we never put the air conditioners in. all summer. it’s been windows-open. summer two.
granted, there were a few days that were a little brutal, the humidity high, the breeze slight. we all melted a little.
but we survived. and, as i sit here, knowing that there are whirring central systems all around us, i can feel the breeze coming in from the east, the sun is gracing the comforter, the chippies are out back trying to dissuade the squirrels from eating at the birdfeeder and it is mostly quiet. our old house breathes and the outdoors comes in.
i guess i know people who spend scarcely any time outside. i personally can’t imagine it. we spend as much time outside as possible. even deck time counts. moments that we get to be up-north are exceptional and this time was no different. it doesn’t matter the weather, though sparklingly sunny days are truly impossible miracles of beauty. but even the rain, falling on the woods and lulling us all, doesn’t deter us and we sneak out in-between to take a walk and find wildflowers on the side of the road.
there is a chipmunk – and i am assuming, with no real basis for it, that it is always the same one – that comes to the fence across the driveway outside my window almost every day. it sits atop the fencepost and chirps loudly, stopping only when i call out the window to him, “hi little guy! hi chippie!” and make conversational chippie noises back at him. satisfied he said good morning (again, an assumption) he scampers off the fence and on to his next task-at-hand. were the window to be closed, i would miss it.
there are trips we want to take – to gorgeous high mountains and red rock canyons, to the atlantic coast, to smoky mountains, to cool canadian provinces, to faraway places overseas. we’ll spend as much time outside in those places as we can, drinking it in.
that window is big and wide open. and there is wild and sensational beauty out there.
but it’s even in our own backyard. and i don’t want to miss it.
the height of mosquitoes. the height. and the height. both definitions.
ankles, necks…it matters not. right now our favorite river trail hike is swarming with them. if i thought that mosquitoes had any good will toward others, if i thought that mosquitoes served a truly individualized and specialized useful purpose, if i thought that this being – a tiny species that causes infection to millions of humans – was not evil itself, well, i would be deluding myself.
they are dreadful.
this trail now – dressed in all shades of lush green – is only accessible to the deet-doused, unless you are one of those people who are immune to their snide little biting proboscis. and, in other news, there is no limit to how many times one mosquito can bite you – it bites until it is full. just yuck.
we missed our trail so we went earlier in the day. it was to no avail. there they were, laying in wait. long trails of mosquitoes following us and our carbon dioxide trails as we sprinted through the woods, thinking, foolishly, that we were evading them.
they do not amuse me. they ruin everything. i do not like mosquitoes. at all. not that you haven’t noticed.
i read, “mosquitoes hate the smell of lavender, citronella, clove, peppermint, basil, cedarwood, eucalyptus, peppermint, lemongrass and rosemary.” (homesandgardens.com)
i am looking for a new perfume or, perhaps, moving to iceland, which is reportedly mosquito-free.
there are days that go by that we don’t notice. we hear the waves crashing or the wail of the foghorn, we feel the wind shift over the cool water surface, we listen to seagulls over our house or boats racing the shore. and, though those are all familiar to us, we don’t notice.
we walk the sunset along the lake, night dropping in around us. it’s quiet but we hear faint strains of music from the harbor and the festival on the channel. the lights to our left balance out the ever-diminishing clarity of view to our right. it is pretty exquisite. we are lucky, we repeat.
we live in an old house with an old garage and an old yard in an old neighborhood. we are steps from lake michigan and its glorious power, its ferocity, its smooth-as-glass silk, its wide spectrum of personality. and, sometimes, we don’t notice.
because sometimes, like you, we get caught up in the stuff of life, the challenges of life, the confusing relationships of life, the weariness.
those are the days we should walk the sunset.
for there is not much that reminds you of time passing like watching the giant eastern sky answer the western setting sun. there is not much that reminds you of your absolute tiny-ness in the overall scheme of things. just shy of eight billion people on this good earth and everyone shares this one sun, able to watch colors over lakes, deserts, meadows, cityscapes, neighborhoods, ballfields, cornfields, highways, bayous, mountains.
to sometimes notice, sometimes pay attention, gives us petite pause, like the air you feel staring at a richard diebenkorn ocean park painting, the all-over softened loll of arvo pärt’s music unwinding you, slower-than-slow-dancing on the patio, the hush of a hammock.
