The temperatures here in northern Virginia keep hovering in the low 90's, too hot to sit out on the deck very long in the mornings with my new laptop while I catch up on various connections and chores. The breeze sighing in the heavy branches is very soft, moving only the occasional leaf. Much louder are the insects and birds sheltering in the woods while they comment ceaselessly, sometimes raucously, on the day's events. The herb garden seems happy in the hot sun, but the azaleas and rhododendron sit quietly conserving strength in the shade. Even under the fan in the screened room, the blanket of heat soon wraps itself around me, forcing me to scuttle back inside, sweating drink in hand, laptop and new books hustled under my arm, screen door banging shut on the deck room, storm door to the family room securely closed while I reluctantly seek air-conditioned relief.
But on summer days during elementary school, when I roamed and explored around my country home in Pennsylvania, the heat was a factor to monitor in a different way. Each day it was my responsibility to check the salt blocks we put in the pine groves for the deer. The pines were planted in broad rows, with long angled vistas out to the horizon. My feet crunched across the layers of old brown pine needles, releasing their sharp stringency. Then I'd scramble down the nearby shale cliffs to note the water level in the Manatawny River, sometimes low enough near the rumbly old one-lane bridge to see the rock-strewn bottom. Crossing the bridge to drive up to my house on the steep winding road, shady under the summer evergreens but treacherous in winter, took you past a low whitewashed house where the elderly woman grew potted African violets on every horizontal surface, whether outdoor tables, windowsills, tree stumps, or front door sill. Ever curious to know what she knew, still I never visited her without my grandfather present.
After refreshing my skill at skipping stones in the sparkling river, I'd climb back to wander across our strawberry fields, where snacking was too short-lived, to the jaunty apple orchard, or the maze of Concord grape vines, or the cherry or peach trees ranged outside the kitchen, each in their turn yielding warm juicy finger-staining bliss. Depending on the story I'd most recently read, my rambles would mimic adventure after adventure, many of them requiring climbing up my favorite trees to look out for the highwaymen galloping down the quiet perimeter road. And eventually I'd take my peanut-butter-jelly sandwich out to the cattail field, where I'd lie on my stomach long after lunch to examine the cracks in the baked-dry clay and watch each insect crawling and hopping around in the tall green blades that seemed so out of place without a longed-for swamp. Overhead, crows drifted on currents of hot air in the vast blue sky while I wove the blades into various misshapen baskets.
On days when the large sloping lawns were mowed, the sweet grass scent lingered in the heat until the last bit of moisture evaporated from the heavy air. From my favorite reading post high in a sturdy old tree, I'd breathe these perfumes of summer, unaware of how deeply they were seeping into my soul.