Summer, in Three Parts
We become the places where we live and play
You live someplace long enough, you are this place.
Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone); from the 2006 Rocky Balboa
The prescient words of Rocky Balboa, heavyweight champion of the movie screen, ring true for many of us.
Summer is a journey. It begins in June, ebbing and flowing like the tide. The Fourth of July intrudes and divides, confusing our summer senses. A glass half full or half empty? Just look at the newspaper with sales at Sears and K-Mart before we even get the hammock out.
This summer I went back to Alaska, a place I haven’t lived in 20 years. Every time I visit, the mixed mantle of mountains and memories messes with my head in a good way. Sliding seamlessly into June’s endless Northern daylight, truth is all around, all is transparent, the past and the future seem as clear as a bell. Maybe it’s the air or the elevation.
On returning to the land of the last frontier, nothing seems to have changed. It’s still a vast place, peopled with friendly folks, rivers full of big fish, mountains to climb, vistas galore up ahead. I mourn the changes man has wrought, but I revel in going back. I am this place.
In the East, in high-summer season, the seaboard beckons. Think down y’ocean. Maybe Jersey Shore. The Outer (or Inner) Banks. You know the feeling: gliding into the newness of June’s longest days, slipping into your swimsuit, packing a picnic basket for your family just like ones your own mother packed. In summer, the past and the present intertwine. This scent of that cottage, the comfort of (and time for) a nap, this favorite fishing hole, that shady spot, a backyard picnic, a secret gunk hole. You are these places.
Fearful that summer will slip away, the tug for me is the state of Maine. The loon calls. So do lobster, and starry, two-blanket nights, cirrus clouds on high promising and delivering fair weather, and water so clean a baby could drink, though it’s tasted mostly by dogs lying hard by the dock, rousing from their temporary lair close enough to shore to slurp at will. This place I have only lived in summer, but I am this place, too.
One thing I know: She who goes up in summer must come down. EZ Pass smoothes the way now, though for me without the happy racket of past summers. Dogs now long gone would jump and howl at toll booths en route. EZ Pass is a quiet ride, sometimes too quiet, if you know what I mean. I miss the friendly smiles of surprised toll takers in the clamor of passing.
Coming home to Bay Country in August, I find tomatoes full and red, ripened on the vine. Corn and melons still plentiful and sweet are peddled from roadside stands. Crabs have grown fat; my neighbor Jim can attest to that from his regular West River weekend haul. Osprey now have other fish to fry: nesting season behind, a journey ahead. The sounds of frogs and birds that filled the air night and day defining early summer give way to the steady chirp of crickets. That, too, will cease as nights cool.
The rhythms of summer may change, but they stay with us, waiting to emerge in another time and place.
On the cusp of change, at summer’s end, we’re reluctant to give up the flowers, though fruit will follow as reward. School’s early start pushes us forward, ready or not. Scattered rains are softening lawns brittle from summer heat, but the evening air is thick and moist and brackish mixing memory with desire, as the poem goes. Oysters come to mind, though we shall have to wait another month or more.
You live some places long enough, you are those places.