“we think we have about twenty good summers now,” the wander women talk about choosing their adventures. we are the same age, so it’s a little bit bracing.
but a good reminder. even from the very start. if we only have about 70 or 80 good summers in all, if we are fortunate, it would seem each one really, truly counts. and, if the height of summer is – in most parts – about three months long, then that’s about ninety days. that means somewhere between 6300 and 7200 good summer sunsets in all, possibly more, possibly less.
it makes me wonder how much i noticed in the first 5670 summer nights to date.
i’ve got some work to do.
i’ve got some walking sunsets to pay attention to.
and so, september has arrived. and the texture of day for many is changed. fall is around the corner; the cooler mornings whisper that to us, ushering in – with little fanfare – the color transformation of leaves, the waning of the garden, the ultimate fallow of winter.
autumn is my favorite. and as i look to it, i see transition rising out of the horizon. undefined, but transition nonetheless. unfolding.
i got a letter a few days ago from the insurance company handling my wrist injury from falling. they have decided to stop my treatment. as of right now.
back in july they hired a physician to do an IME – which is the acronym for, ironically, “independent medical exam”. don’t be fooled by the word “independent” for when an insurance company chooses and hires and pays a physician time and again to do medical exam reports for the insurance company that wishes to stop paying for treatment, that physician is questionably “independent”. in an unsurprising result, the physician, who has not been the treating physician all along, gave them the verbiage they were looking for and BAM! they instantly wrote-a-lettuh to me discontinuing my medical treatment.
to say that i was disappointed would be to grossly underexaggerate the complex and intense emotions that came with opening that envelope. my own froedtert hand specialist and stellar OT, who both recommend continued treatment, have helped me make much amazing progress – as a professional musician who kind of uses my hands in lifelong work – and i am now able to bend my wrist to 60 degrees from the initial 20 when i started with them. it’s not the 85 – 90 degree forward range of motion of a normal wrist, but i guess the insurance company et al have decided it’s plenty. wow. and wow.
so the texture of my days will change as well. i’ll try to translate exercises and stretching my OT has done to home, without the benefit of specialized therapy center equipment or knowledge or her hands aiding my movements. and undefined transition will rise out of the horizon.
and we’ll see. things will unfold as they unfold. and summer will turn to fall. and fall will become winter. and we’ll see.
the cicadas are loud outside already. the windows are open and, though it will be ridiculously hot today, tomorrow will be their field day. it’s the end of august and, no matter who i speak to, the common marvel is how quickly summer has passed. a dear friend wrote to me, “it is the clove of seasons.”
i was behind him at office max. waiting in line six feet back, he was checking out. the checkout gal was pleasant but uninterested as the enthusiastic dad chortled about how his wife had forgotten to buy sharpened pencils for their children going back to school. he asked for separate bags so that he might bring them home to his kids in individual packages to add to their school supplies. he was excited, so excited, telling anyone within earshot of his errand to finish up prepping for the beginning of the school year. i couldn’t help but smile back as he walked past me with an elated look on his face.
i checked out and intended for the exit. it was the backpacks that got me first. the big four-sided display drew me over. there was this great floral backpack. . .
i started to wander a bit more, the calendars and notebooks and mechanical pencils making me wistful. stickynotes and highlighters and packs of gel-tip pens and fine-line sharpies beckoning.
these people knew how to place things in the store. i was not quite leaving.
