Spotted robins. Three of them. Young ones, for sure. Fledglings, nestlings, constant feedings. Papa Robin worn thin, too worn for singing. Evening songs competing with cicadas and crickets. Ribbits. When did that happen? You know, Summer running up ahead, glancing back. And that snotty grin? Summer’s promise, the long days of june. Done And Done. Ahh …. Spotted lady, painted bright and new as spring. Me? I’m whining and lamenting where this weird old summer’s going.
A guy and a gal stood over a rose bush, heads together, and it appeared to be a serious conversation. After a few minutes, the young woman walked away. The fellow leaned over a bit and spoke to the rose, “Now try to be good.”
That was Fall 2019.
I returned last week. The nursery is out in the open, not attached to a big store, and I decided it would be safe enough wearing a mask, etc., and I could get everything I need in one trip. Approaching, it looked familiar in a good way. Going to the nursery is a fun chore. Most years I go more than I need to. But this was different. It wasn’t just the masks. We’re all getting used to that, aren’t we? But it’s the little details in life we hardly notice until they’re not there.
They had fewer plants, but enough. They were arranged and sorted. It was pretty, prettier than the grocery store, but not lush and indulgent like it usually is. Some of the plants needed watering. Flowers on vines grew into each other so the plant containers were inseparable. Price signs were here and there and not always in the right places. Ceramic fountains were dry and empty, except for a bit of left over rain water. You didn’t have to mind the wet cement or hoses scattered around, because no one was watering. The cashier was moved outside, and I could see a few staff out in the distance, away from customers and tables.
They were making the best of what they could do, but you couldn’t help but think what was missing. And who was missing. Nurseries hire people who love plants. People who enjoy caring for plants, watering, arranging tables so plants look their best. Rainbowed rows of colors. Roses spaced just so. If you didn’t like plants, that kind of job wouldn’t work out.
I guess in the grand scheme of things, none of this matters. If I didn’t start this draft last week, I probably wouldn’t write it today. With the perspective of shocking, almost inhuman events, my common lackluster experiences fall in the category of ‘unworthy of notice’. Yet, the summer moves from repetitive to boring to depressing to scary, and now to horrific, and we wonder how to make sense of it all.
And Janis Joplin. Yes, in the crazy summer of 2020, it has to be Janis Joplin. It’s an old (1934) Gershwin song, covered over and over, so there are lots of versions out there. I don’t know if it’s technically the blues, but when Janis sings it, I think it’s the blues. She opens her mouth, and she holds nothing back. There’s sorrow and there’s anguish, and there’s no attempt to pretty it up.
I’d be remiss, though, if I didn’t single out Ella Fitzgerald’s version too. It’s subdued, it’s fluid, it’s definitely jazz. You can feel the heat of a sweltering August night when the windows are open and the air is still. And Ella’s voice is soft and silky and soothing in all the ways Janis’s is ragged and desperate. Despite my opening, I suspect Ella Fitzgerald captures the mood as well as anyone can. It just might make you cry.
Summertime by George Gershwin, DuBose Heyword, and Ira Gershwin. Give it a a try.
Yesterday morning, I had to take my car in, and I expected to see some traffic, surely, people with essential jobs driving to work. But no, I cruised through green light after green light. Traffic was even lighter than what I see for my weekly grocery trips.
I finally hit a red light, and looked out over the steering wheel to take in the trees along side the road. This was the first day that looked to me like summer. In a split second, it seemed, there was the aura of all we connect to green trees and warm breezes, and summertime. And without even the need to reconfigure my thoughts, an awareness of my evolving expectations of what this summer will be like.
Further down the road, a few people were out and about, individuals, walking or waiting by themselves, in the open air, and almost all of them wore masks. The trend towards wearing a mask even when you’re by yourself in the outdoors seems to be growing.
This is the way life’s been since the beginning of March. With cool weather dragging on into May, a Monday in May can feel like a Wednesday or a Friday in March, as if this spring will go on forever. Facing off with summer, it was like waking up from an afternoon nap feeling unsettled, and realizing you need to pull together enough focus, and enough energy, to make it through the rest of the day.
It feels like one of those dreams. Where some bad guy is chasing you, and you need to run. Your brain tells your feet to move.
But there’s a disconnect somewhere between your brain and your feet. And your feet, your feet can hardly move.
Maybe you need to get somewhere. To work, to an appointment, something important. And you keep walking, deliberately. But you can’t make it. You just can’t make it to where it is you have to be. The more you focus, intently, on getting where you need to be, the more you feel lost. And there, there in the middle of your dream, you feel the desperation, or is it disappointment, or a concession to the disappointment, no, not disappointment, it’s the disturbing reality / surreality that you’ll never, you’ll never make it to where it is you need to be.
I don’t write everyday, just when I have something to say. Maybe that’s not best, but it’s me. For a while now, a week, maybe two, since all the virus quarantine social distancing non-stop 24/7, I didn’t want to write. I get like that when life’s too much. I feel a little shaky, my stomach jittery, my brain lazy. Maybe I should fight the malaise and the brain freeze, but I almost never ever do.
Eventually and inevitably, it happens. In a snap. In the time it takes for the brain to wake up. The writing bug kicks in, and I know I have to write.
For me it usually happens with a song, a great song, great words, one of the great song writers. And I always, always, think the same thing — I wish I could write one great song. Well, I can tell you that will never ever happen. The next thought is pretty much always the same — I need to write. Just like that. Not I want to write. I need to write.