Wednesday, March 21, 2012

On Summer Daze

"Oh! That was bracing!".
- Mal, Firefly

The first day of Spring and it was 82. The sun dips towards the water, its glow, burnished breath upon my skin. The sky so clear, the soft trailing puffs of clouds, spun air gathered around the tops of the trees like cotton candy. I love that time of day, somewhere between the first cool breeze that blows against the back of my neck like a lover's kiss, and the first stinging bite of the mosquitoes, marking their territory in blood, driving me in. Outside my home, Cicadas will soon strike up the band, off in the distance, the sound of the first Spring lawnmower, heard without interest but with the comfort of familiarity. I'm safe in where it's cool, the air conditioning on, the house safe and quiet. Too quiet.

I hope the mild winter and the hot Spring isn't a portent of another scorching summer, of the bat phone going off, requiring a day or two outside in it, hot brutal work, everything you touch, burning.

I was based someplace once extremely hot and arid. I remember a little "science experiment". I wrapped a roast beef in foil, leaving it in a vehicle with the windows rolled up at the beginning of a training flight in July and carefully unwrapped it at the end of the afternoon to find it perfectly cooked. We shredded it and served it with buns and cold beer, toasting another successful mission and "Jeep as convective oven". Who knew?

But heat can not only burn away what is unnecessary, it can also destroy that which is fragile.

Dad doesn't have central air conditioning. It's not that he couldn't afford it, he just refuses, saying he lived in the house 53 years without it and doesn't need it now. Though he did put in a window unit in his bedroom, thermal windows and insulated drapes, which work on those occasional really hot days.

As kids, when it did get hot, Mom would close up the drapes, turn on a fan, and try not to use the oven. Dinner was usually grilled, or a plate of cold meats and cheese, lefse, and a glass of wine or beer for the adults, kool-aid for the kids. Sometimes we'd leave the house and head to Dairy Queen. It was, other than the inevitable and forgettable McDonald's, the only "fast food" in town.

I remember those trips, sitting in the car, also with no air conditioning, trying to eat the cone before the ice cream melted and ran down my shirt. Our dog even got her own, which my Mom would patiently hold while our wiener dog lapped at it, crunching the cone like it was the world's best bone. Days of heat and glory. For a moment it wasn't hot, there was just the clear cold of the ice cream, eaten in hurried silence with the people we loved, cool salvation taken from summer's scorn.

Summers were anticipated joy. For when the snows had melted, spring had sprung and the land was warmed by the sun of summers sustenance, we'd gather at an irrigation ditch at my Uncle's ranch, hear the water rushing down the sluice way, from the sound of it, as if a whole ocean had come apart, roaring through the culvert, taking whole cows and houses with it. But in reality, though strong, it not enough to drown in unless you were some sissy city kid. We'd wait until the flow increased, then jump in with an inner tube, rushing down, rushing on, the water releasing something in us that adulthood hadn't dampened yet.

We'd be out after breakfast and play all day, with kids gathered up from around the area, a posse of potential. We'd drink from the hose if we got thirsty and ripped more than one pair of knees out of a pair of jeans, which our mothers would patch, not replace. We exposed our bellies to the sun, offered up skinned elbows to the skies, gaining confidence in our movements, in ourselves, breathing deeply, nourishing ourselves on the scent of grass. Summer days flowed endlessly, we were immortal, the clouds rushing by so fast we could not keep up even on a bicycle. Glorious days. Only the sound of the dinner bell would bring us in, dirty and hungry and aching to be outside again.

We didn't have a mall, we hung around the water, near bridges that could be jumped off of, near streams in which you could paddle around like a pre-school kiddie pool. The older kids, the braver ones, would jump off the rocks or grab an inner tube and then propel down through some rushing water to a pool further down. I hesitated to take that first leap into the abyss until some older kid double dog dared me and I raised an invisible middle finger to gravity and went over the edge.

At home, there was a sprinkler or even a Slip N Slide, where with a deep springing run you could lunch onto a wet plastic superhighway off into the grass. Geronimo!. . . Wheee!.. . argghhh. . . DOG POOOOOP!

It leaves me to wonder. When the days of summer come to pass, do we ever really grow up? I guess it's how you look at life, as an imagined feast, like a holy wafer placed on the tongue or just something for the body to consume before it dies and turns to earth.

Soon it will be summer again. I have air conditioning now in my homes and in my truck. Yet I still spend many a day out in the open air, sun beating down as we catalog each and every burning piece of earth in which someone lost that fight with going quietly into the night.

