Category Archives: Summer

At its height

This week has been filled with those perfect days we sometimes get in late August, when it feels like autumn at night yet becomes pleasantly hot by mid-day; when we are drawn outdoors to let the mellow sun drive the last of the New England cold out of our bones.

Summer is at its height: the parking lot for the Martha’s Vineyard ferry is as almost as full as you’ll ever see it; and there are as many cars as you’ll ever see over on State Pier near where the Cuttyhunk ferry docks.

A few tourists are even wandering around New Bedford, far from their usual haunts. Usually, tourists in New Bedford walk one block from the National Park’s visitor center down to the Whaling Museum, and then get back in their cars and drive away. But today, Carol and I saw several tourists in other, less-touristy, areas. We saw a man pushing a stroller on Macarthur Drive near Fisherman’s Wharf, where he was accosted by one of the more insistent panhandlers (the fellow who once, when I told him I didn’t have any money for him, screamed at me: “Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit!”). Only a perfect summer day could draw a tourist to walk along Macarthur Drive.

If I had any doubt that summer is at its height, at it sfull glory right now, that doubt would have been eradicated by the farmer’s market on Thursday. While I stood in line at each farmer’s table, waiting my turn, I looked over the biggest diversity of produce we’ll see all year: blueberries, plums, peaches, pears, summer apples, cataloupe; broccoli, tomatoes, zucchini, yellow straightneck squash, patty-pan squash, acorn squash, lettuce, kale, collards, pole beans, bush beans, garlic; gladiolas, sunflowers, and other cut flowers. There were so many things for sale I’ve forgotten them all.

Summer is at its height, yet the sun sets three minutes earlier every day; I keep getting surprised by how soon it grows dark. Summer is at its height, but yesterday I planted some more fall flowers, white and red chrysanthemums, and tied up the asters. And today I seeded our tiny little raised-bed garden with a fall planting of Swiss chard.

Annual end-of-vacation post

My summer vacation ended this morning at 9:00 a.m. Actually, it ended before that, because I got to work twenty minutes early. I hate the fact that vacation is over for another year.

Not that I dislike my job. Working as a minister is about the best job in the world. I don’t have to punch a time clock. I have very little worry about getting seriously hurt on the job. Like most ministers, my benefits include a certain amount of flex-time and flexiplace. And, best of all, I’m helping to make the world a better place (at least, that sometimes happens, on the good days).

Nor do I have any regrets about how I spent my vacation. Visiting my sister and my cousin and my aunt and uncle; cat-sitting in Cambridge; even cleaning the house — these were perfect ways to spend my vacation time.

Nor am I one of those people who wants to retire as soon as possible. I hope to keep working until I drop dead. I like working, I am not good with too much leisure time, I like the purpose and meaning that a job brings to life.

In spite of all this, the day that vacation is over is always an unpleasant shock. In a few days, I’ll be back in the swing of things, and all will be well again. But right now, it’s the worst day of the year.

Classic car night

I’m sitting in the Green Bean coffee shop, looking out through the big plate glass windows at classic car night in downtown New Bedford. All kinds of classic cars, from souped-up 60s muscle cars to lovingly restored Model Ts to brightly-painted Volkswagen Bugs, are parked with hoods open or driving down Union Street.

There are also all kinds of people walking around:–

A much-pierced man with assymetrical facial hair and a black heavy metal t-shirt smiles and chats with two elderly ladies. A small boy wearing a button-down shirt and a clip-on tie is standing on the street corner, waiting in line to ride on the Zoo Choo Choo, a little electric-powered train. A big man wearing an orange, yellow, and black Hawai’ian shirt rolls down the street in a powered wheelchair. A black man and a white man walk down the street together looking at car engines and talking to each other out of the sides of their mouths. Two of the car owners pretend to get into a fist-fight — they part, laughing, and the gray-haired man goes to stand beside his big muscle car with a huge supercharger sticking out of the hood, while the young man stands beside a sedate 50s-era Volvo. A big burly man wearing a red-white-and-blue bandanna and a Harley muscle shirt bends over to peer in the window of the Volvo. Two women (who, as it happens, recently got married) take a picture of the teal-green Mustang with their cell phones.

