Some of the most powerful memories of summer come out of our childhood
when we wake up on a June morning and suddenly remember that school is out
and that summer stretches in front of us as endlessly as the infinities of space.
Everything is different.
The old routines are gone.
The relentless school bus isn’t coming.
The bells will be silent in silent hallways.
And all the world is leafy green, and will be green, forever and ever. ~Ray Bradbury
Summer was our best season: it was sleeping on the back screened porch in cots, or trying to sleep in the treehouse; summer was everything good to eat; it was a thousand colors in a parched landscape; but most of all, summer was Dill. ~ Harper Lee in Too Kill a Mockingbird
Time lurches ahead in imprecisely measured chunks. Sometimes the beginning and ending of seasons are the yardstick, or celebrating a holiday or a birthday. Memories tend to be stickiest surrounding a milestone event: a graduation, a move, a wedding, a birth, a road trip, a funeral.
But Summer needs nothing so remarkable to be memorable. It simply stands on its own in all its extravagant abundance of light and warmth and growth and color stretching deep within the rising and setting horizons. Each long day can feel like it must last forever, never ending, yet it does eventually wind down, spin itself out, darkening gradually into shadow. We let go with reluctance; we feel as if no summer like it will ever come again.
Yet another will, somehow, somewhere, someday. Surely a never-ending summer is what heaven itself will be.
Perfectly delightful and delightfully perfect. We’ve already had a taste.
The nail of each big toe was the horn of a goat. Thick as a thumb and curved, it projected down over the tip of the toe to the underside. With each step, the nail would scrape painfully against the ground and be pressed into his flesh. There was dried blood on each big toe.
It took an hour to do each big toe. The nails were too thick even for my nail cutters. They had to be chewed away little by little, then flattened out with the rasp, washed each toe, dried him off, and put his shoes and socks back on. He stood up and took a few steps, like someone who is testing the fit of a new pair of shoes. “How is it?”
“It don’t hurt,” he said, and gave me a smile that I shall keep in my safety deposit box at the bank until the day I die. I never go to the library on Wednesday afternoon without my nail clippers in my briefcase.
You just never know. ~Richard Seltzer from “Toenails” from Letters to a Young Doctor
I know for a while again the health of self-forgetfulness, looking out at the sky through a notch in the valleyside, the black woods wintry on the hills, small clouds at sunset passing across. And I know that this is one of the thresholds between Earth and Heaven, from which even I may step forth and be free. – Wendell Berry from “Sabbath Poems”
Whenever I lose perspective about what I’m trained to do
and who I am meant to serve,
when I wallow in the mud of self-importance
rather than in the health of self-forgetfulness~
I wash out a plug of wax from a deaf ear
and restore hearing
or clip someone’s crippling toenails
so they can step forth in freedom.
I’ve been given these tools for a reason
so need to use them.
You just never know.
What follows the light is what precedes it: the moment of balance, of dark equivalence.
But tonight we sit in the garden in our canvas chairs so late into the evening – why should we look either forward or backwards? Why should we be forced to remember: it is in our blood, this knowledge. Shortness of the days; darkness, coldness of winter. It is in our blood and bones; it is in our history. It takes a genius to forget these things.
~Louise Glück from “Solstice”
Today we stand, wavering,
on the cusp of light and shadow~
this knowledge of what’s to come
rests in our bones as we struggle
to untangle our feet of clay
from sinking like a stone, mired and stuck.
As darkness begins to claim our days again,
we seek to rise like a full moon illuminating the long night,
burnishing our readiness for eternity.
My father’s treehouse is over twenty years old, lonesome and empty in our front yard, a constant reminder of his abandoned Swiss Family Robinson dreams. Over the years, it has been the setting for a local children’s TV show, laser tag wars, sleep overs and tea parties, even a writer’s retreat with a deck side view of the Cascades to the east, the Canadian Coastal Range to the north and Puget Sound to the west. Now it is a sad shell no longer considered safe, as the support branches in our 100 year old walnut tree are weakening with age and time.
The dream began in February 1995 when our sons were 8 and 6 years old and our daughter just 2. We had plenty of recycled lumber on our old farm and an idea about what to build. My father, retired from his desk job and having recently survived a lymphoma diagnosis and treatment, had many previous daunting building projects to his credit, and a few in his mind that he was yet to get to. He was eager to see what he could construct for his grandkids by spring time. He doodled out some sketches of what might work in the tree, and contemplated the physics of a 73 year old man scaling a tree vs. building on the ground and hoisting it up mostly completed. I got more nervous the more I thought about it and hoped we could consider something a little less risky, and hoping the weather wouldn’t clear enough for construction to start any time soon.
The weather cleared as simultaneously my father’s health faded. His cancer relapsed and he was sidelined with a series of doctor’s appointments, hospitalizations and treatment courses. He hung on to that hope of getting the treehouse going by summer, still thinking it through in his mind, still evaluating what he would need to buy to supplement the materials already gathered and piled beneath the tree. In the mean time he lost physical strength day by day.
