After the Fourth of July this year I became moody. Summer was slipping away from me, I just knew it. Was my panic due to being middle aged, I wondered? Summer, of course, is synonymous with youth, and with juicy life itself.
Years ago a friend’s grandfather, old and ill, said to me, referring to his lifetime, the thing we say about summer: “It goes so fast.” His wife, who wasn’t in great shape, either, said, “Hush up, Harvey. Let her find out for herself.” And I have.
My husband has had to hear my litany of complaints about what I was certain were the waning possibilities of the summer season this year: we hadn’t left enough wiggle room in our schedule for serendipity, we hadn’t planned our camping trip yet, job stress was weighing us down just when we needed to be light-hearted. And so on.
Then in the cool of one evening, after a hot day, I got the idea that he and I should do a couple of errands, but that we should walk rather than drive. We took our usual route, and chatted along the way about what we were seeing that we hadn’t noticed at 30 miles an hour, things like a recently completed addition, a luxuriant grapevine, a dark pink lily we both liked. It felt, somehow, as though we were lacing the neighborhood together with our talk and our steps.
He nipped into the grocery store to get the fixings for raspberry shortcake, while I went into the drug store, then we met again at the corner and headed home. We passed a man out in his yard playing baseball with his young children. He was pitching to them softly, underhand. My husband called out, “The Twins could use you,” and we all laughed.
When I was in my 20s, I lived with four others in a big, old duplex on Dupont Avenue near Franklin. We called it The Dupont Hotel, because we so often had guests staying overnight. One June evening I sat on the front steps with a housemate and a woman whose husband was Finnish. She, her husband, and their boy were about to move to Finland. She was a little melancholy about it, but we three young women talked calmly about what might lie ahead for her, as her young son roller-skated on the sidewalk in front of us. I was aware, as we talked, of the preciousness of what was happening. The waning light had that solstice glow, and it lingered.
Ever since, I have found myself waiting each summer for a similarly expansive experience. Most years there has been one. This summer’s was that walk my husband and I took to do errands. They are always ordinary. Time seems to slow, and I feel fully immersed, fully “summered.”
You can’t plan these, you just can’t make them happen, though that hasn’t stopped me from trying. These experiences feel so huge, and yet are so fleeting. Off hand, I can recall only one other, this one from the late 1990s. I was deep in our garden, on hands and knees under the tomato plants, nose nearly to the ground, butt in the air, trying to place the hose just right. The day was hot. When I stood up, I felt a little woozy. I was growing Mexican sunflowers, whose blossoms are orange. After I blinked a few times, I found I was looking right into the face of a sunflower. And at a ruby-throated hummingbird, inches from my nose, who was working the blossom.
I admired the tiny bird’s feathers, which on so close inspection looked like shimmering, green scales. A flying fish! It hovered a moment, tried a couple of other blooms, and then zipped away. Had I risen up off my feet into the air to follow, I wouldn’t have been all that much more surprised or pleased.
Mary Jean Port writes at home, near Minnehaha Creek and Lake Harriet, and teaches at The Loft Literary Center. Her book of poems, “The Truth About Water,” was published last year.