We’re keeping a terrarium on the kitchen counter, something our son brought from his dormitory when he came back home to live with us for the summer. In a lidded glass globe that looks like a cookie jar, a bed of chocolate-dark potting soil nourishes a tiny patch of polka dot plants. Their horticultural nickname comes from the white markings splattered across the leaves, like flecks of frost on a yuletide lawn.
The terrarium sat near my son’s desk through two semesters, even as real winter blew against his window. It was the only garden he could have close at hand, a small reminder of the familiar yard that would be waiting for his return at the close of the school year.
In these early days of summer, the terrarium is the first thing I see on my way to make coffee each morning. I like the sight of this small universe, self-contained, living its life apart from everything else that clutters the counter: yesterday’s mail, an overdue library book, the paring knife that someone forgot to put in the drawer.
As I hover over the terrarium at daybreak, a groggy and unshaven deity surveying his kingdom, it seems a simple standard of what we all want summer to be — a small green world, shielded and quiet, at arm’s length from the urgencies of the everyday.
Summer can be like that, though it’s seldom sealed so solidly against what we call real life. Last month, on the first official day of summer, residents of south Louisiana braced themselves for Tropical Storm Cindy. The news brought its usual bulletins about hurricane supplies, reminding me that our own store of emergency goods had, since last hurricane season, scattered to the winds.
The batteries I buy for power outages disappear after danger passes, stolen by other members of the household for TV remotes, video games and the dozen other devices that sustain an adolescent, whose life is powered in equal measure by hormones and electricity. Flashlights purchased for emergency lighting disappear, too, appropriated for campouts or sleepovers. Every year, when the forecasters warn of approaching disaster, my wife and I peer into our cabinets and discover that we have nothing to greet a storm except three used birthday candles and the sheer will to live.
So off we went to the store for new lanterns and the juice to power them, where the cashier rang up our order, then wished us well. “Let’s hope we all come out of it OK,” she said, handing me a receipt.
Cindy didn’t amount to much, leaving behind the hope of a few days without much to worry about except baseball, swimmer’s ear and the question of what to cook on the patio grill.
The headlines rarely give us a break. But I look for summer Edens where I can find them, even in a glass jar near the coffee pot.
Follow Danny Heitman on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.