On this first day of summer, mock orange blooms beneath our bedroom windows — an enormous bush that nearly reaches to the second floor — its scent so sweet it’s nearly liquid.
Yesterday, a day that perhaps reflects our summer world: chaos combined with a languid beauty winding through. The chickens fly over their fence. My two jobs clamber for my attention. My oldest daughter coughs. My bank account teeters on dipping into the red.
And yet, a small dog named Dammit wanders through the library. The little children play in the sandbox for hours, digging with bent spoons and old trucks. That evening, I return to the library for a novelist to read. Four kids whose mother is at the food shelf follow me in. They check out books. I give them handfuls of bookmarks and Reading Rocks! tattoos. The youngest plays on the floor with the dollhouse, eating potato chips, sharing her life story with me.
Each summer I bring friends out
to note and share the (garden) display and produce.
Here is life’s habit on grand exhibit
and the hard work hidden.
— Leland Kinsey
The first tooth my daughter lost she threw into the woods. She had been eating a wild apple in our sugarhouse driveway, and the tooth pulled free into the fruit, frightening her. She spit the mouthful into the forest and threw the half-eaten apple, too. I actually spent some time looking for that tiny white tooth.
That milk tooth seemed so important to me then – as if with that tiny tooth I could hold her childhood in my hand.
Since last summer, my younger daughter has wanted to leap from a bridge into Mackville Pond, near her friend’s house. Standing on the metal railing the other day, her friend and sister coached her, while I sat on the grassy shore, certain the girl wouldn’t jump.
She did; I nearly missed her leap. Swimming, laughing, confident: I got this.
And so it goes.
It would be good to give much thought, before
you try to find words for something so lost,
for those long childhood afternoons you knew
that vanished so completely…
From “Childhood” by Rainer Maria Rilke
In these long July evenings, the children stay up late around the firepit, roasting ridiculously large marshmallows, burning the sugary outsides while the innards remain in their bizarre, uncooked marshmallow state. As the dew descends, I gather swimsuits, a sandal beside the trampoline, a library book.
Early mornings, the light already risen like an energetic lover, I wake and think, It’s still July.
This season, too, will pass. Snow will fall densely, the moon rise over the pristinely ice-shrouded field; our eyes will blink against frost.
All that is exquisitely lovely.
But it’s July now…. and we’re Julying.
…In his torn voice Crow is forever
giving advice. Last week, after fighting
with you, Crow counseled me, said to pick
a cup of raspberries, to lay them in a circle
atop your bowl of cereal.
Todd Davis, from “Crow Counsels Me in the Ways of Love” in In the Kingdom of the Ditch
Sometimes I imagine what it’s like to live where things are consistently dull. My mother used to write me postcards from Santa Fe with ABD: Another Beautiful Day.
This Vermont summer drips messily with humidity one day, envelopes sticking together, the silverware slick with moisture. Today is edged raw, making me think not of watermelons and salad with fresh dill but macaroni and cheese steaming in the oven.
One extreme or the other, not much in between.
Maybe raising kids is the same way. With a houseful of kids and cousins, they’re all long tanned legs and appetite this summer, baby softness long since gone by. Mothering for me began with that extreme – crying or, blessedly, not – and so I began to understand parenting in that way.
Here’s another Summer Goal: reprogram myself to even out, as the children all grow taller (but not yet fiercer) than myself.
The rain is falling all around,
It falls on field and tree,
It rains on the umbrellas here,
And on the ships at sea.
– Robert Louis Stevenson, from “A Child’s Garden of Verses”
When I was a kid, my aunt from New York City gave my sister and me bracelets she had bought at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s gift shop that had been handmade in Africa with unique and somewhat mysterious beads. Each bracelet was different. One had a milky glass bead. Another a tiny pale green elephant.
This week, with my kids and my sister’s kids together again, busy in their childhood world of trampoline and croquet, biking and baking, I remembered again how that bracelet sums up childhood for me: filled with mystery and marvel.
So it was fitting, perhaps, when I snapped this photo in the Hardwick community gardens. What else should we be nurturing but the soil, this green grassy and stony and muddy earth beneath our children’s running bare feet?
Childhood is not from birth to a certain age and at a certain age.
– Edna St. Vincent Millay
Atkins Field, Hardwick, Vermont
I haven’t lived in a town in what to me is a very long time – over twenty years – and in those twenty years, I went from newly married, to raising two daughters, maple sugaring on a scale that become way oversized for two adults, and wrote a book. I did a few other things, too.
Oddly, living in a small town again, I’ve been given a glimpse back into my female self I might not have gotten before. What’s different from when I was twenty is that I’m a mother now, a writer, a woman who knows her way around a garden and what to do with garlic scapes. Useful things.
I have wrinkles and a great tangle of gray, but I’m no longer afraid of the dark. In an odd way, what I once thought would be so difficult – uprooting – has evolved into one of the easier phases of my life. Or maybe it’s just July, and the greenery is mellifluous. Then again, maybe this is one of the easier parts, and the children aren’t bickering now.
You got to understand: here
Winter stays six months a year—
Mean, mean winters and too long.
Ninety days is what we get, just
Ninety days of frost free weather….
From David Budbill’s “Summer Blues”