Summer Settles In: A Re-Run

Summer is upon us. It’s been cool and foggy here at the coast, burning off by afternoon, daylight’s glare fading gradually until it all turns into magic, the broad white lingering sky that comes between sunset and darkness at this time of year. In fact, I just stepped outside to be in that light, and thought I’d return and write something in my enchanted state, but no new words arrived. Instead, on an impulse, I typed “summer” in the search bar of my blog, and the following post was one that appeared. It was written six years ago, and I found it poignant for many reasons. So much has changed, but I’m still here. (Ah yes, the heart learns slowly and our lives spin fast.) Here it is again, six years later:

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Sometimes the blessed fog embraces us, burning off by afternoon, and then heat radiates from rock and backcountry, and a visiting lizard lingers on the deck, and a small party of scouting ants appears by the kitchen sink and I put away the butter and seal up all the sugary things. If I don’t get out on my bicycle in the cool of morning, I’ll never get any exercise, but if I don’t get an early start on writing, I will have lost my moment, for the climbing of the sun seems to correlate with my brain’s descent into stupor mode, and that’s the way it is.

On 4th of July I kept remembering a summer of a decade ago when my daughter wanted us to take her into town to see people and a fireworks show, and we said no. We said no because we were hot and tired and unmotivated and not terribly fond of driving and crowds or leaving the ranch. “I’m stranded here with a pair of boring old hermits,” she said, in tears. Then she went downstairs to her room feeling friendless and forgotten, trapped inside her parents’ weirdly isolated world, and she spent the night writing in her journal and being carried away by books. And I wonder sometimes if that’s why she left home so promptly and efficiently and went so far away. But mostly I want to apologize to her, long after the fact, because we should have taken her to see the fireworks.

The other day I went down to Orange County to look in on my mother. That’s never easy for me, but I guess looking in on elderly parents is what human beings are supposed to do. I took her for her favorite kind of outing…ice cream and a drive in an air-conditioned car…and I am truly grateful that she can derive so much joy from something so simple.  She seemed frail and flushed and her thoughts untethered. At one point she saw a sign for Edinger, a Santa Ana street name, and she started talking about Ebinger’s, a bakery in Brooklyn that I remember from my childhood, source of truly delicious cakes brought home in pale green boxes tied up with string. She remembered that two of her children were born in July and asked me to make sure we sent them cards. She twirled the white curl of her ponytail and mentioned that she could still walk far and run fast, but I pray she doesn’t try.

I also saw my sister, who had taken a much-needed week from work and she told me that she had been lying in her room and everything was quiet and she suddenly felt terribly bleak and sad. But we all feel that way sometimes, I think, when we step back from our busy-ness and the clamor of the world recedes. “That’s why we need to stay busy,” she said. “You’re the one who told me that. You said the trick is to stay busy.” But now I was thinking that the trick is to sometimes stop being busy and face whatever lies beneath.

And I was thinking how I wish I could make her worry and sadness go away, but I don’t even do so well with my own, and my life, by contrast, is a cinch.

But the heart learns slowly and our lives spin fast.

Recently I was standing on the stairs talking to my 85-year-old mother-in-law when a butterfly darted by. “When I was a little girl, I used to chase butterflies,” she said. “I’d run all over the yard in pursuit, going around in circles.” She walked down a few steps, paused, and looked back. “Come to think about it, not much has changed.”

As we drove home yesterday, we saw pelicans soaring low above the water in beautiful formation, a wondrous sort of welcome.

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