Telluride Daily Planet, Monday, June 14, 2010
Three a.m. again, but the deep heart of night — for once — is sweet. Not because a night sweat isn’t the cause of throwing the covers off; it is. Not because there aren’t obsessions circulating between my ears in the black recesses of night-mind; there are. Not because I’m not covered in thrashed subjects in much the same way I’m covered in sheets; I am.
But because the room has come alive with the breath of epiphany. The answer to a question I’ve asked myself every summer I have lived here has landed on my shoulders, carried through an open window on the wings of a breeze.
Maybe — given a spring of endless snows, rains and lashing winds — I have (we all have) been primed for the moment when a long, drawn-out stretch of non-waiting-like non-expectation can finally stop — dead in its tracks — and let the hot here and now arrive, a bee buzzing at the edge of a bud, an eternal present found deep in the hum of summer.
Sure, the present is always present. But if it’s so present, why are we seldom present enough to notice? Summer alone seems to corkscrew into the very heart and soul of be-here-now. Right as the dandelions burst into the fullness of sun yellow, right as they are about to seed and burst again into featherweight puffs borne into the sweet stickiness of dog days and the un-stickiness of cool nights, the question returns, asks itself, wordlessly, and then with the only words that will do (and then only in a pinch). What is the essence — the quintessence — of summer? What is it?
Is it a single thing, one standing in for all others, a symbol burned into our hearts and pineal glands? Cold, sweet coffee in the shade of a green umbrella? A sunset so late and pale it sticks in your throat? Is it a plum bursting from sour to sweet and back again? Scorching sun after the clouds scud by? A hillside of lupine begging the am-I-blue-or-purple question? Is it stumbling on a herd of elk rising from their grassy nap to let the one rubber-soled human pass by? Is it ice cream dripping into your summer core until it melts and there is no more?
Or is summer an overlay of all things, every detail of every summer ever grasped, parchment-y onion skins of the gamut, a runny mess of gushing and trickling water, all the rivers of the years and that under a layer of high-noon white heat which is under a mantle of every sweat you’ve every sweated? Is it a sandwich of evening balm and hummingbird trill, peach juice, dirty feet, mint, strawberries, cold dips, and big books that drag us into them like willing prisoners, bumblebees, hummingbirds, moths, hawks and dragonflies, fish jumping and spinning, heavy-bellied storm clouds, things in transition, things settled, songs played over and over, an endless bike ride, and every steamy street after every rain?
Tonight I have my answer. In the breath of a breeze in the middle of a dream-filled night — touching the nape of my neck and licking it. I have the answer to the burning question at the heart of summer, the answer to the fires and longings and discontents and releases we all feel when things heat up and ripen without and within.
It is this messenger breeze that carries itself as an answer: this is the essence of summer, this breeze! It is telling me so, whispering through the hairs on the back of my neck and on my arms, recalling every detail, every layer, and creating a tiny but infinite packaged moment in which to hold it all.
A breeze contains heat in its coolness, and carries them both. It stamps the present moment in gold leaf then seductively gilds all the other senses, from trees and their swaying hypnosis to the smells of fragrant petals, dry pines, mountain snows and desert spires. It is the sweet little-sister fairie to the wind, the gentlest caress in the roughest night, both origin and destination utterly mysterious even as we stand in its way, bisecting it. A breeze is every other breeze I have known and the promise of more to come.
It is quite possible these are two of the most evocative words ever thought, uttered, felt: summer breeze. A mantra to the presence of all that is soothing, gentle, quenching, replete and right with the world. A restful sigh, a reassurance, the loose cursive in the ledgers of the world. The cool, light fingers of a guardian angel. And a lullaby to those of us who cannot sleep.
Summer breeze. Summer breeze. Summer breeze.