Friday, September 3, 2010
Season in the Sun
Remember when you were a kid and time seemed to always move so slowly? Sitting in class, willing the big arm on the wall clock over the teacher's head to move, already, so that you could tear around on the playground or go eat lunch or make it to practice or latch key it home to pop a TAB and settle in front of the television for the latest After School Special while gabbing with your friends on the phone?
Remember how a family day trip could drag on for days, how the span between birthdays and Christmases seemed like years, and how summer most especially stretched into eternity?
Until, one day, it didn't and there you were, time warped back into the classroom, watching that big hand etch out its torturous circular path as you dreamed of everything but what was on the chalkboard.
I haven't watched a clock in years, but I still feel summer's end with the same acuity as I did when I was a kid. One day, I'm sweating it out in the heat of late August and the next, I'm wearing long pants and a jacket to walk the dogs come September.
The light, too, is different. More mellow, with a golden cast that renders everything in higher and brighter relief. Then, there's the air. Not the way it hangs, but the way it smells. Some urban areas in late summer smell like trapped auto exhaust and sweaty bodies. Albuquerque in September smells of roasting chile, its smoky sweet scent so pervasive, it becomes the olfactory equivalent of a theme song. Live here long enough and eventually you don't notice it so much, but I can't count the number of times I've landed back home in Albuquerque after a fall trip when someone on the plane hasn't stuck their noses in the air and asked, "What's that smell?"
Late summer is also marked by the last flush of flower bloom—not only in my garden but most importantly in the wild. This year's wet monsoonal flow has produced a riot of wildflowers so varied and vibrant, I can't keep up with them all: fleabane and wild verbena, red rocket and sulphur buckwheat, evening primrose and globe mallow, and the granddaddy of them all, helianthus annus, or the common sunflower.
Regardless of their ubiquity along the roadsides and ditches of the American West, sunflowers never cease to amaze me with their resilience and beauty. Yesterday morning, I was up in hills running with my little Border Collie, Maddie, on a trail I haven't been on in over a month. The end of this particular trails drops steeply into an isolated valley of about a hundred acres that serves as a transition from the surrounding neighborhoods to the forest beyond.
As I rounded the bend, I was greeted by the sight of what must have been hundreds of thousands of sunflowers, their stalks as tall as I was, each and every one of their faces aimed at the rising sun and so thickly packed together that the normally wide, clearly demarcated trail was completely obliterated.
I had to shut off my GPS and just stand there for a few moments, wondering at the evolutionary necessity of such drop dead gorgeousness. Maddie, of course, could have cared less. She was too busy chasing rabbits.
Since the sunflowers are still thriving, and the purple asters are right behind them, I'm not going to mourn just yet the passing of summer.
Even though I do know this eight-week Indian Summer slide into November will pass just as blink-of-an-eye quick, and soon I'll look outside and see nothing on the ground but snow and the withered detritus of a once thriving landscape. In which case, all I can say about winter is this: thank God for cashmere and the fall television season.
Happy Labor Day to everyone and I hope you plan to spend it wringing every last bit of fun and frolic out of your summer.