This morning, the mist lies in the valley. Through the open windows, a coolness steals in with the dawn. For this summer, my daughter informs me, the greatest heat has passed.
July gave us thirty-one gorgeous, sun-drenched beautiful days. Now, on the first of August, I’m wearing jeans near my open window, as my daughters’ cat keeps a hungry eye on a darting goldfinch.
My teenager aches for September and school; I think, slow this down. School may not open its doors this September, maybe not in October, maybe not at all this year. In our little Vermont oasis, that seems theoretical at times. On this first of August, I think again of Hayden Carruth’s poetry.
The world is a complex fatigue.
Indeed. For this day, green bean picking, handfuls of zinnias, the cosmos as tall as my shoulders, the nasturtiums nestled in the tomatoes. For this day, flowers.
Pandemic notwithstanding, the car I’m selling needs to be inspected. Since who the heck wants to talk through masks, I call the mechanic where I’ve left this car for a week or so. What’s a week, anyway?
The soft-spoken mechanic, who’s been undercharging me for years, quietly explains what needs to be done. Then he asks me, What do you think of that? Is that okay?
I’m leaning over the back deck railings, staring into the tangle of wild raspberry canes. I answer, What I think is it’s 2020, and I don’t like any of this.
He busts out laughing. I hate to say it, Brett, but we’re so fucked. This has only been going on since March.
I know. What’s going to happen in November?
I’m laughing so hard at this point; there’s so nothing funny about any of this — pretty much nothing funny about 2020 at all — but we keep laughing and laughing.
Then I say, It’s just a car. Fix it. I’ll sell it. That’s small potatoes.
And — it’s still Vermont July — with a creamy half-moon and endless cucumbers.
The cool breeze.
With all his strength
The peppers fatten on the vine. We’re at the sprawling, luxurious place of summer where the greenery is prolific and the pollinators busy. In a few weeks, the slow cool-down begins, but not yet.
On a photography quest, my daughter jumps onto a rickety dock and snaps photos while I wander around to the other side. A heron flies at the far end of the wetland.
We’re headed nowhere in particular this day — just a Sunday, the two of us, and we’re out and away from the ever-present humming chores of work and garden and house and that list I’ve taped on the fridge — sell old car, paint house, buy freezer. I’ve bought the freezer.
These days, the world feels almost unbearably fragile. What’s happening? In the face of this, we crave the wild — the dark pond, the eagle slicing across the sky, the meadowsweet and Black-eyed Susans.
When my daughter leaps back to shore, we turn and look at the bobbing dock. A snake has wound up through the slatted boards. She shivers all over — our mutual dislike of the slithering — and then we head out of the woods and wetlands, back to the domesticity of home and garden.
July is the apex of Vermont summer. In these long days, the maple trees stretch over the road as I drive to work — our world bursts with lush growth. In the garden, I pick the first sun gold tomatoes, then drift to sweet red currents.
I pack as much as I can into these days, beginning with the rosy-fingered dawn — take on a little more work, send one more email, swim before making dinner. But a coolness begins to lace through the evenings and earliest mornings; winter is never far in the offing in Vermont.
After dinner, while my youngest mows the lawn, I read under the apple tree, then fold up my glasses and close my book. Across our dead-end street, our neighbors are playing a make-believe game before their three little boys’ bedtime, running on the grass as the sunlight comes through the maple leaves. From where I sit, I can’t see the little boys, but I hear them laughing and laughing.
The robins dart into my garden.
None of this changes the world around us — the constant subtext beneath anyone’s How’s it going? — but July and its endless cucumbers and the sweetness of fresh-cut grass and a world of little children are our world, too.
A young groundhog appears from under the neighbors’ woodpile and stands on its hind legs, appraising me, sunk in its groundhog schemes.
believer in silence and elegance
believer in ferns
believer in patience
believer in the rain
Summer mugginess has settled in. Besides pleasing the garden, this offers the kids a chance to complain a little more — as if anyone needs that opportunity.
Again, this is a summer of swimming — of plenty more, too, work (which I’m immensely grateful for), this constant growing up thing my youngest insists on, and the world we live in that appears to be turning itself inside out. I lay awake reading at night and listening to the frogs or the hunting foxes, sometimes the neighbors having a party, and think, What about a little tranquility? But this does not appear to be the time for tranquility, much as I look for it in tiny places — those few minutes of swimming, the raspberry and rhubarb crisp, the sheer pleasure on my daughter’s face when she sees a friend.
These steamy days remind me of New Hampshire summers, when the days spread out so long…. May they yet spread out. Black raspberries, sun gold cherry tomatoes, jalapeños, basil…. May summer creep along.
If you lie quietly in bed in the very early morning, in the half-light before time begins, and listen carefully, the language of crows is easy to understand. “Here I am.”
Sunday afternoon, rain showers fall intermittently. In between, the sunlight sprinkles the garden — the most delicious weather for the garden. I read on the front porch couch, the cats wandering between me and my daughter.
I bought this novel to add to the library’s collection — Members Only, by Sameer Panda — after listening to the author on NPR. It’s clever, sharply written, utterly relevant, and its plot hinges on what seems to be a single slip up by the protagonist, but gradually a whole story of circumstances and choice is revealed.
This July, like my garden, I’m soaking up sunlight and rain showers — as if my daughters and I can store these lovely days in our DNA for the long winter yet to come. Why talk about my daughter’s sophomore year? Who knows what will happen in American schools this fall and winter? Like just about everyone else I know, I’ve accepted we’re not headed anywhere, anytime soon or not soon. The ubiquitousness of the disease is a strange kind of leveling field — there’s no longer the wealthier kids my daughter knows who are headed on extended vacations while I suggest to my daughter that she repaint the north side of the house.
While it’s day by day here, as the parent I’m always eyeing that future, and that, perhaps, more than anything else, brings me back to day to day, in this sweet July.