Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Suddenly Summer

Following a week of desultory gray weather, summer arrived on Sunday in these parts—hot, muggy, windy. As luck would have it, we were bicycling with friends on the Sakatah Trail, which runs through the woods and across the fields alongside Cannon Lake and then Sakatah Lake, an hour south of Minneapolis, a few miles west of Faribault, in the heart of Minnesota’s “southern lake district.” Wearing shorts. Cumulus clouds building joyously. Warbling vireos and house wrens singing from the recesses of the forest. Picnic in the hamper, consisting of various scraps of cheese, a cheap Macon-Village, some delicious three-bean salad, red grapes, smoked salmon, lemon bars. Orioles chirping above us in the trees, hidden from sight by the now-thick foliage.

Unfortunately I got a flat a mile or two along the trail and had to return to the car on foot. I met my confreres later at the state park, having enjoyed the walk and seen a lot more things than you can see when hunched over the handlebars of a bike peddling away at great speed. One plant in particular, I remember it still, the little white flowers and … I should look it up.

Summer can come suddenly. And summer is a lovely thing. But it strikes me that one big difference between summer and spring is that spring changes daily while summer is here for the long haul. It’s already gotten to 97 degrees, for Christ sake. I don’t mind the heat, what with the air conditioner firmly in place once again here in the window of the “office” and the fan blowing the cool air out into the rest of the house. No need to worry any longer about the “last frost,” I guess.

Today I bought a bike tire lined with Kevlar at Freewheel Bike Co-op on the West Bank, put it on the bike (along with a new tube) and took my standard summer ride down and around Cedar Lake—it was only 87 degrees. Along the way I helped a fellow-biker to find her way. She’d moved west to Golden Valley from St. Paul, and looked confused. She’s a project manager at Capella University downtown. I explained where the Burlington line went and how to get to the Greenway. When I told her I edited books she said, “Next time we meet, you’ve got to tell me how to get that kind of a job.” And I said, “Well, it’s great, especially if you like to think other people’s thoughts all the time.” (I do like it, though.) Then I mentioned that I’d been working on a new book of my own, which is due out in July, and had an event scheduled at the HarMar Barnes and Noble for August 3, in case she wanted to continue the conversation.

One big question every summer is whether the woods in the back yard will fill in sufficiently to shield us from the neighbors. We’ve tried to plant things but they don’t do well, and the deer come and eat them, and every four years or so the power company comes and cuts everything down again anyway to protect the wires that run through the woods there. (The photo at the top of the page is from a few years ago; it shows power-line workers destroying the last piece of woods we’d built up.) At its best the woods is full of buckthorn and prickly ash. At its worst, it’s a disaster.

This year I took advantage of an offer from a neighboring suburb to buy some bare-root shrubs for $7.00 a piece. Two nannyberries, two lilacs, two pagoda dogwoods, and two weird sumacs—heaven only knows what attracted me to them. I was amazed to find, two weeks after I’d planted the naked sticks, that they’d sprouted leaves! If they survive the summer I’m going to build a fence around them to keep the deer away. But that’s a winter thought, and not relevant to the current conversation.

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