Sunday, August 28, 2011

Weekend on Deck

by Zinta Aistars

At last, at long last, the sweltering summer has cooled to something bearable. Much of this summer has been my time to hibernate, withdraw from the outdoors into my woman-cave, and I have longed to return to fresh air and the gentler breezes of a summer waning.

Summer has been my least favorite season for many years now, as the climate has turned increasingly to extremes. Too many days of 90s-plus, the air thick and milky with humidity. News announcements tick off deaths of those who have no air-conditioned reprieve: heat exhaustion, heat stroke, dehydration. With heat index added in, a great many days this past summer have been into triple digits degrees Fahrenheit.

So I've become the summer recluse. My camping trips take place in the other three seasons, including winter. I'm counting days now to my upcoming escape to the woods in mid October. By then the summer tourists will be gone, the woods will be quiet again, the air will have gentled and cooled, the nights with a crisp edge.

Oh, I long to be outdoors again. At last, a hint of it ... the summer releasing its sweaty palms and letting go, little by little, letting go. At last, a Saturday that I can be outdoors again and enjoy.

I hit the raspberry fields on Saturday afternoon and pick three pints full. My favorite summer berry, and for this, I forgive summer much. I have real whipping cream at home, waiting. And my kitchen counter is stacked with summer vegetables, ready to prepare and process. Tomatoes by the dozen, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, jalapenos, basil, patty pan squash. It will be a weekend of cooking, I think.

But when Saturday evening comes, I take my break. This past work week has been brutal. Indeed, it has been for some time now, chipping away at a mountain of writing projects that seem to multiply as fast as I can dig through them. I'm tired. I'm worn to the bone.

Setting a bowl of just washed berries in front of me, I settle my bones onto the patio loveseat and toss a few logs into the fire pit just as the sky dims to that dusky hint of evening approaching. Jig, my old cat, and Guinnez, my old chow pup, settle in with me. We are all feeling it ... the need to draw a deep breath and release.

The fire catches quickly. A ribbon of curling smoke, a puff, then sudden flame. Sparks burst into a flare, and the logs crackle and spit. I sigh.

Not so bad here, really. I've been chomping at the bit for some time, talking north, talking escape, planning those still so far away golden years. It's the fatigue. Work, work, no room for play makes a Z squirm and restless. Keep those numbers trim. I've consulted with a new financial adviser in the past week ... can it happen? Will I ever be free? I can be, he says, with discipline. For this, I do not lack it.

Yet there is just so much one can do in a few years time when most of my adult working years were so lean. I'm trying to be realistic even as I refuse to entirely quash a dream. For now, to ease the way, to provide some reward today while I work for tomorrow, I gift to myself by gifting to my house, providing comfort and reprieve.

Such as this corner on the newly painted deck. I've created a cozy corner, and the trees and shrubbery have grown in just the right places around the backyard, so that when I sit on the loveseat, not one neighbor has a view of me. I could almost imagine myself in the woods already.

The night deepens, and the cool edge to it is delicious. I've longed for such evenings. Legs outstretched, I lean back and sip a cool something and gaze up at the stars, a glimmering between the ceiling of tree limbs overhead, so thickly leafed now I almost can't see the sky at all. There is no moon anywhere.

Glass empty, I bring out my laptop, plug it in to the deck extension, and boot up a movie channel. I pick a foreign film, French subtitled, an autobiographical documentary of director and photographer Agnes Varda, called The Beaches of Agnes. The story unfolds, the elderly Agnes walking backwards on a beach as she returns to the stories of her childhood and young adulthood, her first forays into photography. I'm drawn in, amused and enchanted by her story, and the night draws in around me.

When it's done, I'm not. I still want to sit in the cool of the night. That cooling air, it's a caress. And I love this night silence. I sit long after the last ember has grown black.

On Sunday morning, I'm back out again. Another gift, this pleasantly refreshing morning. Yesterday's just picked raspberries add fresh flavor to my oatmeal. I'm still in my robe, a blanket tossed across my lap, the morning is that cool still, and it makes me smile. Long time coming. I've had cabin fever, and now I can't bear to go inside. 

Only long enough to make a dent into those summer vegetables. Amy has sent a recipe for her tomato soup, and I know it's incredibly delicious--she's served it to me. Now it's my turn to make it. I cut her recipe by almost half, just enough to put some away but mostly so that I have some for now, this week, perhaps to serve some guests.

I don't like tomato soup. At least, I thought I didn't, until I tasted Amy's. Campbell's, what travesty. I blanch a dozen sun-ripened tomatoes, mixing types, including some heirlooms. The skins pop off and I put those into compost. I chop up the skinless tomatoes, celery, onions, peppers, and toss in fresh basil. A bit of flour, butter, brown sugar and salt, including some of my oak-smoked sea salt, and it thickens. Now a loaf of fresh, crusty bread, Irish butter, cheese made by The Cheese Lady in Texas Corners, just down the road.

Just then my parents stop by, as if called and drawn in by tomato scent. I seat them on my patio loveseat and serve. They moan with culinary delight and ask for more.

But then the patio is mine again. The world draws in to become my little corner of it. There are so, so many things I should be doing ... so much work awaits. I only give it this: a load of laundry, dishes rinsed and put into the dishwasher and set to humming, but then I'm out again.

I'm reading The Winter Diary by t. kilgore splake, and I can't help but see the similarities, even if there are so many opposite paths. I think this book has come my existential way with supreme timing. Nesting as I am, planning as I am, fingering dreams to see which ones will, should, can hold, and which ones pack away, I am reminded by this story of my own chafing spirit.

A few days ago, I shared a Guinness--delicious! first of my approaching-longed-for-fall season--with Andy Robins, news director of WMUK, Kalamazoo's NPR affiliate, and his sweet wife, Dorothy. We talked ideas for the station's expanding "Arts and More" series. I told Andy about splake and his ties to Kalamazoo, and it seemed a good fit. I'll do an on-air interview with the Keweenaw writer sometime in September, connected by Skype on the northern end with me in the radio booth here in Kalamazoo. We're working out the details now, but I'm already formulating the questions in my mind as I read The Winter Diary ...

... and wondering how many of those questions will really be my own dream-ghosts itching in, as splake would put it, my brain-skull cavity, and in silenced screaming protest of, as he would put it, rat bastard time. Stealing mine. Oh, to be in the woods, deep into the cool green silence, and hear one voice only, of that old tease Muse. What writer, what artist, doesn't dream of it?

All life working, toiling, toward that freedom that for too many, somehow, never comes. I'm determined not to let it get away in the trivia of the every day.


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