Attitude of August

Thu, 08/04/2011 - 4:08am
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At day’s end the jet streams lingering in the northeastern sky are the color of the sunset, pink against the quickly fading blue sky. It is cool and still and the calls of the birds flittering among the trees in the yard carry easily.

It is a gentle sunset, slow and soft, the clouds reversing, turning from white to blue as the light dwindles. There is no grandly red sky to delight sailors but neither is there any dire forecast, just partly cloudy with no chance — none, they of my weather site claim — of precipitation.

Late yesterday it rained. The sky turned ominous, foreboding, mobile, a racing cauldron in various shades of dark gray. Instead of closing up and going home as any sensible person would, I stood on the sidewalk in from of the little gallery where I work and watch the layers roil.

The clouds were low and racing, and they passed overhead leaving the ground below dry. The flags along the street that had been hanging limp fluttered, then began to snap as the breeze turned to wind and the sky continued to darken.

There had been forewarning, that cauldron of a sky and the distant hint of thunder, but I stayed, like the silly creature I truly am not, watching, waiting, until I felt a drop, then another. Finally I saw great dark splotches of wet on the concrete sidewalk. I had thought of leaving, had closed the windows against the threat, but had been too distracted by the promise of a squall to gather my things and get to my car before the clouds opened.

It did not appear it would last long, as I stayed and watched the summer rain fall. People who had not wanted to believe their day would be cut short ran by, drenched, many deciding to simply be in the moment, whooping as they ran. The day had begun to cool, there were no great clouds of steam rising from the pavement, there was none of that release that can come with a shower on a summer day, but it was not wholly unpleasant.

The land is still green as July nears its end; it has not been an especially dry summer. Other days it has rained longer and harder; in yesterday’s fading light there were no torrents coursing down Spring Street in such a fury they bypassed the catch basins, nor rivers pouring down High Street, threatening to overpower the drains in Weldon’s Way. It was a simple rain, steady but less dramatic than the black clouds would have had one think.

Then it was over, and the sky was trying to clear before night fell, patches of pale, waning blue defied the retreating clouds. The spell of the day was broken, it felt much later than it was, and I went home, wondering as I traveled north if the storm had been worse in other places — as it so often, so oddly, is.

It was much later that I noticed the lights flashing in the southwest, great lights that seemed to be coming from the direction of the airport where great lights sometimes flash.

They were illuminating whole sections of the sky, but not lighting the land around me, not giving it that eerie artificially lit look that comes with lightning. Then I heard the most distant rumble of thunder. The storm was still alive, and instead of looking for it on my weather site radar I turned off the power to the computer and disconnected the phone connection, then unplugged everything.

Today the big road sweeper was out; perhaps the rain that came later was harder and did wash side roads out onto the pavement, dangerous any time of year but worse in summer when there is so much traffic.

It is summer, the most precious of times, I am reminded when the air stills and the sounds of the birds in the trees is clear, when day’s end is at 8 in the evening and the setting sun colors jet streams in the east.

It can be, admittedly, a time of frustration living on a road that is a popular beach access. It is better than it was, I remind myself, better than when so many people simply assumed that the then private road was public; when, as my late mother put it, “Your father and John (Littlefield Sr) were the only ones who did anything to the road, then your father died and John was the only one . . .”

Still, the other day, as I approached Corn Neck Road and saw the neighbor and his big truck waiting to turn down Mansion, then realized the yahoo approaching from the north wasn’t going to wait for me to exit before he turned in, as though it was a two-lane road (which it is not), summer in all its glory was momentarily lost. It was immediately restored by hearing the neighbor’s assessment of the out-of-state driver who, as I think of it, would not have had the right of way even were the road the two-lane highway he imagined.

Perchance the stranger was worried that the big truck, so obviously a working vehicle, would beat him to a parking space at the beach. It is not the first time that has happened. Possibly the widening of the entrance, an attempt at improving the line of sight that used to be restricted by two brick piers, is to blame. Perhaps — and more likely — it is the attitude of August come early.

It is, I am sure, a reaction to the calendar. All of July, a whole month of summer remains ahead, a wide buffer between the present and Labor Day, and time seems to stand still. Then it is August and the buffer is gone. The shift comes even sooner these days, with the press of schools beginning earlier.

But tonight the windows are open. The birds are quiet after dark, but there is the sound of surf, gentle summer surf, floating up from the beach, dispelling foolish drivers turning too soon.