It’s easy this time of the year to feel as though things are closing in around us, nature itself getting a little too close to us for comfort.
Even the breath we draw in the morning has a closeness to it, the heavy mid-July air pushing heavy against our chests as we take in life-giving oxygen that’s still laden with the past day’s heat, and which soon will be steamed with the coming day’s heat. On a steamy July morning, what in other seasons is a freshness in the air can make us wonder whether this is what it’s like to breathe under a pile of heated bricks.
Barns are dampened with the inescapable humidity, the floors slickened to make treacherous walking for Holsteins and humans alike; haymows becoming rural saunas.
These, the start of the dog days of summer, are times when even the water down at the old swimming hole – that water that a couple weeks ago was so refreshing to our beings – is uninviting. And at beaches and pools, children’s feet are singed by sand and cement that have collected the very sun that they’re trying to avoid.
Even the smallest of critters, the gnats, “no see-ems” and skeeters, close in around us and push heavily against us. Any time outside, especially with the heavy darkness of the night-air’s lead-weight blanket pulled over us, requires age-old bug repellents that we’re never sure are good for us and always sure is uncomfortable for us. But we use the repellents in hopes that we can stop the unending swatting and flailing that has been so ineffective in pushing the critters away from us.
The shelters that at other times protect us from other seasons’ elements become either ovens that we don’t want to be in, or jail cells with cool air that keeps us trapped within. Front porches were built for times such as these; porch swings and rocking chairs invented for people who hope to find the margin between being trapped inside while still escaping the weight of the mid-July air.
Iced tea. Cold Coke. Well-chilled beer. A simple, refreshing glass of water on ice. All of which pour droplets of temple-cooling wetness down the outsides of containers.
We know to not go into the woods unless we absolutely have to, an excuse being to retrieve a renegade calf or the like. There, the gnats and skeeters that push themselves onto us in the open air seem minor to the thick swarms of biting flies, and an entomologist’s dream of other bug species that weigh down upon us. The deer choose the risk of cars’ headlights instead of remaining in the close confines of July’s bug-laden woods, so why would we want to go there unless we absolutely have to be there?
Though we don’t necessarily want to be in the woods, even a walk down some rural roads brings the woods to us. The trees, bushes, shrubs and ferns reach out to press against our space while we take morning or evening walks. That which will draw color-seeking tourists in two months are mere waves of deep green, an ocean reaching out to drown us in fauna.
Where other times invite us to the earth, July certainly makes the earth foreboding.
But then in the evening air we see sparkles of light that remind us that entering the depth of summer has positive values. Sometimes it takes watching the carefree and random movements of light from summer’s fireflies to remind us how summer also can make us carefree and random.
Just when we think the weight of summer’s air is unbearable, we can look to those fireflies and see the openness of a cloudless night sky – in it, so many distant stars that light escape routes to lead us away from summer’s earthly fires.
And unlike so much around us this time of year, we see the fireflies’ twittering lights moving away from us, each removing from our chests a little piece of the summer air’s burdens.
This time of the year in the countryside, if we allow summer’s weight the chance to buckle our knees, it certainly will. But with the spirit our rural fathers passed to us, we’ll continue to look toward the fireflies or any other little sign that this too will pass.
We know that a few short weeks from now will bring us new openings in the air, the soil and even the woods. It will again feel good to do physical labor, to be out in air that’s light and fresh. We’ll even get to see the daytime sky without the thick haze that July pulls across the horizons.
Like a robin’s song breaks a summer morning’s pre-dawn silence, we will break through the heavy cover that presses upon us in July. And then, like all other seasons, we’ll even bank some pleasant memories that we found when it seemed all was closing upon us.