Becoming the Sky

Even for those whose roots sink most deeply into the salty, seacoast soil, and whose lives blossom under the heat of a constant, coastal sun, summer brings ambivalence.

Eagerly anticipated through the long night of dormancy, desired for its warmth and coveted for its beauty, the Gulf Coast summer inevitably ends as a season of imprisonment.

With the rising of implacable heat and humidity, the pleasures of earlier, more temperate summer days begin slowly to devolve into a world of languid passivity. While a monotony of cicadas melds with the metallic hum of air conditioners, tendrils of lassitude twist their way into the heart’s smallest crevice, choking off energy and joy.

As the long days pass, windows close. Neighbors disappear. Birds grow silent. The stray, limping dog with the friendly demeanor and a scar encircling his foreleg no longer prowls the fenceline at night; the indolent cats seem not to breathe. Stretched over the stoop, seeking a bit of shade under the car or behind a trash bin, their presence gives pause. “Look at that,”  says the casual observer. “Is that thing alive?”

In the country, beds are pulled onto sleeping porches, or pulled even farther to rest under shadowy, star-stopping oaks.  For the fortunate, there are summer kitchens and expansive galleries where porch-sitters flutter west to east, south to north, seeking the breeze.

For others, there is only the soft susurration of fans, their sound muffled by draperies drawn over draperies, layers of imagined protection against the heat.  As if swathed in burqas, the houses sit, impassive. When sun-wearied inhabitants draw open the draperies, they glimpse a world remarkable only for its brilliant, glinting light and the harsh judgment of summer’s  oppressive truth:  “No. There has been no change. There will be no change. Not now. Not yet.”

In cities and towns, the stolid endurance of country folk is matched by a torpor so complete people wipe sweat from their brows and explain away a suddenly peaceful night by saying, “It’s too hot for crime.”

In that world of concrete and crowded neighborhoods, there is no rising evening breeze, no summer kitchen, no pulsing, star-studded night.  There is only the waiting: waiting for August to be done; waiting for September to end; then waiting again, for the coming of October, with its prairie-fresh wind and brilliant skies.

Should October come and go with no expected rains, no refreshment and no release of heat, the anguished waiting of summer’s prisoners becomes nearly unbearable. Yet, even as they wait, the Aeolian whisper breathes its promise:

There will come a day when the door to autumn will open.
There will come a rush of sudden leaves like the rattling of keys;
footsteps in the corridors of time;
a voice as crisp as wind-seared corn
and fresher than tumbled-up cirrus.

“It will be over,” whispers the wind. “Your time will have been served. The season of your impatience and longing will end.”

When that day comes, it arrives first as a scent: a subtle and barely perceptible drift of air redolent of snow still hidden in clouds, or of wind frothing the open ocean. A scent without a scent, it clears the palate for tasting every coming hint of autumn carried on the wind: faint whiffs of woodsmoke from the north, a bouquet of cane and rice clearing to the east, the acrid aftertaste of burning prairie.

Crossing streets, lounging about on street corners, trudging through parking lots or working in yards, people stop, and look around. Briefly at one with their earliest ancestors, they sniff the air with all the focus and intensity of startled animals, smiling as they sense a lifting of summer’s oppressive weight.

Tentative at first, then emboldened, quickening breezes slide along walls and around crumbling corners, stirring the dusty detritus of summer as they go. Blown free of moisture’s milky veils, the sky reclaims her rightful cerulean and topaz, deepening and darkening as the cirrus stream away, mares’ tails racing on the wind.

While mares’ tails fly, windows fly open.  A complaining squeak of wood here, a rasp and twang of aluminum there, and curtains imitate clouds. Opened windows lead to opening doors. Neighbors emerge, and communities come alive. The quarreling couple, the chattering children, the undisciplined dog, the too-loud drunk, the skateboarding teen — all begin to rediscover one another’s lives through the grace of windows and doors.

Tonight, I sit before my own opened windows, summer slightly eased but not entirely finished, rain and winds from the north bringing a hint of autumn to come. Some favorite summer sounds still linger – the metallic clack of palm leaves, irritated squawks from a heron startled off his perch, the faux-rain rippling of glass minnows — but against the familiar background, the sounds of a new season are resonating.

A few coots have returned, dignified and elegant  in appearance but utterly undignified in actions. Their cacophony of silly calls and riot of mad, splashy paddling as they break free of the water’s grasp is one of the best shows in town.

Three days ago, the first contingent of mallards arrived, exhausted, argumentative, and still a little cranky from their flight. Their insistent quacking continued for hours, until a neighbor with a fondness for open windows and a low tolerance for ducks had enough.“Dammit!” he yelled. “Shut up!

Amused by the exchange and drawn by it to other night-noises, I hear something else. Other windows are being opened, and the soft whirr of air conditioners nearly has ceased. Yet close at hand, its sound partly concealed by the insistent, full-throated ducks, one machine drones on, its low, insistent thrum permeating the night.

It seems astonishing. On this beautiful evening, even as the door to autumn begins to swing open, one person has chosen imprisonment: shuttering windows, closing off the night, ignoring the touch of the breeze, the chatter of creatures and the tender, resonant silence that emanates from the very heart of reality.

As with windows, so with life.  There are times when conditions require a shuttering off from life’s storms, a retreat from extremes of heated anger or cold, emotional distance that leave us anguished or exhausted.  Certainly, there are times to shade our eyes and drape our spirits with layers of protection, until the turning of life’s season brings relief.

But just as we throw open windows to catch the scent and the sounds of a turning season, there is a time to open ourselves to life, and to leave the prisons of our own making. The way of passivity, lassitude and stolid endurance is one way of life, but it is not the only way. As the Persian poet Rumi reminds us:

Your way begins
on the other side
become the sky
take an axe to the prison wall
escape
walk out like someone
suddenly born into color
do it now

Comments are welcome. To leave a comment, please click below.

93 thoughts on “Becoming the Sky

    1. Many thanks, Ruth. It’s a great relief, for sure. The fact that it won’t last is no reason not to enjoy it while it’s here.

      The one who truly enjoys the open windows is my cat, Dixie Rose. She’s been ecstatic since last night. Even this morning, she’s not yet taken to her napping chair. There’s far to much to watch, and sniff and listen to from her window chair.

