summer


I hate to complain, but frankly, it has not been The Most Wonderful Spring Ever here in the Northeast. First of all, it dumped buckets and buckets of snow on us for the first part of it–and then, when that started to seem inappropriate even to the weather gods, it started raining and wouldn’t stop for days on end. Throughout the first two-thirds (yes, TWO-THIRDS) of spring, there have been only a handful of days when the temperature has struggled out of the 50s and 60s, and I think one day it accidentally might have reached 70 degrees before heading back down for a late-season frost that night.

But today–May 21st, the day when the world was actually supposed to be ending–the sun came out and the sky filled up with white, puffy clouds against a backdrop of deep blue, and I was moved to shed my hoodie and sweatpants and actually go outside and survey the yard.

It came to my attention that it’s time to make some deals with the natural world.

Here are my proposals:

1. PLANTS:

My responsibilities: I am willing to buy and plant several species of colorful flowers that the nursery near me calls “annuals,” meaning that they will only grow this one season, and then will die. (Never mind that “annual” seems to imply that they will last a year; they will not. I know this now, and I don’t expect it). I will offer this: a nice soaking in Miracle-Gro before I put them in the ground; I will water their little delicate roots, and I will tuck them into place with mounds of dirt and mulch around them to protect them from whatever they need protection from. During the next few months, I will from time to time water them again from the hose, unless I get too busy and forget. Probably once more during the summer, I will remember to give them another taste of Miracle-Gro.

Nature’s responsibilities: In addition to enough hours of sunlight, I respectfully request that nature takes up the task of giving them the water they need. Would it be too much to ask that they not be allowed to get all passive-aggressive and suicidal in front of me and act like I’ve done some massive wrong to them by trying to provide them with a good home? This hurts my feelings. I mean well, and they should know that. Make them stand up straight and act grateful that they’re not still in those black plastic cartons that only gave them a half-inch of dirt. I would also appreciate it if they could just agree to hang on until the end of the summer without getting all straggly and pale and telegraphing to the world at large that they being mistreated. I will throw in extra weedings and at least one more dose of Miracle-Gro if they could just be grateful.

BUGS:

My responsibilities: I’m sorry. I mean the bug kingdom no harm, but I can assume no responsibilities toward helping out the bugs. STAY OUT OF MY AREA. This means you, carpenter ants, that are every morning marching around in the bathtub before I get into it. If you don’t want to drown when I run the water, get the hell out of the way. And you, ticks, who are determined to make every day a nightmare of searching our bodies for bulls-eye rings, the sign that Lyme disease is slowly working its way through our systems…just go hang out with the deer. (Aren’t you called DEER TICKS?) And don’t even get me started on mosquitoes and gnats. Don’t force me to endlessly chase and swat you by buzzing my ears and landing on my skin.

Nature’s responsibilities: Go away. Go elsewhere. Surely these bugs have lots of other things they could be doing. Remind them.

SNAKES:

My responsibilities: First, snakes, I know how much you enjoy that fun game of popping out from between two rocks or from underneath a leaf when I’m outside doing my Once Annual Weeding. I’ve seen you lurking in the shade in a place where my foot was about to step, and watched you masquerade as a stick only to move quickly away when I got near. Ha ha! VERY FUNNY, snakes. And I know that I bring on your presence sometimes myself by being, shall we say, Overly Focused on just where you might be hiding (that time in the garage over by the rakes was a real hoot, wasn’t it?). I also do myself no favors by constantly talking about your scariness to others, swapping stories of your wicked tendencies, and then straining to discern if every single stick might in fact be another one of your brethren. I promise to stop talking about you, searching for you, obsessing about you, maligning you. I hereby admit that you OWN the planet earth and all its grasses and rocks and streams. Take my yard and all the fields, but leave me the house and the little plot of land where I have planted the above-mentioned annuals.

Also, please note that I planted marigolds all around. I read on the internets that you hate marigolds and won’t go where they are planted. I know my planting them may seem unwelcoming and perhaps even a hostile act. I don’t want to enrage you or anything. I just don’t want you to become confused about precisely where the boundaries of our agreement are.

Easy way to remember: Woods=yours. Where there are marigolds=mine.

STAY AWAY. Please. Don’t make me say bad things about you.

If there is anything better than holding a new baby and carrying TWO ice cream cones, I just don’t know what it could be. I could pretend that one of the cones is for the baby, but you probably wouldn’t fall for that.

This summer is only two days old, but already it has a theme.

It is The Summer of Fluidity. Not nearly as much fun as the summer two few years ago that everyone knew as The Summer of Frozen Drinks, or the one in the year 2000 that became The Year of Camping Trips Every Few Weeks.

Nope, this is fluidity—not just because it has rained every day for weeks on end, and “fluids” are starting to come through the porch skylights and are thundering through the drainpipes—but also because we are living the kind of life where nobody is ever sure what’s happening from day to day.

It’s kind of fun, actually. This is the first summer I can remember when I didn’t have a book due on September first, which in itself is astonishing. There are whole HOURS in the day when I am not typing. And I am not being awakened in the middle of the night by some character in the book who has chosen 3 a.m. as the time to finish telling me a story I MUST include in the final draft.

Also—Stephanie is back at home, at least part-time, between her internship with a casting director in New York and her various babysitting jobs. She comes back and forth so much she’s practically a commuter, which is lovely because she knows something that very few people know about the world, and that is that it is necessary to go to the ocean as often as possible.

I had forgotten this fact of life—surprising since I was raised on the beaches of Florida and then transplanted to the beaches of Southern California, and I spent three-quarters of my early life sitting on some damp towel on one of the coasts, contemplating whether I should make another sand castle or if the last one would suffice.

This is why it’s a good idea to have children: they remind you of things you always knew but may have forgotten while you were busy trying to raise them and make sure they got their homework done and brushed their teeth.

Stephanie returned from college this year just slightly worn out—sick and tired and overworked and oversaturated with city life—and she knew immediately that she needed to go to the beach. “I think the beach is nature’s hospital,” she told me. “And that’s where I need to be.”

And so that’s what we do. We bought a season pass so we don’t have to feel guilty if we can only spend an hour or so there—and we head for nature’s hospital whenever it is not absolutely pouring rain. Cloudy days are even fine. They have their own charm at the hospital, I’ve found—a kind of peace and quiet. I don’t even mind huddling under the blankets in the cold and sipping hot tea.

There’s something else about nature’s hospital that I’ve realized. It has an incredible arts and crafts unit—plenty of shells and rocks and seaweed to work with. Lately I find myself collecting little rocks that look like teeth and creating what could only be called “mouth sculptures” all along my towel.

Soon, I know, one of those mouth sculptures is going to start talking to me, telling me some story that I’ll realize needs to be written down and that perhaps will turn into my next novel.

But for now, it’s enough that it’s just me, the clouds, the little teeth, and the daughter—all of us spending the Summer of Fluidity in nature’s intensive care ward.