August rain: the best of the summer gone, and the new fall not yet born. The odd uneven time. Sylvia Plath
I can’t believe how surprised I am, every single year, when it suddenly feels like September. The quality of the light changes literally overnight, and everything looks different as the sun slants lower across the grass, the trees, the water. With all the rain we’ve recently had, the trees and bushes are at their pinnacle of aliveness–at the top of the ferris wheel–poised for Autumn’s splendor, then their slow descent to the ground. The new neighbors from California, who bought the old abandoned log cabin up at the fork in our road, invited us up to their porch for drinks the other evening. They arrived in the time of heat and smoke and just couldn’t believe how quickly the daylight has shrunk, how cool are the mornings. They will soon head back to California–just wait until they experience this place when they return for Thanksgiving. We ordinarily give Californians three years before Montana no longer meets their expectations, but in these times, who knows. They seem to think this place is a refuge from the craziness in the world and that the cabin sold at a bargain price. I could sense they will flip it at some point, but who knows.
We’ve complained so much about this summer. The heat and smoke of July gave us plenty of fodder, but, I think it served us best as a metaphor for how events in the world writ large have so dampened and dashed our spirits. Talk about expectations! To think we thought this summer might be normal, post Covid–post anything– in a world with wars, fires, hurricanes, refugees, social and racial injustice–an endless list of suffering. No matter how much one might try and limit exposure to the dreadful news, as a means of psychic survival, it is still there, shrouding us like the dense smoke of summer. This summer has been exhausting.
We told our new neighbors that September and October are our favorite months in Montana. In spite of everything, I am looking forward to its melancholy solace. It’s always been as much about fresh new starts, as it has been about inevitable loss and the sweet grief that accompanies endings. I swear I can smell pencils being sharpened when I get the back-to-school fliers in the mailbox. I confess that I wonder if you can smell it through a mask at school, but I’m indulging in nostalgia here! Remembering and romancing the Septembers of childhood may be the only thing that holds a tough day together. That, and the right before your eyes sparkle of a blue fall day when the edges of the leaves are sharp in the sunlight, and a tiny droplet of water at its tip becomes a prism of all the colors in the rainbow.
Absolute Summer, by Mary Jo Salter
How hard it is to take September
straight—not as a harbinger
of something harder.
Merely like suds in the air, cool scent
scrubbed clean of meaning—or innocent
of the cold thing coldly meant.
How hard the heart tugs at the end
of summer, and longs to haul it in
when it flies out of hand
at the prompting of the first mild breeze.
It leaves us by degrees
only, but for one who sees
summer as an absolute,
Pure State of Light and Heat, the height
to which one cannot raise a doubt,
as soon as one leaf’s off the tree
no day following can fall free
of the drift of melancholy.