i was catapulted back in time and meandered a little lost in thought about days – years – gone by, an empty nester’s trap of remembering with both joy and sorrow. all those years of school lists and target runs and picking out backpacks and first day of school walgreen’s or back-to-target fill-ins, things we hadn’t anticipated needing or somehow forgot. the piles on the dining room table as my beloved girl and boy selected their supplies and maybe their pencil case. they put looseleaf paper in their trapper-keepers and loaded up spiral notebooks and the required box of tissues, a few dry erase markers, a ruler and maybe a calculator. absolutely heavenly to be surrounded by school materials, stationery supplies, new reusable lunchbags and two mostly-excited children.
this time of year does it every time. even though it is extraordinarily hot i can feel it knocking. and i can feel the sadness of letting go of summer freedoms, of children, late-morning, still in pjs, of no alarm clocks and no dread of early morning crabbies. i can feel the elation of the bus arriving at the end of the day or sitting outside the school watching for a glimpse of my own beautiful children in a throng of beautiful children.
every year i feel it. that feeling watching them walk out the door to go to school, to go to college, to go into the world. even now i am immersed in it. i miss them.
i’m sure the momma bird was elated too when the eggshell cracked open and her tiny baby bird was born. she probably chortled to her bird-friends about her little miracle and its entrance into life. and then, after a time, bird-school over, she realized she was suddenly an empty-nester, her sweetest with wings that would carry it into the world to adventure and explore and conquer abounding opportunities. though the nest would remain, and would always be there, rooting and rooting, both, it was merely a launching pad to everything else.
and one day, as she was waiting in line at office max, as tears threatened to roll down her face, she would be grateful for all those times before and she would wrap herself in the memorized feel of freshly-sharpened pencils, late-summer cicadas and small hands in hers.
brad was off-zoom-camera when he asked, a little incredulously, “you mean you haven’t put in the air conditioners yet?!” i sheepishly replied, “no…not yet.” everyone on the screen laughed and then stared. i mean, it is clearly hot out. hot and humid and sticky – those dog days of august, though even dogdog is not a fan of sultry so-called-dog-days. every thing and every one is sluggish, moving slower.
i remember living in florida and working in a career where suits and business office attire were expected. you’d search for toe-cleavage-touting etienne aigner pumps on sale and score big on scarves to finish it all off. everything was air-conditioned: your home, your car, the office, the lunch deli. everything except the outside. so, after carefully attending to your ensemble and your make-up, you would get into your car in your garage and drive to the office – for me, this was downtown brooksville at the courthouse, as i worked for the state attorney’s office as the victim-witness counselor – and you’d drive around the downtown looking for a spot, hoping for something close to the square. you’d park -finally – a few blocks away, jump out of your car, grab your attache and purse and walk through 1000% humidity to the office while your make-up was sliding off your face and every wrinkle you had ironed out returned through the miracle of sultry-water-saturated air effects on clothing that does not have physical separation from your body. it is hard to look fresh and crisp when you, your clothing and your make-up are melting away. dog-days in florida are not merely a few days here or there in a month or two during summer. they last much longer than that and i always wondered how my elegant boss debbie managed to look pristine. but, i digress.
i felt compelled to answer brad’s question with a little more explanation.
last summer, in the middle of the beginning of the pandemic, in the middle of civil unrest, in the middle of dog-days in more ways than heat-inspired, we put our air conditioner units in the windows – early. the first day we were the slightest bit uncomfortable, late-spring sometime, we – well, david – lugged them upstairs from the basement and installed them in the sitting room and the dining room. we barely went anywhere. with the pandemic raging, we followed safety guidelines to limit our exposure to others, to limit our trips to the grocery stores, to refrain from eating out or gathering. we closed the windows and flipped on the air conditioners. we were isolated, insular.
the summer of 2020 seems like the summer that never was. neither of us can remember much of the summer-part of the summer. the usual backyard gatherings, trips to the mountains, music festivals and park concerts and farmer’s markets on the lake – all were absent for us. and, because the air conditioning was turned on, we basically left it on. it was easy to stay temperature-comfortable and that seemed like the only comfortable we had. as the spring turned to summer and summer turned to fall work and security fell away for so many and we were included in that. insular. temperature-comfortable but not life-comfortable. we knew having the units in was a splurge but it was our only splurge.
