Here we are. August. The dog days of drenching sweat, humidity that makes us long for a fan or the ocean. The month with the best meteor shower, the Perseids that arrive in our skies about now. And I’ve seen them from a backyard in Milwaukee, so they are bright and enchanting and best of all, visible. Stay up one night this next week, and grab a blanket even if the night is scalding hot, because the dew on the grass will make you feel clammy. After midnight face Northeast and look up. You’ll see the shooting stars if you keep your eyes wide open. A friend or husband can keep you company, but so far I have only been able to lure my children outdoors at midnight for two hours of magic.
There have been years when I saw only two shooting stars, but in this world that seems so troubled, I wonder if a night spent looking at the universe might do us some good. If you live right in the middle of a brightly lit city, try to get out where it’s a bit darker. But this month brings us many delights. It’s not only outdoors that brings us happiness and a taste of contentment, but being inside and simply seeing vibrant green out the windows is sheer happiness. I like going barefoot as much as possible, but there are days when my deck scalds my feet and I have to run across the wood quickly. I don’t mind too much, since it reminds me of days spent lolling at the ocean, but to reach the best spot on the beach, we had to hop across the burning white sand.
Right now I’m home in Ohio, but the day is coming when I will be perched underneath an umbrella, gazing at the Atlantic, while slowly sipping white wine most likely out of a small bottle. I don’t drink beer, and dealing with wine glasses and an actual bottle seems to be too much effort when the day is about the ocean. The sound of the waves slapping the sand lulls me into a soporific state that even the best massage in the world cannot match. The wine in tiny bottles doesn’t matter, the crackers and grapes that wind up having an extra sandy crunch to them doesn’t matter. What counts is sitting in short beach chairs facing the ocean with my family, where we all sit in a line underneath a cabana or umbrella, and we talk about everything and nothing. Sometimes we’re silent, where the endless waves and the blistering sun is enough.
Until I make it back to my beach in South Carolina, which seems to be one of two places we Ohioans go, the other being Michigan, I content myself with sneakily opening windows when possible. I’ve aways been a window renegade, opening one up in my bedroom just for the smell of freshness; even in winter (not a Wisconsin winter though!) when my mother could sniff out any tiny breeze defying her efforts to heat our house, if it could even be called that. We wore a shirt with a sweater all winter since the house had to stay at 68 degrees by mother’s decree. But summers in Upstate New York were filled with highs in the 70’s. Unaccustomed to heat, I happily embraced neighborhood nights spent near a warming fire. I was barefoot even back then, and some sweltering days I miss the coolness of the hills farther north.
Summer must mean different things to us depending upon where we’re from and where we chose to live. Escaping long winters had long been my goal, and I know even our farm in Northern Kentucky isn’t as far south as I would have gone, but we’re here for good now. I think Nashville or Charleston SC would have been home for me, but Cincinnati has my friends and children; and so it claims me now also. I can handle the string of hot weather, knowing a cold Canadian front will likely blow in at some point. But August starts the season of dry weather. Crinkling leaves, hard-packed earth, with scorched gardens is part of being here. Even at midnight my sprinkler waters the garden and the two bullfrogs who have made it to this dry month.
The creek that I watch every day is down to a tiny trickle, and since my husband cut away the trees so we could see the creek in any season, I’m learning how small and shrunken Horner’s Run really is at this time. I know much of the country is stuck in an awful drought, and so many of us look skyward in hopes of finding clouds thick with thunder and rain. A soothing gentle all-day rain is a comfort in summer, but it doesn’t look like the forecast calls for anything but bright sunshine; so I might as well embrace these days. Summer is one of the best seasons, isn’t it? But I’m turning into an autumn lover, but that’s for another time.
I’m relegated to enjoying the outdoors in the evenings, though nothing prevents me from lounging on the screened-in porch; and I silently thank the benefactors of this home who built such a lovely room. My cat lives out there from dawn to long past dusk, and I have a menagerie of plants living there this summer. I pulled in my rosemary and lavender along with some catnip to entice my Willie Nelson (the cat), and they are happy next to all the Boston ferns I could grab the second they hit the stores. Here, people covet Boston ferns, and as soon as they’re placed outside Kroger, people grab two carts and load up. I’ve learned to scoop up at least five if not more. I don’t want to be too greedy with those lovely plants, but they fill a space beautifully, and my cat enjoys hiding underneath the fronds.
It’s the small things that usually bring me moments of pure happiness and pleasure. My whole family came out recently to celebrate my getting older, and I played with the two babies and the toddler who leads the way. We ate BBQ as usual, followed by the most decadent chocolate cake my daughter has ever baked. Since we watch sports in this house, the Olympics were on, and we all wanted to see Simone Biles return to gymnastics; but that day was full of track and beach volleyball. We wanted to venture out to play some bocce (lawn bowling, really), but we lingered at the table for far too long; immersed in catching up with one another and planning the beach trip that’s coming up soonish.
