Sunday, July 16, 2006

Sala(u)d Days

There's no denying now that the project of summer is well underway -- bright, hot, humid days, the kind I dislike, have arrived. I try to walk early, before the worst heat. The world has become a big green salad garnished with nuts and seeds and fruits; insects, birds and furry creatures crowd around, jostling for the best spot at the table. Back home, I crank up the fan, pull down the shades against the sun, and chew on ice cubes. I used to think that flawless spring leaves -- before insects have eaten holes in them or mined through them, before they've been smutched with blight or gall -- were the most beautiful. Now I prefer the stories that imperfections tell.

I have always thought that plantain seeds look particularly delicious. I love that wheat, from which we get our daily bread, is grass. I was taking pictures of a field of flowering grass at an Audubon sanctuary a month ago, when a docent and a group of children pulled up beside me.

She asked what I was doing, and I pointed out the beautiful, lyre-like seedheads of the grass with their little delicate, yellow pistils. It's winter rye, she said, and explained to the children how their lawns would flower if they were left unmown. One grave girl looked me in the eye as they passed. Thank you, she said.

I like to imagine she went home and sabotaged the family mower.

In high summer, there are hints of fall. Some things go to seed early. The mustards' upraised arms have browned, and dark little seeds are visible in their little septated, cellophane-like pods. The milkweed flowers have wilted, and small green, rugated pods are beginning to grow. Some campions have already become little urns full of seed, and various legumes -- vetches, trefoils, clovers -- are decked with beans.

Queen Anne's lace, just recently arrived, already begins to involute.

Salsify, that grandaddy of dandelions, becomes a spherical puffball of inverted parasols --

-- and fungi, those most courteous and discrete of undertakers, are at work in the recesses of shade.

All that being said, I don't like the heat. I bake in the upstairs of our old house. Heat makes me cranky. It blows rasberries at me: it bleats a snide, incarnation haha. In the heat I am all fat and gut. Even underweight, I feel corpulent, morbidly so, totally de trop. My too, too solid flesh can neither melt not thaw. It does, however, resolve itself into a sweat. I trudge, dripping sweat and DEET. I prefer the winter. Then, only the nose drips.

Cranky ? Today I continued my peevish correspondence with the Department of Conservation and Recreation, the folks in charge of the river paths, about their aggressive landscaping practices ("Slash and burn. Leave no wildflower standing. All shall be lawn.") I'd been told that because of certain interdepartmental reshufflings, staff formerly responsible for the upkeep of playing fields were now responsible for the more delicate matter of pathside landscaping. Retraining was in progress, I was assured, and I was asked to be patient. But yesterday, at the gouged terminus of a long tire-track in the freshly hacked pathside, I found a dead mallard just inside the bushes.

Was the pathside grim reaper extending his purview from flora to fauna ? I held my breath and squatted above seething corpse. It was boiling with maggots. I felt ill, and snapped a few pictures. I thought of the scene in Peter Greenaway's masterpiece The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, where a pair of naked lovers flees the wrath of her piggish husband in the back of a truck of rotten meat. It too always makes me feel ill.

Today I walked by the municipal pool on my way into the Watertown river path. Behind the chainlink, a shapely young woman in a skimpy swimsuit (are such things still called bikinis ? ) lay on her back on a towel on the concrete, full face to the sun. I, too, have gotten my free vitamin D today, albeit less than she has. I thought of my own swimsuit, the one my father declared frumpy back in 1972 when I bought it. It's a maroon, one- piece Speedo, "100% nylon," practically a quarter century old, and hardly the worse for wear. Unlike it, I have frayed. It will outlive me, I think. Perhaps I shall ask to be cremated in it. (Note to self. Ask to be cremated in frumpy speedo.)

But it's definately summer, and there's no choice in the matter. (Hot Buddha, cold Buddha mutters the teacher.) Beyond the desert of the river path the world goes at it, tooth and nail, eye and tooth, violent call to violent response. Innocents die, the empty word "regrettably" flutters briefly on hellbent, crooked lips, like a doomed moth that's about to be swallowed whole. Our boy-king George drifts across Europe into Russia, uttering inanity after inanity, platitude after platitude, earning the pointed derision of anyone within earshot. The makers of weapons and ordnance grow wealthier and wealthier, and proclaim their innocence. Their products are value neutral.

Closer to home home, a shoddily built tunnel ceiling falls and crushes a woman to death. The Governor, avid to be President, immediately takes to the TV.The corpse is barely cold. One lock of his magnificent hair and his expensive, tasteful necktie uncharacteristically askew, he, before anything else, before any regret or sorrow, screams for the resignation of a man he's been publically gunning for since since 2004. If you will. He's leaping at the chance to depose the hated functionary -- a man who came to his job 4-5 years after the epoxy may or may not have dried on the shabbily inserted ceiling bolts that gave way last week -- personal power vendetta trumping every other consideration of responsibility and investigation.

Yes, I'm cranky. Rambling. And hot. Sorely in need of a nice, cool epiphany, or at least a thunderstorm. Or some grownups to be at the helm of the world. Regrettably, nothing of the sort seems forthcoming.

There's always, well maybe not always, tomorrow.

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