
Unfortunately, the highs were in the 40s for us this past November, generally with penetrating breezes that made it seem far chillier. So beyond the occasional quick foray into the yard to get away from the hot kitchen, we all stayed put inside.
Beyond the culinary adventures, this was also my first up-close, day-to-day experience with a winterized swimming pool, and I have to say I was both curious about and let down by what I saw. In selecting the house, we’d seen photographs of the pool and thought it was quite nice. But that was no longer the case because of its dark plastic cover and sandbag anchors – not to mention a nasty-looking puddle of cover-top water choked by fallen leaves.
In my own yard, by contrast, winter is the time when our pool looks best: The blue solar cover we use from late-April through October to warm the water and reduce evaporation is in storage, the pool cleaner swings into action daily to keep up with falling leaves, and what we see at all times is a serene reflecting pool that picks up the surrounding palms and fruit trees on its surface. We’ve lived with this pool for nearly 30 years now, and I had always known how beautiful it is beyond swimming season; now I know how much less attractive it might be if it managed to migrate to a more northerly setting.
I was prepared for this sort of observation, basically because I’d noticed the same sort of waterless winter doldrums as I saw the sights in Philadelphia in the days leading up to our family feast: Most fountains had been shut down for the winter by the time I arrived, and places I’ve known to be lively through warm-season visits couldn’t help seeming a bit bland – uninspired and uninspiring. Water in motion has a magic charm; a dry fountain is just sad, and you can never be quite sure whether it’s been winterized or has simply fallen into disrepair.
I appreciate the fact that my northern colleagues and friends don’t see things the way I do – and I’m glad of it, because watershapes beautify these places immeasurably, if only in season, and I would hate to think so much joy should suffer in reputation or renown because of a brief seasonal hiatus.
I also appreciate where I live a bit more now as a result of this trip, an appropriate thought given the season of the year and the reason we’d gone to Pennsylvania in the first place. It’s all about giving thanks, in other words, and making the most of what we’re accustomed to in our lives.
I hadn’t expected the trip to be informative as well as fun. And who knows? We may all get together in Pennsylvania again sometime – although I think I’ll push for a more hospitable time of year!