a place to curl in summer
it goes back, way back to the summers when i’d find a log — a particular log — in the woods across the lane, or nestled along the green pond, so named for the otherworldly martian-colored skin that magically unfurled across the surface overnight when summers turned hot, turned midwest humid. and the overspill pond went from patched with lily pads to bank-to-bank neon green.
i must have discovered early on the gift of making like a toad, and shrinking way down low, inside the swaying fronds of weeping willow, beneath the rustling of the oak-tree giants as they’d shake arthritic, creaky limbs. i might have taken to a particular rock, another favorite perch, down at the woodsy corner where the stream, after thrashing summer storms, practically roared, as rushing water body-blocked against the boulders that dared to interrupt the get-away.
or maybe it was inside the play house, deep in the grove at the back of our yard, where i made believe i was a pioneer, ala laura ingalls wilder, and it was my little house in the big woods. there, i’d arrange and re-arrange the table and two chairs, the upturned coffee can i pretended was a cookstove. i’d sit and look out the paned windows, i’d tuck wildflowers in jars, set the table for my imaginary children, who’d come for victuals when i clanged the dinner bell.
it might be any one of those wonders — or even my cincinnati grandma’s upper porch, an ivy-screened brick-and-limestone veranda overlooking the sloping woods, and the cattails in the distance, where the woods turned boggy. might have been there that i learned to love the nightcall of the wood frog’s love song, or the late summer buzz-saw of cicada.
whatever the source, it’s never gone away, my inclination to hide behind a scrim of leafy green. make like i’m just another butterfly, or lady bug, landed on a broad green pad. and keep watch on the world that doesn’t know i’m watching.
it’s why i lug my books and pens — and pitchers of lemony water, and plates spilling with whatever’s served up in the summer kitchen — out to what we call the summer house, only really that’s the name bequeathed to us when we bought this place, this old shingled house and the gardens that pay no mind to where they’re told to grow. it’s the screened-in porch, tacked onto the garage, for heaven’s sake. but it’s just about my favorite place to sit and watch the summer, frame by frame.
i’ve been calling it “the office,” and it’s been open for business for weeks now. when anyone comes calling, comes to pay a visit, sit a spell, it’s where i take them for a healthy dose of conversation. for a chance to brush up against the magic of a ceiling fan that whirs, and mama wren chastising the cat, or the rare butterfly fluttering by.
it’s a fine thing to have a summer’s perch, a place from which to watch the sun arc across the sky, to spy the wispy bits float across a sunbeam, to catch the glint of the spider’s web in a flash of early morning. to watch the summer theatre unfold unnoticed, according to heaven’s script, without human interjection.
it’s one of the gifts of this old house that i’ve been relishing this week, as i noted on my calendar that a year ago wednesday, i’d felt my heart all but yanked from my chest, as i boarded a plane for boston and left behind this garden in august, this house when autumn’s light was just around the corner.
because i can’t write with all the relish that i like, here on this friday morning when a deadline is staring me in the face, i thought i’d keep up my end of the bargain, by inviting you into the virtual summer house, and sharing a short stack of good reads (plus one “watch”).
here are a few fine things i’ve stumbled upon this week…rifle through the stack, and see if any float your boat…
holland carter’s magnificent essay in the new york times on how a love of poetry led to a love of art…
a little-known letter from e.b. white on why he wrote charlotte’s web (found in slate)…
watch this: one dream, the trailer for a new documentary telling the behind-the-scenes story of martin luther king’s “i have a dream speech,” a new endeavor from red border films, a project from time magazine..
and finally, from close to home, my dear friend and lifemate, blair kamin, launched his e-book on the gates of harvard yard this week, and you can get a peek here (the book itself can only be viewed on iPad, which i don’t have…..) or, even better, a wonderful Q & A here….
that oughta keep you busy, wherever it is you squat in summer…..
what’s your favorite summer perch, now or long-ago???
My favorite summer perch nowadays is on the covered patio right outside my kitchen door. It is the gateway to the garden. Rain or shine, I sit in my blurple adirondack chair reading; watching the birds and the butterflies; shooing away the darn bunnies and the dang carpenter bees; planning and dreaming; praying and blessing.
