The end of August.
Just two weeks ago we were in the full langour of summer. And now? It’s decidedly fall. You’d think after all these years I’d be used to the sudden tilt toward September, but it takes me by surprise every year.
Unlike the linear transition from spring to summer, this time of year has a somewhat Möbius logic, the seasons fighting each other for possession of each day.
The mornings begin in a cool autumnal fog, the ground between the house and the barn littered with freshly fallen maple leaves, the filmy webs in the grass speckled with dew. By mid-morning, the sun’s burnt through the fog and the slanting light glances off the apple trees’ browning leaves. In the afternoon, the puffy clouds are riding the hill ridge, and the air is warm and humid. Thunderstorms are possible. And cookouts. Summer teases again until the early sunset when the cool air rushes in. Fall again.
This time of year, I feel like I’m sitting on the pin of a hinge. Neither here nor there. I can see in both directions: backward to the long lazy days and the porch-sitting nights; forward to the apple pies and glowing pumpkins. I like both views. It would be nice to be able to stay here for awhile and savor the vista.
But, as it always does, time rushes forward and we must get to doing things.
School has begun. High school, mind you. And it’s grand. So far.
I didn’t take a first-day-of-school picture of H this year because it just didn’t seem right. She was in a hurry out the door in the morning and seemed too grown up for that. But I have a picture in my heart, snapped in the school parking lot at the end of the first day: her close-mouthed (grown up), wide smile, a pair of uplifted eyebrows, and a “thumbs up” sign. “I LOVE high school!”
And with that, the end of August has kicked us into action. The firewood is all stacked (oh, I have pictures to show you, I do!), M’s been building things. We made jars and jars of pickles. And we’re finally back to making real cheese. Tomato jam, we made that, too, and have been wondering if there’s anything it wouldn’t taste good on (so far, the answer is “no”, although Avgolemeno is probably an unlikely pairing).
And did I tell you I actually got brave enough to meet with a cello teacher, and I’ve now had two lessons and last lesson I played a whole song accompanied on piano by my cello teacher? A whole song.
Last fall, I remember feeling a sense of promise at this change of season, and I’m feeling it again. This is not like me, but it seems to be becoming me. I’d just like to linger here for awhile, feeling freshly woken from a warm, slumbery season. I wish it would last.
What I wrote above, I wrote on Thursday, full of optimism. And on Friday, I learned that Seamus Heaney had died, and I was heartbroken.
I suppose that could seem odd. After all, I didn’t know him personally. I did meet him once, when he was visiting my university, a guest of my Irish literature professor. He briefly visited our class; he gave a reading later that week. I have the date, time, and classroom number penned into my copy of his collected poems. It was the beginning of my new relationship with poetry. When I learned what a poem could do to your head and your heart, how it could unscrew your scalp and let the universe pour in.
No, I didn’t know him personally, but I think it won’t surprise you to know that I felt I knew him personally, or, rather, that his poems became personal to me, and that he and they became a thread woven through my life, our lives. The books and the readings (three in all I was lucky enough to attend, two with Michael). The orange and white kitten I named after him. The leather-bound volume M gave me one year for my birthday. The paperback copy of Seeing Things we bought in a bookstore in Dublin on our honeymoon. Precious because it was purchased in Ireland, and one of the few non-essential things I allowed space in my backpack.
But all those things aside, of course, it was the poems.
To think there will never be another one from him is part of what breaks my heart. I know I shouldn’t be so greedy. He’s already given us so many. And still I want more. To have my heart feel airy and full of wonder, huge and embracing, tender and concrete, filling with the air of September or October, neither here nor there, blown open by his words.
And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.
–Seamus Heaney, from The Spirit Level (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996)