BACK TO SCHOOL…The words sneak into sunny August like gathering storm clouds. We still heed the prospect of days diminishing until…until we are not the same again, as both the late light of day and the season remind us. “BACK TO SCHOOL” Headlined in newspapers. Seen on television. Heard in the anxious voices of parents. A warning. An attitude. A time for business–clothing and school supplies. A threat to freedom, so ominous in our youth, a realm of foreboding even in our adult life, a shadow in our memory long after we have left the schoolyard, the classroom, the teacher’s desk. Goodbye to a life lived the way we imagined. (Not unlike the artist’s life.) A life without walls, without schedules, without instructions, and few responsibilities. A life lived in mornings of no clocks, of daylight galore to shape to our desires, of afternoons to laze into, and nights of sweet sleep after a day of turning the hour inside out, breathing hard, breathing tired, breathing an ecstasy of exhaustion. A shapeless time of whatever amuses us for the moment: baseball, bicycles, beaches, ice cream, fishing, being oh so alive and perhaps even in love. But BACK TO SCHOOL hangs in the shade of the maple tree, lurks in the clear depths of the fishing hole, hovers over the house in twilight, haunts every fading minute in the month till the bell rings once, twice, and the door is closed. And we return to what we were before, what we are being trained to become, forever aware of what we once were in the short summer of our lives.
THE FIELDS IN ALMOST-AUTUMN AUGUST…fading green to gold, sprinkled in wildflowers and the wings of meadowlarks. Bales and rolls of hay bask in soft light and growing shadows as the sun draws the day to a close. A deserted old hay wagon, filled with bales. An abandoned tractor. All the men have left the field for dinner in the white farmhouse. Silent horses stare over the domain, silhouetted against fragmented light filtering through the far woods. The fields are huge bouquets of lavender weed, tufts of tall Queen Ann’s lace, sprigs of bright goldenrod. To be gathered inside of us.
SO UNEXPECTEDLY…a circle of fallen leaves under the maple tree this morning. August ghost dance.
A MORNING OF UTTER STILLNESS….first felt and glimpsed through the bedroom window, as I lie there trying the read the silence outdoors. Nothing. No one. No sound. Not a single leaf trembles in the air. Overcast. Ominous. Threatening. A heavy day to weigh a man down.
THIS DIFFUSED DAY OF EARLY MORNING GROUND FOG …hovering over the fields. I wrap myself into it…into a day of such soft beauty and wonder till everything disappears. There is not other place in the world now but this moment here, here in a morning of spider webs sparkling in the branches of trees, and light, weaving across the fields, everything caught in silver. A boat on the big lake bellows. A rooster crows. A dog barks. All sound, all light…muted. Transparent. Ephemeral. Silver. Stirring. Coming together, drifting apart
AH, THE PURE JOY IN THE CRY OF THE RECLUSE’S RELEASE…they are gone, gone, gone! The visitors have left the house, the immediate vicinity, the county and I am free! Free to work without the shadowy distraction of others out there somewhere wanting attention, one way or another biting into your time. Phone calls, invitations, “people you just have to meet.” Folks who confess they do not in any way mean to disturb you –and mean it, yet do. Not to mention one’s own disregard of the inevitable: “Oh, it’s quite alright. You won’t cut into my time. We can work something out.” Which you do. Yet, just knowing they are “in the area” for the day, the weekend, the week, the month, affects every waking, working moment. Shouldn’t I be seeing them for lunch, for dinner, for a drink? Should we go to the Players while they’re here? AFT? The Peninsula Music Festival? Meet at Al’s for breakfast? It would be good to see so-and-so for a drink at the Tap or Husby’s or somewhere on Saturday night. We haven’t talked for a long time. They only have (a day? a weekend? a ?) and then they are gone, for another year, back into the simmering heat of August, back to—Chicago, Milwaukee, the Cities. And so on a hot, late August afternoon, the recluse slowly pulls the red rowboat out into the small lake alone, considers the growing silence all around him…and slips soundlessly into the water. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye. Ahhhhhh…so cold, so clear, so refreshing…all mine. So long. See you next year. Feel the quiet. Float in the freedom. No one. Nowhere. So absolutely perfect. It will be sometime before the visitors are missed. And they will be. And inevitably the recluse will welcome them back with almost open arms. And look forward again to disappearing into August.
THE SUDDEN TINGE OF RED AND GOLD ON MAPLE LEAVES …on a high branch amidst a crown of green, fair warning in August.
THERE IS A TIREDNESS TO GREEN…about the earth come late August. A flatness to ferns and weeds and blades of grass. Everything losing its spine, falling over. Looking down. A sense of exhaustion. The earth, only recently in such a frenzy to put forth, can put forth no more. Snooze time. Nap time. Nature preparing to exhale, expire. The fields, already bronzed, offer mainly milkweed, a little Queen Ann’s Lace, some goldenrod, patches of purple thistles and dry knapweed…a stray daisy or two, late arrivals, lost in the dying of plants fading back to earth.
NEXT TO LAST WEEK IN AUGUST…the first visible end to the summer season as families desert Door County in droves, rushing home to get the children back in school. Monday morning, almost (but not quite) an open, free, solitary winter non-tourist aura to the peninsula. The roads are negotiable once again. Parking a-plenty in towns and villages. The restaurants (their staffs diminished as much of the help return to school or living elsewhere) breathe a sigh of relief as tables-by-the-window or anywhere can be had at the choosing. No waiting, no noise, no arguments, no nothing but good food, fast service, enjoyable surroundings, the county stretching out along the shorelines, in the fields, it hands behind its neck, eyes closed, sloughing off into a Door doze, reminiscent of a time when seasons were just seasons and commerce was at best barter and an honest dollar for an honest day’s work off the land and on water.
MUGGY DAYS & COOL NIGHTS…The perfect dichotomy of a late summer day in Door. Bring on the hot sun. There’s no escape. Suffer the humidity. The body immobile, the sluggishness of the body beaten back by heat. Trudging through the daily grind…the soles of our feet on fire…the muscles in our arms slack. Even the eyeball ache in the too brilliant light. “Perspire”–the perfect word. Our bodies melt away. Our minds blinded in reflections, sun, sun, sun everywhere. Sweat and more sweat. “No relief in sight” the mantra….summer doldrums. Will it never end? Beaches beckon. Frosty glasses tantalize. The heat bears down, settles inside our very bones. An occupying power. Blinded behind closed, burning eyelids on the beach. The screech of gulls. The soft licks of water. Waiting only for the final absolution: the cool of the night to move in.
WHAT IS SO MYSTIFYING ABOUT THE END OF AUGUST…is the silence, so palpable to the day’s beginning and end. Something is stealing its breath. Asphyxiation has set in. The landscape is filled with loss. There is a dying to the light.
IT STEALS UPON YOU FROM THE FIELDS AND ROADSIDE…like the scent of a beautiful woman in passing. You may catch a glimpse of her…but in her wake, you are left with almost nothing but a sweet fragrance that arrests your very steps, leaves you standing in place, head lifting, turning, seeking a deeper pool of the aroma you wish to bathe in, wrap yourself around, lose yourself in a cloud of contentment. I am always surprised by its sudden, scented presence in my walks at this time of year. My old, seductive friend. She’s back again. I close my eyes and pause awhile, August days and nights. Breathe deeply. Take her all in. Sweet clover. I let her have her way with me.