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It was the summer of open air. Desperate after the winter, that winter, we opened the windows early, while the heat was still on, cracking the storms to let the air pour in, cold and bright and smelling like dirt. As the weather warmed up, we pushed the sashes fully up, and on windy days the pine pollen sifted down in great clouds so that in the mornings the dishes in the strainer were dusted yellow and drinking our coffee made us sneeze.
A catbird nested in the laurel bush beneath our bedroom window, and still we left it open, so that he woke us up every morning at 4:30, running obsessively through his repertoire of borrowed chirps and whistles. We lay in bed watching the dawn pale the ceiling and listened to the whole avian kingdom coming back to life, redwings and nuthatches, chickadees and woodpeckers, one cardinal calling more plaintively every day as mating season grew late and he failed to catch a date.
It was the summer of amnesty for the animal world. We left the mole unmolested to dig his tunnel from oak tree to pine, unknowingly recreating the same route we’d plowed on snowshoes to break a path to the bird feeder after the first big storm, the dog surfing the drifts beside us. Now the simple act of walking to the feeder in flip-flops and shorts filled us with wonder. I was up to my thighs in snow in this very spot, we reminded ourselves, amazed all over again.
We let the spiders keep their webs, and ferried crickets carefully from basement to backyard, because hadn’t they been through it too? When a crack appeared in the foundation of the house, we vowed to repair quickly because winter, but then we saw that a toad — an Eastern American, or so said the guidebook — had made himself at home in the tiny cave of cool and damp, and we let him be.
It was the summer of no air conditioning. We told ourselves we’d put in the window unit if it got bad enough, but it never got bad enough, because bad had been redefined after that winter. It was Labor Day — Labor Day! — before we hit a night when we were truly sweltering. But even sweltering felt like a gift, after so many months of shivering and adding layers.
It was the summer of nighttimes. We walked the dog after supper and then again an hour later, pulled outside by the beauty of the evening. Even the Red Sox pitched in, playing so horribly there was no need to stay indoors and watch them.
When storms blew through, we kept the windows open till the last possible instant, the curtains billowing, the electrified air flowing into the house in waves, hot then cold then hot. When it was over, we went around and raised the sashes one by one, inhaling the sharp wet air like it was something we could drink and eat and swim in at the same time.
It was the summer of nighttimes. We walked the dog after supper and then again an hour later, pulled outside by the beauty of the night. Even the Red Sox pitched in, playing so horribly there was no need to stay indoors and watch them. When the dog had enough of circling the block and climbed into her bed, we got on our bikes and stealth-rode through the neighborhood, no helmet, no lights, drinking in the darkness and the sheer joy of being outside bare-armed and bare-legged at 10:30 at night, the bats scissoring the sky above our heads.
At midnight, we stood at the kitchen window, eating chunks of ripened peach off the edge of a serrated knife and listening to the dark air full of sounds. Not spring peepers anymore, but crickets.
It was the summer we overbought at the farm stand, lining our prizes up along the sill above the sink and eating tomato sandwiches for breakfast. At the local farm, we ignored the pumpkins oranging in the fields and headed for the basil and corn, because it was still summer.
We ignored the housekeeping and the bills and the unprocessed mail piling up on the kitchen counter, because all of that was for later. Now, while it was still summer, we logged off at 5:02 p.m., hid a stray can of Blue Moon in the bottom of our tote bag and headed to the beach for the last hours of light.
It had been a summer of light and air and we’d inhaled every particle of it.
“Still summer” we said when the back-to-school circulars started clogging the mailbox and chucked them unread into the recycling bin. We sent our teenager off to shop for himself, because the mall was indoors, and indoors was for later. Instead we hiked and swam and paddled and swung in hammocks and gazed at stars or simply out the window like people in recovery.
“Still summer,” we sang as we hopped on our bikes on a Saturday morning, leaving the lawn unmowed and the driveway unswept. But the cornfields we pedaled past were already plowed under for the season, empty except for a handful of geese picking through the dirt.
“Still summer,” we insisted, pointing sternly at the calendar as neighbors arranged mums and corn stalks on their front steps. But it was no use. Dawn came later each morning and the air flowing through the still-opened kitchen windows was wet with dew. The fish huddled at the bottom of his bowl and the teenager, in shock at the early hour, shivered over his breakfast.
No matter. It had been a summer of light and air and we’d inhaled every particle of it. The worst winter ever had given us the best summer ever, and we were ready at last for whatever comes next.
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