this year we are resisting. the windows are wide open. and some days it is hotter than roasting or sizzling or broiling or baking. but, like the environmentally-responsible outdoor company stio taglines, we “let the outside in.” my hair dries curly on its own and sometimes – gasp – i don’t even have any make-up on. our clothing is not smart and tailored and it definitely has a little drooping going on. but we can FEEL the outside. we can hear the birdcalls and sometimes the frog, the gurgle of the pond and chipmunks ranting. lawnmowers and music from the kingfish ballpark. the ice cream truck playing ‘it’s a small world’ and the street sweeper on its way down our street. we feel a part of the world, even in our continued vigilance of covid safety guidelines. we feel summer. and, to be fair, we look at the weather app for breaks in the heat, breaks in the humidity and count the days, knowing it is within our ability to get there without actually melting away. on days when it’s too too much, we sit in littlebabyscion with dogdog and have happy hour in the driveway, going nowhere.
soon fall will arrive – our favorite season. we’ll keep the windows open. we’ll smell the change of seasons and we’ll start sleeping under blankets. it will be easier to think, easier to move about, heck, easier to wear clothes. we are hoping everything will be easier. insular-island-at-home dwelling is not easy. in an opposite-reaction it seems that the more open, safe and healthy the world will become, the more likely we would be now to put in those air conditioners. maybe next summer.
and just a tiny word about linen. though it is supposedly breathable and plant-based and high quality, what’s up with all these wrinkles??? i could hear my sweet momma in my head the other day as i left the air-conditioned car, having driven a distance in a flowy linen handkerchief dress, trying to look fresh and crisp, perhaps a swipe at cooly-elegant, “you look like a ragamuffin!”
feels like 101. feels like 103. feels like 105. at some point, the details are irrelevant. it’s just damn hot.
david and dogdog and i had about had it. the “cooler near the lake” theory was defunct-for-the-moment and it was hot and humid in and out. our old house doesn’t have central air and the window air conditioners were still in the basement, as both of us love open windows and light and less noise than they put out. and the next day it was all supposed to break. so…one more evening. we tried to be patient. it is summer after all.
we asked dogga if he wanted to go on errands, to which he always gleefully responds. he ran out to the car in the driveway and eagerly got in, looking out the back window to follow our backing-up, which never happened. we sat there. stationary. not moving. he kept looking out the back window. with the air conditioner cranked up to high and on max, we sat there, blowers aimed right at us and into the back, where the dog was wondering about how he ended up with people who called sitting still in the driveway “errands”.
i will admit that we carried out – to our driveway – a glass of wine. so this was the location of the beginning of our happy hour, sans snacks. the snacks were waiting in the sunroom for us, but we just needed this burst of cold air first.
so far, about a week later, post-desperation, the air conditioners are still in the basement. there were a few cooler, drier days. and those nights – perfection – windows-wide-open-fans-on-under-a-blanket nights. yesterday and the day before were humid – curly hair kind of humid. and looking ahead, it seems that it will be up and down. we glance at the accuweather app and look for breaks coming up. there’s one tomorrow. the high will be 73. those a/c units may not be going in any time soon.
instead, our old double-hung windows will be getting a workout. the ceiling fans are running and there is the clicking sound of the ceiling chain tapping against the light fixture. we wake in the night when it’s raining to hear the dripping against the bedroom window from the flat roof above, a signal to close the window. we hear the latest dark-night sounds of crickets and the earliest sounds of the birds as they wake at 4am, sounds we will miss in mid-winter, sounds it seems we should store up, memorize, stock away. we can hear the lake in its response to wind and the train lumbering in the distance. and the exquisite stillness. we can hear the neighborhood go to sleep and the neighborhood wake up.
we know the a/c units will block the heat, will block the humidity. we’re grateful to have them at the ready. we also know that they will block the summer – and in wisconsin, there is only so much summer to have.
i imagined just that. staring at the flames flickering in the wind, taking in the perfect and imperfect of our lives. with the sun setting and the firepit column dancing, a rare quiet night in the neighborhood, it’s easy to lose yourself into the flicker.
