Janet Sheridan: The soul of summer
July 9, 2010
I recently had a medical procedure requiring an IV. My nurse had trouble inserting the needle. She apologized for needing to poke me again and suggested I close my eyes and go to my happy place.
"Do you have a happy place?" she asked.
Yes, ma'am, I do: summer in my backyard. But that's nothing new.
As a child in elementary school, summer unfurled as slowly as a peony blossom and seemed as wondrous. I unfolded, too, lifting my face to the sun and wriggling my toes in the muddy trenches that watered our garden. Around me, air that smelled of wild roses, worked earth, and mysterious possibilities teased the leaves of the cottonwoods until they trembled and showed their pale underbellies.
Above, the sleeping princess atop Mount Timpanogas rested comfortably, having kicked off her white down comforter.
Birdcalls echoed from tree to tree.
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When young, I knew the soul of summer.
Of course, I also had to spend three months in the constant companionship of brothers, sisters, and chores — irksome realities that impinged on my happiness like flies buzzing around a picnic table, but didn't stop my enjoyment of the feast summer offered.
Then, for 50 years, I stopped attending to summer, considering it just a pleasant setting for my warm-weather activities: In junior high, I slept out with friends and gorged on popcorn, caramels and gossip.
I earned money for personal adornment by crawling muddy rows in search of strawberries or wrenching ears of corn free from stalks. In the evening, my best friend and I walked to the Dairy Queen, scouting for skinny adolescent boys on bicycles; on occasion, our prey surfaced and rode by, shouting rude comments we chose to interpret as interest.
During high school, summer days passed in anticipation of summer nights. Every morning, I cleaned Mrs. Thomas's large, cool house, preparing her lunch, and hoping my head wouldn't shake like hers when I was old.
Afternoons were spent seeking the bronze skin of Coppertone ads and the graceful hair of Sandra Dee: I forced myself to lie in the sun in pools of sweat with my hair stretched around giant pink rollers. In the evenings, I cruised Main Street in the parade of hopefuls and visited the A&W, where my date always paid; after all, he had the pleasure of my company.
Then, college summers of work and impassioned, long-distance communications with my husband-to-be began a deluge of increased responsibility that distracted me from summer for many years.
But with the slowdown of my 60s, I began to notice again.
Now, summer stutter-steps into my backyard: the still bare aspen watch like wary chaperones as the Russian willow and Canadian cherry rush giddily into the season, wearing new green dresses. The roses swell with tight buds, pregnant with promise, while shy moonbeam coreopsis hides behind muscle-flexing tiger lilies. Self-effacing pansies, unaware of their beauty, slip quietly into view.
Birds cavort. Hummingbirds indulge in acrobatics before refueling in the honeysuckle. Mourning doves fly vertically into soft, lady-like landings on the lawn; and sparrows soar in swoops, even when hopping would be more efficient. Ravens stalk stiff-legged, shifting their weight side-to-side like Sumo wrestlers; and in the fountain, robins bathe unabashedly.
I stand tall in the sun and wriggle my toes in the grass. I have returned to summer.