Tag Archives: summer

The smell of dust.

About five this morning three things happened. I woke up in my sister’s house, which lies in the neighborhood of my childhood, along one of the thousand plain, unlined roads that make rectangular grid lines of themselves through the orange groves.

A mockingbird began to run through his upbeat repertoire outside my window. I was surprised at this, because I never heard them as a child. I wondered which local species he was imitating at the coolest moment of the day, 73 degrees. He didn’t sing for long.

About the same time that I saw on the forecast the prediction of 108 degrees today, I heard the whole house fan come on and start blowing all the previous day’s residual hot air out of the attic and all the rooms. In the summer my brother-in-law turns it on as soon as the outdoor temperature becomes cooler than that under the roof. It really lessens the need to use the air conditioner.

But tomorrow morning there will not be enough cooling off to work this system. While I was driving away in my air conditioned Subaru and toward a more coastal destination, the Central Valley was turning into a furnace. Most of the next ten days over 100 and four of them above 110. 

As I lingered with my brother’s family over dinner last night, we talked about various people we knew who were leaving California for one reason or another. Somebody’s mother had moved here years before from Missouri but had to go back, because she was always sickly in California. Was it the dust? Everyone around the table agreed that the dust can be oppressive.

After dinner we went outside where the children ran on the lawn, and I admired the way the succulents thrive at my brother’s place, in the heat, yes, but under the shade and frost protection of the patio roof. Certain plants love the climate, and of course that dust blows off the fields that are in between plantings such as I saw on my drive in: cantaloupes, tomatoes, corn, alfalfa, cotton…. That Valley dust feeds the nation!

It’s also a component of the air of which I breathe deeply when I visit in the warmer seasons, the scent of my childhood. That air is like a caress, and a tonic, an atmosphere to sink into. The late evenings are the loveliest time to sit out, after the sun has gone down and air has lost its oven-like personality. One wants to stay up for hours recovering from the day’s fierceness, and not go inside where the air may be cool, but it’s artificially so.

At the end of today’s drive, I arrived  in the southern reaches of the state in a place where the ocean influence is felt morning and evening. Windows and doors are open so that soft breezes can blow through my hosts’ house. I picked up granddaughter Annie at the airport, and this weekend we’ll go to her cousin Pat’s wedding in San Diego. 

Today’s photos are all from my brother’s place, which is the house I grew up in. He has made a lot of changes, but it’s all good, and more pleasing every time I visit. Tomorrow, more family to visit, more gardens! Stay tuned…

Summertime is a bath.

I’m glad to say that the two littlest of my (thirteen) grandsons are still here with their parents. I really do love hanging out in the garden with them; whether it’s engaging the “help” of Raj to pick up pine needles or wipe the patio furniture, or sitting by Rigo as he splashes his hands in a pan of water.

Yes, that’s my brand-new bathroom! It’s about the only part of the remodel that is both usable and picture worthy. Busy little people keep me occupied with better things than the rest of it, like unfinished closets.

On the Fourth of July Kate and I stayed up long after the little boys went to bed, to watch the film version of the musical “Hamilton.” We had thought to watch only part of it, but it was hard to stop. Besides, my neighbors were making a lot of noise with their fireworks, so our household couldn’t easily settle down anyway.

A couple of years ago after my cousin Renée saw “Hamilton,” she gave me the book by Ron Chernow that was its inspiration. The two-hour show naturally had to reduced the story of Alexander Hamilton’s life and times to a few themes and historical threads that Lin-Manuel Miranda found especially meaningful; I don’t think I’d have appreciated it much without the background of the book. But having become familiar with the players from Ron Chernow’s purely historical telling, I was impressed with how much could be expressed through the choreography alone. Thomas Jefferson’s character was a brilliant example of this. I’m sure if I watched this fast-paced musical a few times more I’d notice much more; but on my own I’m not much of a watcher of shows, period. I’m glad Kate arranged it, and I wanted to mention the book-theater connection here with my recommendation.

The weather has been perfectly summery, and not too hot to have friends over twice already while Kate is here, and to eat brunch in the garden. Feeding  people, and helping to facilitate the necessary baths and naps and soothing garden tours… those are some of the fundamental activities that have consumed me this week from morning to night. Maybe that is why I liked this poem. Also, it reminds me of my own father coming out of the 100-degree afternoon into our ranch house, and eating thick round slices of cold watermelon before returning to irrigate his orange groves.

Summertime is like a bath of sensory experiences rich with poetry. It slows and calms me and prompts prayers of thanksgiving. Drink up!

CARRYING WATER TO THE FIELD

And on those hot afternoons in July,
when my father was out on the tractor
cultivating rows of corn, my mother
would send us out with a Mason jar
filled with ice and water, a dish towel
wrapped around it for insulation.

Like a rocket launched to an orbiting
planet, we would cut across the fields
in a trajectory calculated to intercept—
or, perhaps, even—surprise him
in his absorption with the row and the
turning always over earth beneath the blade.

He would look up and see us, throttle
down, stop, and step from the tractor
with the grace of a cowboy dismounting
his horse, and receive gratefully the jar
of water, ice cubes now melted into tiny
shards, drinking it down in a single gulp,
while we watched, mission accomplished.

-Joyce Sutphen

Summer of 2001