September

Blowing through the jasmine...

I walk down the hill to the town plaza, thinking the Thursday evening concert on the dock will be the ideal coda to yet another blissful summer day. Yesterday’s breathless 84°—the warmest day of the year—segued into today’s carefree, breezy 76°. The Plaza is empty. I check my watch. The concert should be well underway. Then it hits me. It’s September 12th. September. Public school has been in session for several days, the detritus of the Wooden Boat Festival had been hosed away on Monday. Summer—regardless of the sun’s tango with the magnetic Poles—is officially over. There hasn’t been a concert on the dock for two weeks.

I wander through the marina, coming to rest against the warm bronze flanks of a sea otter. The hard consonants of places where dark bread and sausage are eaten at breakfast mingle with rounded drawls dripping with humidity and tangled in mangroves: the final busloads of tourists amble down the ochre blocks of our Victorian seaport to the terminus of the piers, gazing as I do into the bays and the vista beyond.

To the east, the Cascades etch jagged lines into a cerulean horizon, bookended by Mount Baker to the north, Mount Rainier to the south. To the west, the Olympics are confections of cobalt, softly rounded in the late afternoon light and stripped of snow.

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Wrapping the peninsula like a velvet ribbon is a bank of fog that stretches from the Salish Sea through Admiralty Bay to the Port Townsend Bay, where it curls around Marrowstone Island. Fog horns blow—a winter sound incongruous with the sparkling diamonds of sun bouncing off waves and a sky radiating heat like warm denim. The Coupeville ferry emerges from the white ridge, blaring a warning siren in its wake as sailboats and cargo ships slip into the cottony nothingness. I imagine this fog cutting us off from the world, and we become forever marooned in Summerland.

What has happened to me? My autumn anticipation—visions of soup and flannel, leaves and wood smoke, pencil shavings and pumpkin—used to begin its eager percolation in early August. Even in Seattle—where I learned to love summer after years spent in searing central Washington and the sticky Midwest—I’d had enough by Labor Day. The city grows dull with dust, its gardens and trees limp, its citizens twitchy with a saturation of Vitamin D; it just feels wrong in that place of espresso and indie bookstores to go so long without the soporific cleanse of cascading rain.

But here.  I am not ready. I haven’t worn long pants in months and my legs are tan for the first time since 1988. My arms are a frenzy of freckles, my hair lightened to a coppery gold. More than the physical changes, something has clicked inside. I crave sunlight and heat for the first time in my life (right, so heat is relative. Stop at 75°, please—anything more is just showing off). It's emotional, this connection to the blue and the gold of summer. I tremble to let go of the stillness of warm forests and busyness of the waterfront, to the coming and going of strangers along shaded sidewalks, to the weekly beer dates in the beachfront courtyard of our favorite pub—where pet goats and games of pétanque are minor distractions to the lazy drift of beautiful vessels just beyond.

It's often foggy here on summer mornings, typical for a maritime climate. This is good for writing productivity. But by late morning I can no longer type away in the sunroom. The rays eat away at the fog, blue overtakes white, the computer screen fades in the outrageous bright, and I become drowsy with the heat. I slather on the sunscreen and cart the laptop to the waterfront, to write to the sound of shrieking gulls and the slap of waves. I could do this every day, 365. I fear I have lost have my Northwest duck feathers that hardly notice a rain shower.

It's coming. Today and tomorrow a cheerful sun beams from the weather app on my iPhone. By Sunday it's yanked away, replaced with a faucet drip of rain or a smudge of overcast. Yes, we will have Indian summer—late September through mid-October will bring those glorious sunrise, goldenrod days and crisp nights. But it's coming. The endless mutations of gray, green, and brown. The steady tick of rain dripping from evergreen boughs and rhododendron leaves. Days when the high temperature is the same as the low.

I console myself with the knowledge that I now live in a place described as having a Mediterranean climate, with half the rainfall of Seattle (only twice that of Phoenix, hey!). But in the absence of olive trees and cicadas, Roman ruins, and terraced vineyards, I'm not fooled. I will mourn the brown lines of my sandal tan as they fade from the tops of my feet, the shriveling of blackberries I grab by the handful as I bike along the Larry Scott trail. I will mourn my shadow when it no longer falls onto the sand before me. I'm with Henry James on this one.

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” ― Henry James

 “Summer, after all, is a time when wonderful things can happen to quiet people. for those few months, you’re not required to be who everyone thinks you are, and that cut-grass smell in the air and the chance to dive into the deep end of a pool give you a courage you don’t have the rest of the year. you can be grateful and easy, with no eyes on you, and no past. summer just opens the door and lets you out.” ― Deb Caletti, Honey, Baby, Sweetheart

You Say Goodbye And I Say . . .

September. It is the month of beginnings, of fresh starts, of renewal and reconnection. I took my first breath on an early September day at 3:36 a.m. at Our Lady of Lourdes hospital in Pasco, WA. Twenty-three years and two days later I started a new life with Brendan, a few minutes after 5 p.m. at Mt. Pisgah Presbyterian in Roslyn, WA. I fell in love in September, landing in Paris on the morning of September 10, 1990 and stumbling wearily from a jetway into a country that would hold me in its spell to this very day. A thirteen year career in higher education, running parallel to Brendan's as a high school teacher, meant that our lives ran according to a September-August calendar; Labor Day marked the end of one year and the head-long rush into the next. Even in New Zealand September marked the turn of new page: the first of the month was the official, meteorological start to spring. I breathe easier when the calendar flips from torpid August to bustling September. The light loses its glare, deepening to a soothing blue that tempers still-warm afternoons. The sun glows lower on the horizon, beaming harvest gold before sinking behind the Olympic Mountains earlier each evening. For a few glorious weeks the earth balances on the cusp of ripe and decay and the air pulses with deep, ancient smells. Early morning fog brings aromas of a cooling ocean to my doorstep, late afternoon sunshine warms the sugars in the apples and plums that fall and burst open on my neighbors' lawns.

This year an estival twist has challenged my internal calendar. After bemoaning a spring that never was, we have been graced with cloudless skies and temperatures that have held steady in the 70s and 80s since late July. September has brought our warmest days; the skies glow Tuscan red and orange at daybreak and sunset as fires burn deep in the Olympic Mountains. We've toasted our weekend dinners of grilled salmon or simple salads on the patio with chilled rosé, even as I dog-ear recipes for hearty soups in the autumn issues of cooking magazines. The bedroom fan, silent for most of the summer, finally got a good dusting off a few weeks ago and oscillates through the night.

I've been grateful for this extension of summer, content to remain in my warm weather uniform of Tevas, tank top and running skort, eating finally-ripe tomatoes and lush peaches, knowing these hedonistic pleasures are fleeting in this land of perpetual dripping green.

But this morning I caught a glimpse of the week's forecast as I flipped through the Sunday paper. Clouds and cooler temperatures will be ours by week's end. I cannot wait.

Brendan just interrupted me, insisting I go outside to look at the moon. The moon that will wax full in few hours. The Harvest Moon. And on the other side of that moon is Autumn. The season to start anew.