Friday, June 21, 2013

Solstice Blues

Summer solstice. My favorite day of the year -- after Thanksgiving. My favorite Sabbat. Most years it's a day to celebrate the hot, sexy summer weather, but this year ... not so much. I had a shitty week. And the shit that came down will require some big changes.

In addition, I'm still working on my trust sermon for Sunday. Turns out I had to do some research, because while I know how to be trustworthy, I didn't have much to say about trust that would uplift a congregation. I'm still studying. Tomorrow I write. No choice.

In spite of the shitty week though, and the sermon hanging over my head like a piano on a two-story rope in a silent movie, I can't avoid that it's summer and I have always loved summer.

The first reason is, of course, because there was no school in summer. Just remembering summers when I was a kid growing up in a little town in Iowa creates an explosion of sensory delights. Reading Nancy Drew in front of a fan (no AC) with an endless glass of sugary iced tea; swimming at the pool all afternoon until our eyeballs looked like they were bleeding and then going back in the evening for more; Laughy Taffy and Chic-O-Sticks; popping tar bubbles with our bare toes in the hot streets; catching fireflies and trying to keep them in jars; writing our names in the air with sparklers; Dad churning homemade ice cream with a hand crank; playing under the street lights until late at night while the grownups played cards and drank Schlitz beer in a haze of cigarette smoke in the kitchen; trying to sleep in while the marching band practiced marching for fall football games up and down the street; the 4th of July parade with horses and tractors and the latest models of Chevys and Fords; eating black raspberries off the canes and stealing little new potatoes from under the soil in the garden; racing our bikes all over town; Grandma's angel food cake and spaghetti on my birthday; helping snap string beans and shell new peas while Mom and Grandma gossiped about people I didn't know; eating creamed new peas and tiny potatoes, and later juicy tomatoes sprinkled with sugar and cucumbers soaked in vinegar; camping in Dad's old green army tent and never realizing how much poorer we were than the people with campers and boats; getting drunk for the first time on Grape Crush and brandy with my first real boyfriend; spending all day at the county fair eating cotton candy, throwing dimes at goldfish bowls, and wandering through the barns and exhibits; winning ribbons at the fair with my 4-H projects; riding on the backs of boys' motor cycles; walking beans; swimming in lakes and ponds; fishing and roasting the fish on sticks over a fire at the lake; falling in love -- I think I fell in love every summer. I fell in love with every summer. A small town in Iowa is a good place to spend summers when you're a kid.

I have to admit I'm not feeling it this summer. Not yet. I've been too busy to get out on my bike as often as usual. I guess I also haven't felt that sense of summer freedom. Maybe it's because this is the first summer in a long time I'm not taking a much-needed break from teaching or school.

So this evening I decided to take a break from procrastinating and go for a ride -- a short one because I didn't leave until almost 8:30. I rode down to the riverside park where I have to get on the bike trail now. The ramp nearest my house has been torn out because of road construction on the interstate above.

After stopping to talk with a couple of friends I ran into there, I headed east on the bike path. It was strangely quiet for a warm summer evening. Usually there are lots of people walking and biking as long as it's light, but not tonight. I only passed 4 girls on little bikes and a shirtless sunburned man with a Santa Claus bag on his back who had stopped to smoke.

A few miles further I rounded a corner onto a relatively flat, straight stretch bordered by overgrown honeysuckle, weeds and a tall chain-link fence. About a half mile ahead a man was walking toward me on my side of the path .... and then suddenly he wasn't. Hmmm. That seemed strange. He must have gone into the bushes, and he must have run the 15 feet or so across the grass between the path and the fence.

In a movie, this would not be a good thing. Woman out riding on a lonely bike path. A man runs and hides in the bushes when he sees her coming .... We know where this shit is going, don't we? I imagined him jumping out and kicking my bike over and ... well, that would be bad enough because I would skid along the ground and hit my head. And then he would steal my bike .... or worse! Shit. Where was that guy? Probably just in the bushes taking a leak, right?

I moved over to the left of the path, glad I could see far enough ahead even as dusk was threatening. And then I kicked into high gear and pedaled faster, up to about 18 mph. As I passed by where I thought he must have been, I scanned the bushes, but I didn't see him. Strange. The fence is about 9 feet high, but some parts are pulled down a little bit. Still ....

Whatever. I didn't see him. I rode on a few miles before I had to turn around or risk being caught out after dark on the unlighted path. When I got back to that stretch, I rode fast again and watched for the guy ... and there he was, walking up ahead. He'd cleared the area with the high bushes so this time he couldn't hide .... if he meant to hide.

Do you think I've read too many Stephen King novels?

As I rode closer I could see two more cyclists -- a dad and a little girl -- coming from the opposite direction. The guy held his hand up and waved at the dad. In his other hand he was swinging something. As I got closer I could see it was a cord of some kind and he was twirling it as he walked. He glanced back and saw me behind him. As I was almost up to him, he caught the cord, which had some kind of bright yellow weight on one end, in his right hand. And I thought how fast a cord like that could stop a bike going 18 mph if it were thrown just right into the spokes. I zipped past him, cringing just a little at my own silliness.

Definitely I've read too much Stephen King. Of course my wheels kept turning and I kept pedaling and within seconds I was out of his sight.

Tell me I'm not the only one who has adventures in my own mind.

As I got closer to the heart of the city, I saw I was going to pass under a train trestle while the train was passing over. That's another kind of thrill, to ride under tons and tons of steel racing down the tracks.

Dusk was starting to fall, but I knew I was fine. I passed a park ranger cruising slowly down the path in his car, and hissed my way through a gaggle of Canada geese. They lower their necks and move away if you hiss as you slowly pass through.

Soon I was back on city streets and then safely home. As I rolled down the sidewalk past the gates at the end of the street (to prevent drive-by shootings and high-speed chases), I felt a wave of sadness. Melvin wasn't sitting on his porch drinking gin and juice hollering, "Baby, when you gonna let me go on a bike ride with you. You know I'll smoke you!"

And I didn't say, "Old man, you can't keep up with me as far as the stop light.  You'll die right there on the sidewalk before you ever even get to the road."

And he didn't say, "Oh, I can more than keep up with you. I ride so fast you'll never catch me. How fast you go, baby?"

And I didn't say, "I go as fast as I want to, and that's too fast for you to keep up. You can try if you want to, but I'm not stopping when you fall over with a heart attack."

And he didn't laugh and say, "Come over here and have some gin and juice, baby. You know I love you ............. "

Every summer is different, isn't it? Now it's late -- after 3:00 am -- and I've got all the windows open to catch the sweet night air. My ceiling fan is paddling away up there. The crickets are chirping under the window, and other than a car alarm that went off about 10 minutes ago, it's quiet. Every once in a while I'll catch a glimpse of a firefly winking in the dark, trying to attract his lady love. The almost full moon is peeking in my window from high up in the sky, preparing to be magnificent this weekend, and wondering why I'm sitting here tapping away on this laptop. I'm probably the only one still up on my street.

Summer solstice. One of my favorite days of the year no matter how shitty the week has been. How did you spend your first day of summer?


  1. That was beautifully written! We share some of the same Summer memories, and you remembered a few I had forgotten like the marching band and bean walking. Now, I need to get me a bike!

    1. You should definitely get a bike! I highly recommend at least trying one like mine, the Trek Lexa S. It's built to fit women, so it's much more comfortable to ride than a regular bike. I paid more for it than I intended, but it's worth it.