It’s mid-July and the big highway five miles east of my place is running full; bibbed farmers in pickup trucks, families in recreational vehicles, old guys and their old dolls on Harleys, truck drivers wearing the required and not always comfortable headphones. They’re all headed somewhere in a hurry, passing me, looking more serious than they should, faces drawn, morose even. I suppose if there was ever a time to be serious it’s now.
Weekly we seem to be on the brink of war; California quakes daily underfoot, Anchorage reaches 90 degrees Fahrenheit, a region in France hits a temperature of 115, the poor are getting poorer, the Democrats are lost, and the Republicans are providing cover for someone most of us wouldn’t hire. These things are not unrelated so, of course, we look serious. The cargo we haul is heavy and getting heavier all of the time.
The other night at dusk thunder and lightning rolled overhead, like I’ve never seen in almost 70 years. The winds were clocked at 70 miles per hour and I’m supposed to be in my basement but I want to face the thing that might kill me and it was magnificent, unfurling and ripping across the landscape, tearing off roofs, snapping trees, sending wise people underground.
Within the clouds dark shapes swirled about and lightning streaked across the northern sky horizontally, offering cursive messages in flashes of light, causing me to think about Lord Voldemort and his dementors. If you haven’t read J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books you should; there you will learn about dark creatures that swoop down from the clouds and attempt to suck the joy from humans. Clearly some are out there still, perhaps explaining why we look so serious.
Thank goodness fireworks have ended out here for the year. This may be un-American: I’ve always thought them boring and wholly uninspiring. And besides, why do we annually prop up the Chinese economy in the name of our own patriotism? Makes no sense to me but I’m old, out of touch, and more than a little cranky. And I’m beginning to mumble under my breath, never a good sign.
The creatures in the woods are doing fine, thanks for asking. My land is far enough from paved roads that most will not fall victim to traffic. The deer and their fawns are now a glorious golden. On the other hand, plants haven’t fared as well. For twenty years I’ve spent beautiful July days in the hollow picking wild raspberries and mulberries, perfect on creamy, vanilla ice cream with a sprinkle of sugar. Not this year, as the long, cold winter pretty well killed them off. Perhaps store-bought chocolate sauce will make me happy, but I doubt it.
As I write this a section of Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” called “Summer” is playing on the radio and it doesn’t remotely sound like lazy, hazy days or the peace and languor of summer we hope to find. Instead it’s frenetic, almost joyless, like some of the good people out on the big road, running hard, turning, running even harder, trying to get somewhere without really knowing how to get there, or why it matters.
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With luck many of them will find the thing they pursue and my hope is it will make them smile. Summer is here.
• Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County. His book “The Iowa State Fair” is available from the University of Iowa Press.