His dream needed to proceed as he fought his battle, so I borrowed library books on treehouses, and hired two college age brothers who lived down the road to get things started. I figured if my dad got well enough to build again, at least the risky stuff could be already done by the young guys. These brothers took their job very seriously. They pored over the books, took my dad’s plans, worked through the details and started in. They shinnied up the tree, put up pulleys on the high branches and placed the beams, hoisting them by pulling on the ropes with their car bumper. It was working great until the car bumper came off.
I kept my dad updated long distance with photos and stories. It was a diversion for him, but the far off look in his eye told me he wasn’t going to be building anything in this world ever again. He was gone by July. The treehouse was done a month later. It was everything my dad had dreamed of, and more. It had a deck, a protective railing, a trap door, a staircase. We had a open tree celebration and had 15 neighbors up there at once. I’m sure dad was sipping lemonade with us as well, enjoying the view.
Now all these years later, the treehouse is tilting on its foundation as a main weight bearing branch is weakening. We’ve declared it condemned, not wanting to risk an accident. It remains a daily reminder of past dreams fulfilled and unfulfilled as I look out my window. Much like my father’s body, the old walnut tree is weakening, hanging on by the roots but its muscle failing. It will, sometime, come down in one of our frequent fierce windstorms, just as its nearby partner did a few years ago.
The treehouse dream branched out in another way. One of the construction team brothers decided to try building his own as a place to live in his woods, using a Douglas Fir tree as the center support and creating an octagon, two stories, 30 feet off the ground. He worked on it for two years and moved in, later marrying someone who decided a treehouse was just fine with her, and now they are raising five children there. They are getting old enough to come work for me on our farm, a full circle feeling for me. This next generation is carrying on a Swiss Family Robinson dream that began in my father’s mind and our front yard.
I still have a whole list full of dreams myself, some realized and some deferred by time, resources and the limits of my imagination. I feel the clock ticking too, knowing that time slips by me faster and faster. It would be a blessing to see others live out the dreams I have held so close.
Like my father, I will teeter in the wind like our old tree, barely hanging on. When ready to fall to the ground, I’ll reach out with my branches and hand off my dreams too. The time will have come to let them go.
The ten years between these pictures could not possibly have flown by more quickly. Our three children could no longer “fit” in a little cave on our favorite west Vancouver Island beach, but we still could spend a few days together appreciating each others’ company as five adults. The games around the table in the beach cabin were a bit more competitive, the conversation quite a bit deeper, the meals prepared by expert 21 year old hands, and much of the time everyone had their nose in a book. When we all climbed into the hot tub together, we displaced a lot more water. However, we still worked to build a sand castle with a moat in order to watch the incoming tide, much like the tide of time, collapse it with a few swiping crashing waves.
Now leaping forward six years, there are more wonderful changes, increasing the complexity of being all in one place as a family. With the addition of two daughters-in-law with our sons on either side of the globe, we can now gather “virtually” to break bread together. Building a sand castle to watch it wash away has become the stuff of memories.
There is much about our family that remains the same even as we have expanded and now dwell thousands of miles apart. I rest in that knowledge. I’m simply asking for the passage of time to take its time washing us back to sea.
Whatever happens. Whatever what is is is what I want.
Only that. But that. ~Galway Kinnell “Prayer”
To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world. ~Karl Barth
Prayer is easiest for the youngest among us. It can be amazingly spontaneous for kids — an outright exclamation of joy, a crying plea for help, a word of unprompted gratitude.
I’m not sure at what age I began to silence myself out of self-conscious embarrassment, but I stayed silent for many years, unwilling to put voice to the prayers that rattled in my head. In my 1960’s childhood, prayer in public schools had been hushed into a mere moment of silence, and intuitively I knew silence has never changed anything.
Nothing can upright this tipped-over disordered world until we are right with God, talking to Him out of our depth of need and fear. Nothing can upright the world until we submit ourselves wholly, bowed low, hands clasped, eyes closed, articulating the joy, the thanks, and the needs filling our hearts.
An uprising is possible when a voice comes alive, unashamed, un-selfconscious, rising up from within us, uttering words that beseech and thank and praise. To kneel down is to rise up with hands clasped together, calling upon a power needing no weapons, only words, to overcome and overwhelm the shambles left of our world.
Nothing can be more victorious
than the Amen,
at the end.
So be it and so shall it be.
Amen, and Amen again.
…the room was filled by a presence that in a strange way was both about me and within me like a light or warmth. I was overwhelming possessed by someone who was not myself. And yet, I felt more myself than ever before. I was filled with intense happiness and almost unbearable joy as I had never known before or never known since. And overall, there was a deep sense of peace and security and certainty. ~C. S. Lewis