      Linda

  1. Oh, this writing leaves me breathless; like I’m right there with you, drinking in the experience. I’ve always loved outdoor kitchens, like those we experienced in Fiji and Bali; outdoors all the time, except for sleep. I feel so much better, in both heart and mind, when I’m outdoors. Today we hiked 6 miles; the air so pungent from September decay; brilliant yellow leaves, and a soft rain. Fling open the windows and doors and greet autumn’s arrival!

    1. I’ve been reading bulletins from the north for a few weeks now: reports of cooler nights and yellowing leaves. I have some sympathy for northern friends who are expressing a little reluctance about the changes. Winter lingered so long last year they aren’t yet ready to accept autumn. But we can’t control the turning of the seasons, so enjoying their offerings seems the next best thing.

      One of the best lessons I’ve learned is that, even in urban and suburban settings, access to the natural world is more possible than we sometimes imagine. Though I often fantasize about Alaska and other such places, the water, the birds, the wind and the clouds just outside my window aren’t so qualitatively different. I used to joke that I’d die before I’d go into An Institution with a brick wall for a view. I still say it, but it’s no joke.

      Linda

  2. So lovely. You have so beautifully captured the essence of autumn’s arrival in beautiful style. Even here in Central Washington we have those long weeks of heat. The windows remain shut, except most nights we can open the windows. The evening air is not muggy and still as it is in the south and southwest. But to have the windows open during the day, not have the chill of the air conditioning going off and on, first too cold, then too hot…to feel the breeze freshening the stale air, and being able to walk outside without feeling as if I’m being cooked alive.

    And then the segue to opening to life. It was the last precious pearl in a long string of pearls.

    1. I had to smile at your reference to air conditioning going on and off and on… People often joke that you know summer’s arrived in Houston when you have to take a sweater to a restaurant or movie. I suppose part of the problem is that the temperature varies with the size of the crowd, but over-air-conditioning is a fact of life here.

      I’ll sing the praises of digital thermostats, too. I had the old style, with a lever and an iffy sensor. When I finally changed it to one that’s not programmable but at least digital, the on/off/on business was over — and the electricity bill went down in August.

      You are right that humidity causes people as much discomfort as heat. There are times when I close things up and turn on the AC just to dehumidify. The luxury of fresh, sweet air is one of the greatest gifts in the world. When it rises from the north and I hear my wind chimes for the first time each autumn, it’s the most beautiful sound in the world.

      Your analogy to a string of pearls is lovely, and much appreciated — thank you. Beyond that? It recalls Friday nights at the Masonic Lodge, when family dined together, and my dad taught me to dance, to a live orchestra and songs like this.

      Linda

    1. You’re one of the luckiest, montucky. There are times when you get to see not just two seasons at once, but three — and perhaps even four, if you count summertime snow atop the mountains!

      I’ve always preferred autumn to spring. It’s a slight margin, for sure, but there’s something restful and deeply appealing about the world settling down for the winter.

      Linda

  3. How beautifully you describe the change of seasons. The heat and the release from it ; all of them tangible and recognizable. The little birds who announce the changeover of seasons here are the godwits. We no longer ring the bells for them for, although we have the bells, we have no Cathedral. As yet, there are no reports of Godwit sightings.

    1. What a tale, Gallivanta. Reading the article brought tears of admiration to my eyes, as well as reminding me of our hummingbird migrations across the Gulf, and the “falling out” of songbirds in spring, along the Texas and Louisiana coasts. I thought the recommendation in the article for national recognition for the birds was exactly right. Some of our cities also have festivals, like Corpus Christi and Rockport, which celebrate the hummingbirds.

      The raptor migration is something to see, too. One of my favorites, the osprey, overwinters on our bay. One pair already has arrived, and I suspect it’s the same pair I’ve been watching for three years. As remarkable as it seems, they wheeled in, settled in atop the same two sailboat masts that have been used the past two years, and began the same hunting routine. Maybe they just had the same realtor.

      It just occured to me — our swallows are gone. No matter. They’ll be back. One of these days, your Godwits will be back too — and before long, you’ll have a cathedral to ring them back into town.

      Linda

      1. All our birds are special and precious. I even admire the blackbird enjoying a bath in our bird bath though I don’t much care for the mess it makes scratching the garden beds! The osprey are fascinating. Blogger friend Tiny has kept a wonderful visual record of an osprey family in Florida http://tinylessonsblog.com/2014/08/14/papa-osprey-the-maintenance-man-2/#comments We are all waiting for the return of Mama and the beginning of a new family. You will know how it is. :)

  4. All of us who live along the Gulf Coast are waiting for fall especially after August. We finally watched August: Osage County this past week. I remember the local bank sign display in red numbers 108 degrees, and the scene where Mattie Fae opens the curtains and pulls up the shades in Vi and Beverly’s home stands out.

    Charlie, Vi’s brother-in-law says “You can’t tell if it’s night or day.”
    Ivy responds with “I think that’s the purpose.”

    I thank you for this breath of fresh air as this sad movie has stayed with me just long enough. Yes! to “there is a time to open ourselves to life, and to leave the prisons of our own making.”

    1. Georgette, you put your finger on one of the best scenes from a film filled with good lines, and a great deal of truth. It’s interesting that you describe the movie as sad. I found it funny beyond words, although rueful laughter grounded in recognition is a different thing than simple amusement. Of course, Eliot and Clapton pulled me in from the beginning. I was especially interested to watch the plot develop the theme of the lyrics of “Lay Down, Sally”: “There is nothing that is wrong in wanting you to stay with me.”

      Beyond that, I found the film ultimately hopeful. Not every resolution is a perfect resolution, of course, but I left the theater feeling that Vi (with Johnna’s help) and Barbara had cracked the doors a little.

      Here’s what tickled me today. I watched the trailer again, and lo! Hanging from the corner of Vi and Bev’s porch is the same sort of windchime that hangs outside my door. From the size, I think their’s might have been the alto, too. Sitting inside that house with the doors and windows closed, I don’t suppose they heard them.

