RUNNING OUT OF SUMMER from Anne de Marcken on Vimeo.
I regret saying I would teach in the fall. But maybe even if I hadn’t, I would still be feeling this urgency, this sense that I am at every moment letting something irreplaceable slip away with too little notice. This day is the only this day ever. I will never get this back. There will never be another. That is the feeling once the air changes, once the light changes, once it is sharp.
I talked on the telephone to Mum and she said she’d smelled fall in the air the morning before. I said it hadn’t happened yet here. And then the next day it did. Fall. Fall. It is the right word. There is flail or there is surrender, but there is only one way it will go. Fall.
Bastille Day. Spent the first half of the day working around the snag. Cleared the hydrangea. Cleared the raspberry patch. Ate three berries from the anemic canes, crowded all season by horsetail fern and blackberries. Very sweet and mild. Found a woman’s low-heeled shoe, two Santa Claus statuettes, a couple broken pots, a lawnmower (I think—still mostly covered), and a hefty iron part to some contraption that consists of a split wheel, a shaft, and a couple rods. Old ideas about the garden emerge as patterns of rotten 2x4s and brick edging stones, interconnected sections of hose buried shallow as part of a makeshift irrigation system. It is satisfying to pull them out—like removing blackberry thorns from my hands at the end of the day. I could do this work all day every day. I have a hard time stopping. Right now I want to be out there even though it is so hot and even though when I am done with this area, it won’t really look better—just tamer, more tended. I don’t feel this about writing—I do not indulge in it because it is satisfying, I am not eager to continue, I have to force myself to continue, and when I am done with something (a sentence, a paragraph, a story), if it isn’t beautiful, then it discourages me from future work. In the garden, as I clear things out and begin to see the edges, the shape of things, I am inspired. I can conceive of the next phase of work and am eager to undertake it. Not so with writing: I do not seem able to stand back from the work and be compelled, either by my progress or by what there is still to do, to step back in again. What is the difference between how I garden and how I write? In the garden, I value and enjoy the labor itself, not just the beauty. I recognize and appreciate progress. And the land—the plants—hold my place when I stop for the day. It is also never done. There is no narrative in the garden. Some day, someone—or just time—will undo what I have done with a sense of satisfaction or relief or frustration or with no sense at all. And nothing will have been lost. Because it all will have been only a very labor-intensive process—a long, long middle with no beginning and no end.
Another full day in the yard. Very tired. Finally completed preparation of the front walk area: finished weeding, brought the last of the compost up, broke up the last of the dirt clods, distributed soil. Got distracted under the quince and instead of moving back to the snag area, weeded some more. After lunch, continued work by the snag. At one point, I was joined by a sapsucker. Pulled some blackberries and am feeling encouraged that they aren’t going to be so bad…fairly shallow roots on these since the soil is better than elsewhere in the yard. Went out for dinner with Marilyn to celebrate her completion of the script. Shrimp tempura and spicy tuna rolls at Fuji.
Listened to Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction while working out by the snag clearing blackberries and horsetail. At some point she suggests that you look out at your yard and imagine it with only fifty percent of all the plants you see. This is approximately where we are headed in a moderate climate change scenario. I thought: I don’t even know what plants are here, how would I know if they were gone? I can name only a few of the species in our yard. Most only by their common names, and some of those I am trying to eradicate. Part of me believes that I should try to know this piece of land as deeply as possible and in that way I will come to understand everything else. And if not everything else, than at least this one piece of land. Another part of me is simply not methodically inquisitive enough for this philosophy. I like to know things. I like to know practical things. I like to know the names and habits of things. I like to know a place deeply, but not necessarily deliberately. I like the way I know Tahoe—the way it smells before a storm and after a storm, how snow sounds in the dark, the way sand smells, the names of plants and where they grow and what they indicate…. I like the way I know Maine—the sounds of the house, the sound of the tide coming in and the tide going out, the smell of May and the smell of October, the light on the field after nine o’clock in June, how it feels to jump off the dock after mowing the lawn. I know these places because I grew up in them. They are in me. Can I know another place as well? I do not feel I know Olympia this way, and I am not of the nature to endeavor deliberately to cultivate a relationship. I lack curiosity. I have wonder, but I am not hungry to know why things happen. I may be past the age when I will be able to remember plant names. I may be too anxious, now, to absorb my environment simply by being in it. And so what will I miss? What plants and animals will disappear from my backyard without me even noticing? Perhaps I should push myself to an inventory, to a naturalist’s daily observations of temperature and light and animal events. In it, would I note when the neighbors mow? When I find another bottle or a needle in the hedge? Do I mention the constant freeway noise? Will these things be important someday? Or just the sapsucker in the snag, the jays who have been gone for a while but were outside the bedroom window this morning, the white spider eating a honeybee in the hydrangea, the weed in the rock pile that is much taller than I am, the length of the spikes on the plum tree in the side yard, the broken branch in the purple plum tree, the opossum who we haven’t seen for ten days…. What gets noticed has the chance of being missed.
