Monday, September 27, 2010

Needing Rain

My mother is a seamstress. I grew up sitting on the floor at her feet playing with cards of buttons and seam binding, arranging dozens of spools of thread in prism arcs, studiously examining pictures and descriptions on pattern envelopes. It should come as no surprise, then, that images of the natural world often come to me in dressmaker’s terms.

Barely visible quail tracks across the road look like hem-stitching. Green corn husks feel like dupioni silk. The incessant knocking of a woodpecker way down in the branch clatters just like the zipper foot on a Singer.

This morning I looked out over the deck at the peanut field that pushes up as far as the chinaberry tree at the corner of the yard and I saw a silver-gray cardigan embellished with row upon row of dark green soutache trim. Classic and elegant.

A couple of nights ago I sat outside with Mama and Daddy while they picked off peanuts for boiling and asked him when he would start plowing them up. "I’d be doing it now," he said, "if the ground weren’t so dry. We need rain."

We need rain.

Three words. A simple declarative statement. He didn’t even look up when he said it, just kept plucking the white-skinned eights from their vines and dropping them into a bowl.

We need rain. It is the summer’s chant, cheer, plea and prayer.

In the spring, when it is time to plant, we watch the skies closely, measure the water that falls from the sky in tenths of inches, count the days between showers like children count M&M’s. In summer, when the seeds have graciously responded to the rain and our entreaties by breaking themselves open and bursting into the air, thin ribbons of stiff green velvet, we watch and measure and count some more and add to those ministrations the magic of irrigation, great arcs of rhinestones glittering in the dazzling sunlight and splashing flatly onto vines that have sprouted hundreds of tiny leaves.

By now, by fall, should not the watching, measuring, counting be done? I know the answer to that question. I don’t ask why – when the peanuts are fully mature, when there is no more growing left to do, when they are ready to be plowed up and left in the sun to dry – we need rain. The answer is release.

There is a reason we call it Mother Earth. She nurtures. She protects. She also clings. She holds tightly. She does not let go without a fight. The rain must come to loosen her grip on that which she believes is hers.

We all, men and women, mothers and non, understand that. Each of us knows what it is to conceive and bear a dream, an idea, a relationship. We tend it (Isn’t it interesting that "tend" and "tender" are almost the same word?) and nourish it, often to our own detriment. We chant and cheer and plead and pray. We coax it out of the ground and delight in its appearance.

But we tend (There’s that word again.) to forget that the cycle of growth is never complete until there is a harvest. Until that which has been grown is picked, plucked, shucked or, sometimes, slaughtered. And because we are not capable of letting go on our own, the rain comes. Gently, softly, tenderly loosening the soil, loosening our grip.

Eventually, within days I hope, the clouds will empty over Adabelle and the peanut plows will roll over my silver-gray cardigan removing its soutache trim. The stitches will unravel smoothly and evenly and the fabric will not be torn.

Copyright 2010 

Monday, September 13, 2010

Summer Evenin'

Henry James wrote that the two most beautiful words in the English language are "summer afternoon." Henry James did not live in south Georgia. If he had, his opinion, in my opinion, would have been somewhat different.

Had Henry known the sensation of spontaneous perspiration, if he had contended with the puddling of said perspiration in the crooks of his arms, the folds of his eyelids, and every stitch of his undergarments, Henry may very well have said that summer evening or, more appropriately, the two-syllabled evenin’ are the two most beautiful words in the English language. And had he done so, I would have heartily agreed.

Once the convection oven sun eases her way past the horizon, leaving behind nothing but soft blue-gray light of summer dusk, it is possible to see and hear the voluptuousness of the season – the color wheel of green that spans every shade from chartreuse to hunter, the soprano crickets and baritone toads. The streaks of color just above the horizon that look like chalk drawings on a sidewalk. The low and steady insect buzz that moves in waves across a newly-mown yard, its smell tart and clean. The chill of new dew on bare feet.

There is a special kind of languidness imposed by summer evening. It is neither lethargy nor laziness, but, rather, a welcome inaction, a permissible stillness in which few over the age of twelve ever indulge. And, so, when the first signs of autumn emerge from the edges of the day – a chill breeze or a singular red leaf – the words "summer evening" change key, move from major to minor chord and make a person wistful for the season that will soon be gone.

It wasn’t a particularly busy summer, this one nearly past. Not like last summer where it seemed there was an out-of-town wedding every other weekend, too many weeds to pull and flowers to dead-head, no opportunity to take well-earned vacation days. No, this summer spent itself in small incalculable increments, like pennies falling from a pocket hole, and as the earth spins us toward fall, I wonder where went all the days.

There is a moment, though, that I will remember for a long long time. One night an old friend and I took some beach chairs down to the very edge of the surf on St. Simons. The waves swept up thick and dark like curls of chocolate just before they flattened out into silver leaf under the light of the full moon. Up the beach the silence and the darkness were broken by a group of rowdy teenagers with flashlights and my friend and I expressed, simultaneously, the wish that they would just go away. Anyone, we agreed, who could not appreciate the serenity, the near-sacredness of such a moment just needed to go inside.

We spoke in low voices, my friend and I, voices just loud enough to be heard over the shoosh shoosh of the waves. We spoke, as people who have known each other a long time do, of the passage of time – its speed and its consequences. We spoke of the people we are and the people we had thought we’d be. Bittersweet is too strong a word to use to describe our words and the tones in which they were delivered. No bitterness for two people whose lives have been relatively easy, no saccharine sweetness for two people whose vision is clear.

Soon the words trailed off into the night and we sat, still and thoughtful and facing the moon.

The summer is done now and the perennial garden is going brittle and brown. The summer is done and the porch light is coming on sooner. The summer is done and there are no photographs of exotic places to post on Facebook, but I will remember it for this: There are worse ways to spend a summer evening than sitting on the beach. There are harder things to do than be silent in the presence of a good friend, one whose history overlaps yours at angles no compass could measure. There are heavier burdens to carry than a beach chair and a pair of shoes.

I know this and I am grateful. And because there are worse and harder and heavier, the gift of that moment under the moon is nothing less than grace.

Copyright 2010