      Linda

  5. Having four definite seasons is a thing I need. I enjoy the markers and signs that tell me change is in the air. This summer was unusual, the 4th wettest in Iowa records. Everything is green, odd for mid-September. Six inches of rain in two weeks does that.

    We’ve had windows open much of this summer. This week, we were pounced upon by autumn with a growl. The last two mornings have seen about 40 degrees. Windows are closed. We are dressed warmer. I’m certain we will go back to a more normal regime.

    1. Jim, I talked to a friend in New York yesterday, and she’s got the flannel shirts and socks out. The furnace won’t be far behind. We’re still pleasantly cool this afternoon, but bare feet or sandals and tees still are in order.

      We often have swings in our transition seasons. Despite everything, I cope with the heat fairly well. When it really gets tough is after a true cold front and a week or two of gorgeous weather. If we revert to summer after that, everyone gets grumpy.

      I love having four seasons, too. When I first came to Texas, people told me there really are four seasons — they’re just subtle. I’m more attuned to the changes now, and willing to accept that we have four seasons, but I could do with a little less subtlety.

      Linda

  6. Ahhhh… Linda, it was a back porch morning this morning. Two cups of coffee outside where the overnight temperature finally… finally dropped into the 60’s.

    But the cool front wasn’t quite strong enough to beckon the swarming mass of hummingbirds to make the crossing… Yet. So the battles at the feeder provided the morning entertainment.

    But, as my wife reminded me yesterday, summer isn’t over yet. On the 6th anniversary of Ike, we have to remember we still have a whole lot of heat left in this year.

    I will be saving this piece for rereading. You have woven some great word images into the tapestry.

    1. And not only the anniversary of Ike. A year earlier to the day, there was Humberto. Of course, he headed to Chambers county and wasn’t so strong. Still, it’s another reminder that it’s not over ’til it’s over. I was tracking that mess in the Gulf, but it’s dissipated now, with no development predicted for the next five days. That gets us to September 19….

      This coming weekend’s the annual hummingbird festival down in Rockport, Gary. Have you ever been? Look at this list of speakers. There are some names that even I recognize. I thought it was interesting that they’re giving attention to the raptors and owls, too. I never made it to Anahuac for the migration last year, but I swear this year I’m going.

      I’m honored that you’d save this for re-reading. So many good things in life come by only once, but hummingbirds, cool mornings, a good song and favorite reading — they’re all worth repetition.

      Linda

      1. Can’t say I have made the Hummer Festival, though my mom was saying just the other day that her “seniors” group was going on one day… Like you I keep promising myself a trip to High Island for the spring fallout but so far I haven’t checked that off the list yet either…

        I see the heat and moisture is heading back this week for another round…

    1. A good cold front has it all: drama (those winds!), intrigue (when will it get here?), and beauty, especially the fantastic blue skies that follow. And you’re right. No matter how sultry it’s been, no matter how much people have been complaining about the heat, it all gets blown away. Then, if it stays cold enough, long enough — we start complaining about the cold. Such creatures we are.

      But I do love the colder weather. It’s the time for pot roasts and home-baked cookies, for one thing, and big pots of homemade soup. They’re just not as good in the summer.

      So nice to have you stop by. You’re always welcome.

      Linda

  7. Wow, you describe city ways so well. It is so quiet here where we live that I can’t even imagine having all those people sounds. I would be like your neighbor that doesn’t care for the duck songs, but towards the people sounds instead and shushing them to quiet down…..

    1. CheyAnne, I can just imagine you shushing up the city folk. I don’t really think of my neighborhood as particularly noisy, except on summer weekends when the parties in the marina can get a little out of control. But from now until next spring, fewer people come to their boats, and it really is nice, especially at night.

      In fact, late night is my favorite time, if the windows can be open. And the moon is on the move — another month, and I’ll be able to watch it setting. By December and January, it will shine in the windows at night – absolutely beautiful.

      I woke up one night and there was the kitty, wide awake, sitting in her window chair and staring at the moon. I think she likes it, too.

      Linda

    1. Thank you, harula. After exploring your blog just a bit, I can see how it would appeal to you, and for that, I’m most grateful.

      Thanks for stopping by, and thank you for the comment. You’re always welcome here.

      Linda

  8. Linda, I love the photo (second from bottom) with the curtain blowing outside. I had to look up glass minnows. We have very few days like these in the Pacific NW. You gave me much to meditate on regarding windows and doors and prisons of our own making.

    1. I love that photo, too, Rosemary. I really wanted one of the sheer curtains in my grandparent’s house, but even after going through all the old photos twice, I couldn’t find one. So, this one had to do.

      The glass minnows are wonderful. Sometimes, I think there must be millions of them. At night, when the bigger fish are feeding and they jump to avoid being eaten, it sounds for all the world as though rain is falling when they hit the water again.

      The temptation toward self-imprisonment can be strong, can’t it? It’s always easier to see in others, I suppose. My mother was a great “what if?” sort of person, and she often imprisoned herself by fear. For years, I did it to myself with, “I can’t…” I finally tunneled my way out of that one, but it took time.

      Linda

  9. I’ve returned for a “brief week” … to delightfully cooler temperatures … and the front and back doors open to pull the cooler air through the house — this is my favorite time of year!! :)

    1. What a delight for you, Becca. Luxuriate in the cooler weather, and those whole-house breezes.I think all of us are ready to stop struggling against the heat.

      Enjoy your week, too. I hope you take a few minutes here and there to just put your feet up and relax.

      Linda

  10. One of your most eloquent writings and one to which I can relate — but backwards, in a way. In the summer, everyone comes out. Kids are riding their bikes, drawing chalk on the sidewalks, people walking their pets have time to stop and chat along the way and there are neighborhood conversations over lawn mowing and weed pulling. Then comes winter. The dog walkers are there but they hustle along — and just as well, for there is no one with whom to speak!