the column just made its way into our backyard. it is not large. at merely 22″ it is portable and does not take up much room. there are not a lot of things i see while browsing that i lust over. this small tower-of-fire, however, was one of those things. it was not at a pricepoint i could justify, so i watched it.
sometimes when i watch items – or look at them time and again in a catalog – the yearning for that item goes away. as an artist, this is necessary, as buying whatever-suits-my-fancy is not reality. so it is convenient that my appetite for whatever-it-is is sated simply by looking at it over and over again. but the fire column didn’t fit under that category.
we don’t buy things willy-nilly these days. everything takes deliberation and an intention for the item’s use. and in my mind’s eye, i could see this firepit giving us countless hours of ambience on our deck – our sanctuary – the place we will spend most of our free time this summer. i started to give it some serious thought.
and then . . . there was a flash sale. thirty percent off. i stopped pondering, ordered it and picked it up at the store.
we really love it. funny how this tiny firepit elevated our space. we have surrounded ourselves with simple things out on the deck this year. inexpensive pillows – for the first time – on furniture that dates back and back, furniture that was handed-down, re-purposed, a wrought iron table and chair set i have painted time and again. an old door we pulled out of the basement storage room leans against the house next to a ficus we re-positioned from the sunroom. a couple old stepladders act as end tables. old barnwood and pipe hold our precious tomato and basil plants. there are a couple adirondack chairs on the patio and our wood-burning firepit; a chiminea is tucked over by the garage.
we read an article about a man who designed his outdoor space. it was pretty gorgeous. somewhere in the article the author shared the cost of this patio-deck-extravaganza: $550,000. five-hundred-fifty-thousand-dollars. seems slightly high to us; ours was just shy of that.
i seriously don’t know what we’d do if we had five-hundred-fifty-thousand-dollars to spend, but i’m guessing it wouldn’t be spending it on our outdoor space. though our grass isn’t perfect and the textures of our patio and pond and cement and stone pad don’t necessarily coordinate and dogdog has holes he loves to dig, we find this space brings us peace.
we gaze into the small flames of this tiny fire column and feel the darkness drop out of the sky around us. we are grateful for these moments of reflection, the moments when we see how perfect it all is, even in the midst of imperfection. we sit back, awash in the ahhh of having pillows behind our backs, watch the fireflies and a couple swooping bats, look at dogga laying quietly on the deck near us and take stock of our good fortune.
susan and i played hopscotch for hours. we’d toss a bobby pin or a rock and hop to our heart’s content, nothing else pressing on us in the summer sun.
the summer sun seems a bit escalated now. temperatures are soaring across our country. it is astounding to open the accuweather app and see places i have saved having highs in the upper 90s or even topping 100 degrees. extreme weather. it’s only june. summer literally just officially opened its season. and yet, there is article after article about drought and rapidly dropping water levels and severe storms and the beginning of oppressive fires and people evacuating.
this morning i awoke to an alert on my phone. pitkin county in colorado sent out an emergency message about a wildfire. i didn’t remember having these alerts but, now that i think about it, i must have initiated something either during avalanches over the winter or maybe when the high mountain county was sending out news about covid. either way, my beloved girl is up there in those mountains so i will not be likely to take the alerts off now.
climate change in all its iterations is upon us. weather pattern changes and global warming are pressing in on us. it would seem that we should pay attention, especially if we want this world to continue into future generations.
yesterday i was forwarded and read an article in the new york times about the giant redwoods and sequoias, trees that have been individually standing for perhaps as long as 3000 years, as a forest for millions of years. the peril faced by these enormous and wise giants of the forest is imminent. old-growth forests are critical, yet there are now less than 10 percent remaining in this country. we are stewards of the future earth. we need pay attention.
