Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

Change in Latitude

November 12th, 2017 by John Mansfield

Eleven years ago, we had arranged to spend Labor Day weekend at the beach, an end-of-summer recreation. A tropical storm arrived before we did and summer ended for us a little earlier than we had desired. Six years before that, we finished up three years living in Los Angeles just four miles from beaches that we enjoyed frequently year round. The muting of seasonal cues became stranger to my perception the longer I was there. I would strain to recollect milestones by which I could reckon the current month, much as I usually do to figure out the date of the month when a calendar is not at hand. A neighbor cut down a Norfolk pine, and I obtained a couple feet of the trunk to show the cub scouts its rings. It turned out that it didn’t have any distinct rings. Not even the trees of LA know what season it is.
My first year as a missionary was a confusion of seasons. I trained in Provo in summer. In the early evening, the district would take a break outside and toss a frisbee around. The last couple weeks leading to our August 5th departure, sunset was on the shoulder, off the plateau, arriving a minute earlier every day. It was still summer, but it wouldn’t last. Then suddenly it wasn’t summer anymore; it was late winter with frost and ice puddles in the morning. Elder Peterson explained that the local Mothers’ Day was observed in spring, which would be in October, and that afforded him a second occasion to call his mother each year while away. That first area’s climate and vegetation (link) were a bit like those of my native land (link), and it was only two degrees farther from the equator, It warmed quickly enough, especially after Elder Workman arrived in September. His mother suffered some ailment requiring surgery, and he fasted for her and called her by phone. I would meet her in her Eager, Arizona home four years later. The clear, dry air, the low level of outdoor lighting, and our plentiful time outside provided excellent enjoyment of the sky. I became fond of tracking the moon, day and night.

It was good and hot, like a Nevadan likes it, by the time I was sent 13 degrees further south on December 2. In that second area, the sun would wheel around two-thirds of the horizon, its altitude never higher than 62 degrees, though it was summer. A couple times we walked home under midnight twilight. When Elder Pinder left home, it was doubtful he would see his cancer-stricken mother again, but more than a year later, her disease was in remission. Midsummer was warm enough, but we always wore our overcoats as a defense from the perpetual wind. I always imagined those winds arriving from Antarctica, though at that latitude, they should have been westerlies from the horse latitudes, not polar easterlies. We were 40 miles from the Magellan Strait and taught a gendarme airplane mechanic whose duties took him to Antarctic bases the same distance from us as the mission office. One fun stunt was to unbutton our coats, clutch them close and face into the wind. Then we would spring straight up and unfurl the coats like kites, and be carried however many feet the gale had strength for. The natural vegetation in the field was tough little stuff only a few inches high, something like alpine tundra (link). Trees planted in town were shielded when young from breezes that would otherwise dry them out quickly, but still their trunks were all inclined about 45 degrees from vertical.

The last day of the year, the mission secretary informed me that my mother was dead. Between a mail strike and my transfer, the last letters from home had arrived five weeks earlier and had been written a week or two before that. The last letter from my mother that I had read said she was seeing a doctor about unspecified discomfort, but she didn’t want me to worry about it. So I hadn’t. New Year’s phone calls were making it impossible to get a line to the capital, let alone to the United States. On January 3rd, I finally got through to my family’s phone, but it just rang, so I called my bishop. He had just stepped in from conducting my mother’s funeral, and my family was en route to the cemetery in Logandale (link). Through the bishop, I arranged to call my family the next morning, and I spoke with my father and with my sister (but not with my mother). Later that month I had contact from my mother again: when the mail strike ended, the backlog of letters arrived at once, most of them from my mother, then from my sister when my mother could no longer write.

There was one solitary summer day that the wind was calm. We left our overcoats home and the sun beat down on our jackets. We listened and heard nothing: there was no wind. We felt hot and carried the jackets on our arms, mostly to enjoy the fact that we could. By the end of February, the wind started to have an icy edge to it. March 13th I traveled 950 miles north to my next area, a port city. Autumn was like spring for me, delightful mild weather, comfortable with a jacket on and even more so with one off. From that point on the march of the seasons proceeded normally. A year and a quarter later when my austral service ended, the return to the northern hemisphere from winter on the Pampa left no particular impression on my tired mind.

Comments (2)
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November 12th, 2017 05:48:28
2 comments

D. J. "Isaiah" T.
November 12, 2017

You were a beautiful missionary, John. I’m tellin’ ya, you were so beautiful, even your stinky, dirty FEET were beautiful. That’s how beautiful you were. Believe me.


G.
November 14, 2017

@JM,
it is good to see the threads of poetry and meaning that run through our lives, and good to write them up, beautifully and sensitively, as you have done.
Thank you.

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