Midsummer, we’re at the numberless place in July where we might commence to take swimming at dusk as a given, to be exasperated by heat, to seek solace in a cool living room from the day’s sharp light.
As summer might unwind forever.
Green was the silence, wet was the light,
the month of June trembled like a butterfly.
— Pablo Neruda
Camping on the shore of Lake Champlain this weekend with three enthusiastic 13-year-old girls, we did summer staying-on-an-island things — we biked and we swam for hours (and I mean hours). We walked on the breakwater at sunset. The loons woke us with their crazy calling at night. I read; the girls explored.
And we talked and talked and talked. The girls, giggling, spied on a father camping nearby. He told his two tiny boys, who wore only orange crocs, that Whining and dessert are counter to each other.
Someday, I told the girls, they might hear themselves saying something equally inane as a parent.
The island’s grass, always so lush and cool, had withered brown with lack of rain. The last morning there, rain began just after dawn. I lay in the tent, listening to the welcome patter, and then, just as I believed rain might be settling in for a day, it abruptly ceased, as if shut off.
In the unrelieved humidity, we packed slowly.
A glossy bit of summer in the land of childhood.
Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.
— Flannery O’Connor
Burton Island, Vermont
When my little daughter was three, one morning in the kitchen she noticed the orange day lilies had opened their buds, and she ran upstairs to her sister, calling, Willies! Willies, sissy!
Yesterday, driving around Vermont — perhaps in an attempt to shake off a funk — day lilies bloomed everywhere, colorful masses along the roadside and white clapboard meeting houses and tiny shacks with fantastic views of green and blue mountains.
Fully into July now, I know our summer will be filled with work — some terrific and some not so — with the family complexities of single parenting, of keeping our life not only cohesive but creative. There’s lists of things I’d like to do — climb the Underhill route to Mansfield’s summit, paint the trim, plant two fruit trees — but lying in bed this morning, listening to the songbirds crack open the daybreak, I decided to par this down to one single thing: swim in the pond until the water grows cold and hostile. I lay there thinking that’s free to do, and then wondered when I had lost the sense of free in this life might be.
… (the day lily is) coarse and ordinary and it’s beautiful because
it’s ordinary. A plant gone wild and therefore become
rugged, indestructible, indomitable, in short: tough, resilient,
like anyone or thing has to be in order to survive.
— David Budbill, from “The Ubiquitous Day Lily of July”
My 13-year-old daughter, after considerable thought, purchased in May a blow-up swimming floatie in the wedged shape of a piece of pizza. The only drawback, in her eyes, are two mushroom pieces on this pepperoni-and-green pepper pizza.
For the $8, this purchase has been hands-down one of the best in our family this year. Yesterday afternoon, swimming again, she and the two friends she’s known all her life drifted down the pond. I swam on my back looking up at the sky, watching two, utterly white clouds nearly touch each other before they drifted apart, disappearing over an oak tree.
On shore, I looked at the girls drifting and laughing, splashing, and then lay down and read Random Family, about life in the Bronx. Not so many years ago, I could never have imagined I would emerge from hovering over toddlers, and yet here I am, reading and taking notes while the girls swim happily. I was merely the transportation of girls and pizza floatie.
Finished, the girls gathered their towels and flip-flops and walked up the weedy path. They didn’t look back.
My 13-year-old wraps an ice pack in a kitchen towel and gently rubs it along her cat’s hot paws. The furry creature nuzzles his head against the cold pack. Hot, hot, the cats lie on the wood floor, panting.
Viridescence begins this July, these very long days slick with humidity, turbulent with thunderstorms, the domestic garden and wild woods pulsing, rampaging green — growing headlong, magnificently wild.
This slice of summer is the season of cousins, of sprawling sunsets and lingering dusk, s’mores, and the overarching goal for today: swimming.
In a New Hampshire river, my daughter stands at the edge of a waterfall — the rocks around us radiating heat, the water so cold the small bones in our feet ache. She disappears behind the waterfall, wholly hidden by the frothing water, then emerges blinking and drenched, her smile luminescent.
The short summer night.
The dream and real
Are same things.
— Takahama Kyoshi