Summer’s End

At my desk below the open window, a breeze brushes my face, and my inhalation is smothered in a deep-frying odor redolent of meat. Since the wind is out of the north, that smell may waft from Genna Rae’s, the tiny burger takeout a block away. In the next breath of air, the bouquet of clothes dryer softener from next door. A few minutes later, those two scents move on, leaving in their place a hint of rain.

Helicopter descending: Flight for Life heading for the hospital helipad ten blocks south. Sirens to the east: the speed and direction of their passing tells me they’re on York, heading north to I-70, where it seems, many accidents occur. Shouting children: these would be the crew who live in the Section 8 apartments. They are the only free-range children on the block now. Furious yapping of a small dog: Sarah’s little monster two doors down who hates everyone. The large, short-hair St. Bernard next door never barks. He’s a hundred-and-thirty-pound couch potato.

I sat mindfully some days ago to record those sensations of my city neighborhood. Usually, those familiar sounds and smells barely enter my consciousness. Just now, early morning, none of the above. I hear sparrows, the faint sound of an airliner on ascent high overhead, and because it’s August, the steady rush of our evaporative cooler.

Irises, May 30, 2023

Walking the neighborhood in May I was periodically enveloped in the perfume of lindens in bloom, sometimes without realizing I was walking under one, sometimes stopping to seek the source and finding it across the street. That’s long over now, like all the early bloomers; the forsythia, red tulips and purple crocuses, the butter yellow daffodils. In June come the scarlet poppies, done by the first of July, leaving their spikey leaves to slowly brown and shrivel. Irises begin before the poppies and bloom longer. Roses and hollyhocks start in June and if we’re lucky last into October, but not after the Japanese beetles appear, munching through buds before they open.

Hollyhocks, 9/22, a better year

The last of the daylilies folded early in August. When we bought this old house forty years ago, a clump of the lance-like, flat leaves grew in a shaded corner. I didn’t know what they were. The second summer one bloomed, a surprise. I transplanted them to a sunny location and didn’t have to ask twice: they burst into multiple blooms the next year and the next threatened to take over the garden. I’ve been thinning them ever since, these enduring plants that some black homeowner, probably a woman, planted here. She did so in the 1940s or 1950s when this community was redlined and hence solidly minority. That line ran down the alley behind this house. No black residents east of it. She also had to thin lilies, passed them on to others. I see them around the neighborhood, not yet eliminated by xeriscaping, imagine how they passed from hand to hand, along with homegrown tomatoes.

Now August approaches its end. We’ve had a string of over 90° days and will likely have more. Hollow rumble and hiss of brakes: school bus delivering students out front, although I can’t see that from here. I have the sound of school buses by heart, taught nearly twenty years with that sound opening and ending my day. The school across the street, hushed all summer, revives. And although I’ve been retired thirteen years, for the first week a vestige of old conditioning woke me at five a.m. Five was when I once rose, gathered my graded papers and plans, my essential thermos of coffee, and was out the door by 6:20, often in the pre-dawn dark.

All along the side of the house

By next week I’ll stop hearing the buses, as I stop hearing sirens and helicopters. Soon, my windows will be sealed against cold, muffling all sounds and scents. I’ll sleep until seven. For several more weeks, I’ll inspect the yard for Japanese beetles, where nothing still blooms but the few hollyhocks and roses that have escaped decimation. I’ll think about thinning those daylilies, those tall orange lilies that were here before I came and will remain after I’m gone, those flowers that bloom for a day and a century. I’ll notice, despite the heat, that the sun is rising later and setting earlier again, that summer is coming to a close.



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6 Responses to Summer’s End

  1. Deb R. says:

    I have a bunch of school dreams this time of year. Walking thru DSA which is completely redesigned and then I can’t find my car in the lot when I come out….
    Thanks for all your wonderful lilies, a good variety of them, some short, some VERY tall. It was a good year for them and they lasted way into August, so unusual.

    • dubrava says:

      Love it that the lilies are doing well! That career, that place, DSA, made permanent imprints on us. I also have the dreams, but very glad that this week I’m no longer waking up at five.

  2. Michael Stipek says:

    Since I’ve been a substitute teacher for Denver Public Schools since 2011, I’ve come to really love my summer break. Hikes along Clear Creek out of Golden; rising with the sun, not before – in the dark; growing new perennials and tomatoes in the garden; taking a mid-morning coffee/snack break at Cake Crumbs with my wife; spontaneous trips to towns along the front range, such as Longmont, Loveland, Boulder (the hot dog vendor who sets up business near the ice cream parlor – yum!); attending a day game during the week at Coors watching the Rockies trying so hard to win; visiting galleries and museums during weekdays, when all is quiet; taking a nap during midday if I want to; slow cups of morning coffee with the newspaper (yeah, the original and still best laptop there is!).

    That is what summer is about. And now, school is back in and I’m conflicted about being a “sub” again for another school year. 90 minute classes four, sometimes five times a day, just watching kids batting at the keys on their laptops, little or no interaction, especially with the fun kids like before the pandemic. Trying to stay awake in a class after I’ve finished with my last “New Yorker,” and having given up on trying to wrangle with the crossword puzzle in the back of the mag.

    But then I think about the times I still connect with a kid or a class, about the fist bumps and high fives I seem to get much of the time from the boys and the very nice “Thank you” from the girls at end of some classes. The big smile I get when I turn up at the admin office before the beginning of the class day, grateful smiles from people who are stressed from an extreme shortage of subs. And I can take any day of the week off when I want to. And the pay ain’t bad!

  3. Bob Jaeger says:

    Beautiful, Pat. Thanks. Yes, everything is fading. Here the cosmos are still blooming, at least a few of them. Most have gone to seed, those tiny, stickery seeds that this time of year I find all over the house after they’ve hitched a ride on my socks and pants. The day lilies you gave me years ago are so thick they need a serious thinning. Maybe when the weather cools. Maybe next spring.

    • dubrava says:

      Ah, yes, those seeds. Cosmos have volunteered in my front flower bed. And those lilies: they like to take over the world.

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