At dinnertime the other evening, I glanced across the street and noticed our neighbor trying to mow his lawn before the light failed, a bigger challenge now as the days shorten and summer draws to a close.
Night is coming more quickly this month, which some of us view as diminished possibility, the dimming stage of a year about to start its final act. But the briefer days feel more like assurance to me, hinting that the calendar’s familiar patterns continue, a source of clarity in a confused world.
Summer, perhaps more than usual, seemed a jumble this year. My college student son went to Alaska some weeks ago, just as I did when I was his age, visiting the same glacier I did when I was young. That big mound of ice is much smaller now, which is no surprise given the warmer temperatures. He enjoyed cool weather during his stay, lucky enough to avoid two recent heat waves that made Alaska feel more like the Louisiana he’d left behind.
American author Thomas Chatterton Williams, who writes a nice blog about his life in Paris, reported on a similar heat wave plaguing Europe this summer, including a day of “an astonishing 110 degrees” in his neighborhood, a place normally so cool that many Parisians don’t bother installing air conditioning.
Here in Louisiana, we’ve followed a monster storm to the east, Dorian, that’s been a record-breaker, too. After such a strange summer, we look toward autumn more plaintively this year, as if awaiting an army of liberation.
I won’t miss the wetness, I suspect, when fall finally gets here. Our window panes have sweated all summer long, the dampened brow of an old house whose fever never seems to break. Toadstools sprout from the lawn, looking like the domes of Russian churches as I glance at the yard each morning. Nourished by rain and endless sun, fig ivy meanders up our house here and there, fierce as the fingers of a closing fist.
On some coming weekend when the mercury drops and time outside no longer feels like a day near a blacksmith’s anvil, I’ll circle the place and pull the vines, then trim back the overgrowth on the arbor, slowly reclaiming some order in a yard where the anarchy of August in Louisiana had free rein.
Not long ago, I came across an essay by the late poet Mary Oliver, who knew a thing or two about extreme cold and heat after living in New England and Florida. While vivid weather makes the best stories, said Oliver, calm weather might make us happiest. “I prefer weather in the smallest quantities,” she told readers. “A drop will do. The best weather, it might be said, is no weather.”
I’ve been thinking about Oliver in the aftermath of Dorian, hoping for a season when, for a time at least, weather no longer makes the front page.