Hot, in the best kind of truly humid summer heat, the heat that brings me back to those endless childhood summers when a summer was endless and not merely a few heartbeats. In a strange kind of way, the heat rejuvenates me. I wake early, work hard, then finish my chores as the day funnels down to swimming.
At a nearby garage, I pick up my car. There’s no one there in the empty building, the side doors rolled all the way up to ceiling. I stand there, listening to traffic and watching shadows from the trees flicker over the cement floor.
Two women come in and tell me they’re limping along a Toyota Rav with a flat tire. One woman wears wool socks and winter boots, and I think, Of course you’re from Maine. They’re both much younger than me, nearly bouncing with excitement, and I ask what brings them here. They’re checking the world out. Their excitement is the brightest thing I’ve seen all day. The woman with the wool socks says with a smile, Could do with some rain.
I answer, It’ll rain. She looks at me as if my assurance is farfetched. I add, Eventually, and then wander behind the garage looking for the man to write a check. The garage is on the riverbank. I look at the shallow water. Get a move on, I think. There’s plenty to do. But I live in Vermont. There aren’t that many days in a year I can wear a sundress and not wish for a sweater.
With a stranger, I have a passing conversation regarding a documentary about Gabor Maté. My father recommended the documentary. I originally pointed my father in the direction of Maté when I picked up In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts in a house where my daughters were catsitting. And so it goes…
This stranger, too, has coincidentally just seen the documentary. We’re standing outside the post office, talking, the afternoon sun bright in our eyes. The documentary is about drama and authenticity. I ramble on about authenticity, how I once considered an authentic life something like enjoying cheese, whether it was artisan cheese or Velveeta, just really leaning into life. What an utterly superficial understanding of authenticity, I muse.
What about doubt? What about fear?
This morning, fog lies in the valley, forerunner of fall. Authentic as all get-out.
“You may do this, I tell you, it is permitted. Begin again the story of your life.” ― Jane Hirshfield
Saturday morning, I pick up a stack of library books at a town just north of where I live. As I drive away, I see an acquaintance crossing the road with a baby against his shoulder. This is a tiny town with a white-fenced green in its center where a farmers market has sprawled. I stop my Subaru in the middle of the road and jump out. “Let me see your baby!”
The baby is beautiful, its cheeks fat beneath a sunhat, rosebud mouth gnawing on a blanket.
The father and I talk just for a moment. He shares the baby’s name, and I tell him how rarely I seem to see infants these days. A car appears behind us, and I get back in my car. As I’m leaving, the father calls after me that he loved my book.
Driving home, I pass Lake Eligo, a deep glacial cut, all the blues and greens I can think of mixed into this sunlight-glittering beauty. From work, I know the skinny roads around this lake, and I follow a dirt lane to a dead-end. I park and wander down to the wetland shore. I’m thinking of an essay I’m writing about my last pregnancy, puzzling over how to arrange pieces of time. What makes sense? A linear timeframe, but we experience the world beyond the linear timeframe of course.
The lake empties both north and south, an anomaly, too. The planet is burning up, but the edge of this lake is almost cool. A bullfrog bellows in the weeds. I let those words and that writing koan slip away. For this moment, I’m in no rush. Clouds, water, and the reflection where they meet fill my sight.
Vermont’s summer mugginess settles in, and I lie awake at night, remembering the much stickier summers of my childhood in southern New Hampshire, a thousand days of no school and bike riding and eating salted cucumber and playing Acquire with my brother and the neighbor — the ultimate game of capitalism.
But those were likely much less than a thousand days.
My youngest texts me at work. She and her friend explore different swimming holes and go hiking. Together, as new drivers, they match route numbers with roads, beginning to master maps. I worry about her — my youngest navigating the world on her own — this place of such ineffable beauty and real badness. This is the summer she’s learning the price of a tank of gas — a transaction between labor and coin. But it’s also the summer she’s beginning to realize the phrase girls travel in packs has much more meaning than looking for the women’s room.
This is the summer of phenomenal sunsets and sunsets, of studying the sky, wondering if rain might move in.
Quit counting, I counsel myself. The hot days unwind into hotter nights, but the dawn is cool, the dew lush over my toes.
My daughter texts that she left a few things behind for her camp out with friends. The back porch, where I’m working, is so hot I’m worried my laptop might actually begin to overhead.
I pack up those things and head with my older daughter, who’s on staycation this week, to the next town over. We walk down a short path into the woods. In mid-July, Vermont smells phenomenal — of wet soil and broken leaf and wild roses. On the pond, blue damselflies dart near our faces.
Oh, the world of being 15-years-old.
In the evening, my older daughter and I walk through the town, admiring flowerbeds while she maps out her future for the fall. At the high school, the lot is completely empty save for a blue mini van. As we walk near, I see South Carolina plates and an elderly couple eating from a box of pizza.
I raise my hand and wave, and they both wave back. What’s your story? I wonder. Later, driving by us in town, they wave again.
Friday was a day of two swims — in Walden and Hardwick. I’m storing these summer days in my body, as if I can hold sunlight and warmth and the tangy scent of green tomatoes in my skin. May these summer days be long, long, long.
Caspian Lake, Greensboro, Vermont/photo by Molly S.
This morning, the world smells so good. With my coffee cup, I walk around the dewy garden in my bare feet. There’s weeding to be done and more sowing of seeds and plants. We’re in a long dry patch, and I’d love some rain. Every night, I water patches of my garden.
But this morning, for this moment, how good this all smells, the crickets singing, and this whole day spreading before us.
I recently remembered that, when I was a girl, I wanted to live on a farm with a blackberry thicket. I didn’t particularly want a cow, but how I lusted after fruit trees and garden rows and overgrown lilacs. Behind our house now, the wild blackberries are profuse with blossoms near that fox den.
The pandemic continues. The virus spreads. But, for now, we’re home and outside — and it’s glorious summer.
Photo by Gabriela Stanciu/Caspian Lake