The spine of summer


August 23, 2021

A shapeless season

It was a restless night, storms rolling through one after another, lightning flashing bright enough to penetrate closed eyelids and wake me. Rain poured down, its low roar on the roof perforated by the slap of water pelting pebbles outside the bedroom window. It finally calmed just before dawn and I slipped into a deep sleep until an emergency alert rattled through my phone. They come often these days, warning of heavy rains, flooding, and landslides. We have always been okay up here on a hill, surrounded by native flora that grips the soil tight and holds it in place. But elsewhere inland valleys catch waves of water shed by mountains and rivers swell beyond their banks. Monocultured hillsides of shallow rooted cedar let loose and slide, sweeping away tracks, roads, and worst of all homes.

I rise to see our deck shimmering, warped boards cradling rivulets of water. An endless blanket of clouds passes low and fast. In rare moments they part and everything brightens. My mind goes to the salted plums, still floating in their brine weeks after they should have been dried. Could today be the day they get their time in the sun? Mist rises from the sodden earth as fallen water rises, resurrected back up to the heavens. 

I wish I could stand on the spine of summer and pin it in place. But summer no longer holds its shape. A great shift is underway, arrhythmia in the earth’s heartbeat. Chestnuts come to market long before the calendar flips to September. The fishmonger says the autumn snapper season will peak weeks earlier than usual. The steady rhythm of the seasons is newly syncopated and unfamiliar.

The world outside my window does not match my image of late August. I dream of a more familiar version, one of chins dripping with sea salted watermelon, of trips to mountain rivers where nashi pears in a netted bag bob in the current as we plunge our bodies into the icy waters. One of dramatic sunsets and hot winds that whip the leaves of the eucalyptus tree, their leaves dark medallions against a purple sky. I dream of a small bowl of chilled chawanmushi made of the palest yellow-yolked eggs and served in a bowl of such proportion to rest comfortably in my hand, the foot pressing a cool ring into my palm. I dream of that savory custard, silken and airy, skimming the throat like a fluttering crepe Georgette fabric grazing the skin on a sultry summer evening. 

I feel forsaken by this month I have always loved. I do not mourn alone. Birds swallow their songs and crickets cease their chirping. Even obdurate cicadas take pause as bouts of rain come, at times in drops and at times in droves. In the first moments of stillness, all is deeply silent until a few songbirds dare to call out. They chatter tentatively in the space between showers. But soon clouds roll in again, heavy and low. As the light of the day dims, their voices grow distant and timid. I know rain will fall again soon.



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