    Because I live in the north (where summer disappeared without really ever coming — it has felt June and October for the past four months), I have a disdain for the air-con. Now, when I travel south, with its humidity and intense heat, I get it (and use it — lots!) And when I do road trips in the summer, in the car, too. But I have no air-con at home or at the lake. And in fact, at the lake, one of the things that makes Rick and I crazy is when we sit on the porch on a rather temperate day or even more so, in the dark of the evening and the neighbor — a whole empty lot away from us has the air going. I get dulled by it. Rick just curses. But when it goes off it is as though you are the only ones in the world and all you can hear are lake sounds — birds and boats and waves in the daytime; waves at night. Such a gift to realize all the beauty in sound — or lack of it.

    I’d be very happy for sunny and 80, even sunny and 75. All day, every day with rain at night. But alas, we can’t make our own weather schedules. So we bundle or strip and move on.

    1. Context is everything, isn’t it, Jeanie? When I lived in Iowa, we couldn’t wait for spring and summer so we could be outside. Of course we played outdoors during winter — snowmen, ice skating, and such — but summer fun was more fun, partly because it didn’t require twenty pounds of clothing. (Back in those days, it was all wool, too, and when it got wet, it was even heavier.)

      When I first moved to Houston, I had no air conditioning in my car. It was terrible. Eventually, that car was totaled in a freeway wreck, and I figured it was a direct message from the weather gods to get some AC, stupid. So I did. Life’s been better ever since.

      Truth to tell, I don’t mind the usual sounds of other people going about their lives. I love the silence when it comes, but I don’t fuss over its lack. Part of that may be due to my work. Because I’m so often off by myself, in a remarkably quite environment, I don’t seek silence out the way I used to, when I was freeway commuting and living in the middle of Houston.

      It’s so funny. Everyone I know, north or south, is pretty much agreed on what would constitute weather-perfection. It sounds a lot like what you describe, as a matter of fact.But we probably aren’t going to get it on a daily basis, so your advice is pretty good, too!

      Here’s herself, enjoying our weather perfection.

      Linda

  11. Outstanding portrait. The duck are arriving – and seem like they’ve put it in high gear to get here…they do sound tired.
    We’re all pondering the weather today? (Posting tomorrow – but no way as elegant as this!) All the dogs are walking much faster now and thrilled to be seeing dog friends out again. RC cat has commanded her window seat to sniff the winds.

    1. Isn’t it wonderful, the way it stayed cloudy and cool all day? You’re certainly right about the dog-walkers. It’s been a little chaotic around here for the last hour or so, what with all the woofing and whining. Even the two basset hounds were out and about, and when they decide to make their presence known, it takes a while for things to settle down.

      The good news is that it’s projected to be at least cloudy and cooler this week, with some rain. That’s going to help keep the water temperatures steady or falling, and October’s almost here.

      You know what I hear, right now? An osprey. I’ve only seen them on the other side of the lake, but there’s one calling, over the marina. Keep your eyes open – change is happening!

      Linda

      1. Yes, prefer cloud cover while we secretly inch into fall. An osprey. Maybe be time to head to the Egret Bay Park or Pine Gully to see who’s in town…besides mosquitoes. Isn’t it funny how giddy pets and people get at the first whiff of cool? Scarlet sun rose this morning, but clear now. Paw waves to Miss Dixie (although she’s rather dignified, perhaps she’ll accept them anyway….frantic waves from Molly. A languish regal one from RC)

  12. I loved this story. You brought to life the torpor of summer. It has indeed been hot this summer here with no rain in sight, and as you remember September and October will continue beckoning the warm weather. College football games will attract the heat hardy. But thankfully, we do not have the oppressive heat of the Gulf Coast. The breeze coming off the Ocean and the Bay do provide some relief when we get triple digits.I loved having more recognizable seasons years ago though.

    The paintings you chose are marvelous in their story telling qualities.

    Another note: I had never heart of godwits. Interesting story.

    1. I’d not heard of the godwits either, Kayti. Isn’t it marvelous how each place in the world has its own natural wonders? California has the swallows, of course, and the Pacific coast the whale migrations. When the redwing blackbirds come through here, on their way to wherever they’re going, they swarm over the marinas, and I laugh and laugh. They cling to the rigging on sailboats just as they do the cornstalks in midwestern fields.

      I just saw today that there’s a storm taking aim at Baja. With any luck, it will throw some moisture up your way. We’ll hope it’s well-behaved moisture, though.

      The cicadas just have started their chirring again. They don’t usually fill the night with their sound — that’s left to the frogs. Maybe they’re happy with the change in weather, too, or just eager to complete the mating cycle before real winter comes.

      I’m so glad you liked the story, and I’m really happy you offered “torpor” as a word of description. If I’d thought about it while I was writing, I might have used it.

      Linda

  13. Out West, there’s another factor that has become all too common at marking summer and fall, Linda: fires. Peggy and I love to sleep with our windows open at night— to enjoy the fresh air, enjoy the coolness, hear the rive flow by, and even listen to the neighbor’s dogs bark at the visiting deer or bear. But all of that becomes impossible with smoke. We become prisoners inside, dependent on our air conditioner. I loved your story, however, complete with its querelous quackers. :) –Curt

    1. We’ve experienced that too, from time to time, although certainly it’s been far more of a problem for you, Curt.

      During the drought, grass fires and significant forest fires sent smoke our way a few times, and on an almost yearly basis we have to contend with smoke from agricultural fires in Mexico — depending on the wind direction, of course. The burning of the cane fields and wildlife refuges aren’t such problems. We may get a whiff of smoke, but it doesn’t go on long and is more of an irritant than anything else.

      I suspect for you, as for friends in California and other western states, smoke isn’t just an irritant, it’s a little reminder that it’s time to pay attention. As they say, where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and it’s important to know where the fire is.

      Right now, all the querelous quackers seem to have gone to bed. I hear a few frogs, and an occasional fish jumps, but that’s it. I might as well be out in the country!

      Linda

      1. Fire is always a concern when you live out in the woods like we do. Two years ago we had a major forest fire that came within about eight miles from us. That was definitely worrisome. A nearby vacant lot was used as the helicopter staging area. –Curt

  14. NICE!!! and I enjoy as much the different comments from folks who do not live with me down in the deep south of the USA. And yes, I will also be saving a link to this blog… my fav so far of all I have read from you..
    Thank you for sharing your viewpoint and words of our life.

