Summer does not arrive at her seasonal cycle as an infant; she is a lady already grown mature and coquettish when nature coronates her to begin her quarter-year reign over earth.
Summer has come to the twinkle of fireflies and the revived choir of frog-songs in damp fecund nights that end with new seed sprouts and a heavier burden of green life for meadows and hills to bear, and to swelling fruit on briar and tree branch.
It is summer that most vividly marks the passage of each inexorable year and weighs the heart with memories as heavily as the green growth it brings weighs upon the land; spontaneous images lost only to the eye of recollection drift without summons in and out of the consciousness: our boundary fence between the driveway and the Hotze lot, draped with grapevines, up to the corner gate opening to the path to Barney Ottman’s cottage; Barney trekking daily over the railroad crossing and on the path to the river landing, sitting in the end of a johnboat to fish; our wedge of garden’s downward swoop toward a silver thoroughfare of river and backyard patches of snow-on-the-mountain and tall spider plant; Ben Otto calling to his hogs from the early morning fog that hid his farmstead; the smell of creosote from the railroad ties and groundhogs shaking weeds along the bank between the tracks and woods of the river bluffs.
These images come as I walk familiar earth that is still with me, but which has also undergone change. Hardwood groves I have planted now tower over green lawns where once rows of tobacco spread their leaves over brown cultivated earth; gardens, once relegated to the edge places like afterthoughts, now dominate where tractor and cultivator once pushed soil around the pungent plant that brought both prosperity and death.
I fight the same weeds: pigweed, pursely, lamb’s quarter, and foot-a-night vine along with the new war to keep aggressive poison ivy in its wild edges and out of soils I work. The past is with me always and the future seems dark; there is comfort only in the immediate experiences of growing plants and swelling mast in this so-far-benign season.
Wildlife encounters have been the singular pleasure of these days. There was a deer in the garden lane just steps outside the yard this morning and a gray squirrel has been coming to the mulberry along the back fence corner, competing with blue jays, robins and brown thrashers for this favorite soft mast of early summer. The thrasher is a large bird, but I saw one do an amazing bit of navigation by flying through a space in the chain link gate instead of over the top.
Yesterday as I was working in the new ground tomato patch, I finally had the season’s first sighting of an orchard oriole, a female, which is runner-up for the most colorful bird we see here, her bester in showiness being her mate.
Young rabbits emerge from meadow tangles to nip the white clover mowing has kept succulent and blooming in the park paths and the groundhog again keeps haunch-standing vigil from his den. The groundhog is an interrupted thread in my stream of summers beginning in the back-looking dawn of my perception of forever, only to unravel and virtually disappear a score of years ago. I would so have circumstance re-weave that thread for me to follow forward through whatever is yet to be mine in this world, but never again would I slay him with the dedication and ruthlessness as was once my passion.
Long ago summers were busy with farming in the bottomlands all the way to Springdale, but now there are only two fields planted to corn in the neighborhood and there is no tobacco. Haying is still an important industry and the Boyd bottom, days ago thigh-high in grass and legume cover, is now clipped and dotted with scattered hay rolls. Hay cutting is a hazardous event for what lives and hides in the grass labyrinth, as monstrous clanking machinery cuts and grinds whatever can’t get out of the way. Voles, snakes, land terrapins and rabbits perish, and buzzards pick through the downed cover for small easy meals.
The creek calls to me from where it meanders in the shade of box elders and sycamores and I feel guilt that I do not find time or motivation to grab a rod and reel outfit and the bag of lures and desert my gardens and groves to feel the good tug of a fish. It has been April since I fished and experienced the pull of two nice spotted bass in what Daddy called the Bruce Hole after a 19th-century family that owned land along the creek, the matriarch of which died when she fell (or, as some insinuated, was pushed) into the creek while it was high after a rain.
But the pool he called the Bruce Hole isn’t on the old Bruce property. Vague tales that a great-uncle, when a small boy, had seen her ghost along the creek sometimes disquieted me when I fished there alone as a youth, but not enough to keep me from venturing there alone on bright summer days that were not accommodating to spirits.
The Bruce Hole isn’t a pool anymore, but rather a long stretch of unbroken water, mostly shallow with enough deep spots and structure to hide fish. And even if a misnomer, the name has stuck and will to me always be the Bruce Hole. When we desire constancy and continuity passionately enough, we will make them recur against any stricture of reality.
This summer has begun well and is shaping into another drama of that desired continuity, which I hope will really play out again beginning in mid-August when the hunting season starts. There are days when I get very weary and heat-drained, but I revive, get up and do it again. My doctors ask me if I ever feel fatigue; I do, but I am now 66 and I’m doing many of the same things I did when I was 46 and even 26, and I often got tired then too.
And that’s not a bad deal at all.