The End of Summer Has Come

The summer days peaked and climbed to their highest degrees yet.

With my right hand, I pull the curtain across the cheap metal rod and turn a hand-tied macrame loop around it to fix it in place. My eyes travel across the story of my garden stopping first at the pitiful Café Au Lait dahlia I did not cut back, weeping, drying, no longer moving from bud to bloom. Is its tuber rotting away under the too frequent watering the zinnias love so much? Has a gopher eaten its way across the tubal base, destroying its source of life? Its bright emerald green takes on a dullish hue. Moving to the left, I survey the healthy growth on the dahlias I cut back. These are still alive. These have not been eaten. The new leaves betray a deep pine vibrancy so surprising in these August days. As I look closer, the plants still stretching upward carry the same contrast, new growth reaching out and up amongst the old.

The Mulberry tree leaves are dry and dusty, but not so much as our van is now or will be after a few more days of harvest. The air itself is a little cloudy today, the sunset is a little more radiant.

As the activities wind down, the most passionate of my children shudder at the thought of missing the last practice, the last class, the last opportunity for summer fun. Even a canceled cabin trip fails to elicit disappointment in them to match my own because this means they can see friends one more time at the folklore practice at the church leading up to the festa days.

We attend a Portuguese parish.

We are not Portuguese by birth or family or heritage, yet by finding a home here we are somewhat, adopted Portuguese. Without awkwardness, my children join in the folklore. They sign up to lead games. I will be a chauffeur and experience the festa through my camera lens for the newspaper, which although technically a form of work, helps me to see and experience the event in a deeper way than I might otherwise do. It offers a place for me to set all my reflections.

Last year I began to learn about these traditions. This year I commit them to print. I have these hopes but time will tell.

Whatever the festa will mean culturally or spiritually, for us it marks the end of summer as Labor Day marks the end of summer for fashion and home decor magazines. The almonds will be harvested, the gardens change their tune. What began in abundance will wear out from tiredness. It dries out. It dies. And with some sweet relief, one day in autumn, the cool days return, only long after we gave up on summer and began to pretend we have more distinct seasons here in Central California.

This is a unique place and a beautiful place.

I pick up an old novel by John Steinbeck, the same edition I sold long ago, and poke through its pages, hating and loving it at the same time. The best of the moments is the understanding of the soil in California. There is life here, although quite different than anything else in the world. It is a unique place and a strange place.

In my newspaper writing, I celebrate the community and church activities as efforts that work to continue traditions and connect people. Tonight I met a man who knew me, from high school or church, he could not place me either. Slowly a picture of a young, scrawny high schooler with curly black hair sitting at a drum set came to mind, but only slowly. He moved here after leaving 14 years ago. I expressed my wonder as most people seem to be saying goodbye to this state. “Moving here from Orange County,” he said, “is kind of like moving out of California.”

How very true.

I lived in Minnesota for a time and I lived in Virginia for a time. There, summer gives way to a burst of firelight in the trees before dropping to the ground in the sleep of winter snow. Here we have late summer, that stretched into most of those months we call fall. Here, some of us long for winter and cold and sweaters, but we wait.

It’s the world where birds fly to in the winter. It’s the bread basket.

It’s home.

painting of our home in summer
Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.