The last first day of summer
Two nights after the Monday Fourth of July, fireworks are still exploding off the beach. My dog is still snoozing through them after a perfunctory “woof” or two. The same dog that barks at the boat passing off to the east or a great silver bird catching the sun high above us.
She cannot go out and bark at a deer standing in the tall grass of the front lot. At least not for a bit.
Toward the end of last week I received a late-night text that someone was “likely to start mowing early tomorrow morning. . .” I wasn’t concerned about early noise, I ignore such things when I know what they are, but I thought it would be best to be sure the swallows were out so I could get the dog in and close the door.
It had been going on a while, the next-morning mowing, when I took a picture through the swallow-smudged kitchen window, a spot that affords me a bit of elevation I lack even in the yard. My brother remarked on the modern equipment shown, a multipurpose tractor with an enclosed cab and a mower so wide its two sides fold up like the
wings of a swan. “What a difference from Dad’s old Ford tractor with a sickle bar.”
It was a little workhorse, that tractor, doing everything from plowing and harrowing, to cutting, raking and dragging hay, to hauling a single-axle trailer loaded with drift and stone back from the beach, drift for winter heat, stone to secure the incline in the muddy spring road. It had the sort of starter cars seemed to start having a few years back,
a button, and a metal seat that flipped up so it couldn’t collect rain and rust.
I’ve no idea what happened to it, only that after his passing my mother gave it to a young man who had worked for him. It could have gone to ruin, it could still be chugging away somewhere, I prefer to imagine the latter.
The first of a number of little pieces that evolved into this column was about another tractor, a red Farmall I think, going up and down a hill on the far side of the pond and my certainty that my little niece who could not see so far away would always have the memory of the sound of the engine going up and coming down the slope, a lesson in listening.
We don’t even need to have lived it to have some sort of collective memory of a different time, that game of catch behind the barn, the rustle of the tall corn, the fireflies around the edges of the yard, all those things that are captured on film about fictional people in places that may or may not be heaven. Here we have all that and the sound of the night surf soft against the shore.
Friday morning it was summer, a sweet breeze cutting the heat, the rumble of an engine and the clatter of a mower moving over the uneven terrain that makes our little island so much more beautiful than that of our larger sisters with points above sea level half as high as ours. The grass, fed by sporadic night rains, was so green it gave color to black tires rolling over it.
I lost track of the mower as it moved across the land, slipping down into sound-muffling swales.
The fireworks scheduled to be shot off a barge that evening had been canceled in anticipation of bad weather and the usual experts expounded on social media, what wind, what nonsense, and I looked at the sources I consider more than attention-seeking alarmists, and there were small craft warnings and wind advisories posted.
By nightfall the wind was real, that annoying summer wind that demands windows be closed almost all the way lest anything left loose be unturned or tossed about, whichever is more inconvenient.
It was an iffy weather weekend. People talked of crashing thunder and flashing lightning, of dogs who had dodged the horror of fireworks only to be faced with storm. I slept through it, or all of it that was loud and invasive with chains splitting the sky and white strobes showing in full relief the eerie colorless nightscape.
Yet, at two o’clock in the morning I was scrolling social media wondering that I seemed to be the only one awakened by distant lightning, so far away it gave no discernible sound, after back lighting clouds off to the southeast. It was quite beautiful, but it was also quite late to be prowling about looking for nocturnal gifts.
But on that mowing morning, the first day of July that felt like the last first day of summer, it was hazy and sunny and far from 1951, a year I cite for the rare “but your brother. . .” my parents pulled on me, my older brother who learned to drive the tractor when he was six, in 1951. They couldn’t much argue my assertion that he was “bigger than me”
because he was, ultimately almost a foot taller. He hadn’t that much on me when we were, respectively, six, but they had to admit it was easier for him to reach the pedals, which perhaps made it easier for my father to accept than the fact I had more interest in the elevated view from the seat than steering.
Still, years later, he was the one who taught me to drive, a stick shift, in the Minister’s Lot, one of the last winters it was an open field.
It seemed there were scattered clumps of bayberry even then, but photographs of the new salt-box cottages show them in a field of golden grass. I wonder what the Minister’s Lot would be like now had nothing been built, then if the houses had been constructed but nothing planted.
And, yes, there is plenty of milkweed left in the swampy corners, swaths of ground-covering white clover, its seasonal mowing, not strip mining.