Wonders of a Southern Summer

Amur honeysuckle. Black cherry. Honey locust. Tree-of-heaven. Sugar Hackberry. Eastern redcedar. Southern magnolia. Sawtooth blackberry. Crape-myrtle. Queen Anne’s-lace. The deep greens and golds, purples and whites of the flora is mesmerizing enough, but their fragrances make their own sacred pleasure-dome (to plagiarize Coleridge) in the warm air. The beauty makes me feel like I’m in some faraway, exotic place on vacation, but I’m not. This is my new home.

Dove’s-feather white. Enormous as whales. Billowing like sails. Tinged with baby’s-breath blue. Scattered and wispy. Gray and thundering. A hilly country with more pastures and fields than forests and mountains has opened up the vast and quiet world of clouds to me. The humidity is heavy on my lungs and clammy on my skin, but makes each rainstorm a sweet relief. Cloudbursts douse the dry, dusty ground and brown grass, filling ditches and rivers. They keep the greenery lush – apart from a few leaves that have shriveled in the heat, turned banana-yellow, and fallen.

Tiny, white-eared rabbits at silflay during golden hour. Cheery goldfinches, elusive cardinals, pert mockingbirds, and aggressive blue jays hopping around bird feeders. A mother cat and three silky black kittens with golden eyes watching me at dusk. A snake longer than my arm curled lazily in the middle of a path. Many of these creatures are familiar to me, but I love watching the drama of their alert watchfulness and quick movements on my walks. My own creature, a jolly golden retriever, enjoys chasing most of them, tongue hanging out, tail wagging.

A high school performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” A four-person cast in a production of C.S. Lewis’s “The Great Divorce.” Lectures on time, the Christian values embedded in our culture, grief, and joy at the Rabbit Room’s North Wind Manor. Over the past few years, I have trained myself to listen to rumors of talks and conferences, performances and concerts that I could possibly attend on Eventbrite, Universe, Facebook, Instagram, the websites of faith & art or Christian-based intellectual organizations, and blog posts. Now, it is so good to have this wealth of opportunities within easy driving distance. Each event is a small wellspring of ponderings on time, love, justice, and joy that keep me from drying up in the grinding necessities of life (like grocery shopping and taxes).

The turbulence of the past few years in the world and my life – COVID, moving a few times, war, government changes, travel, making and canceling plans – have made me expect ephemerality. As I shopped and hauled and hammered and shifted new furniture, I kept wondering how long it will be before I have to break down what I built, repack my possessions, and move somewhere else. I don’t feel comfortable imagining myself becoming safe and settled anywhere for more than a year. When will the next pandemic, tornado, hurricane, or recession break? When will I need to make a career movie or transition for family or friends? Every anchor I screw into drywall and rug I unroll is an attempt to create a fragile but cozy haven for a time, however long that time is.

In these golden, sweltering, precious summer days, I’m reading stories and trying to craft my own. I savored Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White in the sultry afternoon sun by the pool. I paged through Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There on my phone as I waited in line at the county clerk’s office for new license plates. Every free evening, I hunt for magical creatures and literary archetypes in The Lore of Scotland and The Folk Tales of Scotland by the flickering light of a honey-scented candle. I can feel potential future readers with me in every scene I craft, as if I’m the driver of a safari bus tour, hoping I don’t run us all off the road into the jungle of clichés, melodrama, confusion, preachiness, or boredom.

But finally, after empty for so long, I’m able to dream again.