summer stretches in front of us now. the stuff of outdoor adventures, barbecues in the backyard, camping in national and state parks, faraway roadtrips and lazy beach days. coming upon the hopscotch chalked on the sidewalk i couldn’t help but hop. the joy of remembering, the muscle memory of the 1-2-3-45-6-78-9-10 or 1-23-4-56-7-89-10, whatever the template, hopping, hopping.
for that same delight, that same closely-held set of childhood memories, it is my hope that concentrated effort and dedicated budgeting is placed upon incredibly important research, on the threat of climate change, on the sustaining of our environment. we must pass on – to our children and our children’s children and our children’s children’s children – a world that is healthy, an earth that can support the drinking water needs of its people, a country that takes responsibility for its ecological challenges.
in the old-growth forests, the trees have somehow survived “fire and clear-cutting, new growth…death, death and life again.” the author continues, “the power of the tree isn’t in forgetting, but remembering.” (nytimes, lauren sloss)
maybe we need grab a bobbypin, toss it into a chalked hopscotch and hop. maybe that will remind us to remember.
it didn’t happen often, but every now and then, we got to stop the ice cream man as he jingled his way around the neighborhood. then began The Choice. toasted almond bars or chocolate eclairs or or creamsicles or nutty buddy cones or italian ices (although we most often got those on the way out of modells sporting goods store, which, for some reason, had a stand by the doors). my momma would buy fudgsicles and ice cream sandwiches for in the freezer, so those weren’t viable options. and we would never-ever just buy a cup of ice cream with those wooden spoon things you got in elementary school or with your modells italian ice. that would be lame. it seemed important to get something more novel than what was inside your own house. particularly if it was ice cream on a stick. we knew, at the time, that it was a splurge and we loved every single second of it. we’d sit on the curb or on the grass or on the stoop and relish whatever treat we picked. summer in east northport. summer on long island.
you can hear it coming – “pop goes the weasel” playing incessantly around the ‘hood. it used to drive both my girl and my boy crazy as it approached and passed by – the pitch of the ‘song’ changing keys as it approached, drove by eventually and was in the distance. we laugh now as it passes us these days, for the same reason and because it would likely take a small mortgage to feed ice cream treats to a family from the ice cream man these days. we have marveled at watching families with small children gather together in the park eating dairy queen. a medium blizzard is $4 so a family of five would be $20 just for an afternoon carry-out treat. i don’t know but, to us, that seems like a lot.
harry burt, the founder of good humor, apparently stumbled into ice cream kingdom rule when he froze chocolate topping to use with ice cream. it turned out to be a messy affair so his son suggested using the sticks from his previous invention (jolly boy suckers) and – voila! – the ice cream bar was a hit. his decision to start the ice cream truck/wagon/push-cart was on the heels of his treat-success and, believing that good “humor” had everything to do with the humor of the palate, he had his company name picked out. good humor is synonymous with yummy ice cream and childhood. what a legacy!
a few days ago, 20 went to his freezer after we finished a scrumptious dinner with him. he gestured to 14 to be quiet and reached his hand in, pulling out a container but shielding it from my view. it turned out to be a half gallon of coffee ice cream, which is my favorite tied with mint chocolate chip. it was not cashew or almond; this was straight-up ice cream, which he guiltily knew i couldn’t have. he and 14 enjoyed bowls of this dessert. i had two tiny bites, which were amazing. coffee ice cream always makes me think of my big brother who, night after night, would load his bowl up and eat to his heart’s content. after my minuscule taste-test, i googled cashew/almond coffee ice cream and have a photo of a couple options saved on my phone so that i might seek them out.
someday when i pass a freezer with talenti dairy-free-sorbetto cold-brew-coffee displayed, i will literally yell, “stop!”
it won’t be the ice cream truck ringing bells or playing “it’s a small world” or “pop goes the weasel”. it won’t be standing at the side of the road in the hot sun with a dollar held tightly in my hand in line behind other sweaty, excited kids. it won’t be staring at the poster on the side of the truck with too many choices, the scent of coppertone wafting through the air. but, like all the children gathered around the proverbial ice cream truck in full glorious summer, i will be filled with good humor.