Today I tried to see into the past using Suffolk County, MA’s online record database. Only made things murkier. I now have specific dates for entirely ambiguous transactions. There seems to have been some kind of shell game involving 124 Myrtle, the house on Greenings Island, and a third property I have never heard of at 33 Mount Vernon. Quit claim slight-of-hand. I did learn that Greenings came at the cost of 124 Myrtle; my father traded Emery Rice his interest in one for the whole of the other. Two things happen suddenly as a result: 1) I recall that after Alex graduated from Shady Hill, my father moved into the basement apartment; and 2) the loss of Greenings is compounded—it is as if Greenings also contained Myrtle. And both are lost. What is an apt metaphor? The whole field mouse found inside the belly of the rainbow trout my mother once caught at Meek’s Creek? If the trout were understood to be the future and the mouse the past. One eaten by the other. Both dead.
PS: Plugged my dad’s name into Google and turned up two men who seem much more like the man who would be my father than the man who is my father. Felt strangely undermined in my efforts to individuate.
Just applied the fifth coat of varnish to the tiller. It is perfect varnishing weather, which, I have to try not to think about, is also pretty much perfect sailing weather. Warm. Light breeze. Not too humid. It was so dry this morning, I was able to mow the lawns before nine o’clock while Daniel was working in the beds on either side of the front steps. The nut came loose from the lawnmower handle again, so I had to stop almost before getting started and run over to Oly Supply. Last time I got nuts and washers that matched the ones that came loose, and bolts the same length as the originals. The tall, quiet guy who showed me where to find the metric fasteners asked me if I wanted to match the length of the bolt from the mower I’d brought in as a guide, or did I want to get longer bolts. Match the length, I said. I wondered why he would ask, but I didn’t follow up. Now I know. This time I got longer bolts and wing nuts instead of the regular ones. I also went straight to the metric fasteners on my own. I like learning this way best of all. Becoming increasingly proficient by accumulating bits of practical knowledge through a combination of advise, help, and trial and error. I finished up the lawn and as I was going around cleaning up the stubborn dandelion stems by hand, I found the missing nut. The washer will turn up eventually.
Trash day. This week, recycling. It is supposed to get hot, though yesterday the prediction overshot the day’s actual high of 77. Just in case, I changed the bedding yesterday in preparation: just sheets and a thin cotton blanket. I remember visiting Boston in the summer and lying perfectly still under just the sheet so as not to generate any excess heat. Mum must have advised me on this, because I would have been too young to reason it out for myself. I would slide my hand under the pillow to find a cool spot, would try to conserve the experience, only allowing myself infrequent dips into the cool. Sometime in the night I would turn the pillow over for a moment of relief. The room smelled like brick and plaster and the pink tea roses from Mr. Nick’s. After so many cold summers in Oysterville, the heat here is surprising and marvelous. It seems as if it must be a fluke, but last summer was hot, too, and no one else seems amazed. I love it. But the lawns will need to be mown soon again and that will be miserable. I’ve started watering in the evenings even though I know it is wasteful. June is in the driveway awaiting a shipment of seam compound from Jamestown Distributers. Today I’ll put the fourth coat of varnish on the new tiller—halfway there. We might be ready to launch in a week. Sailing before long. Work in the yard consists mostly of pulling weeds: ivy, blackberries, thistle. The thistle is terrible because of hay fever, but not hard. Ivy is the most gratifying. I love to see the shapes of the trees emerge, and the dappled sunlight loosed on the yard in the evening. But, really, it is the least urgent and I only do it to give myself relief from the harder work of blackberries…and writing.