    1. Hi, Patricia! Isn’t it fun to read the different perspectives? No matter how much I learn while I’m writing a post, I learn even more after I start reading the comments. It’s really wonderful — the best kind of schooling.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed this. I’ve been so busy keeping track of what is or isn’t happening in the Gulf I haven’t even turned an eye to your state, or that part of the country. I hope your summer’s been great, and that you’re going to have a fine autumn, too.

      Linda

  15. Pure poetry, start to end, this. We are very happy we do have air conditioning, but even happier when we can turn it off, throw open the windows, and listen to the sounds of summer fading into fall. Your allusion to the quarreling couple reminds me, too, of how we always knew spring had sprung out on Long Island: the sounds of our neighbors arguing crossed from their open window to ours! Part and parcel of the changing of the seasons, that.

    1. Part and parcel, indeed, Susan. I happen to live two stories directly above a lovely wooden deck, with wooden steps and ramps leading up to it. Any pair of high heels makes quite a racket on that decking, and when someone’s angry, or tipsy, it gets louder. If the heel-wearer happens to be sufficiently angry with her companion, and decides to use her shoes as weapons — well! You can imagine. More than once, I’ve sat by the opened window at 3 a.m. and enjoyed the drama.

      Speaking of open windows and doors, I stumbled on something you’ll appreciate. I loved your post about Les Halles de Paris, and became interested in the history. When an exhibit called “Charles Marville: Photographer of Paris” came to our fine arts museum, I went — twice. I ended up with a couple of books, too, and took Leonard Pitt’s “Walks Through Lost Paris” with me to read while I was having the car’s oil changed today.

      I found these descriptions of mid-1800s Paris that seem to fit here:

      “One suffocates in these narrow and humid corridors [the streets of old Paris]. The atmosphere is so heavy, the darkness so deep, and thousands of men and women live, move, press together in these liquid shadows, like reptiles in a marsh…”

      “All these windows and doors are so many mouths, begging to breathe.”

      The circumstances were different, but the feeling seems familiar. And Pitt’s book is a gem. I doubt I’ll ever get back to Paris, but if I do, into the bag it goes.

      Linda

  16. How well I remember those LONG, hot days when summer has worn out its welcome but fall seems a long way off! Beautifully described here, Linda.

    In Central Illinois, our days have already grown shorter. The corn, once lush and green, has dried, grown brown, and is awaiting harvest. Mornings suddenly are cooler (sweater weather), but the afternoon sun feels warm on one’s skin. Long shadows traverse the yard by early afternoon. We’re blessed, I know, but still we worry that if it’s this cool now, what will the coming months bring? More specifically, will this winter be a repeat of the last one??

    Isn’t it grand airing out the house, though, after months of canned air? I so enjoy not having to listen to the grinding hum of my neighbor’s air conditioner, and my poor dog loves these cooler days!

    1. Not to worry — Indian summer still is to come. I think that was my favorite time of year. As I recall, it usually was in October, and the combination of the turning leaves and the cool, crisp air was just delectable.

      The best part of coming to the equinox is that the heat and humidity still may be around, but the slant of light is different, and more bearable. Shorter days mean things can cool off a bit more overnight, and that helps, too. And all the dogs and their walkers are happy — really happy. They’ll be even happier once the real fronts begin coming through.

      It’s too early for house-airing here, but it’s one of my favorite house rituals. When I was a kid, we always put the blankets and quilts on the line when we pulled them from storage. And we put off installing the storm windows as long as we could. Remember them? You may be too young. Storm windows in the winter, screens for spring, summer and fall. It was a lot of work, but it was just the way it was.
      And no air conditioning arrived until I was about twelve. Those were good days.

      Linda

  17. Unfortunately we don’t enjoy the revolving change of seasons in this part of the world. For us it’s sunshine and rain which is not bad at all. During the rainy season, we still have some hours of sunshine in the morning. Rainfall usually starts at noon.

    I enjoyed one Autumn in Harrison, New York. The scenery was like an oil painting. Wide areas of forests were literally on fire wih bright shades of red, orange, yellow and brown. The soft wind and fresh air was so different from our climate in Panama.

    I understand what you mean by the prisons of summer and closed homes with humming air conditioners.

    The expression, “As if swathed in burqas, the houses sit, impassive.” was so creative. I love the way you weave your words to create an ambience easy to picture in the mind.

    1. One of the benefits of my time in Liberia is that I understand your seasons, Omar. As you know, we had “raintime” and “dry time” there, and other than that, there wasn’t much change. Because we were just 7 degrees north of the equator, there wasn’t much variation in the length of days. We sometimes had thunderstorms as the seasons changed, but more often, the rain simply began, and ran like clockwork for a few months. I remember weeks when, no matter what else it did, it rained at 2 p.m. Every day.

      One of my favorite memories is hearing the heavy, tropical downpours make their way across the bush. You could hear it coming from quite a distance. Sometimes, you even could make it to shelter before it arrived!

      I’ve never been to the northeast, to see the magnificent autumn. We do have a place here in Texas called Lost Maples — a little bit of the north tucked into our hill country. I’ve missed the color the past three or four years, but I’m hoping to make it there this fall.

      I’m so glad you liked the little side note about the impassive houses. Too many draperies can do that!

      Linda

  18. With different adjectives, this post could have described the winters here in eastern Canada, and the cold air that overstays its welcome by many weeks. In mid-spring, we emerge from our cocoons and try to remember who our neighbors are. Even then, there are the persistent warnings of frost, and even snow.

    1. Wasn’t it year before last that it was such an extended winter? Or maybe it was last year. What I know for certain is that one of those years friends in Michigan, New York and Manitoba were about to go crazy. Cabin fever is real. I remember a couple of your posts that were funny in your special way, but tinged with a certain, faint desperation.

      Here’s hoping you have a late-arriving winter, Charles, and a very early spring. Of course, that may mean forty-foot drifts in the heart of it, but as long as the woodpile’s big enough and the internet stays connected, it’s all good. Right? Right!

      Linda

  19. Linda,
    What a beautiful description of summer’s end and autumn’s arrival. It was in the sixties yesterday. Even our summer was relatively moderate this year. I enjoyed every day that was not filled with humidity and high temps. Fall is so wonderful, isn’t it?

