welcome to summer when the school bell doesn’t clang…

the welcome-to-summer sign i used to tape to the back door, welcoming home from the school year two dearly sweet boys

used to be i’d know it was summer because the cascade of papers to sign suddenly ceased, and the calendar miraculously uncluttered, and boys in the morning no longer groaned. used to be i’d know it was summer cuz something sparkled in the air, and i’d wait at the sidewalk outside the school with all the other parental units, and i’d replay some version of the last-day-of-school from my own long-ago days. i’d do not unlike my own mama had done: make grilled cheese, a decidedly not-packable school lunch; head straight to the library to sign up for summer reading; clang the bell on my bicycle to make sure it was ready for the rides just ahead (the ones down our dead-end lane that wiggled through woods and that was, in effect, our playground).

but this week it came to me only vaguely while downward dog in the garden (pulling some weed, not practicing zen). it was noontime-ish, and the street was more filled with chatter than is usual. i saw a few kids stream by sans backpacks, with that face of liberation that’s fairly unmistakable. and then, before i had a chance to ask, the adorable just-post-first-grader across the street came barreling down her driveway, arms waving like windmills, and she announced to anyone listening (mostly to the upside down me) that it was the last day, and she was going to get ice cream!

so, welcome to summer.

back in 2008, when my boys were six and fourteen, i wrote here on the chair something of a summer manifesto, or maybe simply a wish list. as is my wont, i spelled out the few things i hoped to commit to, the ways i intended to savor the season of indolence, of plenitude, of que sera sera.

my list for “slathering yourself in summerness,” wasn’t too long, and these were a few of the things i promised to make of my summer: go to bed with all windows wide open. wear summer pjs. fall asleep to nightsounds.

wake up, start all over again. only scramble it up. do something brand-new each day. something you always wanted to do, but couldn’t find the time for back in the days when lost mittens had to be located, and snowboots mucked up the hall.

the world back then didn’t scare me as much as it does now (or maybe i just don’t remember), so maybe it matters even more now to squeeze every drop of summerness, of savoring, from the rind of the day. “these molecules of the ordinary,” as cookbook writer nicole taylor recently put it (in this new york times article on cooking for juneteenth), can be, beg to be, made into moments of unbridled joy. to be lifted from the humdrum and unnoticed, into the sacramental.

i think of my friend mary ellen, no longer here, who so savored summer, who strapped on her roller blades, cut back her work days, and jollied her way from june to september. she was prescient and we didn’t know it. her summers were numbered; each one counted more than we knew.

i seem to have flung myself into summer, into this reprieve post-book-editing, by playing in the dirt. i’m outside all day every day when there’s sunshine, and even for bits when it rains. by the time i waddle to the backdoor, my clogs caked in mud, my arms scraped and fingers torn from whatever obstacle the garden’s presented, i all but need a tub to climb into, one right at the door.

i find healing out there where the bumblebees buzz, and the stems and the leaves reach for the sky. i’m away from the news, and i can pretend the world begins and ends where my ferns do their unfurling, and the cardinal belts out his evensong arias.

but even my sanctuary isn’t without its assaults. yesterday, i found out there will soon be a six-foot solid cedar fence cutting off the light and the breeze on one side of our yard, the side that happens to run along our screened-in porch, where the light and the breeze have always been essential to the magic. i tried hard not to cry. but then i came in the house and the full-throttle sting hit me: no more dance of the sun beams just before dusk, as the dollops of pure golden light all but ignite where they land. no more taking in the sweep of green as far as my eye can see. i suppose i’ll dig a new garden, hard along the fence line. and i’ll fill it with plants that delight in deep shadow. the woods are filled with them, at least the parts where the sun doesn’t find its way in. i’ve known for years it was coming, so i tried to be brave. but deep down inside it hasn’t stopped throbbing.

i was going to make a new list here, one filled with summer promises. but maybe i’ll keep it to this, the simplest version of prayer: dear maker of sunlight and breeze, help me to savor, every succulent drop of the indolence and plenitude synonymous with this one holy summer…..

what will you promise yourself to do with this one incoming summer?