Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Long and Short of Summer

Summers in Iowa always seem to lift one by the soul right into the impossibly sunny air around June. Your toes sink into cool grass and your spirits rise starting from somewhere around your bare knees. You imagine that's what it feels like to be growing in the good earth like the things all around you, from flowers to sweet corn to blossoming trees.

Come August, it's a different story. It's just hot, the cicadas are whirring more like an alarm than singing like a song, and the whole of nature looks a little like an overexposed photo--blasted by heat and light, faded in color, tired of being. 

That's how this summer has gone in respect to time. We began buoyant and full of hope. I'm ending a little faded and dissatisfied.

There's been a lot of delays and redirects on home projects, but I'll save a lengthier discussion of those for another post.

Those delays and redirects, coupled with a lot of work and family-related......stuff, for lack of a better word (good, bad and indifferent, most of it has no place on the blog), made this summer feel more like a holding pattern than progress or a respite in the normal yearly schedule.

I'd been longing for, if not an ideal summer, at least one like some I had when I was a kid. Like the summer I was thirteen, for instance. That was hardly a perfect summer. I'd grown to my full adult height of 5'8", was taller than all the boys, and yet couldn't fill a bikini top. I hardly recognized my own body and wasn't sure I was at all in love with this suddenly new and horribly awkward version of myself. I began to suspect I was too old for Laura Ingalls Wilder, or wanted to be, but re-read her books like I did every summer in the heat of the backyard lawn chair or the cool of my bedroom. I listened to 45s of Blondie and Pat Benatar. I went to the public library and read old issues of New Yorker magazine, wishing I understood life in its sophisticated and worldly way which my Midwestern upbringing surely had nothing to do with. I felt inadequate and sweaty and bored.

That summer seemed to stretch on forever, though. Time enough to read books, not just Wilder but trashy teen novels and thick biographies and Rolling Stone. Time enough to exhaust myself in our town's community swimming pool and walk home with my little sister, flip-flops snapping and chlorine wet towels steaming around our necks. Time for cherry popsicles. Time to visit my favorite aunt and uncle's farm in Missouri for sweet corn and green beans and the smell of hay. Time to pedal past that cute boy Nate's house, hoping he might be home.

It's in the nature of being an adult, unfortunately, that I can't do those things now. My own kids' summers look a lot different and are a lot more structured. Some of that is a good thing. Every year my son Noah participates in a School of Rock program that gets musical teens on the live stage. I'm always proud and surprised by how professional and accomplished they sound.

And Ben likes art camp:

But we've also had time for free-form silliness:

And like me, they've had time for books and boredom, swimming pools and cherry popsicles. We struggle with the maintaining a healthy amount of screen time and not more, but that's the norm for most kids now.

For myself these days, I seem to find that long summer feeling the most in the garden. As a little girl I was outside most of the time, with uncombed hair, dirty feet and fingernails. I can revisit that time in the garden even if I'm weeding, but especially if I'm watching the bees, considering how a petal curves into a sepal,  palming the ripe heft of a tomato. 

Here's a squint through the front yard perennial bed in one direction: 

And another squint through in the opposite direction, toward the house: 

We've got two weeks left before school starts, and I have mixed feelings about it. I've been ready to let this less-than-ideal summer go but I'm at a point in life, with my sons growing up, that I have no real desire to wish the days away either.

One thing I know is true from my four decades plus of summers. They all blend together in a wash of heat and breeze, cold drinks and the smell of cucumbers on the kitchen counter. There's little distinction in my mind, now, between any afternoon at the pool, some particular July day with my bare feet in the dirt, that other watching fireflies at dusk from the farm porch. It's all one long Midwestern summer in my mind, and while that might feel like a loss, it's really a gain that averages out the short summers, the frantic ones, the ones of self-doubt and emotional transitions. This one too, will sink into that perpetually green and shimmering seasonal memory, and seem the better for it in time. I'm grateful for that.


  1. Names of some of those amazing perennials in the last three photos? I've never seen a pure yellow lily like that one. Thanks.

    1. The Lilies are from the White Flower Farm catalog, their pastel Asiatic lily mix. It's been a real winner. The pink flower is a nameless yarrow that I picked up in some garden trade, and the blue spikey flower mid-photo in border shots is Salvia 'May Night." The super-tall plant on the left hand side of the toward-the-house photo is Joe Pye Weed. It has fuzzy purple blooms that the bees adore. The flowering shrub in the last photo is a 'Limelight' Hydrangea. It gets prettier every year!

  2. Wow, Laura, your photography skills are getting really good! The flowers in your garden are just beautiful anyway, but your interpretation in the first of the photos is stunning.
    Those twins are so cute, lol. I'm the great-grandmother of 2 year old twin boys, and it has been such a fun journey watching them from afar via photographs. Finally met them this summer, and they are just a hoot. Yours look like a mess, too! Miriam