    1. It is wonderful, Bella. I could start counting the things I love about the season, but you already know them. Let’s just say that crisp, cool evenings, pumpkin anything, and scuffling through leaves are right up there.

      And nostalgia. I do love a good dose of nostalgia, and autumn’s the time for it. You like Willie — you’ll like this.

      Linda

  20. Your wonderful words brought alive a season I would hate, wouldn’t be able to survive for a week. Humidity and heat together turn the most beautiful landscape/seascape into a straightjacket for me; if I couldn’t escape I would simply have to curl up and die.

    Do we become acclimatised to our environments or are people automatically heat or cold sensitive?

    I am certainly glad that your windows are once again open.

    1. Oh, Friko — I hate having to report it, but we’re all closed up again. It’s just the way of things here. Autumn sputters a bit in the beginning, like a lawn mower that hasn’t been used for a while. It will take a few more tries for it to “catch,” and make us all really happy.

      Becoming acclimatised is an interesting phenomenon. When I arrived in Liberia, it was about 1 a.m. and desperately hot on the Robertsfield tarmac. When I arrived at my hostel, there was no electricity, and hence no fans in a relatively closed up room. The advice I was given for coping? “Don’t think about it.” My new friend said, “If you think about it, you’ll go crazy. Just accept it for what it is, sprinkle your sheets, drink a Fanta, and have a nice rest.” Good grief. But I did survive, and soon enough became accustomed.

      After years on the Gulf coast? I can’t even imagine coping with the snow and cold of the midwest now. Of course, some of the family have suggested my cold sensitivity is a function of increasing age. Family will do that sort of thing.

      Linda

  21. O thank you giving me back that word… I’ve been thinking about it these days, the name of that insect, noisy one, hosts of them, summer… right, cicadas! Mind you, I knew about them from watching a movie a few years ago. Don’t think we have it here in Calgary. But when I went to Toronto, used the ferry to cross over to the islands, I heard them on the island.

    Anyway, love the exquisite images you have here to illustrate your point. Windows and doors, metaphors that can work both ways, don’t you think? Either shut-in, or open out.

    1. Welcome home, Arti. I didn’t realize the TIFF was ten days — I’m sure you delighted in it all. I’m looking forward to reading about your experiences.

      For some reason, the cicadas have grown even noisier here. Yesterday they were so loud, it was amusing. I stopped at one tree where several were singing, but I couldn’t find a single one. They’re well camouflaged little beasties.

      I love doors and windows — always have. They can open to allow the breeze to flow, or close with shutters to protect against storms. Sometimes they offer privacy, and sometimes, as in a Liberian village, they just provide a place for the kids to line up and watch to see what crazy thing the visitors are going to do next.

      And then there’s this, from Alice Munro’s “Selected Stories.”

      “A story is not like a road to follow … it’s more like a house. You go inside and stay there for a while, wandering back and forth and settling where you like and discovering how the room and corridors relate to each other, how the world outside is altered by being viewed from these windows….”

      Books and stories and films are windows, too — wouldn’t you say?

      Linda

  22. This is a wonderfully spun tale of the changing of the hot Texas seasons, Linda. Such a vivid picture of how people, and animals, deal with the oppressive heat. I sure do hope these posts of yours, or similar, are being offered for publication so many people can enjoy your writing. It deserves to be spread far and wide. :-)

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed the piece Steve. Thanks for noticing the animals, too. The ones I forgot to include were the mullet. They’re so pathetic after a couple of hot months. They come up to the surface of the water and swim around with their mouths open, for all the world like dogs panting.

      I’m flattered that you think my stuff’s worthy of wider distribution. I did have an article published in a local magazine last month. I got my check, bought a couple of books with it, and went back to writing.

      Every time I’ve had something published over the past years, my reaction’s been much the same. It’s nice, but it doesn’t leave me eager to join the throngs who spend their time obsessing over self-or-traditional publication, queries, agents, etc., ad nauseum.

      Now and then I think about Mark Twain saying, “Obscurity and a competence—that is the life that is best worth living.” He was pretty darned competent and not at all obscure, of course, but his words still appeal. So do Jimmy Buffett’s. He’s cashed in like crazy, and thrives on his fame. But I don’t hold it against him, and I still smile and smile when I hear this one.

      Linda

      1. Sometimes the money does come in handy, but it is always better when it is obtained through an effort of love rather than duty. Whenever I am fortunate enough to receive some compensation for an image, I do the same as you…except I am going out and photographing rather than writing…but the feeling is the same. I do what I like and it is great if someone appreciates it enough to write a check. But I don’t follow the latest and most popular to get that to happen. I am happiest when walking my own path.

        First time I hear/see Nadirah Shakoor. Thanks.

        That is interesting about the mullet….I assume you mean the fish and not some guys with funny hair. I wonder why they just don’t head for deeper water where it would be cooler. They must need to stay in shallower waters.

        1. Actually, we don’t have much but shallow water around here. Galveston Bay averages about ten feet, and is maybe twelve feet at its deepest point. There’s not much variation through the whole complex. By the end of summer, oxygen depletion is the problem. Fish kills aren’t uncommon, and the mullet are literally gasping for air.

  23. Your writing has painted a picture of summer in such an eloquent way, Linda. And I so love those images that accompany the text. I have no experience of that kind of oppressive heat from which escape is anything but an escape when it amounts to imprisonment indoors to be cooled by a machine. The hottest day I recall was in Palm Springs. Getting out of the air-conditioned car was like stepping out into a hair dryer on full heat. Hotter even than Death Valley.

    1. There are mornings like that here, Andy, except it’s often the humidity that’s the “wall” as much as the heat. Our summer afternoons can be more comfortable than the mornings precisely because, as the temperatures go up, the humidity goes down.

      The other delight of the season is heat distortion, the mirage-like effect that appears as pools of water on highways. What torture that must have been, for desert travelers.

      To trade stories, the coldest I think I’ve ever been was in London. I spent a bit of time during two different years at The Highbury Center in Islington, not far from the Highbury & Islington station. It’s been significantly renovated since I was there. In the ’70s, but at the time, it was shared baths, 4 o’clock tea, and little heaters on the wall that required shillings or whatever to coax some warmth from them.

