The clock is ticking and it’s making me uneasy. I’ve got those back-to-school, back-to-work, back-to-reality, check it off the to-do list, end-of-summer blues.
This year I decided the summer would be mine to do as little as possible in. I would recharge, replenish, rejuvenate. No road trips to places I hadn’t been before or to visit family. This would be the first summer in memory when I just stayed home and received whatever the day delivered.
The summer delivered and I received. In June, it delivered the challenge of finding a comfortable place to sit when the temperature outside steadily climbed toward 100 degrees, and inside my un-air-conditioned, 113-year old house, I stewed. I rediscovered the rare pleasure of those motionless hours after midnight when the temperature became tolerable. Windows flung open, a fan whirring, sheer silence outside the blackened screens except for the rhythmic chirp of a cricket. Summer in full.
With the extreme heat came the semblance of a schedule. Rising early was a necessity, not an option, when one full day with no water could mean disaster in the fledgling garden. I watered by hand at sun-up and sun-down, and got to know the health and progress of every seed sown, every seedling reaching for light, every mature plant struggling against the heat.
The dog, too, with his long mop of golden hair, required early morning walks before the heat of the day set in. We visited his favorite swimming hole many times during the month of June, a long trudge up a winding mountain trail. He wore himself out retrieving a yellow tennis ball from the cool lake and napped the rest of the day. I did my duty and retired to reading and cooking and looking out the window in search of a cloud, faint hope for a thunderstorm as those torrid days passed. June finally erupted into flame on the edge of town, burning the memory of a foreboding column of black smoke into the city’s consciousness forever.
And then, the rains came.
July delivered puddles. Clogged storm drains. Thunderheads building to the west every afternoon, summer as it should have been in June and finally was. I watered less in the morning and took to long sessions of newspaper reading on the back porch with coffee in hand. Summer directed me to the Arts section first, then a reluctant mulling over the front section, disaster heaped upon disaster. It didn’t mesh with my plan. It disturbed the peace so I stopped reading it and wallowed, instead, in the Wednesday Dining section and its seasonal recipes.
In the garden, mushrooms sprouted alongside creepy looking, foaming funguses I didn’t want to touch, even with a stick or a shovel. The squash and pumpkin vines grew like that plant in The Little Shop of Horrors, wrapping their greedy tendrils around everything within reach and erupting with brilliant yellow trumpets of flower. Drunken bees levitated over the raised beds. Hummingbirds zipped by in the afternoons for a nip at the blooming hyssop.
Late afternoons I took a pile of books and my computer and a glass of wine and moved to the front porch where I could watch the day’s thunderstorm pass over. Is there any more welcome sound than the swish of tires on wet asphalt? Any scent lovelier than the rush of approaching rain?
August delivered the first of the tomatoes and a much anticipated visit from my sister. It had been years since I had hosted a truly relaxing summer getaway at my home, and I relished having the time and opportunity to do it right. Fresh sheets. A full refrigerator. Long, lingering dinners outside. On a Friday evening, we walked in the rain fresh air down the street to the nearby college auditorium and a magical performance of The Sound of Music, the soundtrack of our growing up together. Without saying so, we remembered all the duets we’d sung, all the summer nights of our childhood when we sang in our darkened bedroom. Our hearts were blessed to be together for the first time since both of our sons died, six years ago, when we could dare to just be happy.
August delivered proof of the power of passing time and I received it.
I have a mountain of books to read and a pile of unfinished work to complete before my summer of doing nothing ends. But while it lasts, I’ll take my work and a glass of wine to the front porch and wait for the thunderstorm to roll in. It will be over before I know it.
Kathryn Eastburn is the author of A Sacred Feast: Reflections of Sacred Harp Singing and Dinner on the Ground, and Simon Says: A True Story of Boys, Guns and Murder in the Rocky Mountain West. You can comment and read or listen to this column again at The Big Something at KRCC.org. “The Middle Distance” is published every Friday on The Big Something and airs each Saturday at 1 p.m. right after This American Life.