It’s like a poster for diversity or something.

What I did on my summer vacation

Summer vacation is too short. You don’t want to waste it on trivial things. You want to do things that will restore your soul. So I’ve spent the past two days of my summer vacation cleaning the apartment.

Last winter, I had bronchitis twice, so I was sick from October through April. It sucked the energy right out of me, and all I did was go to work and come home and sleep. From October through April, I did not do much housework. Then I spent May and June catching up on all the other things I hadn’t done while I was sick.

I spent so long not doing housework, I actually found myself missing housework. I said to myself: Hey, why not spend a couple-three vacation days cleaning up? I said to myself, No one uses vacation days for cleaning the apartment. But, I said to myself, an apartment that is clean will keep me in a better mood; you know I’m in a better mood when things are neat and clean. OK, OK, I replied to myself:– You win, I’ll clean the apartment.

Here’s what I did: I cleaned the bathroom. I cleaned the kitchen. I cleaned the floors, as in I got down on hands and knees and scrubbed. I cleaned the woodwork. I vacuumed and shook out rugs. I dusted. Here’s what I didn’t do: I didn’t wash the windows. I didn’t clean out the inside of cabinets or closets. After all, I am on vacation. I had to draw the line somewhere.


At noon, Carol went to the farmer’s market at Clasky’s Common. She got some beans, some peaches, and a perfect cantaloupe. She knows I love cantaloupe. She said: “The farmer told me he picked it at five this morning.” I cut it open almost as soon as she brought it in the door. It had one little bruise, but aside from that it was perfect, and perfectly ripe. I ate half of it right away. We did some housework, went shopping, went for a short walk. At four o’clock, I ate the other half. It was so good, I couldn’t resist. That was too much fruit to eat in less than four hours, and I’ll probably get the collywobbles alter on, but what good is summer if you can’t gorge yourself on melon?


I had an hour to kill in the middle of the day, so I parked at the old rifle range, and walked up the abandoned railroad bed to White Pond. The air was thick with humidity, and everything looked incredibly green from all the rain that’s fallen in July. Cicadas buzzed. A few birds braved the heat of the day. I passed through swamps caused by beaver dams. In places, the railroad bed was almost overgrown and only a thin path led through exuberant green shrubs and grass and poison ivy. Brilliant green leaves brushed against me from head to toe on both sides. At one point I noticed where a stand of white pines had dropped enough needles and shed enough shade to kill off most of the undergrowth; aside from that, I didn’t think of much of anything at all. Once the swamp ended and the woods began, the undergrowth mostly disappeared.

On the way back from White Pond, a Golden Labrador Retriever lay panting at the side of the trail, attended by a white-haired woman.

“That dog has the right idea,” I said. “It’s too hot to walk.”

“He’s gone lame,” said the woman. She had an English accent.

“What, does he have something in his paw?” I said.

“He walks a few yards, and then he stops and lies down,” she said. “My friend has gone to get the car.”

“He’s hot, too,” I said, watching him pant. “It’s very humid.”

“It is clammy,” she said. “I’ve just come over from England last night. We’ve been having some of the same weather over there.”

We chatted a bit, and then I said, “I’ try to carry him up to the road for you, but I think he’s a bit heavy for me.”

She laughed. “Oh, I didn’t expect you to offer to carry him up. He’ll be fine.”

Of the whole hour-long walk I took, most of what I can tell you about is that three-minute conversation. Aside from that, there are only general impressions of walking hard, sweat, gentle heat, damp air, greenness, small animals in the underbrush, flies, smell of grass and leaves — but there wasn’t much to be said about such basic physical impressions.


I pulled the car up to the beginning of the car wash. “Could I have the Ruby Red?” I said, handing the young man with the reddish hair ten dollars plus a tip. The guy on the other side of the car started wiping down the roof with soapy water and a brush. “Hey, did you guys find a license plate here?”

“Sure,” he said. “Which one you looking for? We got lots of ’em in there,” nodding his head towards the car wash office.

“The same as the one on the back of this car,” I said.

He started sloshing soapy water on the hood of the car. “Come back around when you get through,” he said. “I’ll take a look for you.”