      The bathtub in that shared bath was cast iron. I’d fill it to the top with water as hot as I could stand, and stay there until the water started to get cold. When I walked back to my room, the hallways were so cold I’d leave a trail of steam behind me. Good times!

      Linda

    2. My sister flew into Palm Springs once. When she came down the stairs from the plane and onto the pavement, she thought the blast of heat she felt was coming from one of the plane’s engines. Then she realized it was just the surrounding air.

      1. The one and only time I have flown took us into Dallas/Fort Worth for a switch on the way to San Francisco. That’s just what we experienced in the wall of July heat as we got out to run for our connecting flight.

        1. I just realized I’ve never been through DFW. I did have to make a run through Atlanta one night, and it’s a good thing I was twenty years younger. I’m not sure I’d make my flight if I had to do it today.

      2. That’s how it was when I landed in Liberia. I’m not sure I’ll ever forget walking out into that heat, or making the walk across the tarmac. How it held that much heat even until midnight or later, I don’t know.

  24. Beautifully written, as always. Yesterday morning as I did my chores it felt more like late fall than late summer. And suddenly the normal sounds of morning, mostly birdsongs, were interrupted by a great racket. A large V of geese came flying over, just above the tree tops, honking loudly and headed south. Seems a little early for that, I thought. It was only a couple of years ago that they didn’t even leave here for the winter. That seems to suggest we’re in for another long and cold one. I’m looking forward to the rest that comes with the winter, but I know it won’t take many dreary days to have me longing for summer again.

    1. Bill, your last sentence did make me laugh. Every summer, as we’re complaining away on the docks, someone says, “Yeh, but wait until January. Then we’ll all be wishing for summer again.” And so it is.

      I don’t think it’s that we just like to gripe. I think the human tendency to remember the good and forget the bad takes over. By January, summer’s all watermelon and breezes, and in July, winter is nothing more than beautiful skies and cocoa in front of the fire.

      I’m hoping we’ll have more geese this year. There’s nothing I love more than geese flying, especially at night. During the drought, they nearly disappeared, and there were reports that many had swung east, to find food and water. Now? Teal are coming in, doves are thick down in the valley, and hunting guides are reporting that the cycles seem to have straightened out a bit.

      Normal does sound wonderful — in every way.

      Linda

  25. I just read a post over at Susan Scheid’s blog describing part of her visit to Finland:

    “Then I recalled the airport security man’s sardonic smile: ‘To see the real Finland, you need to come in winter.’ I recalled, too, the taxi driver who ruefully shook his head: ‘The summer is so short.’ I thought back to our winter just past, how cold and colorless it had been with its never-ending white.

    “’Winters can be heavy,’ the young woman said. ‘It’s really dark if there’s no snow.’ That took me aback at first. ‘I look forward to the snow’s brightness,’ she explained, and I remembered how snow in our patch of forest made the world shapely with patterns, how ice-blue shadows unfurled along the snow’s moonlit glow.”

    Two sides of a coin: many people in Texas rue the persistence of summer, many up north the persistence of winter.

    1. Your two-sides-of-a-coin description is just right, Steve. North or south, the seasons often become like unwelcome guests. We may pack their bags and set them by the door, but the seasons don’t move on until they’re ready to do so.

      I think it’s easy to romanticize remembered seasons, too. I often long to experience winter, but the winter I remember is made up of moonlight ice-skating, quiet snowfalls,candlelight against frosted windows. Those things are part of it, but so are frozen door locks, the need for shoveling, loss of power with ice storms, and so on.

      I’ve not read Susan’s post yet, but I did smile at “It’s really dark if there’s no snow.” It’s true. Away from city lights, a good snow cover catches even starlight. And there’s nothing better than a late snow to cover piles of dirty slush in a city.

      Linda

  26. You have such a talent for making the environment you’re describing palpable. In a way, we in the northeast live the kind of transition you bring to life here, but we live it in reverse: it’s winter that drives people away from each other and summer that brings us out of our lairs.

    1. I’d not thought of it in this way until now, Charles, but what you describe is a perfect example of, “Different, yet the same.” Different people, in different parts of the country (if not the world) experiencing the world in quite different ways — and yet the dynamic is precisely the same.

      Now, if only we could find a way to help people understand that other human experiences can be understood in this way. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

      Linda

  27. I opened a ‘different’ window to check on my friend who during the heat of the summer has been very busy. I am glad to see that the windows are open, the birds arriving and arguing, the breeze stirring the air and the friend still writing wonderful descriptive passages!

    Like Charles, I have only just begun to close my windows and doors. Not against the heat, but against the cold that is beginning to creep into my summer-warmed aged bones.
    I really enjoyed this piece Linda, it is ‘pictorial’.

    1. Good day, Sandi! It has been a busy summer. You’re already on your third post about Constable country, and here I am, still trying to catch up with myself. But I’m doing better.

      The windows are closed again, I fear — but for the best of all possible reasons. We’ve had rain for days, and though some had to suffer with flooding, it’s good to hear that lakes are filling a bit. The fields and ditches certainly are full. Parts of the state still need rain, and badly. But we take what we can get. There’s no question the water-birds are happier.

      It’s too soon for you to be turning cold. I hope you have an extended autumn, and plenty of time to prepare and enjoy the garden before winter comes!

      Linda

  28. A wonderfully artful putting into words of what is felt when one is confronted by oppressive heat. And as often is the case, Linda, you’ve changed your direction at the end in a delightful way. I love that little verse!

    I’ll just add that when I first came to Chile many years ago, I really disliked the dry heat of summer, which I likened to having a hair dryer blowing in your face. Now that I’m used to it, though (or at least as much as I can be), I actually prefer it to the humidity of Sydney summers.

    1. You’re quite right, Andrew. Dry heat can be more comfortable than our terrible humidity – 99% at one point, yesterday. Still, I think I prefer working in at least some humidity. After a few years of working in desert-like conditions, I fear I’d have begun to look prune-ish. At least we can protect ourselves from the sun.

      I’m so glad you liked Rumi’s verse. It’s one of my favorites. I only discovered him a very few years ago, and still don’t know as much about him and hsi work as I’d like. This is a nice, short introduction to him.

