Despite the vow I make each June to write at least a page every day no matter what, summer sucked me into the vortex again.
Don’t get me wrong. Summer’s a good whirling dervish space of a place. My daughter runs wild through the house and neighborhood, checking in when she’s hungry, climbing trees and making potions in mason jars she and her friends try and convince the neighbors to taste (they’re mostly made of edible things). My son inhales baseball in all forms – playing, watching, conjuring and analyzing the stats of professional players and his friends out of thin air, usually during a conversation that has nothing to do with baseball. The dog has that wild-eyed, hang-tongued joy born of a plenty of exercise in the woods. The T.V. hardly comes on (except for baseball). We camp and swim. We eat when we’re hungry, sleep when we’re sleepy, and life feels like one long binging arc of sunlight, fresh produce, and clear, dark nights.
Then the light changes all at once, it seems, slanting to spotlight the places I’ve spent a season not cleaning. There’s a chill at dawn, and the edges of the maple leaves color just a little, and I come to. Hung-over, feeling like maybe I’ve been among the Lotus-Eaters, that the pleasure cruise of summer must end or I can never go back. Odysseus’ men had him to yank them out of their partied stupor and back to the boat. For me it’s not so dramatic. I buy school supplies. I get the canning equipment out. This is the hinge, the transition from the hum of summer to the quiet of fall by way of harvest. Once I step over the threshold, I can stick my head back into my writing life.
My kids think I’m a little crazy. For them the garden is a place to graze when they’re hungry and look for bugs. By the time the real harvest comes, the thrill is gone. Whether the peaches rot before we eat them isn’t urgent to them. What’s urgent is being outside, filling up on the last sunny days before the rains and homework arrive. I remember feeling the same way. When I was young, my mom spent the end of summer in the kitchen wearing her apron, sweating over a giant boiling vat of jam jars in their hot bath, muttering to herself about pectin. I couldn’t understand what the big deal was then, but I do now. What I worked so hard for in spring is knocking at the door, and it’s urgent.
The garlic hangs to dry, though I failed at braiding it again. Apples and beans are ready to pick. What I thought were brussels sprouts are actually several heads of cabbage. I’ve put up applesauce, tomato sauce, zucchini relish and peaches. On my countertop distillery two kinds of kombucha and a batch of beet vodka are doing their good work. Since I don’t brew beer, I’m harvesting the seven million hops it seemed like a good idea to grow for friends who do. It’s busy and hot in the kitchen, and there’s not enough space, but I love it anyway.
Because in January, when the heat of summer is long gone, and the sky is relentlessly gray for weeks at a time, and my skin resembles the soft underbelly of salamanders, I’ll be rich with the taste of summer. And with pages. Lots of pages.