I rolled up the windows, put it in neutral, and the car lurched into the rotating brushes and through the spray and then out through the big blowers that dry off the car. When I walked back around, both men were standing under a tree. There was my license plate sitting on the picnic table under the tree. My relief must have showed on my face, and both guys grinned at me.

The second guy, the guy wearing a Harley t-shirt and with his hair in a long queue down his back, said, “It was under about four others. Actually, it was the fourth one down when we found it. We got a lot of license plates. Tell all your friends to come down and check.”

A day in June

It really was a perfect day. The air was clear and dry; the sky blue, but with enough white-and-gray cumulus clouds to make it truly beautiful; the temperature at mid-day just on the edge of hot, but cool in the evening; and all faces reflected the perfection of the weather.

I walked slowly through Danehy Park, looking and listening. Three soccer games were going on, men playing in bright nylon uniforms, with a couple of boys kicking around a soccer ball on the sidelines while they watched the game out of the corners of their eyes. Three young children egged each other on and decided to run down a little hill away from their parents, wide grins on their faces, giggling, their fathers calling after them, “Slowly! Don’t get too far!”; and then the fathers talked to each other about their children in French that was laced with one of the African accents. Two girls in pink dresses tossed a frisbee back and forth with their father until at last the girls (not the father) grew tired of the game. People lounged at picnic tables, empty papers and foil in front of them, talking idly and looking at the pink clouds in the sky. A man played with his black dog, telling it to stay where it was; he picked up the ball and began walking away; the dog quivered with anticipation and excitement, and began to rise on its hanuches; the man looked back, and the dog got down; at last the man threw the ball and the dog flew after it. It was a perfect evening for being in the park….

Earth gets its price for what Earth gives us;
    The beggar is taxed for a corner to die in,
The priest hath his fee who comes and shrives us,
    We bargain for the graves we lie in;
At the Devil’s booth are all things sold
Each ounce of dross costs its ounce of gold;
    For a cap and bells our lives we pay,
Bubbles we earn with a whole soul’s tasking:
    ‘T is heaven alone that is given away,
‘T is only God may be had for the asking;
There is no price set on the lavish summer,
And June may be had by the poorest comer.

And what is so rare as a day in June?
    Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries the earth if it be in tune,
    And over it softly her warm ear lays:

— lines 21-36 from the prelude to the first part of The Vision of Sir Launfal by James Russell Lowell


A small thunderstorm passed by overhead. A few raindrops darkened the pavement of the road and the sidewalk. Twenty minutes later, another small thunderstorm, a few more raindrops. The sun came out in the west, and I decided to take a walk.

A few raindrops were still falling as I stepped outside. The sun was shining brightly, and I looked up at the dark clouds to the east, and there was the rainbow. Rainbows have been co-opted by feel-good New Agers, and adopted by nine-year-old girls, but the rainbow I saw was not the kind that gets painted on tchotchkes or printed on decals.

The rainbow was brighter towards the ground, but even at its brightest it did not look like something substantial or corporeal. It was sublime:– both in the sense of a solid thing that turns immediately to vapor, and in the sense of an experience that can overwhelm our rational selves. The rainbow changed with the changing light, it was both part of and separate from the clouds, and as the storm clouds moved farther away it faded, beginning at the top, and ending with the lower leftmost or southern end. Of course the rainbow brought to my mind the promise made by Yahweh in the Hebrew Bible, a promise which sounds hollow in light of the promise of global climate change. Then I thought of Iris, the messenger of the Olympian gods and goddesses, who was also the rainbow:– the rainbow as the messenger of that which is transcendent. Iris does not always bring good news, but she always brings something of great importance:

On this Iris fleet as the wind went forth to carry his message. Down she plunged into the dark sea midway between Samos and rocky Imbrus; the waters hissed as they closed over her, and she sank into the bottom as the lead at the end of an ox-horn, that is sped to carry death to fishes. She found Thetis sitting in a great cave with the other sea-goddesses gathered round her; there she sat in the midst of them weeping for her noble son who was to fall far from his own land, on the rich plains of Troy. [Iliad, Book XXIV, 77 ff., trans. Samuel Butler]

In twenty minutes, after I had walked a little more than a mile, it was gone. During all that time, I did not notice anyone else looking up at the rainbow.