      Linda

  29. Oh yes. The heat of Texas and the humidity. It’s a case of beat the heat if you can or it’ll beat you.

    I was once again enthralled by your word usage and how you string the words along to make the most interesting and enjoyable sentences. The wording is complex in a way but so easy to read. I hope what I just wrote is a compliment.

    Here in central Texas I can say we have four seasons.but I hardly recognized Spring this year or maybe it was because things were not going so well for me. But Fall is my favorite time of the year. I like the soft rain and the gentle breeze in the mornings and late evenings. Everything moves at a different pace.

    1. Yvonne, what you wrote — about the piece being easy to read, despite a certain complexity — is a great compliment. The fact that you added “interesting” and “enjoyable” makes it even better.

      When I was writing my latest post, I was thinking about Dick and Jane, and Spot, and the cat named Puff. Yes, the readers were simple. “See Spot run” is almost a joke, these days. But it never was the intention of our teachers that we should remain at such a simple level, in either reading or writing. Being able to deal with more complexity, while remaining understandable,always was the goal. If I’ve met that, even just a bit, I’m happy..

      I laughed at your aphorism, which I hadn’t heard. It’s so true — we do have to learn to beat the heat, or we’re going to be dead on the side of the road, right there with the armadillos. And I’m with you when it comes to autumn. There’s no season better. I suspect my midwestern background has something to do with that. Harvest and harvest celebrations were so important to us, full of gratitude and pleasure.

      Linda

      1. How well I remember Dick, Jane, Spot and, Puff. I was so bored reading that little book in first grade and wished with all my heart that the teacher would move on. But alas she moved at the pace of the entire class.

        Now to set things straight, I’m not implying that I was a whip in school. But I was an above average reader and speller and now I have to use a dictionary or Google spell check. Age and “non use” of the brain takes its toll. It’s true that the brain needs exercise just as much as the rest of the body. :-)

        1. I don’t remember being bored by Dick and Jane. That’s something to ponder, since I was reading before I went to school. I wonder how my teacher kept any of us from boredom?

          But I do remember our reading circle. The chairs were yellow, red, and blue. And my first-grade teacher became engaged that year. We contributed our nickels and dimes, and gave her one of those sets of pyrex primary colors mixing bowls: red, green, yellow and blue. Maybe the chairs had impressed themselves on our minds.

          1. I’m not trying to keep you commenting, but I am often looking for those bowls that I have yet to find at a garage or estate sale. I’ve collected some of the later ones but these have designs on sides.

            1. My mom had a set. I have them now, and just love them. Many a cookie’s been made in the biggest bowl — it’s amazing the whole set has lasted this long!

  30. I love these lines: Certainly, there are times to shade our eyes and drape our spirits with layers of protection, until the turning of life’s season brings relief. Oh so true.

    My sister was just down for a visit, and just yesterday as we sat on the back desk enjoying a tease of a fall breeze, she reflected on just how very oppressive the Louisiana summer heat and humidity is. Beautiful piece, Linda.

    1. Not everyone in the world would understand the concept of psychic hurricane shutters, BW, but I suspect you do.

      I haven’t don’t much porch sitting of late, but it’s nearly the season. We had our breeze-tease, but now it seems over for the time being.

      Something else that I’ve always known but don’t think about just occurred to me. We’re both affected by the capacity of the bayous to help in the production of humidity. They don’t call Houston the Bayou City for nothing. There’s a whole netwok of them snaking through the concrete. But yours are more beautiful, even if they do come with more alligators.

      Thanks for the good words. Have a good weekend!

      Linda

  31. We’ve had a leaf from your coastal book. It’s been humid here. We’ve had humidity in the 80’s and 90’s and it’s been cloudy and rainy almost every day for weeks now. Suffice it to say, we are not used to this kind of humidity.

    1. I hope you got some truly decent rain from all that, WOL, I know Austin did, and I had just over 5″ at my place last week. I don’t mind cloudy and rainy, but I’ve about had it with the humidity, so I’m ready for the predicted frontal passage.

      It looks to me like it’s well past you, and things ought to be improving. I haven’t seen the 50s in a Texas forecast for quite sometime. Enjoy!

      Linda

  32. It all reminds me so much of the end of winter, as you know well from earlier times. We grow weary of never seeing neighbours, rushing from house to car to mall to car to house. The only difference is the hurry that underscores all. But even in winter, every now and then, people will shut off their snow-blowers and engage the neighbour, and yearn anew of summer, and its respite.

    As you may have heard, our summer this year has been a bust. Rain and cold – hardly any sailing, and so I have to admit that I am in no way ready for fall, even though the beauty is arresting. Ah well, there is next year…

    1. What I truly wonder is whether all those old tales about thinning blood and tougher people are true. I remember living in that cold country. I remember going out dressed up in skirts and high heels, with bare legs. Of course we dressed more warmly when we talked to school — which we did, except in the very worst weather –and I just don’t remember being cold. Perhaps it’s creeping age!

      I do remember this: shoveling was a community effort. There weren’t any snow blowers, but there were a lot of shovels, and everyone helped. Many hands, light work, and all that.

      I hadn’t heard about your summer. I assumed you’d not been posting about sailing because of your travel schedule. How sad that you couldn’t find more time with your spiffed-up boat. Maybe you’ll have a nice, extended fall — or is it too late for that? I did see some frost advisories for northern Maine. Too soon, too soon.

      Linda

  33. “Is that thing alive?” An image instantly flashed in my mind. At the end of the block, a neighbor has a black cat who likes to lay like an inky puddle on their driveway or in the gutter. If you’re not used seeing her sit up now and again to monitor the passing cars, you’d think she were an oil spill.

    Love the details all of your senses detect as you enjoy those last days of summer — even the annoyed neighbor’s shushing of the ducks.

    1. I’m laughing at the inky black kitty. I hope no one tries to pressure wash here away.

      Speaking of the felines, I’m sure you and Roomie both will enjoy this little essay from the Paris Review on Cats. It’s really quite wonderful, so much so that it required an extra cup of coffee and a full read this morning.

      Linda

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