But your stories of your long ago summer perches brought back the sweet memory of my favorite summer spot. It was in the woods behind our Cincinnati house, tucked into a bend in the creek. Vines stretched between two trees creating a perfect little “house” where I played and pretended for hours on end.
did i know that you, too, were a cincinnati girl??? i think i did not. i can hear the sound of cincinnati woods…..i loved my grandma’s perch…..she was in clifton. one of the seven hills. love the color blurple, too. xoxox
We were in Western Hills during my grade school years. A little area called Mack. Our Lady of Visitation Parish. The woods were fabulous for exploring wild things within range of my mom’s police whistle which she would blow when she wanted us home. When she blew that thing, we would yell COMING and then kids and dogs would race home.
My hubby, too, is from Cinci. He loved his “wonder years” growing up in Western Hills. Maybe he went to grade school with hh. 🙂
Well, how cool is that? Did your hubby go to Visitation?
Covedale, then Western Hills (’70) for high school. Then Miami, class of ’74.
Just this Sunday I was telling my dad how a friend and I played almost every summer day on the front porch–all of ours then, his now. It spans the east-facing front of the 1911 frame two-flat on the Northwest Side and once had lovely wooden bannisters that I was adept at scrambling over to drop down behind the mass of bridal wreath that masked the “scary” area under the porch. (Now there’s wrought iron–pretty, but not like it was.) I was an earlier riser than Michaelene, who lived across the street, so on steamy mornings when the sun beat hard on the enameled wood floor, my mom had me water the flower boxes with an old majolica pitcher and sweep. Later, when the sun was higher and the porch was shaded by its roof and the surrounding silver maples, I’d round up my friend and we’d play everything imaginable–and we were imaginative–on that porch. From Barbies to board games to Japanese brush painting, we entertained ourselves for hours. My dad had no idea–of course, he was at work. Now during the summer, I make sure that on a few of the Sundays when I’m over there helping him that we have black cows in the afternoon breeze on the porch.
But I also had a play house! It was in the back yard, under an up-and-coming maple (which came down last September) and the paned windows (are you sure we’re not sisters from parallel universes?) looked out on the magnificent garden my mom tended. I arranged my table and two chairs and pretended I was a pioneer with “provisions” stored in plastic containers that in my mind were crockery. Sometimes I updated with my little metal stove and fridge. As I got older, it was a nice retreat for reading. On occasion, Michaelene and I attempt to go back to those idyllic summers at the old house, when the days were unstructured and open to any and all possibilities–until school started again.
oh, the great good souls who gather here. collectively, we must make the universe quiver. i was transported straight to your porch. i felt the sun, saw the early morning light. pictured the pitcher. heard the whisks of your broom. melted at the mention of the black cows, a relic of times past…. you are such a gift, and i can’t help but be jaw-dropped at all that those hours birthed in you…imagination, curiosity, heart, all that is beautiful. the chair needs a playhouse with paned windows…… xox
We had a shed with a screened porch attached. My brother and I slept out there all summer, cots and sleeping bags, and the portable tv! Ooh, we were bad, staying up (barely) to see Johnny Carson’s monologue. Such decadence. The shed part was through a double swinging gate, just like in the old westerns, with a space just the right size for my pony. I kept telling Dad so, but I never did get one. My imaginary pony was very happy there, though. Me, too.
I LOVE this! I bet we can all relate.
and did your spotted pony dine on succulent apples from your vast orchard, or plump carrots from your acres of rolling hills?
Oh, you had an imaginary pony, too? Actually it was the carrots from the garden next to the shed, and the sugar cubes left over from the grown-ups bridge night (Mom couldn’t figure out what happened to them…). My appaloosa/palomino (depending on the day) would let my dad watch the game instead of mowing the “meadow”. No resulting fertilizer, sorry to say. In the ‘burbs, imaginary pets can be an advantage.
you totally crack me up!!!! i was more bovine than equine, so if i’d had an imaginary farm friend, it would have definitely been a cow. with daisy chain. and brown spots on her creamy coat….