There's no escaping that kind of heat. The sun rests atop an inverted tureen of hollow, muted air. Even our words to one another as we worked, faded slowly and knowingly until they were lost in the murmur of shimmering heat within which even the flags that marked our work, gave in to windless defeat. We moved slowly, casting shadows on scorched earth that we had not yet quit, cataloging the frayed dimensions of a moment in time that lay so solemnly upon the shifting earth.

Finishing up, even getting shed of our gear, there wasn't enough water to cool us down. We dove into sweating bottles of water in a cooler, gulped down, the liquid without taste or even cold until we finished it, the drops on our lips already dancing like water on a skillet as we headed back to our vehicles.


We could hear the roar of it before we even saw it. It was not a warning of approach but a sound of playful challenge, an indictment against the hard shame of earth that held it back, the vast weight of years of fluid need rushing as fast as it could into an unknown future, searching for that inviolable pool in which it would finally find home.

After our work for the week was completed and we had a day off, we came back. There are canoes for rent. We are still hot. We can almost taste water that will actually refresh. It's not a river for beginners. Before us the thick current challenges us in a undertone of superiority, the silver surface dimpling into foaming ropes that splash up against a rock, then disappear in silence. Bubbles dance around the rocks, as if something large were alive down there, something that woke in our presence and will only sleep again after it's done battle with us.

We look at it, we look at 40+ year old knees and arms and we grin at each like children. There's been a few thundershowers; just enough to raise up the water level above the level of our spirits. We grab our craft and go in, the water yanking at the edge of that last bit of fear and hesitation, pulling us down, water fast and huge and furious. Once we picked up the paddle, there was no going back, we had to be there, to see if to the end or die trying, water in a place that's inside of us, water in a place that's somehow holy.

The fear of my youth is gone, and those around me know that double dog daring me still works. Our work for the week is done, it was time to break free of it, the heat and the solidity of it weighing down even our sleep if we let it. As I stepped into the canoe I held my breath and in the silence that followed, so did the water, tremendous and patient and waiting for me to make up my mind. And we hit the water with solemn abandon, simply in recognition of the life left in us, the air rushing from my lungs, supple muscles gathered into the forward motion of arms, and head and heart.

Perhaps it's the heat outside that makes us bold, perhaps it's the heat within us. It's always the first jump into the unknown that is the hardest, that hesitant leap upward propelled by desire and only held back by the gravity of restraint. Once you are past that feeling of helpless weightlessness as you stop off into space, it gets easier. For life awaits. It comes to you in the heat of the day, secret and swift, wearing air and water and blood and need that flows away like a garment revealing all that you knew. If you close your eyes to it you will see, drifting until the water grows tepid and the sound of future Cicadas is all that remains.

Hot or not, I'm going to head out to the wild soon. Where my life waits for me. For though we've all been burned in the past, there remains those who will never live so long that we don't believe that what is in our ardent wanting is out of range of our ardent hope. We just had to open the door, dive into the water, no worries, no shame, no forgiveness necessary, and seize what we know we needed.

For it awaits. Awaits in the heated movement that is not the wind, Awaits in a rush of roaring water; in a patient pool in the evening, where the hurts of the past are left lying upon a drifting and imponderable shore, washed clean in the heat of a yellow afternoon.


  1. Oh! That was poetry!
    ~ Pippin, The Fellowship of the Ring

  2. The water awaits for those that have endured the heat. The ones that never had to do that do not know how profound that gift is.

    How beautiful!

    I hope to get some heat this weekend as well as some cool water after I am done.

  3. Funny, I kind of look forward to the the stifling days of summer now that I am no longer required to toil in it.

    Looking back, schools didn't have air conditioning back in the day either. Here, school goes well into June and starts up again right after labor day. Both times are very capable of producing one hundred plus degree days. The creepy feeling of school papers being peeled from sweaty forearms is a sensation that I will not soon forget.

    Thanks for the words, they inspire memories, not entirely unpleasant.

  4. The sun parches the land, water becoming more valuable then gold. Fights ensue over its ownership.

    Yes water is a part of summer but there are times it is but maybe a glass.

    Loved the story of times past.

  5. Summer time is wonderful. I think this might be the first year I take the kids to the water park. I'm just a big kid myself when it comes to water. There is nothing like the thrill of whitewater rafting.

  6. After a joyous summertime splashing in delight, many plan for a fall of similar joy and freedom of spirit. When you are unshackled by the expectations and compromises of another then your plans can be free and you fly where you will.

  7. I love the memories this evokes. Trips across the country in the old car to see family. Trips to the Gulf coast as a kid. Thanks.


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