After they all left, plied with slices of cake, I read as the sun set and waited for my husband to sit down next to me, so we could watch the newest show we’re binge-watching. I’d like to say I knit as I watch the show, but that would require too much of my attention. I’ll learn to knit on another day. Besides, knitting seems fit for winter, while wandering outdoors even in the dark is for now. I open that back door as much as possible, hoping for puffs of cool air; and I marvel at the scent of a fire on a hot night. I light my candles and dive back into the pile of books I have stashed all over this house. I’m trying to drink more water these days, and I carry my large glass of very cold water with me along with a book. Reading at least three at a time seems reasonable, and now that I’ve joined a bona fide book club, I feel like a schoolgirl trying to cram my reading in before the big test. I’m waiting to the book to arrive tomorrow, and I have to read it all before Wednesday; so I think I’m alright.
I am happiest with new books around me, and maybe a few magazines for good measure, and a favorite drink from Starbucks is the cherry on top. And those delectable candles are scented happiness. I want to be the one who names these glorious scents, and I’m learning how to make candles. I have an idea that I’ve not seen anywhere, and my daughter and I are going to give it a try; plus I have to have a rosemary and lavender candle. That would be my signature scent, of course; and it’s all meant to be fun. Right now I have an insanely pricey candle that was a gift, and I know I have to burn it; but I like looking at it. Tomorrow. I’ll light that one tomorrow. But who names them Stormy Night or Rainy Day Sweater? I don’t know what that would smell like, but doesn’t it sound like happiness?
I have a small story to tell. It’s about those beautiful Perseid meteor showers that fall in the beginning of August. As a girl I’d go camping with my family for a week or sometimes two in the mountains. I remember being in the Smoky Mountains, hiking every day, swimming in a fast moving creek and sitting by the fire on semi-cool evenings each August. My mother called to me one night long after my father and siblings had wandered to their sleeping bags. She was on the hood of the car, leaning on the windshield. I could see by the starlight that mom was looking up at the expanse of sky above, though trees squeezed in from almost every side. She patted the hood, and I climbed up next to her and looked up. She told me to keep looking, and I would see meteorites flying through the sky; and I did! I could hear one sizzling as it entered earth’s atmosphere.
I don’t know how late the two of us stayed up that night. Probably until two in the morning, but it was worth it, because my mom opened up in the dark. She spun webs of stories about her childhood, before her father died so suddenly. I learned about my mother that night, just as I learned that shooting stars weren’t magical; even though I still cling to the romance and magic of wishing on stars, looking for Polaris, the North Star, and wishing on the first star to prick the evening sky. My mom even spoke of the awful night her father died when she was just ten, and I felt a sympathy for this person who usually didn’t talk about herself. In the dark, at night, while searching the heavens for magical shooting stars, it was easy to talk. The words spill out more easily, as one might do after too much champagne or Scotch.
Maybe I’ll drag my daughters onto the beach one night to stargaze. Maybe we need to listen when one of us speaks. It might be me, but if I wait long enough I think one of them will crack out of their role as my daughter and accept the friendship that comes with age. Then it’s safer to say words that beg to spill out into the evening air. I’ll hope for a cooling breeze to blow us about, much as I love the way the world feels right before a storm breaks overhead, and we’ll talk about everything at the same time. They’ve been out on the damp blankets with me in August since they were five years old, because searching for those mysterious shooting stars is more fun with them.
One would whisper, “I saw that! Did you?” And the answer was usually ‘no’, since we were all looking in a different direction. But sometimes the streak of light across the midnight sky is unavoidable, and we all sigh in amazement. Happiness can be held in those moments. Lying in that small backyard, at one in the morning with my children, brought me such overwhelming contentment. School was weeks away, so I didn’t mind them staying awake for the sky show. We’d even make popcorn and drink fresh lemonade as a treat before heading outside. It was on such a night that I discovered my son was night blind. I had suspected for a while but didn’t want to really know, since nothing could be done for it. When he couldn’t see even the brightest “star” in that soft, black sky (it was Venus), we all knew his diagnosis. I wonder what his world is like; not seeing any stars or planets that wheel through the night. I’ll never really know.
He’s made his peace with it, and he’ll still sit out with us on a dark night with a new moon. He’s even seen few meteorites with us. Only the brightest, but he’s seen at least a little magic. I’d willingly trade eyes with him, but life doesn’t work that way. We must carry out own burdens, and at the beach with waves crashing or in the stillness of night while looking skyward we find a pocket of happiness. August brings many gifts. We can walk barefoot, listen to the tree frogs, drink wine on the sandy beach, dive for starfish, and search the heavens. Dining on fresh tomatoes and the basil I’m growing, since the deer don’t nosh on it, is a pleasure. The days are still long, so we enjoy every single minute of sunshine. We’ll store it up for those days when winter presses in against us.
Grab onto your summer happiness. Find a shooting star. Maybe make a wish on one.
I’m wishing you all the happiness your heart can hold…
Until next time,